Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

So many thinks to spoil but let’s launch into the episode a little way and then move into the realm of surprises.

Promotions of this season of Doctor Who had touted the return of the Judoon as characters even while filming was still going on. They aren’t a particularly loved species but they do have the advantage as antagonists of not being a big-bad. They are obnoxious space-cops and bring with them all the complications of obnoxious space-cops.

Given the title, it was clear from the first five minutes of the episode that we were going to get a story about an alien hiding from the law on Earth in a small (if scenic) town in England. The set-up was very nicely done. We got a convincing introduction to Ruth, the central character who was clearly going to get mixed up in Judoon-based law enforcement gone wrong, and her slightly shifty husband Lee. The latter, of course, looking like the most likely person to be secretly an alien on the run from the law. What I liked (on first viewing) was, while it was obvious were this was all going, it was all being done with a confident humanity.

Vinjay Patel who wrote this episode had also written last seasons Demons of the Punjab, which had also a strong emotional centring of the story on the ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. What I really liked was that Ruth was being sketched out very swiftly as a person in their own right, which was going to be important if the episode was going to focus on brutal policing.

A strong set-up for a predictable episode. Not that predictable is bad — following a well worn path can allow for more character development and personal drama. Chris Chibnall’s biggest TV success has been with detectives solving a murder mystery in a small British town, as predictable a genre as you can get on British TV but one that creates space for human drama.

So predictable was what I was expecting. I’m told there was some social media hype brewing around the episode but I missed that. So, I was genuinely surprised when Graham disappeared while looking at some cup-cakes.

And that was only the first surprise. This was going to be Doctor Who in the mode I like best, like their TARDIS, spinning wildly out of control and crashing into everything in the way…

So the first big surprise of the evening (technically the morning for me) was the return of Captain Jack Harkness, played as far over-the-top as he can manage by John Barrowman. Your taste may vary, but I like Captain Jack in small doses and this was a sufficient amount. Jack’s arrival and repeated kidnapping of the Doctor’s companions did not, by itself, knock the main plot off kilter. Instead, it picked up on the theme of the current companions discovering more about The Doctor’s past and underlined some season plot-arc exposition. Beware the lone cyberman! Whatever that might mean.

The ‘fam’ are little more than an audience to Captain Jack’s scene stealing and the literally do little more than stand around and watch. While they aren’t well served by this episode, the secondary Captain Jack plot allowed for The Doctor and Ruth to have a less encumbered story line.

By this point, it had become clear that Ruth was an alien undercover so deep that she herself was unaware that she wasn’t from Earth. With The Doctor and Ruth heading towards Ruth’s childhood home (an unlikely lighthouse) it was still clear what the likely arc of the story was going to be. Ruth would learn her true identity, there would be some backstory and things would resolve themselves somehow with the intervention of The Doctor. If this had been a Steven Moffat episode, I would have been primed to expect a big twist and knowing that there was a big twist coming I think I would have guessed Ruth’s identity. However, this is the much tamer Chibnall era.

So the first genuine surprise was The Doctor attempting to dig up a grave (itself a transgressive idea) and the reveal of the top of her TARDIS. Not just a TARDIS but the TARDIS.

Of course The Doctor has met themselves before and on multiple occasions. However, we’ve never had a proper surprise encounter with an unknown regeneration of The Doctor before (hinted at but averted in The Next Doctor and an ambiguous cameo by Tom Baker in The Day of the Doctor). The whole story goes crashing out of course in exactly the way The Doctor entering an otherwise familiar story setting does. It is both an obvious and brilliant idea and also a risky one. It runs the danger of simply being trite and a lot rests on an actor having to establish themselves believably as The Doctor in only part of an episode (something it takes new versions of The Doctor multiple episodes to do).

Luckily Jo Martin was up to the very difficult task of being both Ruth (mild-mannered tour guide to Gloucester) and unknown-reincarnation of The Doctor. Some of it was down to nice visual touches (flamboyant dandy costume, pretentious spectacles) but also she hit some perfect Doctor qualities that were familiar aspects of the broader character but which neatly contrasted with Jodie Whittaker’s current version.

Of course, what we now have is a season which is blown wide open. Having destroyed Gallifrey in episode 2, Gallifrey is not only back but the Time Lords are loose in the universe and hiring space-cops. But also Gallifrey is still destroyed. It is a timey-wimey nightmare and a beautiful set-up that may flop spectacularly or maybe brilliant or maybe somewhere in between but pulls the series out of is more purely episodic mode.

Fan theories a-plenty have since exploded. The Jo-Doctor didn’t recognise Jodie-Doctor’s sonic screwdriver points to Jo-Doctor being a retconned-in earlier regeneration. As she also has a police-box TARDIS, then that suggests a post-Hartnell regeneration and as Patrick Troughton had a sonic, some are speculating that Jo-Doctor fits between the two or is a an alternate-universe Troughton. Alternatively, as the Time Lords messed around with Pertwee-Doctor’s mind, perhaps there is a missing period of The Doctor’s life between Troughton and Pertwee?

Given the scope for memory-wipes and messing around with regeneration not to mention alternate timelines and parallel universes, actually anything is possible. A substantial hint in Captain Jack’s info-dump was that an attempt to stop the Cyberman-empire involved sending something back in time. Consequently, as time-travel does, the whole of The Doctor’s past maybe utterly changed (it was already less than consistent).

All we can do is wait and see and hope the pay-off is at least moderately satisfying. Meanwhile, we got a fun and confident episode and a new Doctor!

14 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

  1. A single Cyberman featured very prominently in the season trailer. And now we have the beginnings of an explanation.

    All in all I think that was a contender for Chibnall’s strongest episode so far.

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  2. It’s interesting. And ambitious. After the (ahem) distinctly risk-averse previous season, it’s good to see the show take a risk,

    I’m thinking, vaguely, that the show’s attitude towards alternative timelines might be changing. Previously, there’s been a general assumption that there’s one “real” timeline, which cannot be altered (the First Doctor explicitly says as much, in “The Aztecs”), except, of course, when it can (at any point which isn’t a “fixed point in time”, whatever that might be); alternatives such as the evil-eyepatch universe of “Inferno” or the Cyberman-British Republic universe of the David Tennant era are only accessible under strange and unusual circumstances, such as bizarre short-circuits in the TARDIS controls or an overwhelming urge on the part of the fanbase to see Billie Piper again. However, “Orphan 55” just introduced us to the idea of that being one possible future of the Earth… so, maybe, there are alternative timelines out there, and Doctor Ruth comes from one of those.

    Or there may be some other explanation, such as time coming unglued after the destruction of Gallifrey, so that all the timelines get twisted out of shape and the Doctor is going to have to step outside the universe and put it all back together. Again.

    But this episode has certainly stirred things up a bit. At the cost, perhaps, of not being much of a story in itself – our Surprise Visitor had very little to do besides snog Graham (above and beyond the call of duty there, I think) and deliver a somewhat cryptic message. And I wasn’t impressed by the opposition – Gat was pretty stupid on two counts. I worked out that laser rifle was gimmicked, why couldn’t she? And as for employing the Judoon in the first place – they are big stompy heavily-armed space rhinos, they are easily distracted and even more easily fooled; they’re the last people I would rely on to find an ingenious and devious interstellar fugitive. Anyone who relies on a Judoon platoon must be a buffoon or a loon, for a Judoon platoon could not outwit a baboon….

    Still. Not only a female Doctor, but a black female Doctor… I wish I could have seen John C. NoRelation’s face (and that’s not something I say often, believe me.)

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  3. I think I’m leaning toward crossed timelines from parallel universes. Between the Master’s appearance working with another universe and the destruction of Gallifrey, along with this time travelling Cyberman, we’re seeing some serious timey-wimey consequences of something.

    If I had to make a proper guess, I’ll say that both Doctors are at the same respective places in their different timelines and the resolution will involve untwisting them so that everyone can get back to their proper universes.

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  4. I think the word I’ll use here is “audacious”.

    I was impressed at how well the episode played me. I thought a Jadoon episode was going to be a slightly silly throwback.

    I do worry whether this is going to make any sense in the end though. There are some plausible-ish fansplenations going around, but that never guarantees the show has chosen the plausible options….


    1. I’m confident it will make more sense than some of Moffat’s puzzle boxes. Chibnall will want a resolution of some kind rather than the reveal that the puzzle was actually not needing a solution

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  5. As some of you know, Jack got spoiled for me, but fortunately that was one of the smaller surprises around. I have to admit I didn’t guess the laser rifle was gimmicked, although of course it’s just the sort of thing we ought to expect.

    My bet here is that Jo Martin is the Doctor from a parallel universe who has somehow crossed over. (Or our fam somehow crossed over accidentally into hers.) But at the moment I think it’s about 50-50 that there is some different and better explanation, or some different explanation that turns out to be a hot mess. Anyway, I’d call this easily the strongest episode we’ve had for a couple of series now.

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    1. I only just watched it and got a bit spoilered, so I knew that Ruth was really the Doctor. When I actually started watching it I thought maybe Lee was the Master and in some future reincarnation the pair of them had decided to give up saving/destroying the universe and go have a quiet life on Earth. Possibly I have read too many Master/Doctor fanfics. 🙂

      Given that the conversation with Gat seemed to imply the Doctor was working with/for the Time Lords still (or had only recently stopped), and the very early style of Ruth-Doctor’s TARDIS interior, I am inclined towards ‘earlier regeneration of the Doctor who has somehow been erased from the timeline’. I wonder if dealing with the lone cyberman and/or the Timeless Child is what will lead to that erasure.

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  6. I got my hopes up for a moment early on that Graham had randomly been vaporised by an alien cupcake.

    Disappointment aside, this was an excellent episode of Doctor Who and I’m glad you took an extra day to review it so I didn’t stumble into any spoilers for the episode other than Jack being back, which I’m not fussed about either way really. Jo Martin makes a very plausible Doctor from a more authoritarian universe.

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    1. And what’s the first rule? “The [showrunner/Doctor] lies.”

      I have to admit that one of the things I have always liked in Who is the implication that, although there are obviously parallel or alternative universes, only one of them contains The Doctor. (It’s even possible that only one of them contains any TimeLords at all.) It’s one of the few things that seems to be pretty consistent across the eras although it has obviously never been explicitly stated.

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  7. Definitely the most fun — and most coherent — of the season so far. I am someone who loves as much Cpt. Jack as I can get, so I thoroughly enjoyed Barrowman schmoozing the new companions and being caught up in chaos. And also promising to show up again later towards the end of the season.

    And Jo Martin rocks. I also enjoy the rhinos, more so than the cybermen, whom I tend to find boring, so not thrilled they’ll be the complicating factor, but fine — Jodi deserves to get to play to one of the classics. I say give Patel all the rest of the episodes.

    One thing I found really interesting about the episode was that to hide the Doctor, Lee and Ruth made a false memory that had them married, and Lee clearly was in love with the Doctor, and also was a human who had trained with not just being the Doctor’s companion but with Time Lords. The rhinos were hired to bring Ruth Doctor back alive but Gat killed Lee and then tried to kill Ruth Doctor, in violation of her orders. So this alternate or glitchy timeline offers a rich backstory, though we might not get to see all of it. But it gave the episode an interesting side depth. Was the lighthouse actually Lee’s family’s place? Was the memory of parents there really Lee’s? A lot was left open.

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