Doctor Who: 12-05 “Fugitive of the Judoon” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
There are few phrases media-wise that cause more passionate reactions than “subverting expectations”. Whether you’re Rian Johnson setting the internet on fire with The Last Jedi (excellent film, but let’s not wade into that) or Steven Moffat doing the same with…almost anything he did as showrunner for Doctor Who, producing the unexpected can provide some of the best pieces of media- and usually the most passionate reactions. Enter Fugitive of the Judoon, the fifth episode of Who Series 12, which is essentially about everything but the Judoon- and is enormously rousing and surprising for it.
If you expected a standard mid-series, lower-key romp you’d be forgiven- not least as we’re lulled in with classic Judoon calling cards (is thirteen years enough to call something classic?) They’ve got a brand-spanking-new coat of paint, with better animatronics and improved ship VFX, with an interior that’s as fittingly dull as the Judoon themselves. They march about shouting their simple language, stamping hands- the usual tricks. They have more life to them this time, complete with a grizzled, mohawk-sporting, bureaucracy hating captain, grumbling constantly like she hasn’t yet had her coffee. Humour too, including an old-lady like surprised gasp from the captain and reading T&Cs before using an outlawed weapon. We could’ve dived a bit more into a potential police brutality analogy, but they’re functional given it’s the furthest thing from a wholly Judoon platoon story.
Running concurrently is our introduction to the everyday life of Ruth and Lee Clayton (Jo Martin and Neil Stuke). It’s Ruth’s birthday and she’s optimistic, ready to take on the world as a tour guide in sunny…Gloucester, hopeless coffee-shop suitors and uninterested millennials be damned. She’s a likeable presence, Jo Martin doing excellently well to bring balance and life to Ruth and…her other identity. The first act of the story does well to deflect and build the tension of the fugitive’s identity- Lee’s reveal is superb to throw us off the scent of the truth.
Ruth Clayton is The Doctor. Hands up who saw that coming? In hindsight, the hints are there- our very first insight to Ruth is with her watch, a fob-watch parallel ticking clock motif, introduced to hint at the approaching reveal. Even her everyday, modern John Smith-esque life reflects splinters of Doctor-ness- her job as a guide of unknown facts, “talking” to animals on her way to work. She’s sharp as a human, quite quick to figure out how wrong things are with Lee. Later, she mentions rebelling against her parents- much like our Doctor rebelling against her stuffy homeworld. Ruth even has her own Martha in Lee, who is stern and protective.
Never mind what this all means to us, this is another keystone for Series 12’s admirable aim to finally pitch Thirteen up against or with worthy friends and foes- and give her some moral quandaries. At the story’s beginning, she’s distracted, aloof in her thoughts. Her watching friends ask what’s up, and she reveals she’s looking for the Master (I can’t express still how much I love his theme). Then she snaps at Yaz for asking too many questions- which is ironic given that’s what they all tend to do- but it’s a welcome scowl. Thirteen is mired in her self-doubt, shaken, struggling to process her raw new suffering, which outwardly comes back out since she hasn’t developed defences or deflections yet as Ten or Eleven did. And yet she’s still keeping some secrets, despite starting to open up. It’s more interesting drama between them. Soon though, we’re off to the races as events start to zip along from reveal to reveal in breath-taking fashion.
A brand-new Doctor isn’t the only curveball Fugitive has- the same old flirty Captain Jack Harkness is back. After a hilariously blunt comment about a cake, Graham is whisked off into a mysterious ship, an impressive sense of size to it thanks to the cathedral filming. The moment you hear John Barrowman’s voice the anticipation builds before he buzzes into the frame- appropriately gleeful and theatrical, bravura filled and melancholic new theme in tow- his “you missed me?” directed to us as much as Graham. Who he thinks is the Doctor and kisses him. Welcome back, Jack! The innuendo laced humour and writing of him feels so right, which is no surprise given Chris Chibnall’s prior Torchwood show-running gig. I especially appreciated the nanogenes call-back as The Empty Child two-parter was my first ever taste of Who!
Jack doesn’t get a whole lot to do though- he dumps some plot and keeps the companions occupied, not having much effect on the story. He’ll be back, and there’s so much going on that maybe it’s for the best that we keep his reuniting with the Doctor for later. It’s rather a shame that he takes the companions out of the story when he does though, while in the middle of what Thirteen calls a “very flat team structure” playing out satisfyingly before that, with Yaz finding the hidden box that kickstarts the story’s fulcrum. I was looking forward to Fugitive as *surely* the ideal place for some Yaz action- and she does to an extent, helping Thirteen to enforce a rule, shutting the Judoon down and thinking on her feet, with the trio working together well. Having her audibly say out loud that she’s a police officer was a bit much, though maybe that’s what it’s come to- having to remind the audience of a character trait.
While the companions proceed to fall to the background for a while, Jodie shines throughout again. From the moment of the Judoon invasion, she storms into the scene, assuming her position, portraying quick thinking and humour. Watching her inquisitively decipher the mystery of Ruth as the story slows down is a joy, the gripping mystery playing out Ruth’s abilities starting to sneak through as John Smith’s did. From their chat amongst the resplendent lighting of the cathedral to the eventual revelation, it’s expertly done- with rising, developing music which goes from dread to discovery and compliments the patient, small scale- but enormous feeling- film-making craft (that shot of Thirteen on the lighthouse…). Two concurrent discoveries and two amazing visual reveals.
Jo Martin is marvellous as the Doctor- as is her attitude change from Ruth to stern, friendly but smug Doctor. Taking a newly world-shattered Thirteen by the hand and into her masterfully designed and lit TARDIS (they’re getting quite the use from that An Adventure in Space and Time set, aren’t they?), you’re sold that she’s the Doctor immediately, with an instantly memorable costume. But she’s also judgemental and sarcastic, chastising Thirteen for taking the “moral high ground” while being morally cloudy herself- even calling Thirteen stupid (though her actions were perfectly “Doctor” in Thirteen’s eyes) after she scolds her for causing the gun to backfire on Ritu Arya’s Gat- though Ruth did beg her not to do it. There are so many exciting possibilities and insights, with a shared history amongst Ruth and our fellow Gallifreyan side characters- especially Gat, who exudes sinister, commanding authority. She contrasts her cold and calculated nature against Lee’s sentimental honour in intriguing moments together- and they’ll surely be back, despite their assumed fates.
Jodie is fantastic with Jo, Thirteen’s frustration at being out of control on full display (importantly written as lost in-story, not passive thanks to the writing). Just what is going on with it all? I haven’t the foggiest- Doctor Ruth doesn’t know the sonic, worked for Gat at some point, is a lot more hardcore than our Doctor, neither knew Gallifrey was dead- and this apparently goes way higher. It’s a whole lot, to put it lightly- but I was fully invested, and the latter scenes on the Judoon ship with Thirteen’s frustrated grief pouring out and Ruth’s grin-inducing, perfectly Doctorly stand-off with that hopeful, heroic score blaring left me desperate for more. I’m not (overly) worried about any changes to Who’s amorphous canon, but if they’re telling this daring story I hope it continues to delight me like this.
Not knowing your own life and self is seeming to be a key theme in this series. Thirteen is becoming terse and cynical- time is swirling all around her. Whatever timeline madness is going on, we get a beautiful little closing coda to set us off for the rest of the series, with maybe this team’s most heartfelt moment. It’s a simple exchange, the Doctor lashing out- understandably mentioning how little they know her- while the gang is equally justified in reminding her that they’re there for her and believe in her- as her family. While it would’ve been nicer if they felt like more of a family, it’s lovely regardless. Thirteen opens up about Ruth’s truth to them- will she keep being more honest, or will rifts continue to appear? The swelling music sells these closing moments either way.
Fugitive of the Judoon sees writer Vinay Patel tell us a story with co-writer Chibnall that is far different from his last outing Demons of the Punjab, but one that feels utterly Who in its pure thrills, much like Spyfall. It pulls the rug out with brave, thrilling reveals so many times you can barely stand, not feeling like constant tonal whiplash because of the sheer jaw-dropping nature of what you’re watching at times, to the credit of the writers and returning director Nida Manzoor. While certain players or elements are forced backstage or fumbled because of the sheer level of thick groundwork for the series laid on here, meaning a lack of much rich theming or strong narrative to it, without knowing where it leads, for now, I’m happy to take proceedings at face value. Let’s just hope it pays off satisfyingly. Who knows what’s going on? Who nose?