Well, that was certainly a lot.
As a conscientious reviewer, you don’t like to go too much into what will be potential spoilers, particularly for movies or TV shows, bearing in mind that not everyone will have been able to see what you’re talking about at the same time that you did, so you consequently run the risk of giving things away. On occasion, it’s necessary to do so, as there will be stuff that’s integral to the story which you need to bring up, despite it being something you’d hope the reader of your review will have already found out for themselves.
For the latest Doctor Who, there’s simply so much that falls into spoiler territory, to avoid mentioning any of it would mean that the opening sentence of this piece would pretty much be the whole review. So be warned: there’s going to have to unavoidably be things mentioned here that, if you’ve not watched it yet, you really, really need to go and do so before you read on. Go on, head off to your DVR recording, or iPlayer: I’ll be here waiting until you get back. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it afterwards.
Right, we good? Okay then. Otherwise, on your own heads be it.
After a couple of weeks of what has pretty much been almost treading water, this week’s Doctor Who has firmly kicked things into overdrive. Or maybe hyperdrive. Either way, it was the sort of episode where the phrase ‘game changing’ would be underselling what’s happened here. ‘Fugitive Of The Judoon’ was a riddle, wrapped up in an enigma, inside a temporal paradox. This was big. Really big. So vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big. Look, did I mention how big this was? And there was so much of it, too. In fact, more than you could comfortably shake a Sonic Screwdriver at.
For those who don’t know, the Judoon of the title are basically space rhinos, with blasters and a bad attitude. They’re an intergalactic Police for hire, and – like the Mounties – stop at nothing to get their man. Or woman. Or being. The Judoon aren’t actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. Here, they descend en masse after a fugitive who’s apparently gone to ground in Gloucester, and who also means a big, fat payday for them when they complete their contract and hand said fugitive over to their paymaster.
The Judoon are probably one of the best known of all the monsters who’ve been created for Doctor Who since its revival in 2005, and seeing as how this year has seen a concerted effort to bring back old elements – like the Master and Gallifrey in the opening two-parter – you may as well go for some of the more identifiable or popular ones. Another advantage of using them is that Yaz (Mandip Gil) actually gets to use some of her Police training and experience when dealing with the Judoon. Yes, it’s nice to have an occasional reminder that she actually has a career and a skillset, and isn’t just a walking conceptual simplification machine, like some of the writers seem to have been using her as lately.
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Anyway, as the episode starts to play out, it seems like we’re in for just another filler or bit of inconsequential fluff, destined to sit in the mid-to-lower part of fans’ story rankings. However, ‘Fugitive Of The Judoon’ suddenly starts to wrongfoot you again and again, while – ironically – scarcely putting a foot wrong when doing so. In fact, it lands sucker punch after sucker punch almost relentlessly, to the point that your head’s reeling so much, you scarcely get time to take everything in, let alone worry about just how it all relates to each other, as well as what it means for the rest of the current season.
All of a sudden, without any forewarning, we get the unexpected return of Captain Jack Harkness, last seen in 2011’s Torchwood: Miracle Day (while also appearing in the ongoing Torchwood audio series for Big Finish). Yes, it seems that John Barrowman has a personality so big, one channel alone couldn’t contain him for this particular evening, and he ended up going up against himself on ITV’s Dancing On Ice. Like him or loathe him, you certainly can’t ignore – or, it seems, avoid – him. He turns up on a stolen spaceship with a message for the Doctor, which seems to be setting up some story arc or forthcoming episode.
That in itself would seem significant enough. However, before you can settle back down and get too comfortable, there’s a plot twist which nobody could have seen coming. After the not-too-surprising reveal of the big fakeout over the subject of tha Judoon’s mission not actually being Lee Clayton (Neil Stuke) but his wife Ruth (Jo Martin), it’s the major revelation of why she’s being hunted and who she really is that totally confounds your expectations, and delivers one of the biggest shocks in the show’s 56-year history. That’s truly no exaggeration – this is properly epoch-making stuff, right here.
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In the opening two-parter, the Master told the Doctor that everything she knew is a lie. ‘Fugitive Of The Judoon’ seems to confirm that this wasn’t an exaggeration, as what happens here could completely upend everything we know (or think we know) about the Doctor and her background, firmly putting the emphasis back onto the ‘Who’ part of the show’s title. It could also alter not only Jodie Whittaker’s place and status in the show’s history, but also that of every other actor to have played the role since 1963. Yes, it’s really that huge a deal. So, what starts out as a seemingly innocuous tale has, by the end, set about potentially changing everything. Apple cart firmly upset.
As there will still be some people out there who haven’t yet seen this for themselves, suffice it to say that there’s a most unexpected “And Introducing” credit at the end of the episode. Plus, it all goes to reinforce that the original Hartnell-era TARDIS interior and exterior are both far superior to what we have now, with the current Console Room’s aesthetic being what can only be described as ‘Crystal Phallus-henge’. What all of this means for the show’s future is perhaps as important as what this means for its past. Various tabloid rumours about the supposed plotline for this year’s series appear to be coming true at first glance, but it remains to be seen just how true it all happens to be.
Both the reputation of this episode and how important it proves to be in the long term depends very much upon what they do with these revelations in the long run, and ultimately whether it just ends up relying solely upon its shock value as being its lasting legacy, rather than being a worthy story in its own right. Time, as with all things where the Doctor’s concerned, will tell.