Fugitive of the Judoon

Posted in Episode by - January 27, 2020
Fugitive of the Judoon

Aired 26 January 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Even with its more serious tone and cinematic stylings, the beginnings of this era of Doctor Who with Chris Chibnall as showrunner has unabashedly leaned into the Russell T Davies era for inspiration, a logical choice given how wildly popular the franchise was upon its return. At first providing glimpses into the personal lives of the companions and more recently revealing the shocking return of the Master in a new body and the even more devastating destruction of Gallifrey to bring out a rawer side to the Thirteenth Doctor, the inclusion of the Judoon in ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ by Chris Chibnall and Vinay Patel as the first non-Dalek returning alien in this era is perhaps the most visual homage to that recent past yet and just the beginning of an episode that is sure to delight and anger in equal measure with the mystery at its core.

While by no means does ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ rely on its audience’s implicit knowledge of what happened during Davies’ tenure with Eccleston and Tennant as the leads, and especially the third series, it certainly uses some familiar beats to lull viewers into a false sense of security before suddenly changing course and subverting expectations. Indeed, the mere presence of the Judoon and the Doctor’s rhyming descriptions to match ask for direct comparisons to their debut story, ‘Smith and Jones,’ and the world-building accomplished by focusing on the mundane and everyday lives of a small group of characters outside of the core cast is certainly something that has become less prominent over recent years. Even the comedic banter and bluffing that feature here are aspects that the Whittaker era has often avoided, but this lighter tone and more intimate setting within the literal confines of a portion of Gloucester come together to wonderfully evoke a sense of that third series with episodes that featured the Judoon and the Chameleon Arch that ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ brings together here.

While some stories can collapse under the weight of a twisting narrative, Patel and Chibnall manage to deftly steer the plot forward in a manner that makes perfect sense of what has previously been revealed in hindsight. With Lee overtly described as a faithful companion, only is the weight of this comment revealed when telling visions of a perfectly symbolic lighthouse lead Ruth to regain her true identity as the Doctor herself. Fittingly, despite Ruth’s claims that she is an earlier incarnation of the Doctor than Whittaker’s, the episode deliberately leaves her place in the show’s chronology and canonicity unclear. There have, of course, been persistent rumours of pre-Hartnell Doctors since ‘The Brain of Morbius,’ and the legend of the Other on Gallifrey is certain to garner renewed attention for those looking to the expanded universe of Doctor Who. However, it seems unlikely that Chibnall would go down either of these roads and risk alienating so many viewers, and the prospect of another War Doctor insertion either between the Second and Third Doctors or between the War and Ninth Doctors when regenerations occurred offscreen is seemingly impossible since all thirteen of the Doctor’s lives in the regeneration cycle were accounted for between Hartnell and Smith. This is a mystery layered with the potential to rewrite the established rules of Doctor Who, and though an alternate version of the Doctor from an alternate Gallifrey that has not fallen is seemingly more likely given recent discussion about multiple Earths and potential futures that can be changed, the potential for a clone or even for Jenny or the Valeyard and their shared genetic structure with the Doctor to return are certainly possible as well.

Not having all of the information about this burgeoning arc while remembering the Master’s recent claim that nothing is at is seems makes judging the ultimate impact of ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ impossible. Regardless of Ruth’s true identity, however, Jo Martin makes an instant impact as her version of the Doctor, highlighting a quirky humour yet utter earnestness that is both familiar and unique and that culminates in some tense confrontations with the Thirteenth Doctor who has until recently been quite the optimist. Even Ruth’s apparent willingness to use a gun is handled gracefully as these two Doctor realise their moralities are not quite as different as they might initially believe, and the social commentary about police brutality to further bolster this Doctor’s debut only heighten her relevance and prominence as she appears slightly more eager to use threats of violence to achieve her goals. This all may or may not be playing into a much more shocking revelation down the road, but there’s no doubt that Martin makes the most of the opportunity afforded here even if the mystery about her identity is artificially extended by not having the Doctors psychically connect.

As if the return of the Judoon and the thrilling tease of another Doctor were not enough, ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ also manages to fit in another surprise cameo with the return of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness who would go on to find such enduring fame as the leader of Torchwood under Chibnall. Admittedly, this portion of the plot carries on much longer than was needed for Jack to portentously warn about the lone Cybermen, but Chibnall perfectly captures Jack’s voice and mannerisms with a throwback to a certain cheesiness that now rarely rears its head in Doctor Who. Yet despite Barrowman’s inherent charisma and the comedy mined from a case of mistaken identity and his missed opportunities to meet the Doctor once more, there is no denying that this is a bloated addendum to the plot that seems more like fan service designed to separate the three companions from the main action while drawing attention to the fact that somehow Earth still remains unaware of what Cybermen are despite the repeated attacks and invasions its populace has endured.

By no means is ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ an all-out classic given the bevy of ideas that all fight for prominence at varying times, but the casual introduction of a woman who is positioned to- though unlikely to when the ultimate reveal occurs- shatter the known universe of Doctor Who is a brilliant subversion of expectations that meshes with the past perfectly to prove just how bold this franchise can still be in a time when scripting and casting leaks are all too common.

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