I honestly don't know where to begin in writing this review. Far from being another monster-of-the-week episode of Doctor Who, “Fugitive of the Judoon” instead subverted practically every expectation I had. Over and over again as I watched it, I found myself saying, “Nahhh, they're not going to do that, are they…oh my gosh, they actually did it.”
Now, big twists alone do not automatically make for a good episode of Doctor Who. But the more I ruminate on the events of “Fugitive”, the more I feel that I'm quite pleased with it. Some of its success will rely on how the big questions it presents are answered in future stories, but as was the case with “Spyfall”, the foundations have been laid for some very good stuff in upcoming episodes.
Before we begin, a word on spoilers: don't read on past the spoiler-free verdict if you haven't seen the episode yet. It's not worth it. You really ought to go into this one knowing nothing. That said, even if you have read the headlines and fan comments today, I recommend that you see “Fugitive” for yourself before drawing your conclusions.
The Quick & Spoiler-Free Verdict
“Fugitive of the Judoon” is a truly shocking and riveting story that combines fan-pleasing moments with daring new developments. It's bound to provoke controversy, but in the tradition of past canon-altering surprises served up by Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. Time will tell whether the questions raised by this story will be answered in a satisfying manner, but viewed on its own merits, there's a lot to like about “Fugitive”. Don't miss it.
BIG SPOILERS START NOW. LAST WARNING.
What I Didn't Like
Writing this section is difficult this week, because technically, there's nothing in “Fugitive” that I actually disliked…as of now. There may be things I come to dislike in the future, if certain directions are taken with the big twists.
Let's cut to the chase and talk about what's making the most headlines right now: Jo Martin is, or was, or will be the Doctor. Somehow. The credits say “Introducing Jo Martin as the Doctor” to confirm this. She's a past Doctor, if we're to believe what both Doctors assumed in this episode. But we don't know that for sure. She could easily be from a parallel universe of some sort–a simple explanation, as Graham suggested. It would really have helped if the two Doctors (I can't believe I'm writing those words) had asked each other a few more questions to pin down what they did and didn't remember, but I suppose they were pressed for time.
In any case, if Jo Martin is a past Doctor we haven't met yet, what does that mean for the show? I have absolutely no idea, but I don't have any reason to jump to negative conclusions right now. As such, I don't think the rest of the fanbase should either. We have an opportunity here not to descend into the bitter conflicts and hate-mongering that arose when Jodie Whittaker's casting was first announced. So how about we don't immediately assume that everyone who isn't happy about this twist is making their judgment based entirely on sexism and racism? Also, to the people who aren't pleased about the potential ramifications of this, I hear you. Doctor Who canon is important to me, too, and if Chibnall is planning to randomly shove a new Doctor or Doctors into the past, thereby altering previous stories which depend on the accepted timeline of the Doctor's regenerations, I'm not going to be thrilled about it either. But we don't know that yet. And on the whole, we were willing to play along when Steven Moffat and even Russell T. Davies challenged established canon, through reveals like the War Doctor and the Time War itself. So even though many of us (including myself) don't have the highest opinion of Chris Chibnall's showrunning skills, we really ought to give him a chance. For now, let's set aside the concerns about what “Fugitive of the Judoon” might mean and focus on the story itself.
What I Liked
I want to take a moment to appreciate the fact that there were really no political undertones in this episode. Unless one interprets Jo Martin's casting as a political statement, but I don't think that's particularly fair. We know Time Lords can change gender and race; we've seen it on the show more than once; let's move on now, shall we? This was pure sci-fi storytelling steeped in Doctor Who continuity from start to finish. No lectures, no Ms. Frizzle moments, just Doctor Who. Let's hope it stays that way, and that there are no more episodes like “Orphan 55” in our future.
I was surprised and very impressed at how quickly “Fugitive” dove into the series arc. In the middle of an average season of Doctor Who, we might get a few nods to the arc in the final scenes of a few episodes, with most of the arc-related stuff saved for the finale. Here, the Doctor starts talking about the Master and Gallifrey early on, and that's barely scratching the surface of what happens in this story. Chris Chibnall has yet to completely win me over as a showrunner, but I have to give him props for being willing to break with tradition when crafting a long-term storyline. Plus, thanks to the “Beware the Lone Cybermen” warning, we even know that there are more arc-centric episodes to come before the finale–namely, the as-yet-untitled Mary Shelley story.
Even more importantly, this episode tied into established Doctor Who continuity like never before in this era of the show…first and foremost, by finally bringing back Captain Jack Harkness. This is a return that the fanbase has wanted for a very long time, and in my opinion, Chibnall executed it brilliantly. I have to confess, Jack was never one of my favorite characters from the RTD years, but I was still very happy to see him return, especially since I know there are lots of other Who fans who love the character. Plus, John Barrowman threw himself into the role with all his old enthusiasm, clearly overjoyed to be on Doctor Who again. His scenes with the companions were hilarious. I can't wait to finally see him reunited with the Doctor–whoever she happens to be at the time.
The return of the chameleon arch was another great nod to the past. We've only ever seen the item used to restore disguised Time Lords in the form of a pocketwatch, but of course, there's never been a rule saying it had to be a watch. (In fact, a different version of the item did feature in an audio drama, though I won't say which one to avoid spoilers.) Fans have been speculating about the chameleon arch recurring with every single Doctor Who mystery that's cropped up over the past ten years, watching characters like Clara, River, and even Donna to see if they had a fob watch or some similar mysterious object. It was nice to finally see it used in a story, and in such an unexpected way. Especially since the script totally tricked us by making us think at first that the silver box was going to turn Lee back into a Time Lord.
And now, we come to the new/old/whatever Doctor. Let's just call her “the Other Doctor” to avoid confusion. Her reveal was expertly crafted, in my opinion. I suspected the truth as soon as Commander Gat said the phrase “faithful companion”, and there were other subtle clues sprinkled in earlier on (Ruth's job as a tour guide, her knowledge of history, etc.), but when the reveal finally came, it was still a big surprise. The use of Lee's character as a smoke screen was an especially clever trick…not to mention a gut-punch. We've seen a companion of the Doctor sacrifice himself to save her after watching over her for years, even falling in love with her, and we don't know anything else about him! “Faithful companion,” indeed.
I don't know what the reveal of the Other Doctor will mean for the show, but I have to say, I really like her so far. She's basically everything that the Thirteenth Doctor isn't…and it works. I feel guilty saying that, because I'm a fan of Jodie Whittaker's portrayal of the Doctor even when the scripts don't do her justice, but the Other Doctor exemplifies many of the Doctor's aspects that are downplayed in Thirteen's characterization. She's darker, tougher, and more brusque. Humorously, she even echoed some fan criticisms of Thirteen to her face. Martin's portrayal reminds me of both the Seventh and Twelfth Doctors, but she puts her own unique spin on the role as well. I'm not saying I like her more than Thirteen, but I will go so far as to say that as the truth about the Other Doctor dawned on me, I had an easier time accepting her as an incarnation of the Doctor then I did with Thirteen in her early days. It took a long time before Jodie Whittaker fully embodied the role in my eyes, but Jo Martin nailed it remarkably fast. You could even see hints of the Doctor creeping in before she broke the glass and regained her true self.
The Thirteenth Doctor, however, is served very well by this script. The arc of Thirteen growing darker and more desperate gets better with each passing episode. I love that Jodie Whittaker is finally coming into her own as the Doctor. Plus, it was a nice surprise to see her reveal the truth about everything that had happened to the companions instead of keeping it secret for the rest of the series. I really wasn't expecting that. Not only does this advance her character development, but it gives all the companions a chance to step up to the plate as well. The companions, by the way, were handled perfectly this week too. Each one got a chance to stand out in some way, and putting them all together with Jack was a brilliant move.
The scenes with the two Doctors also deserve praise, both for the dialogue and for the acting of Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin. (Actually, the dialogue throughout this episode was stellar.) The verbal sparring between the Doctors was very much in the tradition of multi-Doctor stories from the show's past. I truly felt like I was watching two Doctors clash, not the Doctor and some new character I wasn't emotionally invested in. I think Jo Martin's performance in her “Ruth” persona helped with that, since Ruth was instantly likable from the earliest moments of “Fugitive”. I cared about her even before I knew who she was, and that carried on to the final scenes.
And oh yeah, I forgot, the Judoon were in this one. They were great. The effects and costume departments did top-notch work for this episode.
I think I'm going to have to devote another, separate post to all the continuity reveals in this episode. There are just too many to cover in this review. For now, I will simply say that “Fugitive of the Judoon” is the kind of story that Doctor Who needs right now. That's not to say that its reveals will pan out in a way that pleases everyone. This could all be building up to some big politically-charged moment that makes the whole of Series 12 feel like “Orphan 55” on a larger scale. But before episodes like “Spyfall” and “Fugitive”, Doctor Who was growing stagnant, especially after the disappointing Series 11. Ratings have been down significantly this year. Something big had to happen to shake things up and give people a reason to tune in, so that the show could still have a bright future ahead of it. In this story, we were given both the return of a fan-favorite character and the introduction of a brand-new storyline that could change everything for the Doctor. The first of those was definitely a good decision on Chibnall's part. The second may be as well. We shall see. Ultimately, for the time being, I'm happy with “Fugitive of the Judoon”, and I'm certainly eager to see where the show goes next.