Monday 27 January 2020

Reviews in Space & Time: Doctor Who 12x05 - Fugitive of the Judoon

Doctor Who 12x05 - Fugitive of the Judoon

We're at the halfway point of Doctor Who series 12 now and the official social media accounts have been teasing big things for this episode. Not that the return of modern series favourites the Judoon isn't big enough, but Fugitive of the Judoon has been touted as something much more than just that. The episode was directed by Nida Manzoor and written by both Chris Chibnall and Vinay Patel, the latter of whom was responsible for the rather brilliant (and my personal favourite of the previous series) Demons of the Punjab. Strap yourselves in for spoilers, speculation and some potentially hot takes, because there is A LOT to unpack with this episode.

Introducing Ruth ClaytonThe Judoon

As the Doctor continues to search the universe for any traces of the Master, Ruth Clayton lives a rather uneventful life with her partner Lee in the heart of Gloucester. But when the city is put on lockdown by intergalactic police for hire the Judoon, the Doctor becomes involved in their hunt for a missing fugitive. All signs seem to point to the Claytons, but with no clear reason as to why.

While the Doctor's companions are transported into space by an old friend, the Doctor travels with Ruth to elude the Judoon and unravel the mystery of her identity. Travelling to a lighthouse flashing in her memories, a shocking truth is discovered and suddenly the Master's words to the Doctor begin to ring true. "Everything you think you know is a lie."

Captain Jack returnsJo Martin is the Doctor

While admittedly I'm somewhat indifferent to the Judoon, I've always admired the dedication to making them feel like a staple of modern Doctor Who. Despite prior to this only having one dedicated episode they've gone on make multiple cameo appearances in the main show, have another focus-episode in The Sarah Jane Adventures and make multiple appearances in the Big Finish audios. With all that in mind, another episode that puts them in the spotlight was long overdue. But if anything the Judoon's appearance here was more a smokescreen than anything else – the notion of a fun alien romp rather than the bigger bombshells that were hidden inside. To its credit this series of Doctor Who has been especially good at keeping spoilers under wraps. We saw it with Spyfall, and we certainly saw it here.

But before moving onto all that, it is a shame that the Judoon ultimately turned out to window-dressing more than anything else here. Even their debut episode is more notable for other things (Martha's introduction), and this era of Doctor Who seems like it would be the perfect place to really let them shine. Vinoy's handling of race in Demons of the Punjab was fantastic, so a story that addresses the "shoot first, ask questions later" manner of the Judoon in a world critical of police brutality could have been something really special. It also could have placed Yaz at the centre of the story for once, bringing in her own severely underutilised police backstory and developing those repeated absences she's been taking thanks to her travels with the Doctor. But instead there's just a handful of lines that feel there just to remind us she's a police officer than anything else, and it's a real waste.

The Judoon Captain"Lee"

There is some joy to be taken in these giant alien rhinos stomping around Gloucester though. That campy charm Smith and Jones imbued into them certainly hasn't been lost, and whenever they're onscreen the episode is at its most fun. They look brilliant in the greater numbers seen here, and the animatronics on the rhino mask are some of the finest physical effects Doctor Who has pulled off in a long time. Regardless of whether it's due to the other things going on around them or not Fugitive of the Judoon is undoubtedly their strongest on-screen appearance yet, adding some interesting tidbits to their lore and hopefully priming them for even better returns in the future.

So if that wasn't the core of the episode what was Fugitive of the Judoon really about? The first bombshell of the episode was Graham's sudden abduction, leading to the grand return of one Captain Jack Harkness. Last seen onscreen in Torchwood: Miracle Day and in terms of Doctor Who proper even further back in The End of Time, a lot of time has passed so of course what Jack's been up to is a burning question. That will have to wait though, as his role in this episode is simply to pass a warning on to the Doctor – beware the lone Cyberman. Jack's reveal is the first of many big moments for the episode, and John Barrowman wastes no time in revelling in the role that helped make him a household name. From his mistaking of Graham as the Doctor to his glee at both the Doctor being a woman and her having three companions, Jack's cheeky mannerisms haven't dulled in his absence. If anything the juxtaposition between the current, more down to Earth companions and this over the top creation from the RTD era only accentuated them – but not in a bad way. It's like Ryan said, "Cheesy, but the good kind."

As frustrating as it was to have Jack appear in the episode and not interact with the Doctor (for now anyway), the circumstances around them present a much bigger problem with the episode. Jack's return is used as a vehicle to completely remove the three companions from the main story, once again highlighting how this series doesn't have the faintest idea of how to include them. Five episodes into the series so far and one has removed them outright, two have effectively replaced them with historical figures and another had a cast so big that only one of them really made a mark on the episode. There was no need for all three of them to be transported away, even if they were still removed from what the Doctor was doing with Ruth. At the beginning and end of the episode we get some signs of conflict between them and the Doctor in regards to her keeping secrets, but it's all very easily resolved when she comes clean about the whole thing. The constant underuse of the companions has been nothing short of frustrating, because it feels like before this series starts making big potentially canon-defining reveals it should learn to appreciate and properly utilise what it already has.

The CompanionsJack and the fam

But the real meat of the story lies in the "fugitive" part of the title. After some careful misdirection and slow unravelling, it's not Lee that's revealed as the target but Ruth – and the surprises don't end there either. Jo Martin isn't just playing Ruth Clayton, she's also playing the Doctor – a brand new incarnation unknown even to the Doctor herself. Naturally the internet is already alight with different theories as to how this is possible, ranging from a forgotten incarnation that precedes the First Doctor to a parallel world version that's somehow crossed the barrier between universes. With Spyfall having cleverly hinting at both these things being possibilities – through the reimplementation of parallel universes with the Kasaavin and the Doctor's memory of a mysterious "timeless child" prompted by the Master's message, all we have right now is speculation. When it comes to being event TV Fugitive of the Judoon is certainly going to be talked about for some time, but the amount of questions raised by the episode without a single hint of direction hamper the story in regards to being a self-contained episode. The Ruth Doctor, Lee, Gat and her unknown employer are all just breadcrumbs, and their impact will ultimately be determined by the trail they lead to future episodes. It seems tantalising, but is that feeling created by the episode or excitement/speculation at where it's heading toward?

Really this episode could have done with more time to introduce and establish this mysterious Doctor, because there's so much going on here that there really isn’t any time for these revelations to properly sink it. And it's a shame because Jo Martin is frankly brilliant in the short time she has as the Doctor. Despite some really ropey moments during her Ruth persona, Martin immediately takes charge as her Doctor and commands her scenes in a way the 13th Doctor has often lacked. Her costume is brilliant, and that TARDIS console is already one of the best modern Doctor Who has had to offer. Amongst the million questions this episode poses there's a real sense that this could indeed be the Doctor, and in another universe Martin could be fronting a series properly.

The Doctor takes chargeA new TARDIS

Naturally the strong impression left by the Ruth Doctor has led to many wishing to see more of her (representation matters after all), but there is the question of whether it steals the thunder from the 13th Doctor a bit. By all accounts it shouldn’t, because Jodie Whittaker is equally brilliant in this episode - perhaps the best she’s ever been. As poorly as it’s resolved those confrontational moments with her companions are darker edge we never got to see in the previous series, while her interactions with the Judoon retain that lighter personality that’s already been established. There’s a real defiance in her when faced with the possibility she’s lived a life she might not even remember, with this series seemingly poised to push her to breaking point. Again it’s more excitement at what’s to come rather than the episode itself, but series 12 feels like it’s out to define the 13th Doctor. As an opportunity that came far too late for the previous incarnation, that’s definitely something to look forward to.

Finally amidst all these new developments, there’s that lingering feeling Fugitive of the Judoon is almost a greatest hits collection of sorts. Remember the Judoon? They’re back! Missed Captain Jack? We’ve got him back again! Remember that time the Doctor hid as a human and locked his essence away in a fob watch? That’s coming back with a brand new twist. Continuity and callbacks aren’t a bad thing, but sometimes the episode feels almost too reliant on these relics from the “golden age”. It feeling especially egregious here is perhaps a result of my earlier point, that currently Doctor Who is struggling to make the most of what it has in the now.

GatThe Doctor processes

There's no denying that Fugitive of the Judoon is a pivotal moment for series 12 of Doctor Who as a whole, but as an individual episode it struggles to stand on its own two feet. Instead of being in the now and making the most of what it has, it simultaneously relies on twists to be explained in future episodes and a reuse of popular past characters and concepts. The big reveals are indeed shocking on first watch, but these moments are unlikely to have the same impact on repeated viewings. The main thing to take away though is that there are a lot of questions to be answered in the next few weeks, and depending on the answers the Doctor Who universe may never be the same again. Only time will tell…

…but not for a while it seems, because next week it looks as though it's back to usual business in the multi-continental mystery Praxeus. Those speculation fires are going to be burning a little bit longer.


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chris shaw said...

I'm looking forward to watching Dr Who season 12. I've just managed to catch up over the last few months and now I'm onto starting Season 12. Luckily I recorded them all on the skybox. WhatKids