After ‘Spyfall’ presented a huge shake up to the Doctor Who mythology without rattling off any of the consequences, it felt like the rest of Series 12 would follow suit and expand upon The Master’s insidious plan after destroying Gallifrey and how it ties in to the mythical ‘Timeless Child’. ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ was one of the first episodes teased as the show was being filmed, and it marks a distinct overhaul for the programme which, for better or worse, at least offers up a finalised sense of direction that Chibnall’s writing severely needed.
That being said however, it all begins in a very Russell T Davies fashion. Ruth Clayton (Jo Martin) is a welcoming and warm tour guide in Gloucester, refusing to make a fuss over her birthday. It’s a snippet of real-world melodrama to ground what is otherwise an insane and briskly-paced adventure that might be too ambitious for its own good. Very quickly we’re re-introduced to the Judoon, the rhino-like alien police force that deal justice swiftly and speak in funny rhyming phrases kids are desperate to repeat on the playground. They’ve placed a temporary ban on transport to Earth whilst they hunt down a fugitive in – you guessed it, Gloucester – which captures the attention of a defiant Doctor who’s more than happy to stand in their way and stop their trigger-happy fingers.
It’s an unremarkable premise at first, but a surprisingly solid one that calls back to season three’s ‘Smith and Jones’ (they even re-use the ‘compensation’ gag) whilst showcasing that the series is still able to keep that spark of deliberate pacing alive. We even get some brisk (but efficient) character work with The Doctor and the fam in the TARDIS – as they question Whittaker’s dour mood as of late. She’s been nipping off for hours at a time to visit Gallifrey and find out what happen whilst she continues to look for Sacha Dahwan’s Master. We’re back with the gloomy and stoic version of Jodie Whittaker again now, a version of the character I vastly prefer to the childlike naivety of her elsewhere.
Very quickly fleets of Judoon officers are scanning civilians, and Ruth’s husband Lee (Neil Stuke) is under the watchful eye of their local baker, making him a prime suspect for an unknown crime. Also Bradley Walsh’s Graham has disappeared, teleported away to an unknown place. It’s all very unknown really, but the narrative is familiar and this comfort will either win or lose you over (I was in the latter, personally). Even Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) get a chance for some faux-cop backup as they form The Doctor’s entourage whilst they argue against the Judoon. It’s the most fluid the writing’s been for…well, a long while.
Then we even get a flirtatious message that awakens an unconscious Graham in a new spaceship. But the voice sounds very familiar, and soon collective nerd jaws dropped across the country as Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) returns to the Whoniverse, looking no different than he did the last time we saw him (9 years ago in Torchwood: Miracle Day). Jack manages to snog Graham after mistaking him for The Doctor and not only are we reminded of the character’s charm but also Barrowman’s bravada performance. He struts across the stolen spaceship (you think he’d choose that one? It doesn’t even have a bar!) with the theatrical confidence of diva in a soldier’s outfit – which is a surprisingly on-the-money description. It’s smile-inducing to even the harshest of critics.
Back in Gloucester it’s worth noting that ‘Demons of the Punjab’ writer Vinay Patel continues to be the primary source of Yaz’s character progression, drawing on the parallels of her work in the police force to the Judoons’. Lee gives himself up as the elusive fugitive and the Judoon’s mysterious employer exterminates him ruthlessly, but not before making reference to their long-time hiding and the fact that he’s a dedicated ‘companion’. Meanwhile The Doctor and Ruth escape to Gloucester Cathedral only to be backed into a corner. Ruth is revealed to wear a bio-encrypter that hides her identity and she manages to make sworn enemies with the Judoon captain by ripping its horn off and stealing their weaponry. Yet she has no recollection of how she knew what she was doing. The Judoon are used here, in typical Doctor Who fashion, as a red herring. They’re background to a different story, as Ruth receives flashbacks of another life and her childhood upbringing within a lighthouse.
Yaz and Ryan are teleported alongside Graham to Jack’s stolen spaceship as he’s being hunted down by the authorities, and he fleetingly gives them a promise that he’ll see The Doctor and help her again in the future, alongside the cryptic message that’s sure to set the internet ablaze ‘beware the lone Cyberman’. But before he can elaborate the ship’s anti-theft system kicks in (funny that) and the nanogenes (always with the nanogenes) attack Jack and force him to evacuate and return the fam to Earth. It turns out Jack’s return is nothing more than an extended cameo, but it’s promise of future Harkness adventures makes it more than a worthwhile distraction.
It also happens to give The Doctor and Ruth some quiet time on the way to her childhood lighthouse. Jo Martin’s switch of personalities whenever Ruth wonders if she can trust The Doctor is a performance beyond a guest-starring role, and a hint at what Series 12 has to come. She’s confident and welcoming to those around her, yet maintains the mystery the further the episode digs into her background. Jodie Whittaker keeps up of course, with her inquisitive nature subdued in favor of a more mature and level-headed Doctor. It’d be interesting to know what percentage of this week’s screenplay was Vinay Patel’s and which was Chris Chibnall’s, as the writing here seems miles ahead of what we’ve had throughout the show for a while.
Of course though, it all depends on your opinion of the episode’s revelation. The Doctor digs up a mysterious grave outside the lighthouse and finds a buried version of the TARDIS, whilst Ruth breaks the barrier that withholds her memories and finally remembers who she is – a previously unknown incarnation of The Doctor. Segun Akinola’s soaring orchestra swoons over an astonished Whittaker. Ruth shows up with a gun of all things and begins to show off her identity as a Time Lord… it’s clear she’s a previous incarnation and unaware of Jodie’s portrayal yet. We’re even given a new TARDIS interior. It’s pristine white, an amalgamation of Hartnell’s original (it even has the round things!) and a modern Apple product.
It’s not a new trick by any means. Plot threads involving the chameleon circuit have been used before to change The Doctor’s identity whilst 2013 took great glee in introducing John Hurt as a previously-unseen version of The Doctor. However, there’s a small niggling feeling of disrespect for the show’s history that keeps popping up between here and ‘Spyfall’ that I hope isn’t indicative of the show’s future. It wasn’t enough to wipe the smile from my face however. Martin’s straight-backed and professional Doctor takes an immediate swipe at the ‘silly’ nature of Whittaker’s harkening back to the back-and-forth between Peter Capaldi and David Bradley in Steven Moffat’s ‘Twice Upon a Time’ – she doesn’t even know what a sonic screwdriver is.
Director Nida Manzoor is in much better form this week, her wheelhouse evidently being the heightening of emotional revolutions rather than the stilted action sequence of ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’. After the Judoon and spokesperson for their employer Gat (Ritu Arya – with a previous relationship with Ruth’s Doctor) bring the TARDIS to their ship, what follows is lots of guns in lots of faces – much to the chagrin of Whittaker’s Doctor. Instead she reveals herself as The Doctor too, resulting in Gat revealing that she and the Judoon are under orders from Gallifrey to kill Ruth’s Doctor.
From now on, whenever Gallifrey’s mentioned we know we’re in from some great screen-work from Jodie Whittaker too. It’s a shame it doesn’t go on for longer, as Gat’s fondness of violence results in her destruction from an altered rifle and Ruth threatens the Judoon’s life to let them go as they’re now in interstellar space where there’s no jurisdiction. It’s over before things seem to get begin.
Ruth drops The Doctor back in Gloucester where she’s reunited with her fam, but it’s here where the questions for homework begin. With all these old elements of The Doctor’s life coming back, is it something to do with what Tom Baker’s fourth incarnation of the character predicted in ‘Day of the Doctor’? Despite objections, her inclusion in the roster of the Time Lords does technically fit. We never see a regeneration between Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, whilst the show’s extended narrative tells the story of a Doctor under the employ of a hit squad on Gallifrey. This career of death is surely something The Doctor would want to forget, so maybe Chibnall is reaching back to the extended canon for his stint as showrunner?
Or does Ruth have something to do with Jack’s foretelling of the fall of the cybermen? Where does The Master’s destruction of Gallifrey fit in in all of this? ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ is a small episode narratively with huge ramifications and one that reminds us of a healthier show.
One thing’s for sure, I think we’d all like more episodes of this please…