Doctor Who – Season 12 Episode 5
“Fugitive of the Judoon”
Doctor Who crosses the halfway point of the season with a returning alien threat and a few surprises for viewers to digest.
This episode is one that will become known for its surprises more so than what it was actually about. It’s inevitable when everything revolves around the reveals and the questions those raise which unfortunately means that the actual plot gets a bit lost. Maybe that’s for the best in this case as the actual plot is nothing special when taken for what it is.
The episode starts off as if it were a midseason romp where The Doctor and her companions get involved in a situation that they have to solve while the season arc creeps around in the background. It certainly feels that way early on with the companions worried about how distant The Doctor has become since the events of “Spyfall Part 2“. She still won’t talk to them about what she discovered and has taken to leaving them to explore while she takes trips back to Gallifrey to continue mourning the loss of her planet and people. The Doctor is in a lot of pain and clearly grieving this latest loss of her home. It’s really well played by Jodie Whittaker and the distance she keeps from her three companions makes a lot of sense as an interpretation of grief. Internalising grief is something that has been consistent through all modern incarnations of The Doctor though her quiet and deflated mood is somewhat unique to this version. Variations on a theme is very Doctor Who so it’s interesting to see how each Doctor handles the same kind of loss.
Graham, Yaz and Ryan are all really concerned about her as they know that she’s dealing with something major but can’t help her because she won’t let them in. At this point they likely all feel like passengers because she is purposely keeping them at arm’s length. This unfortunately means that they suffer as characters because they spend a lot of the individual episodes doing and saying much the same things. Until The Doctor decides to confide in them and let them help her deal with her pain there isn’t a great deal they can offer beyond however they contribute to the overall plot.
As I mentioned before, much of this episode feels like a fairly standard Doctor Who style romp where there’s an alien threat and the characters have to improvise their way through it. The Judoon are a decent enough alien menace because they are rigidly driven by protocol which means that they’re predictable yet unable to be reasoned with, there’s a mystery surrounding what they’re looking for and a ticking clock attacked to the necessity of finding whatever they are looking for first to prevent more people being hurt. It’s an unremarkable setup but has all the ingredients for something fun and satisfying.
Sadly the ingredients aren’t put together all that well. Everything is rightly focused on the mystery surrounding the Judoon’s objective but the execution is incredibly clumsy. The Judoon feel like an afterthought who ultimately accomplish very little on their own and characters are introduced as if they should have a defined personality but are unceremoniously disintegrated before they can be properly identified as having a possible connection to the objective they are disintegrated. A more deliberate approach could have played up Allan’s (Michael Begley) role as being possibly significant after devoting an extended scene to him early on. I understand that he is either there as either comic relief or a red herring -or a combination of both- but there’s no time to take full advantage of that.
Similarly, Lee Clayton (Neil Stuke) would seem to have a lot more importance than the episode allows. Early signs point to him being what the Judoon are looking for such as when he expresses frustration at “Humans” after being on the receiving end of Allan’s childish jealousy. His conversation with Gat (Ritu Arya) reveals that there is history between them but the episode is so packed with content that there’s no time to explore that connection or even properly digest it. This is a common problem when an episode is built around the reveals rather than the impact behind them; it often means that they lack in substance. Since the Gat and Lee relationship only really serves to distract the audience from the upcoming reveal it means that it becomes almost worthless in itself.
In a different episode, Lee could have been a really important character because he knows far more than he’s letting on, has a strong connection to the one who hired the Judoon and seems to be dealing with a great deal of regret. Very little of that is explored thanks to his untimely death but it doesn’t prevent Neil Stuke from providing a really strong performance that suggests there’s a lot more to the character than the episode is prepared to deliver. I was so impressed with his performance that I was sure he was going to become the focus of the episode and I found myself disappointed when he wasn’t because what I did learn I found to be engaging. His connection to the real mystery suggests that this may not be his final appearance but I can also only judge the episode on what it gives me rather than what a future episode might provide so he’s very much a missed opportunity within the context of this one.
The return of Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) could be seen as a red herring as his appearance coinciding with a Judoon Platoon searching for someone or something encourages the viewer to connect the dots and assume that they are looking for him. It’s very in character for him to be on the wrong side of the law and rub people up the wrong way -literally in some cases- so he could easily have been the answer to the mystery surrounding their objective. He only really exists for the purposes of foreshadowing which cheapens his return somewhat since he doesn’t actually do anything within the episode itself.
Jack Harkness is a character I have a somewhat complicated relationship with as a fan. At his best he’s complex, damaged and charmingly quirky but at his worst he’s irritatingly cheesy. This interpretation of the character leans towards the irritatingly cheesy end of the spectrum which is somewhat off-putting. The reliance on innuendo aimed at each of the companions is incredibly grating and it’s abundantly clear that his appearance in the episode is a very superficial one. I would have expected Jack to return in a capacity that was more meaningful and contributed to the overall story in a significant way. Granted there’s a good chance he’ll return and factor in but I was underwhelmed with how he was used here because he felt so detached from everything else that was happening. Taking a break from a story that had some urgency attached to it in order to set up a different future problem that doesn’t obviously connect adds to the overall clumsiness of the execution. That said, I did enjoy Jack’s return because of John Barrowman’s enthusiastic performance. He hasn’t missed a beat stepping back into the World War II coat so that was good to see.
Once the misdirections stop the episode gets on with the reveal it really wants the audience to be shocked by. Having it turn out that Ruth Clayton (Jo Martin) is actually another version of The Doctor hiding on Earth courtesy of The Chameleon Arch that was previously used in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” -as well as “Utopia”- who finds herself drawn to restoring herself because of the Judoon’s pursuit. As reveals go it works really well with her exploring her family home as The Doctor digs up a grave marked by a blank tombstone to find the TARDIS. The shock lands as intended and The Doctor serving as the audience point of view character as she expresses the appropriate level of confusion works really well.
The reveal also works thanks to Jo Martin’s excellent performance. When she is in disguise as a Human she appears pleasant, personable and vulnerable while possessing inner strength that makes her a compelling addition to the episode. The focus on her early on confirms her importance and Jo Martin’s acting allows the audience to become invested in her. When she becomes The Doctor the performance shifts into something very different. She has a different take to Jodie Whittaker yet is still very much the same character. Their dialogue being in sync shows this clearly while there being an intangible quality to the performance that just feels like The Doctor. It’s really impressive stuff and quickly moves the suspicion away from this being some sort of trick. The longer she’s on screen the more Doctorry she becomes.
Ruth’s -for reviewing purposes it’s easier to keep calling her that- restoration doesn’t answer many questions and opens up a lot of new ones. She mentions working for Gat though doesn’t say in what capacity and seems to be at least a little scared of her as an adversary. There’s the suggestion that she might be an intellectual match for her though the ease of her dispatch suggests otherwise. There is likely more to be revealed here such as who actually took out the contract to have the Judoon hunt down The Doctor but it doesn’t alter the fact that Gat represents a lot of wasted potential.
The reveal that Gat is a Time Lord adds to the overall mystery as does the mention of Gallifrey as somewhere that still exists for her. It leads The Doctor to conclude that all of this is occurring earlier in her own personal timeline because neither Ruth nor Gat are aware of Gallifrey being in ruins because of The Master. Gat does learn this through seeing inside The Doctor’s mind but as far as she was concerned Gallifrey still exists. Of course it’s possible that she hasn’t been back to witness what it has become but I think it’s more likely that there’s much more going on here.
Ruth has no memory of being the Jodie Whittaker incarnation so thinks that she is in her future. The Doctor thinks the same as she has no memory of being Ruth so there is an answer to come on this. It’s not outwith the realms of possibility that The Doctor removes an entire regeneration from their memory for some unknown reason. It’s a similar idea to not admitting John Hurt’s War Doctor was a part of his/her personal history though this is notably different as neither has any memory of being the other so the question becomes around who forgot and why did they forget? I find the mystery intriguing and I’m certainly interested in seeing Jo Martin’s version of The Doctor again.
It’s also worth noting that Jo Martin’s Doctor is a lot angrier than Jodie Whittaker’s. When she was wielding the gun it did seem likely that she would use it. The Doctor was visibly concerned that she might fire it and made sure to remind her that The Doctor doesn’t use weapons as if she was concerned that it had been forgotten. To me that seems significant and might have something to do with the lack of memory. The Doctor wouldn’t admit to The War Doctor out of shame so the motivation behind forgetting Ruth might be along similar lines. Ruth’s TARDIS interior is more simplistic than Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor’s current design which supports the idea that she is a past iteration though all of this could be a misdirection. Whatever the answer the mystery is set up well even if the rest of the episode feels somewhat clumsy.
The closing scene between The Doctor and the rest of Team TARDIS where she tries to digest everything she has experienced is particularly strong. A lot of doubt is creeping in about the person she is, was and might become which causes her to be deeply concerned about the current situation. She is concerned that something is coming for her and has absolutely no idea what it is. Jodie Whittaker’s performance shows that the lack of knowledge terrifies The Doctor because she has no idea how to prepare for what’s coming. She tries to tell the others that they have no idea who or what she is because they have only experienced a tiny fraction of her long life span but they aren’t prepared to accept that and tell her that they know who she is in the present which is all that matters to them. They think of her as someone who helps others and offer their support because they consider her to be family. It’s a nice sentiment that is strongly acted by all concerned though feels somewhat unearned because of the uneven character work. It’s a good example of strong performances elevating material above its shortcomings.
A compelling episode that wastes some obvious potential but starts to make up for it with a strong reveal that sparks an intriguing mystery. The episode begins as if it were a fairly standard midseason romp with a situation that needs resolved as the season arc hovers in the background. There is a reminder that The Doctor won’t open up to her companions about what she is dealing with and a somewhat simplistic adventure with all the necessary ingredients to be fun and satisfying. Sadly the execution of the situation is clumsy with the Judoon feeling almost like an afterthought. There is obvious potential for the Lee character to have much greater significance than he ultimately does which feels like a badly missed opportunity and a clear consequence of the episode trying to pack too much in. It does so at the expense of substance for most of it. The reintroduction of Jack Harkness is misused because he does almost nothing in the context of the episode beyond adding a piece of foreshadowing as the script leans into his less desirable character traits. It was good to see him again and John Barrowman’s performance was very enthusiastic but it would have been better had his appearance been more meaningful.
The reveal that Ruth is another version of The Doctor works really well for a number of reasons. For one thing, Jo Martin’s performance is excellent. She creates two distinct personalities between Ruth and her version of The Doctor. When she is restored to her true self her performance is different to that of Jodie Whittaker while still feeling like a variation of the same character. Their scenes together are great and sell the reveal nicely. It’s also nicely handled with the restoration of her memories happening at the same time The Doctor digs up the buried TARDIS. Once the reveal happens it opens up a new set of questions such as why the Time Lords have taken out a Judoon contract against her and what the extent of her prior connection to Gat is. There’s also the large scale question over whether Ruth is a past or future incarnation of The Doctor as neither remembers being the other. There are clues that point in the direction of Ruth being in the past though it’s far from clear. It’s an intriguing mystery that I look forward to seeing explored. The closing scene between The Doctor and the rest of Team TARDIS is really well done. Jodie Whittaker plays The Doctor’s doubt over who she is, was and might become brilliantly as well as the terror she feels over having no idea what’s coming for her. The companions offering their support and stating that they’re a family might be unearned based on the available evidence but it’s strongly acted and elevates the material above its shortcomings.
- Jodie Whittaker’s strong performance indicating the Doctor’s shifting mental state
- John Barrowman’s enthusiastic performance and easy return to the role of Jack Harkness
- the reveal that Ruth is actually another incarnation of The Doctor
- Jo Martin’s excellent performance that creates two distinct characters
- any scene between Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin
- the compelling mystery surrounding the other Doctor
- so much wasted potential around characters like Lee and Gat
- the Judoon feeling like an afterthought
- clumsy execution of the early part of the episode
- Jack’s appearance having very little meaning and distracting from the rest of the story
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