4.5 out of 5 stars

It’s something of an understatement when it comes to describing Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall’s “Fugitive of the Judoon”, that what started out as a mild curiosity in Gloucester turned out to be a great spirit of adventure. An innocuous title for an episode that, after the end credits rolled to introduce Jo Martin as The Doctor, might upset what we consider Doctor Who’s established canon. The theories have been flying thick and fast but before we get to some of those… let’s start at the beginning…

The ticking of a watch. It’s almost eight o’clock in the morning. Close-ups of the timepiece intercut with close-ups of Ruth Clayton’s (Jo Martin) eyes and mouth. In hindsight, after you’ve re-watched the episode, it suggests more than simple worries about being late for your job or waiting for the toast. Director Nida Manzoor, fresh from her excellent work on “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”, disperses this tension with a trackback from a boiled egg and Ruth tucking into a slice of toast in her kitchen. If you’ve watched “Fugitive” several times, then this opening suggests perhaps Ruth is already subconsciously anticipating the episode’s dramatic events and—like Professor Yana anxiously fiddling with his pocket watch in “Utopia” (2007), priming us for the return of The Master—is aware of something important gnawing away at the back of her mind.

It’s Ruth’s birthday. Again, this has further connotations. It’s more of a re-birthday when her domestic bliss with husband Lee Clayton (Neil Stuke) is shattered by the arrival of rhino-headed space police and she feels an urgent desire to protect herself by fleeing to a long-forgotten disused lighthouse. “All right, Monday, do your worst,” she demands, peering into a roundel-like mirror that echoes the decor of a certain time machine. As Ruth sets off, Manzoor rests on a close up of Lee, his worried face already suggesting there’s something wrong about this homely picture.

Given the title, we’ve been given signals that perhaps Lee is the titular fugitive. As Ruth walks to work, greeting the day by high-fiving kids, stroking dogs, and talking to swans (as one must if you’re a friendly, innocent city tour guide, I suppose), our suspicions about Lee gain further credence. The atmosphere of dread starts to percolate, apt given All Ears Allan’s (Michael Begley) poor attempt at a froth heart on Ruth’s coffee at the local cafe-bakery. His ongoing jealousy of their relationship has resulted in a thoroughly compiled Lee dossier: “he hardly talks to anyone, cuts his own hair, gets weird books out from the library, claims that his family’s from around here but I can’t find anybody that knew them. How can you trust that?” If we’re going to accuse Patel and Chibnall of lifting from Russell T. Davies’ and Steven Moffat’s dossiers, then this takes us back to “Rose” and Clive Banks collating his mad history of The Doctor in his garden shed. Similarly, the broad brush strokes to establish character, setting and humour, as alien police descend on an unsuspecting Gloucester where the ordinary acts as a veneer to the extraordinary, apply throughout the next 25-minutes.

As the Judoon, led by Paul Kasey’s Captain Pol-Kon-Don (named in tribute to the late lamented TV producer, author, and Doctor Who fan Paul Condon), establish an exclusion zone around Gloucester, in the TARDIS The Doctor’s companions are questioning their friend’s behaviour “spending hours at the controls looking for something.” It seems she is concerned about The Master’s whereabouts after his revelation that he raised Gallifrey to the ground. She’s also been back there on her own, perhaps not truly willing to accept that it lies in ruins. It’s interesting to see how this scene and the final scene of the episode, both of which show The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) being confronted by her companions when events have left her traumatised and dumbfounded, bookend the narrative. The companions are worried about their friendship with The Doctor, who thinks they ask too many questions, in an episode where all three are sidelined for half the runtime. Mind you, their displacement does function in two ways. It reintroduces a popular character while also using The Doctor as the denouement for Ruth’s story.

While Judoon troops establish their zonal enforcement field around Gloucester and hunt for their fugitive, the visuals and narrative are indeed a call back to another 2007 episode, “Smith and Jones”, that introduced them. The comedic nature of rhinos in leather stomping through Gloucester’s Tudor and medieval surroundings is again played in contrast with their trigger happy attitudes to Ruth’s friend Marcia (Judith Street), compensated for the loss of her nine weeks worth of knitting but then incinerated by their enforcement field, and with Lee’s exasperation at Allan’s not so subtle birthday cake then abruptly switching to outright fear as The Doctor warns him that the Judoon have arrived. Allan has the temerity to assault the Judoon Captain for behaving like a rhino in a bakery shop and is sentenced and summarily executed. The episode is steeped in death.

Meanwhile, public fugitive number one Lee, so it seems, tries to get Ruth out of Gloucester. Even Ruth starts to suspect that there’s more to him than being from Stroud and working at Bathrooms4U. Lee’s odd behaviour continues after the Judoon surrounds their house and threaten to blast it with an outlawed temporal isolator. So, let’s pause here. The Judoon using a temporal isolator to hunt down a fugitive? What is a temporal isolator? It’s apparently “designed to freeze time but causes horrific collateral damage to anything and anyone that gets in its path.” The fugitive has to be frozen in time to enable the Judoon to capture them. And if your fugitive is a time-traveller then what better way to prevent their escape? The Doctor, under the guise of an ‘imperial regulator’, manages to hold off the Judoon by tying them up in the red tape illegalities of their actions (the made-up local Earth law 12) and it buys time enough for her to (a) riff on the original “Smith and Jones” gag of “Judoon platoon on the moon” and (b) search Lee and Ruth’s flat for anything that explains why they’ve been targeted. It’s worth noting the comedic interplay between Whittaker and the combined talents of Paul Kasey and Nick Briggs as Pol-Kon-Don. The latter imbues the Captain with the right amount of timorousness, sulkily reeling from the effrontery displayed by these humans and this Doctor. The “woman to woman” back and forth arbitration between Judoon and Time Lord is a delight to watch.

After pouring scorn on Allan’s cake, Graham’s (Bradley Walsh) mysteriously whisked away. The Doctor and Ryan (Tosin Cole) suddenly realise he’s AWOL during the negotiations with the Judoon. Graham is soon the subject of mistaken identity on an alien ship stolen by someone with a very recognisable accent. “You can get excited now,” Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) announces to both the audience of fans who have longed for his return (we have, haven’t we?) and to Graham, whom he thinks is The Doctor. Perhaps this idea of mistaken identity is going to be a regular little in-joke, continuing as it does from C’s perception in “Spyfall: Part 1” that The Doctor was always male according to the files. It works quite well narratively here as it overlaps with Lee’s claim that mistaken identity has brought the Judoon to his door and, more importantly, it suggests Ruth’s own hidden persona.

When Yaz (Mandip Gill) finds a mysterious box hidden in a wardrobe, the truth gradually starts to trickle out. When The Doctor scans it, she reveals it’s not from Earth and there’s a quick pause, caught on Whittaker’s face, in response to Ryan’s question about its origin, where she looks at Yaz as though she recognises it’s Gallifreyan. That’s possibly reading too much into the performances, in retrospect, but listening to the line delivery and reactions indeed adds something to the later revelations. They’re interrupted by a not-so-subtle warning from the Judoon and, as the countdown to temporal isolation begins, The Doctor’s plea to Ruth and Lee to explain the mysterious box finally breaks the tension of the scene. Lee suddenly demands the box and Ruth realises he’s hiding something. Stuke’s performance changes very neatly, catching the steely pragmatism in Lee’s behaviour. He’s intent on getting The Doctor, as to him she’s “the smartest, I can see it in your eyes,” to help Ruth escape via the fire exit. Ruth is alarmed as Lee takes control, that he believes he can talk to the Judoon to resolve “his mistake,” and observes, “but they’re space rhinos, Lee. What’re you going to chat to them about?”

The Doctor escorts Ruth to a proposed rendezvous with Lee at Gloucester cathedral while Yaz and Ryan delay the Judoon from using the temporal isolator. After inviting Pol-Kon-Don into Lee and Ruth’s flat, they’re suddenly transported to Captain Jack’s ship before they can take further action. Ironically, like Graham, they’re temporally and temporarily isolated from the rest of the story. While there’s much comedic banter from Jack (“seriously, three of you? I had a dream about this once”), he’s essentially a cameo to impart a warning about future events, reflecting some of the content of the series’ trailer about the return of the Cybermen. Before he departs, Jack transports them back to The Doctor with the message that, though their Cyber Empire is brought down to nothing, and “to defeat them, the alliance sent this thing back through time, across space”, it could all change. Time is in flux if the resurrection of their vanquished empire rests upon the demands of a lone Cyberman.

It’s at this point that episode’s tone completely alters. The somewhat frivolous but amusing approach dissolves and a much darker attitude emerges. The story follows the imprint of 2007’s “Human Nature”, where companion Martha protects the disguised Doctor from his pursuers, the Family of Blood. Yes, it seems Lee is the fugitive, but why is he “keeping my promise” by sending a text to Ruth? He is protecting her and we are about to find out why. Commander Gat (Ritu Arya), dissatisfied by the clumsy efforts of the Judoon, teleports to Earth to confront Lee, her “old friend”. Seemingly back from the dead after an emotional if deceptive funeral for him, she’s pursued him by dint of his own sentimentality. The box contains his service medal for honour and courage, made of a “chronotelluric alloy” that presumably has a trackable temporal signature betraying his presence on Earth. When he suddenly reaches for something, a weapon she’s already managed to grab, she remarks on their identical training. Does this suggest that Gat and Lee have similar roles, as protectors and companions to other beings, other Time Lords? Or is her remark of “faithful companion”, said before she murders him, a double meaning indicating he was her companion before he fled to protect Ruth on Earth. However, the bond between Lee and Ruth was obviously very strong, implying they were husband and wife on the run from Gat’s clutches. The Judoon Captain demands they take the fugitive, as per contract, but she suggests he scans Lee. As the Judoon are clearly looking for a specific bio-signature, it confirms Lee isn’t the fugitive and yet even Pol-Kon-Don is taken aback when Gat blasts Lee to bits.

Lee’s text ‘Follow the light. Break the glass. Happy birthday’ acts as a trigger and reminds us that this is about rebirth as well as survival. The way he and Gat operate suggests this has been a military intelligence mission conducted through space and time. It certainly explains Ruth’s sudden prowess at hand-to-hand combat when she and The Doctor are surrounded by Judoon in the cathedral and she learns that Lee has been executed. Declaring that bullies have a weak spot, she also commits a dishonour by tearing off the Captain’s horn, forcing the squad to retreat. From Ruth’s perspective, as Lee’s text starts to affect her, we also get glimpses of a lighthouse on an unidentified coast, whispering voices on the soundtrack. When the Judoon decrypt her biological shielding, she is finally identified as the fugitive, but who is she really? She seems to have no knowledge of Lee’s true identity and purpose. At this point, I was thinking we were getting a return of The Rani or even River Song, hidden in plain sight by wearing a necklace bearing the letter ‘R’. But, an even bigger surprise was waiting. There’s a poignant moment in the cathedral, the bells ringing and the sun streaming through the stained glass, as Ruth tries to comprehend who or what she is in an atmosphere of atonement, of confession. The bells seem to herald the news that the insulted Judoon have fled and removed the enforcement zone but The Doctor reckons it’s become “very bad and very personal.”

The mystery of Ruth’s true identity remains guarded as The Doctor doesn’t have the decryption to crack her sophisticated bio-shield. Ruth claims “I know my own life. I’m Ruth Clayton. I’m 44. I’m married. I’m a tour guide, and I am scared” and it’s interesting to reflect on this with regard to The Doctor’s own response to her when she finally understands who the transformed Ruth is at the lighthouse. The Doctor, too, feels she doesn’t know her own life, confused as to where Ruth’s Doctor fits into her own history. When The Doctor questions her over the meaning of Lee’s text, a shot of Jo Martin and Whittaker is momentarily overlaid with a shot of the lighthouse. The destiny of both women lies in a journey to the lighthouse, back to a memory of growing up there and as a place where Ruth’s parents are buried outside. Are these Ruth’s implanted memories or did she live there as a child? A Timeless Child under the protection of her companions?

At the disused lighthouse, Ruth responds to the visions and voices in her head and she’s drawn to a fire alarm. Reviewing the episode confirms that the fire alarm is covered in Gallifreyan script and is yet another clue to what transpires. As Ruth moves towards it, The Doctor is already in the grounds of the lighthouse digging for something the sonic screwdriver’s detected under the unmarked gravestone where Ruth’s parents were allegedly buried. Once more, look at Whittaker’s reactions when she sees the readings on the sonic. It’s subtle but, as The Doctor, she recognises the nature of what’s beneath the stone but can’t quite believe it. Manzoor ratchets up the tension, cross-cutting between Ruth’s inexorable pull towards the fire alarm and its instruction to break the glass and The Doctor frantically digging up the grave. While we expect the breaking of the glass to remove Ruth’s bio-cloak, confirmed when Time Lord energy bursts forth and enters her, it’s a bit of a shock when The Doctor digs up a police box.

“You’re probably a bit confused right now,” Ruth explains as she watches The Doctor recoil in confusion from the buried TARDIS. I think we all were! Let’s take a moment to say how remarkable Jo Martin’s performance is. She’s a completely different personality as The Doctor. No nonsense, steely, and ruthless in contrast to Ruth’s bewildered vulnerability. Whatever fire this Doctor is forged in, Martin gets it spot on from the get-go. It’s Whittaker’s Doctor who’s left confused and exposed as the other Doctor introduces herself and refers to the buried police box as her ship. From here on in, this is Martin’s episode. We’re whisked into her TARDIS, very old school with its decor and control console reminiscent of the ship we saw back in the classic series, particularly the Hartnell and Troughton eras.

“Struggling with this,” offers Whittaker’s Doctor, echoing the sentiments of viewers old and new, as she looks around her. Like many a companion of those eras, she’s asked to “just stand there and don’t ask questions” and Martin’s Doctor warns that Gat has already figured out where they are. “I told you, love, I’m The Doctor,” insists this woman as her counterpart demands answers. Then comes the bombshell as Whittaker’s Doctor similarly claims the title. A bit of bickering breaks out, proof positive that incarnations of The Doctor never really get on with each other when they meet, and the insults about dress codes start flying, with “all rainbows and trousers that don’t reach” rather a sassy comment coming from a Doctor wearing “that shirt”. Martin’s Doctor claims she doesn’t remember Whittaker as a previous incarnation and therefore she must be from the future. Likewise, our current Doctor refutes this and, as they are of the same mind, being the same Time Lord, they both ponder: “that’s not possible. Unless it is. But what would that mean? Doesn’t make sense.”

And indeed, it seems impossible. “Either I should know you or you should know me,” theorises the Thirteenth Doctor. She uses her sonic to confirm that they are indeed the same person. They are The Doctor. However, Martin’s Doctor doesn’t recognise the sonic and the sonic only became part of canon toward the end of Troughton’s era in 1968’s “Fury From the Deep”. Does this suggest that Martin is playing a pre-Hartnell Doctor, smart enough not to need a sonic screwdriver? The interior and exterior of the TARDIS seem appropriate. Fans have also suggested she’s a missing Doctor, slotting into the gap between Troughton and Pertwee because we never actually saw the transition between the two, but the sonic seems to indicate otherwise. Equally, if she’s pre-Hartnell, then why would her TARDIS appear as a police box when we know that the police box was the guise it took and remained in when Hartnell’s Doctor arrived in London in the 1960s.

More details emerge about Gat. The Doctor worked for her once, in a job that she had great difficulty extricating herself from, but Gat’s tracked her down and is already beaming the TARDIS up to the Judoon ship. She’ll kill them both if she knows she has captured two Doctors. After some sparring, Gat takes back her confiscated rifle from Martin’s Doctor, who warns her not to point the gun at her, and offers to finish their business on her own ship. The Thirteenth Doctor, curious, is shut down when she asks “when you say finish this…” Gat is there on behalf of the mysterious contractee that hired the Judoon but our Doctor, chomping at the bit to get at the truth, starts blabbing about the other Doctor being pursued for leaving her job with Gat. Gat states, “this goes way higher than me” but the exasperated Thirteenth, tired of guns and threats, decides to throw a curveball and announces she’s The Doctor too. When a Judoon “fugitive match positive” scan proves it, the Judoon are very happy as it means they get paid twice. Better than overtime.

Gat, clearly rattled, knows that two incarnations of the same Time Lord can’t exist in the same Space and Time. It breaks the First Law of Time for The Doctor to meet herself. According to Gat, “it’ll destroy the time streams before you get anywhere near Galifrey.” The revelation that Gallifrey still exists for Gat and the other Doctor also confirms she’s a Time Lord who “serves for the glory of Gallifrey” even when the Thirteenth Doctor knows Gallifrey has been destroyed twice in her own time stream. She rationalises they must be from her past because she’s lived through her own history and knows Gallifrey is gone and they serve a world long reduced to ash and bone. Even when Gat is shown that vision of her home burning via Time Lord mind contact, she believes it is a rouse and attempts to shoot them. However, the rifle is booby-trapped, fires and destroys Gat. The two Doctors argue over the morality of using such violence, highlighting the contrast between an incarnation that abhors violence and the use of guns and one that seems to have been trained for combat and might resort to any means necessary. Mind you, when the Thirteenth criticises her counterpart’s use of weapons, Martin’s Doctor acknowledges her aversion to guns and intimates she is simply using the rifle as a bargaining tool, threatening to use it but not actually intending to.

Contract cancelled, the two Doctors return to Earth in the TARDIS, stonily silent in an atmosphere of confusion and mutual hostility. Reunited with her companions, the Thirteenth Doctor recounts her adventure while they pass on the warning from Jack Harkness. There are questions about Cybermen, of course, and although their encounter with them is imminent, The Doctor is more concerned about her other self and what is happening with time: “she said she was my past but I know my past, and she’s never been me. Time is swirling around me. The Master, Jack Harkness, Ruth. Something’s coming for me.” It’s telling that, when Ryan offers their help, she finally manages an explanation of why she’s been reluctant to share her past with them. Having lived so long with so many faces, they can’t really know who she is. They’ll never really know her. However, Yaz, Graham and Ryan are having none of that. She’s the one that brought them together and saved them and many others. While The Doctor feels cornered, they accept she’s The Doctor they know, here and now. Whatever trouble’s coming, they’ll be by her side. It’s a fitting end to an episode that goes to some lengths to overturn what we know and leaves us, like the companions, asking so many questions.

The answers will probably be a while coming and while we all have our theories about Jo Martin’s Doctor— a missing incarnation between Troughton and Pertwee, one of a pre-Hartnell life cycle, or a refugee from an alternate timeline or dimension where Gallifrey still exists as the result of the, as yet, unknown Timeless Child— this exciting, intriguing episode is the beginning of a story that expands and develops the existing canon. Canon has always been mutable and successive producers and writers are free to change it, contradict it or ignore it. Chibnall’s already been at pains to categorically state that Jo Martin is playing The Doctor, not an impostor and not one from an alternative universe. For now, “Fugitive of the Judoon” is perhaps the highlight of the Whittaker era so far, creating a mystery about the show’s mythology that builds upon narratives previously explored by Davies and Moffat. It affords two excellent performances from Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin as those very contrasting Doctors, an amusing John Barrowman cameo for those who like that sort of thing, sterling direction from Nida Manzoor, and it shows off the skills of the production team—particularly in the areas of locations, design, and music. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next and that’s been a rare feeling over the last two years.

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Cast & Crew

writers: Vinay Patel & Chris Chibnall.
director: Nida Manzoor.
starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Neil Stuke, Jo Martin, John Barrowman & Rita Arya.