On the surface, it seemed as though Fugitive of the Judoon had played its hand too early for the sake of pre-publicity. The return of the Judoon from Smith and Jones (2007) was plastered all over the internet last year, as the BBC revealed that the alien rhinos would be returning to the show. A nice idea, to see the return of a monster from the show’s recent history but hardly enough to set fandom ablaze.
Of course, having now watched the episode in question, it becomes clear that we’ve been fooled all along. Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall‘s use of the alien heavies is nothing but a red herring, in an episode that contains massive surprises and shocking returns. There’s so much going on here that it’s quite overwhelming, the sheer number of revelations difficult to take in all at once.
You wouldn’t know it to begin with, mind you. Fugitive is pretty much the plot of Smith and Jones at first glance, only with the events relocated from a hospital on the Moon to picturesque Gloucester. The Judoon are hunting an alien fugitive and the Doctor is trying to stop them. So far, so pedestrian. But as events unfold, the writers serve up arguably the biggest twist in Doctor Who‘s history, one that, whilst nowhere near fully explained yet, may well change the mythology of the show forever!
The return of fan-favourite Captain Jack Harkness is the first big reveal of the night, with John Barrowman once again donning his trademark World War II coat and picking up exactly where he left off since we last saw him almost a decade ago. A glimpse is all we get, his appearance within the episode a fleeting one, but it’s a delight to see him all the same (even if it comes completely out of the blue). The ominous warning he delivers to the Doctor’s companions suggest he’ll be back sooner rather than later though, which has us hoping for more of Jack in the series finale.
But even this is nothing compared to the bigger reveal that is yet to come. Just as the episode starts to feel drawn out and overly familiar, Chibnall and Patel hit us with possible the biggest curveball we’ve had in Doctor Who for years. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and the seemingly-human fugitive Ruth (Jo Martin) escape the Judoon to a lighthouse, Ruth’s childhood home. Buried there, the Doctor discovers her TARDIS. Except it isn’t hers. It belongs to Ruth – otherwise known as the Doctor! A version of the Doctor from our Doctor’s past, who our Doctor doesn’t remember being (are you keeping up with us so far?).
It’s an incredibly bold move, one that hits like a sledgehammer and brings up so many questions (none of which are really answered here). Jo Martin is phenomenal in these moments though, switching from terrified Ruth to a new version of the Doctor in an instant. Her Doctor is instantly defined and recognisably the character, with Martin displaying a genuine presence in the role, imbuing her with an air of mystery and danger as well. Like Jack, we hope to see more of her and find out exactly who her Doctor is in the coming episodes.
Not to be overshadowed by the mysterious newcomer though, Jodie Whittaker ups her game even more and is utterly sublime throughout the story – commanding in the first instance, before being taken down a peg and visibly shaken by the events that unfold. Perhaps it’s becoming a bit obvious for us to constantly praise her each week, but when the material she’s being given is this good and allows her to really go for it, we can’t ignore it. This truly is her best episode to date, and sees her deliver some of her finest moments in the role yet.
Across the board, everything follows suit – the solid direction, effects, and performances complementing what is already a fine script. Whilst there’s the occasional blunder in terms of dialogue early on, the writers manage to keep the momentum going and claw things back, delivering a pulse-pounding, jaw-dropping climax that promises so much more for the remainder of this season.
It’s difficult to fully review an arc-plot heavy episode in isolation, as it is merely a small piece within a grander puzzle. The major revelations contained herein aren’t fully formed as of yet, and there’s clearly more to this than meets the eye. Are we worried that a major retcon is on the way? Slightly, yes. Are we concerned the rest of this series can’t live up to the hype? Definitely yes. But are we intrigued and energised and excited for what’s to come next? Absolutely Yes! On the basis of all that transpires within it, Fugitive of the Judoon proves to be a big shot in the arm for this era of Doctor Who.