Okay people, let's get serious. It's time to finally figure out what the heck was going on in “Fugitive of the Judoon”. Have you recovered from the latest Doctor Who episode yet? Neither have I.
Oh, and SPOILERS from here on out, obviously.
The Fugitive Doctor, as I like to call her, is arguably the biggest question mark among the many in Doctor Who Series 12. How can she exist? When does she exist? And what does her existence mean for both the past and the future of Doctor Who?
Well, if you've read my ginormous post on who the Timeless Child might be, you know that I am excessively nerdy when it comes to Doctor Who, so if anyone can figure it out, I can.
And after days of mulling over all the possibilities, I must confess that I still have no idea whatsoever. But I can at least go over the various theories and try to weigh how likely each one is. So, strap yourselves in.
First of all, let's consider the possibility that the Fugitive Doctor isn't the Doctor at all. This probably isn't the case, because Chris Chibnall has stated definitively that Jo Martin's character is (somehow) the Doctor, and her “Introducing” credit at the end of the episode confirms this. However, assuming that all of that is just a smoke screen, who else might she be?
Frankly, I don't think Chibnall is lying, so I won't spend a great deal of time on this theory. But briefly, there are a few other Time Lords that the Fugitive Doctor could be: the Master (hello again, Missy), the Monk (or rather, the Nun?), the Rani (she's got to show up someday), Rassilon, Romana, Drax, or the Thirteen. (I told you I was a nerd.)
Another possibility denied by Chibnall is the idea that the Fugitive Doctor is from a parallel universe. If he's lying about this, then perhaps she's the version of the Doctor from “Pete's World”–by which I mean the original Doctor of that universe, not the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor. I don't think there's any way she could be the Meta-Crisis Doctor, unless that Doctor gained the ability to regenerate, which seems doubtful.
While there are a number of clues within “Fugitive” which seem to indicate that this is somehow a past version of the Doctor, we don't know that for sure. All we know is that either the Fugitive Doctor has forgotten the Thirteenth Doctor, or the Thirteenth Doctor has forgotten her. Somebody's had their memory fiddled with. It could be either one of the two Doctors. And if it's the Fugitive Doctor who's had her memory altered, that could explain why she doesn't remember things like the sonic screwdriver or Gallifrey being destroyed.
Personally, I favor this theory. I think Chibnall's masterplan is to radically diverge from the usual method of introducing new Doctors by gradually segueing between Thirteen and Fourteen, introducing Fourteen early to begin the slow transition. Naturally, this begs the question, why bother with all the confusion over whether Fourteen is from the past or the future? There's a simple explanation for that. If Chibnall had established right away that Fourteen was a future Doctor, it would have interfered with Thirteen's character arc (and it would have been unfair to Jodie Whittaker). I mean, we all know that Thirteen will regenerate someday, but the appearance of her future self would make it seem like she's already on her way out the door even if we're going to get at least one more series with her. It would make the rest of her arc feel fairly predictable. The fall of the Eleventh Doctor hung over him for a very long time, but the fact that we didn't know what form that fall would take kept us guessing. This is similar. As for Gallifrey, perhaps the Fugitive Doctor is from a future in which Gallifrey was rebuilt, or in which it was never destroyed by the Master. We are talking about a planet of beings who can manipulate timelines, after all.
My prediction is that the rest of the Thirteenth Doctor's arc will explore how she lost her memories of her current incarnation (as well as other memories, like the sonic and at least one of the destructions of Gallifrey) and became the Fugitive Doctor in the first place. But what if this theory is wrong, and the Fugitive Doctor actually is from earlier in the Doctor's timeline?
Even if we accept that the Fugitive Doctor isn't from another universe, that doesn't completely rule out her being an “alternative” Doctor of some sort. She seems very similar to the War Doctor, in more ways than one, and many clues within the episode seem to point to Gallifrey (and the Doctor herself) being at war with someone. So what if the Fugitive Doctor is somehow the War Doctor?
On the surface, this doesn't seem possible. The War Doctor was John Hurt, after all. Then again, we are talking about the Time War, in which the whole of reality was falling apart and different timelines were bleeding into each other. It's not hard to imagine that within the chaos of the War, there was a timeline in which the Eighth Doctor chose a different goblet from Ohila and regenerated into the Fugitive Doctor.
There are a couple of significant problems with this theory–for one, the fact that the Fugitive Doctor didn't recognize the sonic screwdriver. If she's an alternate War Doctor, she still should have known what it was. But maybe the warping of her timeline either removed this from her memory or erased it from her past. Also, it would be unfair to the memory of the late John Hurt to undermine his legacy as one of the Doctors by replacing him with somebody else. But if Chibnall found a way to write this into canon without replacing him, somehow allowing both War Doctors to stand side by side, it might work.
Suppose the Fugitive Doctor isn't an alternative or a parallel version in any way, but is still from the Thirteenth Doctor's past. How is this possible? Short answer: it's not. Or at least, it shouldn't be. There aren't any gaps left in the Doctor's first regeneration cycle; not after the War Doctor and the confirmation that Ten regenerated twice.
However, if we were to set the regeneration limit aside, assuming that the Time Lords somehow gave the Doctor just one additional life at some point, is there any way to slot this new life into the Doctor's timeline? Possibly. Though we've seen almost every regeneration of the Doctor onscreen at this point, there is one we technically didn't see: the change from the Second Doctor into the Third. All we got was Patrick Troughton making silly faces at the end of one episode, and Jon Pertwee stumbling out of the TARDIS at the start of the next one. Given that the Time Lords forced this regeneration onto the Second Doctor, shenanigans of some sort aren't unlikely. Plus, thanks to the really weird Sixth Doctor serial “The Two Doctors”, which tossed continuity out the window to bring back the Second Doctor and Jamie, there's a snarl in the timelines with regard to the Second Doctor's last days. This has been explained away by a popular fan theory saying that the Second Doctor worked for the Time Lords on secret missions for a while before his regeneration. Sound familiar?
So, what if the Second Doctor “left his job” and regenerated into the Fugitive Doctor around the same time, then was recaptured later on and forced to regenerate into the Third Doctor, upon which all memories of the Fugitive Doctor's life were wiped from his memory? It certainly fits with many details in “Fugitive of the Judoon”…except for one. That pesky sonic screwdriver. The Second Doctor is the one who first starting using this gizmo (in the TV serial “Fury from the Deep”), so his successor not recognizing it doesn't really make sense. Unless, of course, she just forgot it for some reason, which isn't impossible.
One theory that a number of people have suggested by now is the idea that the Fugitive Doctor is from a whole cycle of regenerations prior to the First Doctor, which were somehow later forgotten. This would keep all the continuity from the Doctor's known incarnations intact, since they would constitute the Doctor's second and third regeneration cycles. This theory aligns with a rumor that floated around the internet prior to the Series 12 premiere.
I'm not ruling this idea out completely, but I have serious doubts about it. It comes with a host of continuity problems. If there were really thirteen other Doctors prior to the William Hartnell incarnation, traveling the universe and doing Doctor stuff, are we really expected to believe that we're only getting some inkling of their existence now? (And no, the so-called “Morbius Doctors” don't count; they were just previous faces of Morbius.) Plus, the Fugitive Doctor's TARDIS is a police box, and the TARDIS didn't get stuck as a police box until after it landed in Totter's Lane at the very beginning of Doctor Who. Before that, it had a functioning chameleon circuit. Finally, the Time Lords didn't actually possess the ability to grant full additional regeneration cycles in the First Doctor's era. That didn't happen until the time of the Eighth Doctor, not long before the Time War.
Doctor Other/The Timeless Doctor
What if a variation on my theory about the Other and the Timeless Child is correct, and the Fugitive Doctor is some past version of the Doctor from ancient Gallifrey? This would be different from the Doctor having a previous regeneration cycle. It would mean that the Fugitive Doctor is some kind of proto-Time-Lord from the earliest days of Gallifreyan civilization, who was later reincarnated as the Doctor we all know.
There are a few clues in “Fugitive of the Judoon” to support this–particularly Commander Gat's remark about “serving for the glory of Gallifrey”. That's not something you'd usually hear a Time Lord say. Time Lords, as a rule, are/were not militaristic, outside of the Time War. They were all about observing, not conquering…unless you go far back into their history, when they were more arrogant and bellicose. Perhaps the Fugitive Doctor, Lee (whom I'm assuming was also a Time Lord), and Gat are all from ancient Gallifrey.
Gat hiring the Judoon, however, complicates this theory. The Judoon hail from the post-Time-War era, and given their work for the Shadow Proclamation, they probably know something about the destruction (and maybe even the return) of Gallifrey during the Time War. It seems unlikely that the ancient Gallifreyans would somehow travel into the future and make contact with the Judoon without some massive paradoxes forming.
All that said, the blurry glimpse we've gotten of the Timeless Child shows somebody who could be a younger version of the Fugitive Doctor.
We now come to my favorite theory…though I still consider the Fourteenth Doctor theory to be slightly more plausible.
Yes, the Valeyard is still a thing. He's been mentioned more than once in NuWho, so he hasn't vanished from canon. And, in my opinion, the Valeyard counts as an incarnation of the Doctor, which means that the Fugitive Doctor could be him/her…though I'm not sure Chris Chibnall would agree with this view.
Who the heck is the Valeyard, anyway? Good question. Basically, the Valeyard (played by the very talented Michael Jayston) came to be when nobody was getting along behind the scenes on Doctor Who, leading to the messy “Trial of a Time Lord” story arc where nothing really made sense–the Valeyard least of all. He was supposed to be an evil version of the Doctor, but his existence was never explained to anyone's satisfaction. Fortunately, Big Finish took the character in hand and clarified some things about him. They kept the air of mystery about the character intact, though, so not all the questions about him have been answered.
In current canon, then, the Valeyard is a distillation of all the Doctor's darkest thoughts and impulses. He defines himself by having shrugged off the Doctor's compassion and sense of responsibility. He is and always will be the Doctor's future. He cannot be averted, only postponed. (His words, not mine.) For a time, the Doctor believed that he had altered the future and rendered the Valeyard's creation impossible, but certain events in the Time War hinted that this might not be the case.
Here's the crucial bit: according to the current information about the Valeyard (assuming he's not lying) he somehow “splintered off” from the Doctor before the Doctor's “final incarnation”. Whether this is a reference to the Eleventh Doctor or some future, final Doctor is open to interpretation. The point is, the Valeyard represents another Doctor who exists alongside the “prime” Doctor within the same reality. No parallel universes or timey-wimeyness required. Also, while the Valeyard originally couldn't regenerate, he eventually (in the audio dramas) got his hands on some alien serum that could give him that ability. So he could have changed from his Michael Jayston incarnation more than once by now. In addition, he possessed a TARDIS of his own which he had disguised as a police box.
Problems? Well, the Valeyard never used a sonic screwdriver, but he has all the Doctor's memories leading up to at least his eighth incarnation, so he should know what one is…unless he, or rather, she, is lying in a big scheme to make the Doctor doubt her own past. It would be a very Valeyard thing for her to do. Alternatively, this new Valeyard could be having memory problems and be truly convinced that she is the original Doctor at the moment. The main issues with this theory are that it would (1) require Chibnall to accept the Valeyard as a legitimate Doctor, which he probably doesn't, and (2) require him to incorporate some continuity from the audio dramas, which doesn't seem likely. Still, it's a fun possibility to explore.
Welp, that's it. I'm out of theories. Anyone else have any ideas? Feel free to share them in the comments.