It would appear that the musical group, STOMP is visiting Gloucester because there are lots of loud noises and the ground is shaking. Or maybe it’s the platoon of Judoon, marching through, completely ignoring intergalactic law forbidding them on Earth. Either way, they’re looking for a fugitive. But who could it be…?
That was Fugitive of the Judoon, a surprising episode for two main reasons: the return of Captain Jack Harkness, and a new Doctor on the scene played by Jo Martin. Frank Danes, however, wasn’t impressed in his review:
“I think Chibs is so incompetent at structuring a story that he doesn’t tell one: instead, he signposts future stories which, I think from experience, tend, when I get to see them, to be as incomprehensible and silly as the episode I am watching at present. He introduces Captain Jack to have him warn us about a future story – “Beware the lone Cyberman” – and to disappear. By golly, that’s how to use a much loved character! Don’t give him a scene with the Doctor, which would be fun, but give him one with the Cardboard Trio instead, and try to keep us watching the rest of this dreary season by the promise of a future fun Jodie-Jack encounter.”
What did the rest of the DWC think? We employed the Judoon to hunt a few of them down.
The tribute to the Russell T. Davies era continues with Fugitive of the Judoon, which turns out to be a portmanteau of Smith and Jones, Human Nature/Family of Blood, and Utopia. True, it felt like lesser writers trying to emulate a writer of a different class – the important notes still rang hollow – but, following Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, this again feels like Doctor Who finding its form (or someone else’s form, anyway). Positively, the Judoon have never looked, or been performed, better. There was real character in the Judoon captain, and I loved its reaction to the Doctor’s ‘I’m very disappointed in you.’ The episode was visually a treat and the effects for the Judoon ship superb.
But it felt like a remix rather an original work. Take ‘All Ears’ Allan. The frustrated suitor to Ruth with his obsessive dossier on Lee was a good idea, but the character and performance lacked that extra turn of warmth to leaven his hostility with humanity and make us care when he was murdered. Davies would have made him a real person; under Chibnall and Vinay Patel, he remained an idea.
Another good idea not pulled off well was the return of Captain Jack. Yes, Barrowman was immediately back in character, the references to previous stories were amusing, and so were the jokes, but the scenes themselves amounted to nothing. Jack was there only to deliver his warning and the rest of it served only to put the needless threesome out of the way for a while. Under RTD or Moffat, the scenes would have had a story, an arc, of their own. Again, it was an idea, a note in the margin of a treatment.
And then we have the big revelation of the show. I enjoyed Jo Martin’s performance as Ruth and I certainly found her compelling as the Doctor. In comparison, Jodie Whittaker seemed pallid and a little childish. Some of that is the writing, but I do feel that this was an opportunity missed for the Thirteenth Doctor to be more authoritative and assertive. The appearance of this ‘new’ Doctor (the ‘Timeless Child’?) should have accentuated Whittaker’s Doctor, thrown her traits and character into sharp focus (as happened when the Second and Third Doctors met, for instance) but instead Whittaker rather shrivelled in the heat of Jo Martin’s performance. But then how could she not, when so little of Thirteen’s character has been established? This is not to say I entirely liked the way this ‘new’ Doctor was written. One doesn’t have to buy into the mythology of the pacifist Doctor (as even Thirteen herself does at one point) to find the Serenity-style ‘activation’ scene (by chance scheduling presaged in the first episode of Star Trek: Picard) and her immediate picking up of a rifle a little jarring (‘Who wants some?’ Really, Doctor?). And was it not also a little odd that pretty much the first thing the ‘new’ Doctor did on awakening was change clothes? Yes, it’s a short-hand way of establishing her new identity but I found it a little comical. And the new costume is good – better than Thirteen’s – but still looks too designed for my taste. Oh, and a stray thought. Will this new Doctor turn out to be villainous in some way? If so, it’s an interesting idea, but given that this is also the first black Doctor, and we now have our first Asian Master, is this quite the message the show wants to send?
I think the key problem with the Fugitive remains the same as throughout the Chibnall era: the ideas are there but they remain ideas rather than becoming drama (‘insert character with mysterious warning here,’ ‘insert big Utopia style reveal there’). What we had on Sunday night was the interest coming from plot revelations but not actually drama (as Stephen King says, ‘plot is the last refuge of bad writers’). And we still have the children’s radio; e.g. ‘The Judoon have got us in a tractor beam, dragging us to their ship’ – in voiceover, as we watch it happen.
Still, while I can analyse its faults and weaknesses, I cannot deny that it was consistently intriguing and genuinely exciting towards the end. I was entertained and I wanted to watch it a second time. For the first time in a long while, I want to see what happens next. On that measure, Fugitive of the Judoon was undeniably a success but, as with listening to a remix, one is still often left wanting to listen to the original.
What is there to say? Last series was beef soup without the beef; this series is beef soup without the soup: Lots of great actions points (the Master, Captain Jack, the ‘Alternative’ Doctor) but no real storyline but at least we kept the lentils.
The initial storyline’s a bit ordinary but that is good – then the Judoon appear with a very limited version of their language… and of course Captain Pol-Con-Don has to be female (“woman to woman”) to keep up with this PC stuff. Enter the ‘faithful companion’ (was he a dog?) and the nasty female alien and we have a faster, snappier tale.
Enter Captain Jack with his new role as Babysitter – it was a good job he scooped all three lentils – sorry, companions; otherwise they had no role in 80% of the storyline and sadly it was better.
Then we have the ‘Alternative’ Doctor (for want of any other name). Who is she? Pun intended. Well, we have the Twice Upon A Time First Doctor TARDIS exterior, a better lit First Doctor interior, and no knowledge of a sonic screwdriver… so, she is the First Doctor? Because as the Master reminded us, “Everything we were told was a lie” Thus, it appears, His Honour Mr Chibs, has decided that everything from An Unearthly Child to Twice Upon A Time was a lie, and he has rewritten it all…?!
Final Verdict – episode five – It’s make or break time. If the past is really a lie, then do we have a programme?
I’m still buzzing trying to guess where this is headed, but for now one of the strongest stories for some years. I may rethink this if the explanation is pants but for now I’m impressed. It managed to grab some RTD, throw a Moffat shaped grenade into Time Lord mythology, and bring back Mr Barrowman!
I got sidelined over who was the fugitive going to be then distracted by Captain Jack’s hair dye. So much so the whole chameleon arch/ buried TARDIS (but is it THE TARDIS???!!!) really floored me. I’ve decided you can either please the fans or please the people that want easy messages. This series has abandoned trying to please everyone and this was clearly one for the fans.
The show may be less popular and destined for a break but on the strength of this is at least bringing some big ideas into play for the 60th.
As to Jo Martin’s wonderful Doctor. First she has the kind of TARDIS old-school fans like me really want to see. She also has attitude. In some ways she’s a distillation of the bile on some fan forums and social media. I loved how she talked to Jodie when the you can’t be the Doctor – I am moment happened. I can almost hear an unexpurgated script along the lines of:
‘When the F*** did I become all rainbows and trousers that don’t fit??!!’
The disdain was excelled and then we had some of Jodie’s best scenes including the later put down of Ryan. The Doctor is 1000s of years old, is not human, is not like us inside. I don’t want nasty all the time but we would seem like amusing children to her. No amount of compassion can cover raw emotion. Imagine the turmoil in her mind at this time. How does it all fit together?
I for one don’t know but I’m looking forward to the ride!
It really is hard to to ‘review’ an episode that has the potential to be such a game changer, but I’d just like to make a few observations…
One: reading the comments on the DWC, it is interesting to note that everyone appears to very positive about this episode, but it has taken a Chibnall episode dropping a huge rock into the pond to get there. Was it really a good episode or was it simply seismic?
Two: I never really liked Captain Jack; I never really disliked Captain Jack; therefore, “meh” (to use a modern phrase). Although, his scenes did look more like a cameo.
Three: I watch Holby City for which I make no apology (for our non-UK friends, Holby City is a hospital-set soap opera). Jo Martin has recently joined Holby City Hosptial as Max McGerry, the CEO. Unfortunately for me, once Martin’s Doctor emerged from Ruth, she turned into McGerry. It wouldn’t have been so obvious had the Max McGerry character been a year ago, but this is running concurrently.
Four: Martin’s Doctor’s TARDIS interior was gorgeous; clean, tidy, and traditional. In total contrast to the cluttered mess of Whitaker’s.
Five: Did anyone else find Martin’s Doctor disfiguring the Judoon captain a bit unsavoury? Yeah, I know the Judoon’s horn is technically hair (or is it?), but it was akin to tearing hair out. Having said all that, I quite enjoyed the episode; it’s Jo Martin that shone out, but Neil Stuke was criminally underused.
I’m actually looking forward to seeing where this goes.
Another successful episode since the two-part opener. I am speechless. So much to digest. I loved it. All the way. That’s why I call it a plentiful amount of surprises sealed in a single love letter, just like The Day of the Doctor. When they announced that Chris Chibnall was co-writing with Vinay Patel, I was among those to immediately figure out that it’d be an arc-driven episode. It may appear that there was so much happening in under an hour, but the pacing seemed okay to me.
I quite liked how it began with Ruth Clayton doing business as usual, in her hometown, Gloucester (brilliant choice of location!), whilst speculating whether her “husband” Lee was the titular fugitive. Especially when the Judoon arrived above Earth’s atmosphere, it got me hyped. (Good thing I tried not to speculate further, whilst watching, which is what I always prefer.) And hearing Nick Briggs lend his brilliant voice was, once again, just like their debut in Smith and Jones. Overall, I think this would’ve worked better as a pre-titles sequence, concluding with Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don removing his helmet.
The first TARDIS scene where the Doctor feels troubled, by referencing what the Master had done, was a superb way to resume the Timeless Child story arc; along with the flashback glimpses of Gallifrey in ruins. Only to be interrupted by the Judoon transmission, they go straight to the plot. I’m glad they gave the titular villains a welcoming return, thoroughly balanced and extremely faithful to Russell T Davies’ scripts. What made it awesome as well was how Yaz got to use her police expertise to communicate with them, which we have rarely seen since Spyfall. Bit surprised that there was no mention of the Shadow Proclamation, considering that they’re the “space police”, but I don’t believe it to be much of an issue for this case.
Nevertheless, we all know they’re not the only familiar faces returning because…
When I heard his American accent, I was like, “Hang on, I know that voice!” And then… “YES!!” After 10 years of a televised absence from Doctor Who, we were finally treated to an unexpected guest appearance from a certain former companion. The good old Captain Jack Harkness is finally back, aged well whilst wearing his signature coat! Funnily enough, his last appearance in The End of Time (Part 2) also featured the Judoon, but primarily the background. (Doubt it was some sort of foreshadowing though.) Putting the Torchwood Big Finish audios and Miracle Day aside for now, John Barrowman has absolutely nailed his comeback; taking me back to my childhood.
I also couldn’t stop laughing when he kissed Graham and mistook him for the Doctor, only to be told that he’s now a “she.” It is kind of sad that he didn’t get to see his very old friend, but I can understand why he only had onscreen time with Graham, Yaz, and Ryan. (Great chemistry, though.) And Jack mentioning “the Lone Cyberman” before being teleported away… shocking but exciting, like what we’ve seen in the trailers. Chibnall definitely made the right decision to bring him back, considering that he was showrunner on Torchwood (Series 1 and 2) and also wrote Cyberwoman. Let’s hope he’ll be back for the two-part finale!
What I found to be the most shocking of all was Ruth revealing her true identity: “the Doctor.” I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. Her very own TARDIS, in the form of a police box, buried underneath a gravestone. How did I not realise that she was using a Chameleon Arch all along? It’s no surprise that Jodie Whittaker didn’t recognise “Ruth” one bit; she was just as puzzled as we were. (I’m calling her “Ruth” from now on because I’d rather not confuse her with Thirteen.) Same with the ‘default-style’ TARDIS console room, and its bluish lighting, I love how it raised more questions than answers. But who is this mysterious ‘incarnation’?
I certainly wouldn’t rule out the idea of her being from another universe or dimension, akin to the Unbound audios. Or could it be that she’s not “the Doctor” and is, instead, the Timeless Child? If you look closely at Gat’s outfit, it appears vastly different in design than what we’re more familiar with; not to mention how she reacts when the Doctor shows her a vision of Gallifrey in ruins. Maybe it’s the former, but we don’t know for sure. Nevertheless, Jo Martin delivered a phenomenal performance. From ripping the Judoon Captain’s horn off to carrying a stolen laser rifle, I am certain that we will see her again soon.
When I reviewed the 2009 specials, I wrote appreciatively: ‘There’s a unique element here that works because it feels odd: as The Next Doctor opens, it might be a multi-Doctor story seen from the point of view of a current Doctor meeting an unknown future one.’ Well, Fugitive of the Judoon is that unique kind of story, and it works. Magnificent secret-keeping there, Team Chibs.
It’s also a strong contender for the ‘Most Divisive Episode Ever’ award. I don’t have any social media accounts, but sensing the Great Continuity Controversy I couldn’t resist peeking at the twitter reaction. My second-favourite tweet was ‘Has anyone checked on Ian Levine?’ [Since that, they have and he apparently enjoyed it.] Messing with the Mythos is a risky business but this is a flying start; I just hope Chibs sticks the landing.
This was the first Chibs story that felt to me like genuine Doctor Who. And no, I don’t just mean that Captain Jack appeared (‘kind of cheesy, but good cheesy’), and there was a stunning other TARDIS interior – gorgeous mix of roundels and hexagons, old and new. I mean, I was actually intrigued by the two protagonists, the Rose opener, the shifty Significant Other who sighed ‘Humans!’ at ‘All Ears Allan.’ The clues towards the reveal were beautifully paced, illustrated by little signs like the hexagonal mirror in Ruth’s flat. Allan made me think Men in Black – more ‘hidden alien’ vibes. I’d had to explain chameleon arch to Hubby long before the ‘biological shielding’ scene. Gat’s emphasis on Lee being the ‘faithful companion’ nailed it for me. The Beetle scene slowed it a bit, but added more clues. Eight has a VW Beetle too – purple, if I recall correctly. The Thirteenth Doctor ‘testing’ Ruth on her own history echoes Ruth asking tourists to test her on Gloucester’s at the start. As I’d plumped for Ruth being a Doctor, the TARDIS reveal didn’t wow me as it has others, and was marred by that instinct that the exterior was anachronistic. She still called it her ‘ship’ so pre-Hartnell is likely, but ‘police box’ needs some explanation. Time will tell.
Jodie ‘all rainbows and trousers that don’t reach’ is still getting better, talking to the TARDIS, ‘never been a fan of growing up,’ finding her own level against the dominant presence and mystery of new Doctor. Nicely-handled multi-Doctor sniping without turning it into a catfight. Jo Martin sold the ‘Ruth becomes Doctor Ruth/less’ brilliantly, and I want her shirt. There was a beautiful little touch when this new Doctor was about to introduce someone to her TARDIS, loving the prospect of the reaction, taking Thirteen’s hand like she was a newbie. She too has ‘brainy specs’! But what is she really like underneath? Did Gat, Lee – and this Doctor – work for the Gallifrey secret service, the CIA? ‘Identical training’ suggests something military. Maybe she deserted and stole the TARDIS.
I still feel the Fam are more observers than participants – that ‘arms length’ thing distances us as well as them. But Liaison Officer Khan was on the ball in a crisis, and Ryan gets a nice comeback to Jack. The Doctor fending them off in the TARDIS for asking too many questions, then praising them for the right ones in Ruth and Lee’s home was interesting writing. As was the poetic ‘serving at the glory of ash and bone.’ Darker tone amid team TARDIS works.
The music was instinctively right again after last week’s flatness, and I loved Sekinola quoting the Waking the Dead theme as they uncovered a grave!! The cover-story Judoon were reduced to Ogron status but wonderfully realised. I loved that they had to ‘wind up’ their weapon! I hated the ‘10 EARTH minutes’ arghhh. And doesn’t it take a long time to say ‘Fall in!’ in Judoonese?
Oh, and my favourite tweet said ‘That knitting never took her 9 weeks!’ Exactly; I’m slow and could have done it in 9 hours – so what else was Marcia up to? And did anyone else want her to be called Begonia?
An episode that started off as one thing and ended as something entirely different, it feels like Fugitive has well and truly got people talking about Doctor Who again. I have to credit the production team for pulling off another big shock this season; the contrast with previous years, when it felt like no surprise went unannounced in advance and the Doctor Who office seemed leakier than an old bucket, is incredible.
It was only afterwards that I started to question what I’d seen. I’m not convinced that it all made sense and, let’s face it, it’s not so very long since we got a hitherto unknown incarnation of the Doctor (and can’t you just feel those pulses racing at Big Finish…?). But I thought the misdirection was handled brilliantly, from making us think Neil Stuke (who can play shifty better than just about anyone else on TV) would turn out to be some kind of intergalactic war criminal, to writer Vinay Patel dropping a cheeky hint in the episode preview in Doctor Who Magazine (“Ruth is a tour guide… I like the idea of telling stories about places – it feels a little bit Doctor-y in a way…”).
And I do feel a twinge of regret that, after a welcome break last season, we’re back in the territory of season arcs and characters delivering cryptic warnings that may or may not pay off for some weeks. But I mustn’t moan, not when I enjoyed an episode this much.
I’m not really one that gets bothered having spoilers revealed, thinking that there is more to a good story than its plot synopsis. Agatha Christie mysteries are routinely adapted, even though many people have either read the books or seen previous adaptations. They are interested in how the material is presented, the journey they are taken on, rather than the shock revelation of who the murderer was (or the smug realisation they’d worked out whodunnit a few minutes in.) Psycho is a well-regarded film, watched by many multiple times because the film is more than the multiple twists within the plot. I doubt there are many people who don’t know the fate of Janet Leigh’s character and yet it’s still enjoyed by many.
Which brings us to Fugitive of the Judoon. Is there more to this episode than “Ruth was the Doctor all the time”?
If anything this story suffers from following the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat eras. Much of it felt like an early Davies episode. The early scenes with Ruth reminded me of 2005’s Rose, but without the pace. Slowed down to fill the 50 minute time slot.
Even the energy of John Barrowman failed to lift things. The scene with Captain Jack Harness was odd and felt out of place – as if we’d nipped over to another story for five minutes. Arguably this was the most blatant ‘plotting around the actors availability’ since Fraser Hines caught chicken pox during the filming of The Mind Robber in the 1960s and Hamish Wilson was brought in to play Jamie.
Where I thought things did work was in the lighthouse scenes. Many have spoken of the cinematography in this series. It was particularly effective here. The discovery of the buried TARDIS was easily the highlight of the episode. As a scene. it really worked whether you knew all along Ruth’s identity or not.
Ultimately, this episode was all about Ruth’s secret, everything else was window-dressing. As so often with this series, I felt this episode lacked cohesion. Most of it felt like random filler while we waited for the shock revelation. I’m still not sure why they included Captain Jack. I can only imagine they were filming next door to Dancing On Ice, and Barrowman had a spare moment between judging duties.
With this daring adventure, Chibnall either began unveiling his own master plan which has been brewing since he got the gig but decided to wait until he was (probably) halfway through his run to enact it… or the Beeb had made it very apparent that he had to up his game BIG time to save his butt and maybe Doctor Who itself. FAST. I’m thinking the latter but nevertheless, high octane engaged!
Firstly, he set the scene and kept us wondering what’s really going on while we enjoyed the Judoon being back. That was fun. Then the fam disappeared and no one, especially the Doctor, cared, but that’s normal. She barely thinks about her pet– I mean her “fam”. Then we start wondering what the deal is with Ruth and where’d she get the mad fighting skills! “Baby, she tore off his horn!”
Second, a chunk of the episode is spent on a diversion. See, once again, the fam are utterly useless. Even with two writers, they have no idea how to utilise them, so hey! Let’s get Barrowman back for an afternoon; that gets him out of Chib’s hair and gives the fam something to do! The viewers will be so shocked at seeing Jack, they won’t realise those ten minutes were a stall! High five!
Third, the real magic happens: instead of a fob watch, it’s a break the glass sign. Instead of the Master, or whoever, it’s the Doctor?! What’s more, this is a more imposing, impressive, better dressed Doctor who frankly has shown up the incumbent in less then 10 minutes. Jo Martin has got gravitas, a much nicer console room, mad fighting skills, and proves that a woman does have what it takes to be the Doctor.
Is this Doctor truly pre-Hartnell or from a parallel universe?
I’m still not sure whether to be impressed, amazed or repulsed by the brazen explosion of flash over substance that’s successfully keeping us buzzing about a story that has barely started. But so far, it’s exciting.
CAN Chibs keep this thrill ride moving?
CAN the fam be killed off so we won’t have to waste more time on them in the future?
CAN they deliver a returning audience and ratings?
Tune in next time!
Same Who time, same Who channel!
NEXT: Well, you heard the man.