Fugitive of the Judoon

Story No. 318 Ro fo ko sho mo
Production Code Series 12, Episode 5
Dates January 26, 2020

With Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall Directed by Nida Manzoor
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens

Synopsis: The Judoon pursue a wanted fugitive to Gloucester. But they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

Note: The one-year moratorium on spoilers will be strictly enforced.


A Review by Matthew Soflaten 1/4/20

I remember when I was sitting down to watch this episode for the first time and what I felt. It was a feeling of mild curiosity mingled with apprehension of disappointment. Fugitive of the Judoon was the only episode of this series I was even slightly looking forward to before the series aired, simply because I'm a big fan of the Judoon, having always found the rhino-headed aliens both amusing and interesting and have always hoped they'd come back to Who ever since Smith and Jones (one of my favourite New Who series openers). Having detested Series 11, I did not have high hopes for Series 12, but when I heard the Judoon were going to feature, my curiosity for it was raised ever so slightly. However, it really was ever so slightly: having absolutely no faith in Chibnall at the time, I expected at best a Smith and Jones clone and at worst a cringe-inducingly silly romp. Due to their humorous qualities, I thought there was a very good chance that the Judoon would be completely played for laughs in some awful childish run-around, and I had the very real fear that Chibnall would put me off these marvellous creations.

Nonetheless, this was the only episode I was interested in viewing, long before series 12 aired. I had been underwhelmed by Spyfall, absolutely hated Orphan 55, but reasonably enjoyed Tesla the week before, so I sat down to watch this feeling reasonably optimistic, if not howling with excitement, thinking a Judoon-centric episode could be a nice hour of fun. I wasn't expecting anything particularly exciting, clever, nor significant in the show's history, but decided to just try and enjoy the ride.

Wow. What a ride it was...

I was expecting a charming little cruise down the Lazy River, but instead I got a bloody rollercoaster! This was the first episode in the Chibnall era to grab me from the very beginning and hold tightly onto me all the way through. Never a dull moment, just one revelation after another, full of excitement, mystery, suspense, humour, darkness and just everything I could ask for from a great Doctor Who episode. Before this episode, I firmly believed that Chibnall was the wrong man to be running my beloved show, having been distinctly unimpressed with Series 11 and all his previous contributions to Doctor Who and Torchwood (I truly hate some of his Torchwood episodes). However, this episode proved to me that not only is he capable of being an extremely clever writer, he is more than worthy of running the show, giving us one of the most exciting and fresh episodes in a very long time. I genuinely don't think I've been this excited by Doctor Who since Professor Yana turned into the Master way back in Series 3, and believe me, that is saying something.

Part of Chibnall's cleverness just goes to show from my expectations for this episode that I described; I was expecting exactly what he wanted me to expect. By promoting this as a Judoon episode, I'm sure we were all expecting just a bit of fun. I doubt any of us were expecting anything too heavy from an episode that we thought was about the Judoon, and yet promoting the Judoon still ensured that everyone would tune in to watch this episode to see them again, expecting a good laugh - and that's why it's so brilliant, because that way he's got us all watching, but none of us would have any idea of what a game-changing episode we were in store for, and that resulted in my mind being completely blown.

The episode starts off innocently enough. Ruth and Lee seem like a likable couple. We root for Ruth struggling to get people to agree to her guided tours, we laugh at Alan and his unrequited crush on her and his silly message on her cake. I had no doubt in my mind that this was indeed the comedy episode I'd been anticipating, and when the Judoon showed up, looking for a fugitive and cataloguing people, this all but confirmed to me that the story was basically going to be Smith and Jones all over again, but I didn't mind; it was fun, I was enjoying it.

But then the story just kept going faster and faster, and I was actually quite stunned when the Judoon (who looked great) mercilessly murdered that old lady, and I was even more taken aback when they killed Alan, as I got the impression he was going to be an important character in the story. These Judoon, whilst still humorous, were far more brutal and unpredictable than I was expecting, and I actually thought of them as a genuine threat, which had not been something I'd been anticipating. I was intrigued by what was going on with Lee. I thought he must be the fugitive, and I guessed he must be some sinister alien in disguise, but then I thought 'Hasn't he been married to Ruth for a long time? Wouldn't she know if he wasn't human? Has an alien possessed him or taken his form? But he seems to be trying to protect Ruth? Is she in on it, too?' I honestly was full of questions as to what was going on, and I didn't know if Lee was to be rooted for or feared, and I loved it. I was excited and intrigued, having absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, laughing aloud at the Doctor's reprimanding of the Judoon captain.

I was excited, intrigued, amused and a little scared - that's what the best Doctor Who episodes make you feel, no doubt about it, but Doctor Who hadn't made me feel this way since Series 10. I had come to believe that I wouldn't enjoy Doctor Who again until Chibnall left, but I was absolutely loving this. I told myself not to get too excited, though, because the ending would probably be a let-down. I imagined it would be a bit like Spyfall, which I'd enjoyed at first, but been disappointed by the ending, so I tried to be careful not to get too happy - but it was hard not to, when I was having such a good time watching this, and how could I not be happy when you-know-who made his shock return appearance!? I thought I recognised his voice as soon as it was heard on the speaker, but I hardly dared believe it, but when he appeared, I actually cheered (and I am not the type of person to cheer at the TV). I was SO happy his appearance hadn't been publicised everywhere; I had no idea whatsoever it was coming, and that made it so, so much better. I was frustrated by the Series 10 finale; I loved World Enough and Time, but I get annoyed thinking about how much more exciting it would have been had I not known about the Mondasian Cybermen or the Saxon Master returning. Chris Chibnall has really earned my approval by keeping these things under wraps, and I am so grateful for it, because the return was such a joyous moment.

Him mistaking Graham for the Doctor and kissing him were hilarious, and I just loved his reaction upon hearing that the Doctor was a woman now. It's true he didn't really add much to the episode besides being a plot device to keep the Fam separate from the Doctor for a bit and to foreshadow the Cybermen, but it was so good to see him again after all this time that I can absolutely forgive it. I also loved his surprise that the Doctor now travelled with three companions, I felt it maybe echoed viewers more familiar with the earlier seasons of New Who and expecting the Doctor to have only one or two companions. But maybe I'm overthinking it.

Anyway, back to the main plot, I had started to figure out that Ruth may be the fugitive after all, but I was wondering what the hell was going on. It was a genuine mystery, I honestly had no clue, and expected her to transform into some hideous monster or something any second. I just couldn't tell if she was being honest about not knowing what was going on or not. Gat's appearance was both perplexing and sinister, and her cold-blooded murder of one character really startled me, like Alan's death, as I also thought he was going to be a major player throughout the episode. It really gave me the feeling that no character in this episode was safe and no one was who they seemed. I felt tense as the Doctor drove in the car with Ruth, expecting some diabolical trap; I felt sure she must be have some sinister secret agenda and that the Doctor was making a big mistake trying to uncover her true identity, which was only heightened when she brutally ripped the Judoon's horn off. I was starting to think maybe she was someone we knew, she seemed familiar somehow... Who could she be? Who? Who?

When I saw the clock, my stomach lurched - of course I recognised it! The Doctor had mentioned the Master earlier in the episode, and for a few moments, I really thought Ruth was going to turn out to be another incarnation of the Master in disguise, and I felt exactly as I did in Utopia when Yana first pulled out the watch; my heart was genuinely racing. As this was happening, the Doctor was digging up something; I had no idea what it could be, and when I saw it I was just so excited, so intrigued and just bloody mesmerised, and as if that wasn't enough, Ruth appeared and introduced herself!

What? What? What?

I have to admit, at this moment, I did feel a spot of fear, and not in a good way. The Doctor didn't understand how they couldn't recognise each other, and as I kept watching, my heart lifted, because I realised Chibnall knew what he was doing: it was a hook, this was meant to be a mystery, and a damn intriguing one at that. I'm not one of those uptight fans who feels that the show's canon needs to stick rigidly to what we already know (the canon is inconsistent enough, anyway and has been retconned dozens of times). When I realised Chibnall knew the canon and that this wasn't meant to make sense, I just got back to enjoying this terrific tale.

Ultimately, this episode raised a lot of questions and didn't really answer any. The whole purpose of this episode was clearly to set these things up, but it did it masterfully, with never a dull moment and revelations aplenty, with many mysteries and questions that certainly ensured that I would watch the rest of the series. Prior to this episode, I had seriously been considering stopping watching the show, as I detested Series 11 and hadn't been too impressed with Series 12 so far. Tesla had got my hopes up a bit, as I'd quite enjoyed it, but this episode showed me that the show is still capable of being brilliant, with plenty more surprises up its sleeve. I owe Chris an apology for doubting him, I really do.

The Fam, as usual, didn't get to do much, but their interactions with you-know-who were delightful, even if he didn't get to do much, either, but I certainly expect to see more of him sooner or later (they wouldn't bring him back just to warn them about the Cybermen, surely?).

I have fully accepted Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor by this point; she's far more confident and composed in the role, ranging from being very funny to intensely angry to gravely melancholy. Funnily enough, although I hated Orphan 55, it was in that episode when her performance as the Doctor first impressed me; during Tesla, she impressed me further. This episode was undoubtedly her finest performance yet for me, but I had accepted her as the Doctor properly before this one aired. However, this was the episode that not only made me accept, but made me glad that Chris Chibnall was running the show, and I honestly can't wait to see what other ideas he has, and I really, really never thought I'd say that. This episode gave me the feel of the RTD era at its best, but with far more twists and turns in one episode than I think ever have been in Doctor Who before!

Despite a few very minor quibbles, I will happily give this gem a straight 10/10. What a delightful surprise.

You Ask Too Many Questions by Jason A. Miller 16/6/20

This review is written in the dark, eight days after the airing of Fugitive of the Judoon. I've seen the next episode, Praxeus, but nothing else, and have avoided spoilers. There is so much that we don't yet know about what we saw on Sunday, January 26, 2020, or about how those questions and mysteries are going to be answered or resolved. All I can do is react to what I saw. And that reaction is "Whoa...".

I knew before watching Fugitive that I needed to avoid spoilers. So I did. And I tried to get out in front of it by deducing everything I could just from the opening title sequence alone. Two things worried me immediately. One, while I was delighted to see the name Vinay Patel, I was less than delighted to see Chris Chibnall assign himself a co-writing credit. Call this a reflexive hangover from last year, when he took co-credit on Rosa, otherwise the first Doctor Who script ever penned by a black woman. Patel did wonderful work last year with Demons of the Punjab, as well as the related short story that he penned for The Target Storybook. What about this story was going to require Chris Chibnall's usually-less-than-deft (and occasionally daft) input?

And two, the Judoon themselves. I love the Classic Series, and I've seen every serial multiple times, even the bad ones. However, for the new series, there is a substantial minority of episodes that I've only ever seen once, on the day of original airing, and Smith and Jones, the only previous in-series Judoon episode, is one of those. I found it enjoyable and unobjectionable at the time -- over a decade ago -- but I haven't watched it since, which is odd, because I've watched the infinitely worse Timelash at least twice in that same span.

Now, the important thing to note, is this. All that time I spent during the opening credits? Trying to evaluate the story based on a four-word title and two author names? Trying to put myself one step ahead of Chibs? All of that time? Completely wasted.

The opening sequence is a grabber. No marauding monsters or laser weapons from space. We see the ordinary routine of Ruth Clayton, a relentlessly upbeat middle-aged woman from Gloucester. She makes breakfast, kisses her husband goodbye, fends off the unwanted advances of a male barista with delusions of intelligence and tries to rustle up customers for her day job as tour guide. This is incredibly tense stuff. You know that the whole episode is not going to be an episode of Ruth's Whimsical Tours. Something has to go wrong. Meanwhile, the Doctor is more at odds with her fam than we've ever seen her before, and this is also unsettling. Jodie Whittaker's Doctor traditionally has not done angst and interpersonal conflict. Sure, she's been stern and has threatened or admonished people as plots demanded, but her behavior in the opening TARDIS scene here was different, quite different.

The Judoon pick up where we last left them in 2007: vaporizing an old lady's yarn, offering her compensation, and then killing her when she tries to run away; and then murdering the barista (an interesting twist, since his plot utility hadn't looked to be up yet). But the Doctor, who gets into the Judoon rhyme scheme (fast fact: "Moon" and "Lagoon" both rhyme with "Judoon"), quickly bamboozles the platoon leader. You'd figure this is a straight-up retelling of Smith and Jones, and the first 15 minutes appear to be safe and predictable.

Meanwhile, in a bizarre subplot, Graham is randomly zapped out of the cafe (Bradley Walsh doesn't appear in any of the location Gloucester footage) and reunited with... someone who hadn't been seen in Doctor Who in ten years. We know it's him before we even see him -- the voice is unmistakable -- and he, too, mistakes Graham for the Doctor, giving him a mouth kiss and everything. He flies a TARDIS-looking spaceship, and seems fully back in character. Ah, I thought to myself, THAT was the spoiler I needed to avoid.

But the spaceship reveal turns out to be a decoy. He doesn't meet the Doctor, he only drops hints about "the lone Cyberman", from whom you should not accept anything (because the Doctor is usually so accepting of the Cybermen...). Kind of a red herring as far as the rest of the hour goes. Then, at exactly the halfway mark, the script kills off an important character and reveals Ruth to have unexpected knowledge and martial arts skills. This knowledge includes strong memories of a lighthouse and, I want to tell you, I was desperate, desperate, nay, trembling with anticipation, for this to be the same lighthouse from Horror of Fang Rock. Boy, did I want that more than anything. That's where I was going, into the final 20 minutes and trying to guess the spoiler. Pleaseohplease let this be a sequel to Fang Rock.

That wasn't it, either.

What a wonderful introduction, striding out the lighthouse (not the Fang Rock lighthouse... dangit) in that costume. It's been over a week now, and we're still debating just what this means. Was the Doctor's angst at the end something to do with the Timeless Child we heard tell of earlier this year?

All the questions, none of the answers. But the questions were energetically put, and culminated in, for the second time in Series 12, one devil of a cliffhanger.

I now look to the past for inspiration. Doctor Who does well in teasing changes to its format:

The Brain of Morbius teased pre-Hartnell Doctors.

The Cartmel Masterplan teased some stuff in Seasons 25/26 (but never delivered). The 1990s Virgin novels finally answered those questions, to the extent people read them (a miniscule fraction of the TV audience). Cold Fusion featured the Camfield Doctor from The Brain of Morbius and suggested that the Hartnell Doctor was the first incarnation of a reincarnated Time Lord known in Gallifreyan mythology as The Other. In Lungbarrow, we actually see reincarnation that happen. The Infinity Doctors gives us an unspecified Doctor in a possible alternate timeline, which gave speculative origins to several mythic Time Lord figures.

Human Nature (the novel) gives us a future Tenth Doctor who turns out to be something far worse. And The Next Doctor give us a future post-Tenth Doctor who turns out to be something far better.

In Interference, the Third Doctor's regeneration is rewritten to occur without Planet of the Spiders. I hated this idea as a fanboy in 1999, but now it makes the most perfect sense in the world to me.

The Name of the Doctor brazenly introduced us to a missing Doctor -- the War Doctor, and played by John Hurt, because, of course, so obvious.

But in Name, the Doctor already knew of this secret past, even if he didn't want the secret getting out. Fugitive, however, gives us none of the certainty of Name. Gat is shocked by the images of a nuked Gallifrey. The TARDIS looks a bit like the old Hartnell/Troughton era TARDIS (I thought I detected the Fault Locator room), and the Doctor being a Time Lord agent has caused some rumblings in my social media feed of things being a Season 6(b) Doctor.

I know what answer I don't want to learn: a cop-out like a "multiverse Doctor", or a potential-future incarnation like the Valeyard. I want this to be part of the main continuity, someone who did exist in the past, and whose further adventures we'll see more of later.

I will say this. Fugitive of the Judoon was tremendous fun to experience the first time, and, hopefully, once the answers are revealed, will be equally fun on future airings, as you see all the hints and clues you might have missed the first time. This may be Chibnall's finest hour to date.