Wow, what is that feeling? That tingle down the spine? Can it be… I’m actually excited about watching Doctor Who again? It’s been a long time. In fact, my viewing last night had me buzzing because I watched the first episode of Picard followed by Fugitive of the Judoon, and saw the two television series I care about the most spring back to life… at last! But I will try to calm down and take this amazing episode of Doctor Who one step at a time.
Firstly , why does a writer bring back an old Doctor Who villain? On a very superficial level it should give the viewing figures a bit of a boost, with viewers tuning in to see a monster they enjoyed watching before, or perhaps even remember from their childhood. With an enemy such as the Judoon the influx of casual viewers is probably relatively minimal. They are not a first tier monster like the Daleks or the Cybermen, and they aren’t even really in the second tier of popular returning monsters such as Weeping Angels, Ice Warriors or Silurians. If villains were celebrities, the Judoon are very much in the C List. But even without taking the recognition factor into account they are visually striking aliens who worked well in Doctor Who before and therefore should work well again.
All of that, of course, is nothing more than icing on the cake, because the real reason for a writer to bring back an old villain should always be that the story calls for it. To a large extent each different recurring enemy has its own modus operandi: the Daleks are genocidal killers; the Cybermen want to make us like them; the Weeping Angels send their victims into the past; the Silurians are our lost brothers; the Master is a dark mirror of the Doctor, etc, etc. As for the Judoon? They are police in space. That’s a very specific characteristic, and they can’t just be piloted into any script as the C List celebrity monster of the week. The script must require police in space for some reason. That has to be the starting point. Luckily writers Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall have a reason: the Judoon are looking for something, and are stomping around Gloucester to try to find it. Nice place, Gloucester. And although Judoon in Gloucester might not have quite the impact of Daleks in London, one highlight of Chibnall’s version of Doctor Who is that he has moved Doctor Who away from being such a London-centric show (or Cardiff-pretending-to-be-London centric). We should rightly be proud of our capital and want to showcase it, but there is so much more to the British Isles than one big city, and also there is added realism to the Doctor and the monsters not turning up in the same place all the time. In a way, it felt more real and therefore more frightening. The monsters can land anywhere now.
Vinay Patel was the writer of Demons of the Punjab, one of the last season’s better efforts. The addition of “and Chris Chibnall” to the writing credits sent shivers down the spine, but I needn’t have worried because this was a stunningly good team effort. I have mentioned the justification for using the Judoon, who are fulfilling a function that no other villain really could, although I need to make one exception to that statement, because they are stepping into the shoes of the Family of Blood from Human Nature, and that means a hidden Time Lord. After a great bit of misdirection with Lee apparently the Judoon’s target and then turning out to be Ruth’s guardian, we had our Utopia moment and the Nth Doctor sprung back to life. And immediately we have another brilliant Doctor in Jo Martin. She made me realise how much I have missed watching a Doctor who actually goes about things with some kind of a degree of authority about her. In comparison, the Thirteenth Doctor looked rather silly, unable to keep her mouth shut. Then again, maybe that’s more the Doctor we know!
“Is there even a word for how dumb you are?”
Ruth being the Doctor in hiding was a stunning revelation, but I have to admit it shared the same problem as Human Nature. The enemy wasn’t enough of a threat to justify the Doctor running away to hide. This idea has only worked well once, and that was in Utopia. But in Fugitive of the Judoon, the Doctor is hiding from another Time Lord named Gat, who was so easy to defeat that she couldn’t see that the weapon was going to backfire, which was obvious the moment Ruth handed it over to her. Although it wasn’t spelt out this time, maybe the Doctor was being merciful. Just like in Human Nature when he knew the fate he would inflict on the Family of Blood if they found him, maybe here she knew she was going to have to kill Gat. If Ruth really is the Doctor, that could have done with being spelt out, but I’m reasonably happy to join those dots.
We are going to have to wait to find out where Ruth slots in to the Doctor’s history (my only guess at the moment is some kind of parallel universe), but I’m OK with that. I don’t want this storyline to end. The Police Box sign dug out of the ground by the Doctor made me jump up in my seat, and wow that beautiful console room! Seeing a design based on the original really puts into perspective what a gaudy mess the console room has become nowadays, and how timeless the original design is. It has still never been bettered. Peter Brachacki was a genius.
And I haven’t even mentioned the other point in the episode that had me jumping out of my chair: Captain Jack! The story arc this season so far seems to be very much living in the realms of Russell T. Davies’s vision of Doctor Who, and I’m fine with that. What a moment it was when Jack came into focus, and then he had such fun banter with the companions. I’ve missed him. His message to the Doctor is fascinating too. I love the Cybermen, and all that talk of them as a defeated menace waiting to rise again from the shadows (I paraphrase here because I was too excited by what I was watching to make any notes at this point) is exactly how the Cybermen should be. Armies of Cybermen are boring. Cybermen lying in wait or skulking in the shadows are terrifying, and the prospect of a deadly “lone Cyberman” is tantalising. So much to look forward to: the Master, Ruth, Jack, Cybermen…
Welcome back, Doctor Who. RP
The view from across the pond:
“Oh crap,” I thought, as I watched the opening credits. Vinay Patel, who gave us one of the better episodes of Jodie’s first season, has teamed up with Chris Chibnall who pretty consistently missed the mark all last season. That was going to be one those episodes…
Oh, look, Lee Clayton isn’t a great husband. He forgets birthdays and has something to hide. Oh, look too, All Ears Allan has a file on Lee Clayton and a crush on Clayton’s wife, Ruth. Flash to the Judoon and they are looking for a fugitive. (Didn’t see that coming. Damned Doctor Who titles…) Lee even goes so far as to mutter “humans” letting the audience know that he’s our target. So yeah, I know what’s going to happen – Lee will die at the end and Allan will be with Ruth. All pretty basic stuff. And look yet again: the writers wanted to capture some of the feel of Tennant with the “Judoon platoon near the moon” comment. Eyes roll.
But then the Doctor says something again, similar but different: “a judoon platoon near the… lagoon.” Yaz corrects her: more a canal really. Then All Ears Allan gets obliterated. Even Lee gets obliterated by a ruthless (but wildly attractive) enemy wearing a weird (but wildly unattractive) helmet. Graham gets accidentally teleported to a neat looking room that’s supposed to be a spaceship. And basically everything I thought has the rug pulled out from under it.
That was when we got the gamechanger. It’s that moment where I realized all the clichés were a double bluff. Lee wasn’t the fugitive. Ruth wasn’t the victim. And as Graham gets up we hear an instantly recognizable voice bringing Jack Harkness back in all his amazing glory. Jack is one of those characters that just instantly bring a smile to the face (of Boe? Sorry, couldn’t resist!) When he thinks Graham is the Doctor, the dialogue is marvelous, but it’s even better when he accepts that the Doctor has regenerated again. Graham says the Doctor is not a he, but a she. Jack’s reaction: “Oh, this I’ve got to see!” So now the episode changed for me; now I was invested. Now I had faith…
Ruth gets a text from Lee before he died which leads her to a lighthouse where a fire alarm case says “break glass”. This is the same thing Lee texted her. “Follow the light. Break the Glass. Happy Birthday.” Just before she breaks the glass, it hits me: Chameleon Arch. Remember Human Nature? Utopia? Lee was the Martha/Chantho character, protecting Ruth, who was the Doctor/Master character, hiding while disguised. Now, while Ruth is breaking the glass, the Doctor is digging up something marked by a tombstone. I guess this is a triple double bluff… if that’s a thing. She reveals Police Public Call Box on the infinitely familiar TARDIS. Ruth speaks to her from behind: “you’re probably a bit confused right now!” You ain’t kiddin! Now, as if this isn’t enough, Ruth says she’s the Doctor, and all evidence seems to prove it. There’s even a brilliantly funny bit of mirroring one another’s words, proving they have the same brain. But neither version of the Doctor knows the other. As they realize that one of them would have to be a past version, yet neither have any memory of being the other, something else is going on here. And inside the TARDIS, we see the familiar roundels, but the room is more cramped. Certainly conjures feelings of the original, but it’s clearly something different. Dr. Ruth carries a gun, for one, and is reasonably OK with the gun being used, even as it disintegrates Gat. (Damn it…)
Flipping back to Jack for a moment, he manages to scoop up Yaz and Ryan too, but fails to see the Doctor. He sends a message: he’ll be there when she needs him and beware the lone Cyberman; don’t give it what it wants. This episode had my head spinning and for the first time this season, I felt hopeful that we might grab victory out of the jaws of oblivion. I mean, it’s been an OK season at best, but this opened the door for a lot more. Who was Gat? She was a Gallifreyan, but barring that, we know nothing else. Who was she working for – almost undoubtedly the Master… but what if that too is a blind alley? Why does Dr. Ruth not know about the Sonic Screwdriver? What exactly did happen to Gallifrey, since Gat did not know about it but she clearly was Gallifreyan?
This episode will really require another viewing to be able to grasp all the nuances. One thing I did like was the “Happy Birthday” message Lee gave because at first sight it seems like a little something for Ruth, but it dawns on the viewer that, like Frosty the Snowman, her rebirth as the Doctor is her “birthday”. I loved too that Ryan described Jack as “a little cheesy”, because how accurate is that?
The titular Judoon, meanwhile, are left wanting to fill their contract, but they are otherwise reasonably ineffectual. While that might have bothered me under different circumstances, I was OK with it here because of how much was happening in such a short time. Even the title served as an unexpected red herring. This episode wasn’t about the Judoon; it was about a mystery surrounding the Doctor, Gallifrey, and a lone Cyberman, yet to come. For the first time this season, I’m psyched to see where the story goes.
The episode ends with a great discussion between team TARDIS, where Graham, Ryan and Yaz explain to her that they are family and they will face this problem together. Thank goodness… the TARDIS is heading back into adventure, and it’s about time! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Praxeus