SERIES 12, EPISODE 5 | WHERE TO WATCH: BBC iPLAYER
[Warning: this review contains spoilers.]
With common criticisms of Doctor Who’s Series 11 being a lack of memorable villains and a lack of links to the show’s past, the news, broken last May, that the rhino-headed space cops known as the Judoon – initially created by Russell T Davies in 2007 – would be returning to face Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was met with optimism. Little did we know that they’d only be the third biggest talking point of the episode in question.
Fugitive of the Judoon begins with the Doctor and friends finding present-day Gloucester under siege. The Judoon are searching for an elusive individual, focusing on tour guide Ruth and her hapless husband Lee, as everyday a couple as you can get – or are they? As this investigation unfolds, writer Vinay Patel effectively recreates the feel of the Russell T Davies romps like the one where we first met the Judoon. One of the stronger guest writers from last series, Patel follows up his poignant Demons of the Punjab by showing he can handle lighter material too, drawing much humour out of the rules-oriented rhinos stomping their way around the cathedral city’s squares and coffee shops; it may be risky to throwback to a joke from a thirteen-year-old episode, but it’s absolutely worth it for the standout line, “a platoon of Judoon near... that lagoon.”
From here, the episode splits off into two unexpected directions, firstly the companions being whisked away by none other than Captain Jack Harkness, returning to the show for the first time in ten years to deliver a warning for the Doctor. It’s undoubtedly a delight to see John Barrowman back as Jack, particularly his equally excited reactions to finding out the Doctor is Bradley Walsh, the Doctor is not in fact Bradley Walsh but is female, and the Doctor has three companions. However, these scenes mainly serve as a teaser for what’s to come rather than a story in their own right, and the fact that, rather than being involved in saving Jack from his pursuers, the companions stand by while they’re told what’s going on is an apt summary of one of the bigger problems with this era – its inability to create companions as active, attention-demanding, and well defined as the likes of Jack and Donna Noble.
So Jack was the big twist that the BBC had been teasing, right? Well... nope. Back in the main story, the Doctor identifies that Ruth is the fugitive the Judoon are after before discovering that, via a Chameleon Arch (yes, that’s a third big continuity link to the Davies years), she is in fact a disguised incarnation of the Doctor, from an unknown point in her timeline. A reveal reminiscent of the discovery of the ‘lost’ John Hurt Doctor who fought in the Time War, but perhaps even bigger in its implications in that it hints at a whole era of the Doctor’s past we don’t know about, this major twist shows Chris Chibnall has big plans and isn’t afraid to meddle with the show’s continuity – which is no bad thing, as this approach is certainly more exciting than the previous series’ tamer stories. Speculations are varied as to where this incarnation fits into the Doctor’s timeline, but rather than wading into the murky waters of trying to predict what’ll happen next, for now we’ll stick with praising Jo Martin’s performance – she’s a Doctor with a manipulative, McCoy-esque edge, clearly with secrets, but still very clearly the Doctor. She also bounces very well off Jodie Whittaker, who so far this series has shone in the scenes she’s been given alongside dangerous equals – first the Master and now this Doctor – more so than when she’s been stuck juggling the three companions.
The elements of Fugitive, then, come together to create the strongest instalment of Series 12 so far; it starts as a great chase around with the Judoon and deftly twists into an exciting and bold finale with a real talking-point twist of the kind this show was in need of. With various elements starting to surface – the Jo Martin Doctor, the Lone Cyberman, Jack, the Timeless Child, the Master – it seems that Chris Chibnall is moving away from the ‘individual stories’ style of Series 11 and embracing the more arc-focused approach many expected from the creator of Broadchurch. However, those elements are currently very disparate, and there is reason to be concerned that the weakest part of this episode – the companions’ plot-free encounter with Jack – are most likely the parts written by Chibnall, the writer who’s going to have to resolve all of this in his finale (and possibly that of Series 13, as he may be playing a very long game). We’ll try to hold off absolute judgement until we’ve seen everything play out, then, but for now, we’re happy to say we’re more excited about what’s to come in Doctor Who than we have been for a while.