Doctor Who, S12.5: “Fugitive of the Judoon” is quite a boon…

****TARDIS-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

I like to see the Doctor less frenetic, and a bit more contemplative…

I’ve said in previous posts that I’ve had many issues with the Chris Chibnall-era of Doctor Who; mainly that it’s been characterized by uneven writing and an overall feeling of creative entropy. Tonight, with “Fugitive of the Judoon”, scripted by Chibnall, Vinay Patel (“Demons of the Punjab”) and directed by Nida Manzoor (who also directed last week’s stylish “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”), I’m happy to eat my words and say that this uneven era has produced one of my favorite installments since the series came back in 2005.

Fugitive of the Judoon.

The story begins with a formidable woman named Commander Gat (Ritu Arya) aboard a massive starship commanding a ‘platoon of Judoon near the moon’ (the Judoon are a race of rhinoceros-headed creatures who act as trigger-happy galactic police for hire). In orbit over Earth, Gat and her Judoon seize the city of Gloucester, hunting for an alien fugitive hidden among the Earthlings. Wrapping Gloucester in a deadly forcefield, the brutish Judoon beam down and begin the search for their quarry. Aboard the TARDIS, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), companions Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) receive the alert of the Judoon presence over Earth…

A Judoon platoon near the moon…

We then meet middle-aged married Gloucester couple Ruth Clayton (Jo Martin, in a brilliant performance) and her husband Lee (Neil Stuke). It’s the morning of Ruth’s birthday, and she reminds her seemingly slacker husband to not forget her cake. Ruth then heads off to her job as walking tour guide for Gloucester, offering pamphlets and hourly tours for anyone who’ll bother…which is nearly no one (one bored girl shows a slight interest only when Ruth points out that the Harry Potter flicks were shot there).

Ruth Clayton learns a harsh lesson about taunting Monday mornings to do their worst…

Ruth meets one of her regulars, a kindly older woman named Marcia (Judith Street) who patiently knits on a nearby bench. The lazy Monday morning is violently broken when the Judoon appear and begin forcibly scanning and interrogating the locals. Ruth is freaked out at the sight of “actual aliens” while the braver Marcia confronts the intergalactic bullies, only to be killed as she tries to flee. A frightened Ruth is scanned for alien DNA, but she gets a pass.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia…

At the local bakery, Lee goes to pick up Ruth’s cake when he is confronted by the local baker “All Ears” Allan (Michael Begley), who has a bit of a crush on Ruth (as we see earlier when he gives her a free birthday coffee). Allan even writes on her cake, “You Can Do Better” (in the US, that’d be a lawsuit waiting to happen); he even reveals that he has a creepy, stalker-like dossier on Lee, whom he doesn’t trust. Lee asks Allan to kindly back off, when their drama is interrupted by the whine of the TARDIS’ arrival in Allan’s kitchen…

Lee (right) has a few words with baker and wannabe spy Allan, just as a Judoon invasion interrupts their drama…

Immediately they are confronted by the Doctor who wastes no time in telling the baker to lock his doors immediately, and close up. Before he can react, he and Lee glance at the ruckus of the Judoon arrival outside. The Doctor, Yaz, and Ryan immediately head outside to confront the hostile alien police force. A visibly nervous Lee departs as well. Graham remains behind for just a moment to inspect “the ugliest birthday cake (he) ever saw.” It is at that instant that he is beamed up right by an unknown abductor right in front of the baker’s eyes.

“That’s the ugliest birthday cake I’ve ever seen,” says food critic Graham…

A wide-eyed Allan attempts to lock his doors when the Judoon Captain, Pol-Kon-Don (Paul Casey) barges in and unthinkingly knocks over some of the baker’s confections. In a bit of brave but unthinking anger, Allan shoves the rhino-faced-alien. Pol interprets that as “assaulting an officer” and summarily sentences him to death, Judge Dredd-style. The Judoon disintegrates poor Allan with his weapon.

Note to bigoted bakers: This is what happens when you refuse to bake a Judoon wedding cake…

Meanwhile, the teleported Graham awakens aboard a large gray walled ship of some kind, and a disembodied American-accented voice tells him to remain calm and don’t move until he can turn the ship’s internal security beams off. In a few moments, the familiar handsome face of Captain Jack Harkness (the always-welcome John Barrowman) flashes into sight, as he runs up to a confused Graham and gives the man a big kiss. He tells Graham he loves his distinguished “new look”, obviously mistaking Graham for the latest incarnation of The Doctor. Graham soon realizes the mistake and clears things up, mentioning that he travels with the Doctor, hence the confusion for Jack’s teleporting ‘scoop.’ Jack asks how the Doctor is doing, and Graham says she is doing fine. A broad grin appears on Jack’s face, as he says, “I’ve got to see this…”

Captain Jack Harkness returns and plants a big wet one on Graham!
John Barrowman is back in a much welcome guest-starring role. Here’s hoping he returns for many more…

Meanwhile, back in Gloucester, the Judoon narrow their search for the fugitive to Ruth and Lee’s flat house, when they are met by the Doctor, Yaz and Ryan, who’ve lost track of Graham, but have to think quick to stall the Judoon.

A Judoon platoon near… a lagoon (actually more like a river, but okay…).

Using her psychic paper to pretend to be a galactic regulator, the Doctor negotiates “woman to woman” with Judoon captain Pol, and manages to gain five minutes to go into their flat and see just why the aliens are so fixated on Lee and Ruth. Since Ruth has already checked out as human, the assumption is that the untrustworthy Lee is the alien fugitive.

The Doctor and the Judoon Captain hash things out, woman to woman…

Inside the flat, they find Lee & Ruth preparing to flee. With no time for niceties, the TARDIS team begin going through the flat to search for any signs of alien artifacts or technology. Yaz, ever the policewoman, finds a mysterious box of alien origin. The Doctor demands that Lee come clean with her, but he refuses. Preferring that she take Ruth and leave him to surrender to the Judoon himself.

It was in a cardboard box labeled ‘alien artifacts’….

The Judoon fire a warning shot in through the window, which repeatedly broadcasts how many seconds are left in their negotiations. The Doctor decides to allow policewoman Yaz to go out front and create a diversion for the Judoon, as she and Ruth flee out the fire escape.

The Judoon don’t seem to give a flaming fart about personal property as they shoot out a window just to let the Doctor and her companions know they have about a minute left to negotiate Lee’s surrender…

Outside the flat house, Ryan and Yaz are transported up to Captain Jack’s (stolen) ship in the same manner as Graham. Jack’s ship is in a nasty dogfight with pursuing vessels. As security measures aboard the stolen ship threaten to overtake the otherwise immortal Jack, he gives one final message to the Companions to relay to the Doctor: “Beware of the lone Cyberman…do not give him what he asks!” Graham, Yaz and Ryan, of course, have no idea what a Cyberman is, but they agree to deliver Jack’s message. The three of them are automatically returned back to Gloucester…

Captain Jack welcomes Ryan and Yaz to his humble (stolen) spaceship…

As the Doctor takes a terrified Ruth to Gloucester Cathedral, Pol and her platoon charge into the flat where they confront Lee. Alone, with nowhere to run, Lee meekly surrenders after sending Ruth a text message to go to the ‘lighthouse’ and ‘break the glass.’ The Judoon scan Lee, and he reads as human (a nice WTF for the audience…who assumed Lee is a fugitive alien). For resisting their authority, Lee is then executed with the Judoon disintegration beam…

Captain Pol is about to feel a bit less horny soon…

Finding temporary sanctuary at the cathedral, Ruth begins seeing visions of a lighthouse that compel her. Before long, the Judoon break into the Cathedral. Ruth suddenly has a mysterious flicker of newfound confidence in her eyes, as she begins to kick their captors’ collective asses. Without thinking, she also snaps off Captain Pol’s horn (the ultimate insult to a Judoon’s honor). Ruth has no idea how or why she did what she did (“it was like… instinct!”). With the Judoon out of action, the two women flee in Ruth’s Volkswagen to the mysterious lighthouse where Ruth grew up…

En route to the lighthouse, Ruth gets Lee’s last cryptic text message about “breaking the glass.” Once at their destination, the Doctor finds an unmarked tombstone where Ruth’s ‘parents’ are allegedly buried. She quickly realizes it’s not a ‘grave’ at all, and begins digging… soon, she discovers the TARDIS, buried in the soil.

That’s one way to grow a TARDIS…

Inside the lighthouse, Ruth finds a strange (i.e. Gallifreyan) watch and shatters the glass, which restores her ’true’ memories and undoes her false bio-shielding. Ruth, it turns out, is yet another incarnation of the Doctor. Putting on her more outlandish Time Lord clothing, and beaming with the full confidence only hinted at in Gloucester Cathedral, Ruth/Doctor (Jo Martin, now playing a completely different character) goes to the grave and offers the other Doctor a look inside of her TARDIS.

Note: from here on, I will refer to Ruth’s Doctor as Ruth/Doctor; as a former teen from the 1980s, I simply refuse to call her “Doctor Ruth” (as in Westheimer… Google it).

Jo Martin is just staggeringly good as a new, as-yet-unknown version of The Doctor.

Ruth/Doctor’s TARDIS interior is a familiar, much older-looking version of the TARDIS, appearing much as it did in the classic TV series (1963-1989). The Doctor is properly awed, but not for the reasons that Ruth/Doctor suspects… she is awed because she realizes that Ruth/Doctor is, somehow, a past version of herself that she can’t remember.

“One brain…stop doing that!”
The Doctor confronts…the Doctor.

The Doctor tells Ruth/Doctor that she is, in fact, the Doctor. The two soon realize that they are indeed the same person…even their DNA is a match. Ruth/Doctor and the Doctor also realize that they are indeed very different people…with Ruth/Doctor being more cynical and aggressive…a sharp contrast with the Doctor’s more pacifistic ‘no guns’ approach. Soon, they are tractor-beamed into Gat’s orbiting vessel, which has isolated Ruth/Doctor’s TARDIS…

Ruth/Doctor has apparently never used a sonic screwdriver before…which would date her to sometime around the 2nd Doctor, Patrick Troughton.

Once aboard, the ‘fugitives’ are confronted by Gat, who is revealed to be a Time Lord as well. Something is very amiss here…in the Doctor’s universe, her homeworld of Gallifrey is destroyed (twice; first in the Time War and more recently by the Master) but Ruth/Doctor and Gat have no knowledge of this. Both Ruth/Doctor and Gat seem to be from a much earlier, alternate reality where Gallifrey has never fallen… and Gat is simply here with her hired Judoon police force to take the fugitive Doctor (and stolen TARDIS) back to justice… and to a civilization that no longer exists.

Gat takes Ruth/Doctor’s weapon and makes the fatal mistake of pointing it where she shouldn’t…

Gat grabs Ruth/Doctor’s weapon, and Ruth/Doctor pleads with her not to point it in her direction, but Gat ignores her plea…and the weapon self-destructs, killing Gat. Realizing Ruth/Doctor set the weapon to explode, the Doctor angrily confronts her other self with what she sees as an act of deliberate murder. Ruth/Doctor reminds the Doctor that she begged Gat not to take the weapon, and that her own hands aren’t so clean (that remark had to sting a bit). The Judoon’s contract to return the fugitives is now null and void, since the person who hired them is dead and Gallifrey no longer exists. The Doctor warns the Judoon to steer clear of her (both of her) and to leave Earth space immediately. The two Doctors take their leave of each other, still not sure which belongs to this reality… they are only certain that Ruth/Doctor is definitely from an earlier era somehow (Ruth/Doctor hasn’t yet seen or used a sonic screwdriver…a device the Doctor has had since her second incarnation).

The Doctor and her TARDIS…

Back aboard her own TARDIS, the Doctor once again confesses to her new fam that Ruth was, in fact, her own younger self…but an impossible self, since the Doctor has no memory of ever having appeared as Ruth in any of her previous incarnations. Yaz, Ryan and Graham also deliver Jack’s cryptic message about the “lone Cyberman.” The Doctor tells her companions that Cybermen are the greatest adversary she’s ever faced, and that they’re always out there…somewhere. The Doctor also realizes that pieces of a greater puzzle are beginning to coalesce. Elements of her past seem to be surrounding her; meeting an alternate version of herself, Captain Jack’s return, the recent return of the Master…and now a cryptic warning from Captain Jack about a ‘lone Cyberman.’ Before they can linger on what the deeper meaning of it all, an alarm goes off on multiple continents on Earth…

The End.

New Doctors, Old Friends…

“Fugitive of the Judoon” is easily the best of the struggling Chibnall era, and also on a par with the best of any era since the series returned back in 2005. Inconsistency has been the biggest detriment of the 13th Doctor’s run to date, but this entry as well as “Tesla’s Night of Terror” (both directed with aplomb by talented Nida Manzoor), the series is showing a promising uptick in overall quality, especially after the hot dumpster fire that was “Orphan 55. Doctor Who is starting to feel like itself again, much like Ruth breaking the glass and discovering her own true identity. With confident (consistent) writing, solid direction and a talented cast, the Doctor can always be counted on to pull herself and her TARDIS out of an early grave…

Another round of applause for Jo Martin…she is pure awesomeness.

Much of the strength of this episode lies on the shoulders of the talented Jo Martin who is essentially playing two very different characters. In one moment, she’s luckless Gloucester tour guide Ruth Clayton and in the other, well, she’s the Doctor… in fact, she’s as much the Doctor as any Doctor we’ve ever seen. There’s a massive change simply in the way she carries herself, with a newfound worldliness and a massive dose of confidence. The transformation, even without her Doctor’s more colorful wardrobe, reminds me of when the late Christopher Reeve would change from nerdy Clark Kent to Superman just by standing up straighter and changing the pitch of his voice (the scene in 1978’s “Superman: The Movie”, when Clark/Superman is about to ‘confess’ his true identity to Lois…only to change his mind right before she appears). Jo Martin does a very similar (and difficult) transformation that is conveyed almost entirely through her bearing and demeanor, with just about five percent of it with wardrobe. I’ve read a lot on the interwebs this morning about the historical significance of Jo Martin playing the first black female Doctor, and yes, that is a milestone to be sure, but I’m more amazed by her performance than anything else. In their scenes together, she is arguably an even stronger presence than Jodie Whittaker’s version of the Doctor. As for exactly how Ruth/Doctor fits into the overall Doctor Who canon? That’s a little more complicated…

Classic TARDIS design, but with enough of a modern visual aesthetic to make it appear more sleek and advanced than it did in the original Doctor Who series. Reminds me of the reimagined USS Enterprise of Captain Pike as seen in the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery”; retro and high-tech at once…

We see that this Doctor (Ruth/Doctor) flies about in a much older-looking TARDIS, with the control room size and plain, cool-white styling very similar to the TARDIS interiors seen throughout the classic series (1963-1989). This, plus the fact that Ruth/Doctor is not familiar with the sonic screwdriver (a device of the Doctor’s first introduced in the Patrick Troughton era, back in 1968) seems to indicate she’s from a parallel reality. Maybe in her universe, she is the Second Doctor… assuming her current form after regenerating from the First (William Hartnell’s Doctor, also played recently by Hartnell-lookalike David Bradley). This is another angle Doctor Who has never explored…parallel realities of the Doctor Who multiverse.

The 4th Doctor (Tom Baker, right) has his past forcibly extracted from his mind in “The Brain of Morbius” (1976), revealing different Doctors never seen before in the series. Could these be glimpses of Doctors from parallel realities, such as Ruth/Doctor?

Yes, we’ve seen alternate histories and alternate realities (“Turn Left” showed us a universe where the Doctor died), but the Doctor was always the constant. Now, we’re left to wonder what would happen if the Doctor himself/herself is the variable that changes? What if he/she regenerates into other forms in these different realities? It’s been said by the Doctor many times that regeneration itself is a bit of a crapshoot, with many possible outcomes. Maybe we already caught a glimpse of this sort of thing back in the classic 1976 episode “The Brain of Morbius” where the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) saw his past selves forcibly extracted from his mind and displayed on a monitor screen…with multiple incarnations preceding William Hartnell’s First Doctor. Perhaps the 4th Doctor was seeing into other realities as well? Something to ponder…

Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the Face of Bo returns…

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great it was to see John Barrowman return as Captain Jack Harkness yet again. He’s long been a fan favorite at various conventions I’ve attended, and I can personally vouch that his wonderfully risqué stage shows bring down an avalanche of fan joy. I’m assuming (hoping?) that we see Jack return at some point this season. It’d be a real shame if he only appeared in this episode to deliver a cryptic warning and just disappear yet again. When we last saw Jack at the end of Torchwood’s American-set 4th season, Jack discovered that his previously established immortality seemed to be compromised, and that he was beginning to age again. This thread simply begs for followup somewhere in Doctor Who’s future. Also loved his exchange with Tosin Cole’s Ryan as well, where Ryan described Jack as “cheesy”… prompting Jack to declare Ryan his new ‘favorite.’

More, Please?

If the Chris Chibnall-era of the series can maintain this upward evolution, I’d be more than happy to eat my words about some of the previous episodes of this run (yes, still looking at you, “Orphan 55”…). With more of this confident writing and snappy direction, Jodie Whittaker and her fam of companions might be in for some of the best Doctor Who adventures yet…

Images: BBC

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lady Maneth says:

    This is my favorite of the season so far, as well. I was very happy to see Captain Jack again. Great acting, especially by Jo Martin and a cool plot, even if I’m a bit dismayed that the Cybermen will return yet again to plague us. I’m sick of them, to be honest, and the first Chibnall season was refresing simply for the lack of either the Cybermen or the Daleks…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the first Chibnall season did conclude with a Daleks episode, so…

      Like

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