UK TV review: Doctor Who Season 12 Episode 5 (Fugitive of the Judoon)
Ivan Radford | On 29, Jan 2020
It’s not often that an episode of Doctor Who leaves you with your jaw on the floor and a grin on your face. Season 12, Chris Chibnall’s second run in the TARDIS as showrunner, managed that rare feat at the start of the season with the surprise return of The Master, given a fresh upgrade by Sacha Dhawan. Now, he’s done it twice in one season with Fugitive of the Judoon, an episode that delivers surprise after surprise – and then flips those surprises on their head for good measure.
The episode is one that’s rooted in the past coming back to catch the present off-guard, continuing Season 12’s knack for stories that connect to history but always showcase an unexpected sidekick or overlooked figure as their hero. So it is with Fugitive of the Judoon, but Chibnall does so in a way that manages to pay tribute to Russell T Davies, by bringing back some of his creations, and dive headfirst into Doctor Who lore – a welcome riposte to fans who questioned whether the showrunner had the expertise, interest or courage to engage with the show’s mythology.
We begin in Gloucester, where the Judoon – yes, they’re back – place the city on lockdown to try and track down a fugitive. That means a chance for Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill) to play detective, while Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor tries to cool the trigger-happy Judoon and avoid unnecessary casualties.
At the centre of it all are, apparently, Ruth (Jo Martin), and Lee (Neil Stuke), her extremely suspicious boyfriend. Martin and Stuke are clearly having a whale of a time, playing up their seemingly carefree and cautious personalities with a snappy chemistry and humour – matched only by Paul Kasey as the grumpy leader of the Judoon’s ground forces, Capain Pol-Kon-Don, who is an ideal foil for Whittaker and Gill’s resilient, often rhyming, posturing.
Needless to say, the fugitive isn’t who you expect, and the answer to that mystery turns out to be impressively, dizzyingly complicated – an answer that raises questions not only for the rest of this season, but the programme as a whole. How many episodes of Doctor Who can you say that about?
Doctor Who Season 12 is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2021.
Doctor’s notebook (spoilers)
– Let’s jump straight into spoilers on this one, as there’s a lot to unpack. First up, the return of Captain Jack Harkness. The Judoon may been the front cover news, but the major comeback glory belonged to John Barrowman, who visibly – and audibly – enjoyed being back in his Torchwood leader’s uniform. Ever since Whittaker started piloting the TARDIS, we’ve bee waiting for her and Captain Jack to get together. We don’t quite get that here, as Jack only appears to the Doctor’s fam, but there’s little doubt that he’ll be reappearing once more, no doubt in time for the season finale.
– Jack, like the Judoon, is trying to located the Doctor, but keeps accidentally teleporting members of the fam instead onto his ship (which, yes, he has stolen). Barrowman interacting with Walsh and Cole, in particular, is a treat, and while he spends most of his screentime here reciting exposition and teasing future plot twists, Barrowman does it with the knowing cheese that made Jack so charming in the first place. And yes, of course he sneaks in a man-on-man kiss with Graham.
– The exposition? That in itself needs a bullet point, as Jack warns the fam that there’s a “lone Cyberman” on the loose, presumably the last of its species, not unlike the Doctor (or, indeed, The Master). His message for the Doctor? Beware this lone Cyberman and “do not give it what it wants”. The Master, the Cybermen, Cap’n Jack and the Judoon all in one hour? Doctor Who’s 12th season is laying on the fan service thick. Will this tie into the alternate universe that The Master seemed to be toying with at the season’s open? And will the lone Cyberman being alive be connected with The Master’s own ability to somehow cheat death (yet again)?
– To Chibnall’s credit, all this never feels like fan service, as he upends rather than caters to audience expectations. Because Ruth, it turns out, is the fugitive – and, more specifically, is another incarnation of The Doctor. Sporting a colourful waistcoat and military trenchcoat, she was hiding out in Gloucester using a good-old chameleon arch (last seen in the days of David Tennant’s Doctor), with Lee as her protector. His cryptic text – “Follow the light, break the glass.” – triggered her memories, as she broke a container within a lighthouse she kept seeing in her dreams to release regen-energy that restored her to her full self. Strolling out in front of the Judoon with a gun, she was a formidable figure – and a striking contrast to Whittaker’s rainbow-adorned, weapons-free Time Lord.
– Doctor Ruth revealed that she had once worked for Gat, who was tracking down The Doctor to bring her back to Gallifrey, using the Judoon to do it. Gat, tricked into using a sabotaged gun, shot herself, leaving Whittaker’s Doctor and Doctor Ruth to work out who came first: the time-travelling chicken or the stunned egg?
– Martin is remarkable, immediately bringing an attitude to Doctor Ruth that counters Whittaker’s presence. Doctor Ruth swaggers, carries a gun, doesn’t have a sonic screwdriver and insists that she doesn’t remember being Whittaker – just as Whittaker doesn’t remember being Martin. So who did come first? Gallifrey still existing is a key clue, which suggests Doctor Ruth comes somewhere earlier in The Doctor’s timeline. But how, then, can Whittaker’s Doctor not remember?
– Chibnall has insisted Doctor Ruth is The Doctor, and an “introducing” credit for Martin at the end backs up her official credentials. The idea of previous unknown or unremembered incarnations of The Doctor has been teased before in Classic Who, and Ruth’s TARDIS design is certainly more in keeping with that of Patrick Troughton than the Nu Who’s more organic designs. Does that mean she’s somewhere between Troughton and Jon Pertwee, around the time when The Doctor didn’t have a sonic screwdriver in the modern sense, or when the idea of The Doctor working for someone wasn’t entirely alien? We certainly know that she can’t be a pre-Hartnell Doctor, because her TARDIS is stuck as a police box, something that happened when the First Doctor stole it. Is Ruth the “Timeless Child” we’ve heard mention of this season? And what exactly does that mean?
– However it ties together, scriptwriter Vinay Patel (Demons of the Punjab) and director Nida Manzoor do a wonderful job of balancing the info-heavy revelations with the new TARDIS design and versatile costume work to flesh out each twist and character, not to mention deliver believable scale and style for it all to unfold convincingly at such breakneck pace.
– And, in between all of that, not only do we get a blokey kiss, a three-woman showdown come the climax and a reminder that Gallifrey is currently toast (for reasons we still don’t know), but we also get a black female Doctor – the second female Doctor, no less, to step out of the TARDIS (or the first, depending on your chronology). The result is as bold a revision of sci-fi history as HBO’s recent Watchmen series, and the fresh lens through which to piece together all of these puzzle bits only makes it even more thrilling and unpredictable.
– “Time is swirling around me,” broods Whittaker’s Doctor, getting a welcome chance to play brooding as well as her usual, upbeat presence. “Let it come,” her fam declares, “You’ve got us.” She’s got us a growing audience of long-term fans to boot, we’d wager.