***MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! SERIOUSLY!***
I was so excited after watching this episode that when it was over I immediately took to social media to post the following, with which I’ll start off this review as well: “Fugitive of the Judoon” is the best Doctor Who episode in years. Breathlessly paced, filled with action, suspense, huge surprises, callbacks to the classic series, entertaining and endearing character moments, and a setup for an arc that’s poised to take us through the back half of the season, it’s everything I liked about the Doctor Who revival from the start, but much of which, frankly, I felt left when David Tennant and Russell T. Davies did.
The episode starts off deceptively simply. The Judoon, an alien race of rhinoceros-headed Dog the Bounty Hunters, have come to Earth in search of a fugitive they’ve been charged with capturing and returning to a mysterious client. Because the Judoon are trigger-happy and technically don’t have jurisdiction on Earth, the Doctor gets involved to try to stop a bloodbath and negotiate the fugitive’s peaceful surrender. Then things get crazy, fast, and I actually turned to my wife several times while we watched it and said, “What the fuck is going on in this episode?” But in a good way. Let’s break down everything that was awesome piece by piece, because honestly I’m kind of overwhelmed by this episode!
The Doctor reveals to her companions that she’s been searching for the Master ever since he was taken away by the Kasaavin, and that she’s been going back to Gallifrey regularly. This may seem like a small grace note and a way to keep the ongoing plot line fresh in viewers’ minds, but I think it actually goes deeper than that. One could postulate that the Doctor is searching for the Master because the bond she created with Missy is still present in her, that in some ways she still considers it her mission to save the Master from himself. There’s also the element of them possibly being the last two Time Lords again — or at least the last two she knows about, because her visits back to Gallifrey can only be for one purpose: to look for survivors. It’s reasonable to think there might be survivors because this time Gallifrey’s destruction wasn’t from something as monumental as the Time War, which, by some method we never learned, also managed to kill every other Time Lord even if they weren’t on Gallifrey. We don’t know the method by which the Master attacked Gallifrey, but the Doctor’s assertion that Gallifrey is once again gone for good strikes me as premature, at least with the information we have right now. But I’m so happy to see Jodi Whitaker get to stretch her acting chops. Last season, her Doctor was goofy and happy-go-lucky almost no matter what the situation. Now she’s allowed to play brooding, angry, and upset. She’s allowed to once again be a mystery to her companions instead of the fun space lady who takes them on adventures.
How the hell they managed to keep the return of Captain Jack Harkness a secret, I’ll never know! But wow, was that great! (According to the Radio Times, John Barrowman, who plays Jack, faked a house renovation in Cardiff to keep it a secret why he was there, but then, in true John Barrowman fashion, he actually went ahead and renovated the house to maintain the cover!) I loved how, like so many others, Jack immediately assumes Graham is the Doctor with a new face and then gives him a big smack on the lips. Graham’s reaction is priceless, and reminded me why he’s my favorite current companion. (As far as I’m concerned, Bradley Walsh can do no wrong in this role.) The joke only escalates when Jack mistakes Yaz for the Doctor next. It was so wonderful seeing Jack again that, alas, I could only feel frustrated disappointment that he doesn’t actually have any scenes with the Doctor. That’s a reunion I really would have loved to see, especially now that the Doctor is female. I think it would have been hilarious and chock full of even more horniness than usual for Jack. But I suspect Jack will be back for the season finale and we’ll finally have that long-awaited reunion. (This despite Chris Chibnall telling The Mirror that Jack won’t be back again this season. We’ll see.)
The return of Captain Jack Harkness would have been enough to make this episode special, but wait, there’s more! The fugitive the Judoon are after is a woman named Ruth Clayton, who it turns out has a Chameleon Arch of her own. But she’s not just another Time Lord, she’s the Time Lord. She’s another incarnation of the Doctor! Holy shit! But there’s a wrinkle. Neither Doctor recognizes the other. Doctor Ruth (yes, that’s what I’m calling her) doesn’t seem to be from the current Doctor’s past or future. Amazingly, for Doctor Ruth Gallifrey not only still exists but it’s Gallifrey that hired the Judoon to find her and bring her back, with the help of the vindictive Time Lord Gat. It’s all quite mysterious and absolutely compelling. At this point, I wanted the episode to be another hour longer!
Jo Martin, who plays Doctor Ruth (I’m sticking with it) is fantastic. She makes an immediate impression, and I have no doubt there will be many spinoff novels and Big Finish audio adventures about her. And that outfit! At once garish in its clashing colors and stylish in its fit, it’s pure Doctory goodness. And her TARDIS! I’m sorry, but I like the interior of Doctor Ruth’s TARDIS a lot more than the Thirteenth Doctor’s. It had that classic series feel to it, but updated and modern in its details. (And it has the round things on the walls again!)
So what is the secret of this new, previously unknown Doctor? If she’s from the future, how did she not recognize or remember the current Doctor? If she’s from the past, why would the current Doctor not remember her? My theory is that she isn’t from the future or the past, but rather she’s the Doctor from an alternate universe. Back in “Spyfall,” the first episode of the season, we saw a map in O’s house that appeared to show multiple Earths. I think we’re dealing with a multiverse here, and when the Kasaavin broke through from their universe to ours it opened a rift that this Doctor and her pursuers came through. That’s my theory, anyway. I don’t think they’re going to go the route of another “forgotten” incarnation like the War Doctor. I think that would be narratively unsatisfying, not to mention it would throw off the regeneration count even more than the War Doctor and the Metacrisis Doctor did! Anyway, I think we haven’t seen the last of her. Like Captain Jack, I suspect Doctor Ruth will be back for the season finale.
Okay, I’m actually exhausted from thinking about everything that was awesome in “Fugitive of the Judoon,” so let’s get to some Doctor Who neepery! The Judoon first appeared back in the 2007 Tenth Doctor episode “Smith and Jones,” in which we were also introduced to companion Martha Jones. The Chameleon Arch, which allows Time Lords to masquerade as humans and have their memories replaced with new, false ones (you really have to wonder what bizarre circumstances led to the invention of such a device), was first seen in the 2007 Tenth Doctor two-parter “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood,” and of course was used in conjunction with the Master’s return to Doctor Who later that same year in the episode “Utopia.” Captain Jack Harkness hasn’t appeared on TV since Torchwood ended in 2011, nine years ago. Jack tells the Doctor’s companions to warn her about the “Lone Cyberman,” ostensibly the last Cyberman in existence, and of course we just witnessed the genesis of the Mondasian Cybermen in the 2017 Twelfth Doctor two-parter “World Enough and Time”/”The Doctor Falls.” Captain Jack also had his own encounter with the Cybermen in the 2006 Torchwood episode “Cyberwoman” (which, coincidentally, was also written by Chris Chibnall). The companions are slowly being let into the Doctor’s world now, asking about the Cybermen and being told they’re a threat on par with the Daleks, which they encountered in the 2019 New Year’s Day special “Resolution.” Lastly, Jack says something like, “Nanogenes, it’s always nanogenes,” when his stolen ship is attacking him, and this is likely a reference to the 2005 Ninth Doctor episode “The Doctor Dances,” in which alien nanogenes are spreading a plague through WWII London. “Are you my mummy?”
Phew! I think that’s it. I’m exhausted!