REVIEW: “Doctor Who” S12E05 – Fugitive of the Judoon

judoonThe Judoon are an interesting species but I, personally, have never understood the love for them. They’re rarely the actual antagonist of an episode, acting merely as a force for both the Doctor and the antagonist to face off against. So, while it’s cool they’re coming back in an episode more focused on them than those they’ve most recently appeared in, I can’t say that they were the big draw for me going into this episode. In fact, perhaps the most exciting thing about this episode, going into it, was the publicity hype it got beforehand. Throughout the last week, various official social media accounts tied to the BBC and Doctor Who have been teasing something that would be more shocking than the surprise reveal of the Master in the season premiere. Now that’s an exciting thing to tease before an episode airs. But, surely, they can’t actually deliver on that kind of monumental hype, can they? Short answer: YES. (This review features spoilers for Fugitive of the Judoon.)

Season 12, Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon (written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor)
Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?

I really don’t know how to talk about this episode and, as such, this is probably going to be more of a recap than a traditional review – but that’s because the episode is filled primarily with reveals instead of plot. That said, it’s a devilishly exciting episode, filled with so many genuine surprises and twists and turns. It’s very well-written, directed, and paced. It’s easily the most excitement I’ve had watching an episode of Doctor who in ages. But I’m not actually sure if the story, itself, works on its own, outside of the major reveals and their promised implications for the rest of the season. It’s the kind of episode that’s not really concerned with telling a complete story; rather, it feels like it’s setting up something really, really exciting while providing no answers to the questions it poses. Based on the summary, you’d assume that there is a fugitive that the Judoon are looking for. The first question you’d ask is: who is this fugitive? The second question is: what have they done to warrant being sought after by the Judoon? Fugitive of the Judoon answers the first question, telling us very clearly who the fugitive is, but it leaves the second question – what the Fugitive has actually done – to be answered at a later date.

And that’s about all I can say without going into spoilers. So, let’s go into spoilers! This episode isn’t really about the Judoon (nor did anyone think it would be) and the companions have very little to do in the episode. The Judoon are there pretty much solely to set up the mystery of who this Fugitive is and very little else. That’s not to say it’s not a whole lot of fun seeing them again, because it is. In fact, this is probably the best the Judoon have ever been. They’re properly threatening, killing multiple people with reckless abandon and just being a general terror. But they’re not actually that important to what the story is. They’re important to the plot, sure; nothing that happens in the episode would happen if the Judoon weren’t looking for this Fugitive. But aside from that, they don’t do much.

Nor do the companions, who are quickly whisked away from the earth by the first of the episode’s big reveals – Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), who teleports each of the companions onto his ship somewhere in space in an attempt to reach the Doctor in order to deliver a message. While it’s an utter joy to see Captain Jack again (even if Barrowman doesn’t give a particularly good performance), he’s completely superfluous to the episode, having less than five minutes of screen time. His only purpose is to remove the companions from the main storyline for the entirety of the episode and to deliver some exposition that, presumably, teases what will happen in the season finale. Before departing the episode almost as quickly as he entered, Jack tells Graham, Yaz, and Ryan to deliver a message to the Doctor: “Beware the Lone Cyberman.” Of course, this doesn’t mean much to the companions, but the Doctor will clue them in somewhat at the end of the episode. Unfortunately, the companions are pretty much stuck on this ship for the rest of the episode, only reentering at the end of the story when all the fun stuff is over. So, none of them really get to do a whole lot in the episode.

Normally, I’d be annoyed by that. But in this case, I’m kind of okay with it. And that’s really because this episode is solely about who the Fugitive is and how the Doctor reacts to this reveal – and as much of the screentime as possible needs to be spent on that storyline, so sidelining the companions makes a lot of sense. A lot of what makes this episode fun is the feeling that the audience is a step ahead of the Doctor. If you’ve seen Human Nature, the Tenth Doctor story where he used a Chameleon Arch to disguise himself as a human (this forgetting his memories), you’ll recognize what’s going on fairly quickly. Much of the episode follows the Doctor as she tries to figure out the identity of the Fugitive. The suspects are narrowed down to a single married couple, Lee (Neil Stuke) and Ruth (Jo Martin). Lee acts really suspicious but ultimately convinces the Doctor to take Ruth to safety. Of course, at this point, the audience is meant to believe that Lee is the Fugitive. But he’s pretty quickly killed by the Judoon and the woman who hired them, Gat (Ritu Arya). Which leaves us with just one suspect – Ruth. The Judoon quickly corner the Doctor and Ruth, but a mysterious message seems to trigger some repressed memories inside Ruth, leading us on a journey to an abandoned lighthouse where Ruth gets her memories back and the Doctor finds a TARDIS that looks exactly like hers buried in an unmarked grave.

And it’s here we get the second, and biggest, reveal of the episode – the Fugitive of the Judoon is, indeed, Ruth. And Ruth is none other than a previously-unseen incarnation of the Doctor, herself. It’s honestly a pretty satisfying reveal after 35 minutes of buildup; anything less than this would probably have felt a bit anti-climactic as we already had a surprise Master-reveal and none of the other Time Lords featured in the Classic era of the show have made appearances in the modern era. Jo Martin makes for an excellent Doctor and the energy she brings to the role is palpable. You instantly fall in love with her incarnation – her personality is striking, her outfit is neat, and her TARDIS looks insanely cool. That being said, it also creates a huge amount of new questions that the episode isn’t really concerned with answering. Ruth and the Doctor end up on the Judoon ship, where they confront Gat – who reveals that she is representing Gallifrey and they have hired the Judoon to capture Ruth for reasons unknown. Of course, in light of what the Doctor saw in Spyfall, she realizes that Gat and Ruth must be from her past as Gallifrey no longer exists. Or does it? Ruth and the Thirteenth Doctor are quickly able to defeat Gat and the Judoon (in a fairly clever manner, all things considered), subsequently escaping and eventually parting ways, leaving both Doctors to continue their adventures for the foreseeable future.

And it’s here where we get to the crux of the success and failure of the episode. This reveal is a truly exciting one. It harkens back to the reveal of John Hurt as a previously-unseen incarnation of the Doctor back in 2013 and Jo Martin makes for an excellent addition to the roster of actors and actresses who have played the character. But this episode is the midway point of the season, meaning there was never any chance of having the questions that would arise with such a reveal answered – nor should they have been at this point. It would be pretty disappointing to have your major arc wrapped up halfway through the season. This leaves a number of huge questions unanswered: most notably: what has the Ruth-Doctor done to warrant Gallifrey hiring the Judoon to hunt her down? and where does this new incarnation fall in the Doctor’s history? Does she predate the First Doctor? Is she an alternate universe. Without answers to these questions, the episode sort of feels incomplete. What we’ve got is an extremely entertaining 50 minutes of television, but it’s hard to judge whether or not the actual story works when we don’t yet have the full story.

The problem with this approach is that Doctor Who isn’t really a serialized show; it’s a procedural show with serial elements. This kind of reveal works perfectly in a show where every single episode is telling a new chapter in the same story. You know that in the next episode, you’re gonna uncover more information about what’s going on. But that’s not how Doctor Who works. We don’t actually know when we’ll return to the mysteries left unanswered in this episode. It could be in the next episode or it might not be until the season finale, five episodes from now. And with a reveal as massive as this one, and a storyline that desperately needs resolution before its quality and effectiveness can truly be determined, you don’t want to have to sit through 3-4 superfluous episodes to get back to the story at hand. I don’t want to watch a random episode where the Doctor goes to a new place and stops a thing. I wanna see the next part of this story. And that’s likely not gonna happen. Fugitive of the Judoon being as good as it is, and leaving the overall series with so many exciting and unanswered questions, is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it makes me excited for the future of the show but it’s bad because it makes me less excited for the stand-alone episodes I’ll have to watch (most of which I’d probably like perfectly well in any other season) in order to get to the next arc-heavy episode. I’m not a stickler for canon, but the answers to the questions raised in this episode could really upend everything we know about the show and that’s both exciting and scary and it really leaves you desperately wanting to know where the storyline is gonna end up – which makes it difficult to sit through the episodes that won’t come close to answering those seemingly-pressing questions.

With all of that said, Fugitive of the Judoon is such an exciting episode of Doctor Who. Nothing much happens within the actual story of the episode, but the ramifications of what both the Doctor and the audience has learned will be felt throughout the rest of the season. The biggest talking point is, of course, Jo Martin as a previously-unseen incarnation of the Doctor (where she falls in the timeline is to be determined). Martin’s performance is excellent and the addition of her Doctor is as shocking as it is exciting and the episode does a great job at teasing where that storyline might go. Equally exciting is the return of Captain Jack Harkness, and the teases he provides for what will presumably occur in the finale. I’ll be curious to see how these reveals play with more casual fans, but for those steeped in the history of the show, they should prove immensely exciting. While these reveals make up the bulk of the episode, and exist primarily to set up future stories, very little else actually happens in the episode. It’s an expository episode, but one that is likely going to be of vital importance to later episodes. That said, it’s still excellently written and directed. The Judoon have never looked better and Nida Manzoor continues to expertly handle the director of the episode, ushering in some very solid editing, camerawork, and visuals. The Judoon have never looked better and I remain impressed by how good the show looks on its budget. Fugitive of the Judoon is a weird episode to judge since much of its success will depend on how the series arc gets resolved, but on its own, I found it immensely enjoyable. I haven’t been this excited while watching an episode of Doctor Who in ages and I am eager to see where Chibnall takes this story in the future.

4.5 out of 5 wands.