Doctor Who: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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‘Wait, what-now?’ asks Tony.

For those who thought Series 11 was a little meandering, with less of the dramatic oomph or story arcs of previous series, Series 12 is doing its best to add both punchy, power-packed episodes and story arcs. Fugitive Of The Judoon begins as one thing, delivers on the somewhat straightforward, linear promise of someone hiding from the Judoon in 21st century Gloucester, and then… well then, frankly, it opens up wildly like a rupture in space-time, a Rift that takes us back to that handful of heartbeats when Russell T Davies was running the show, but it does it with a modern perspective that doubles down on elements already seeded in the early episodes of Series 12 and pushes the story forward in at least a couple of huge ways. Once things start getting revelatory and surprising in in Fugitive Of The Judoon – more or less at the point where the Judoon become mostly an irrelevance - it’s a full-on adrenaline rush of old elements given new twists right through to the end, and on broadcast, it left many Who-fans needing a bit of a lie down and a rewatch before they really knew what to make of it.

The episode opens though with some nice bounce in its step, introducing us to Ruth (Jo Martin), a city tour guide in Gloucester, and her partner Lee (Neil Stuke). There’s a sense in which her introduction harks back to the ‘condensed life’ introductions of Rose, Martha and Donna, a series of snapshot-scenes giving us a peak into the life of a bright, bold, smiley human being who doesn’t know what’s about to hit their world. Given the events of The Woman Who Fell To Earth, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘Oh, a happy woman of colour…bet she’s dead by the end of the episode.’ But irrespective of her probable doom, we like her quickly – she’s open, clever, engaging and a tiny bit dorky.

For comparison, see the current Doctor on board her Tardis – a Doctor who’s withdrawn and melancholy, hardly noticing her friends are there, feeling too old to relate to their mayfly lives, not believing they understand a thing about her, and looking for the Master. A distracted Doctor, sunk in her own mental world while her friends watch from the side lines.

As if on cue to distract from that melancholic tone, the Judoon appear, putting Gloucester under a travel ban, which the Doctor circumvents with a mouthful of technobabble and a lever pull. And we’re off to the races in this story of Judoon law enforcement.

Can we talk about the Judoon please? Firstly of course, they’re another Russell T Davies element who haven’t been even the notional focus of an episode since Series 3. But also, they’ve had what feels like a significant upgrade since then – seeing them in their comparatively native environment on board their ship gives them something beyond the rent-a-bully existence they had in Smith And Jones, something more akin to the life they’ve have in the extended universe, like The Sarah-Jane Adventures and Big Finish audio. Their ship looks modern, the animatronics of the Judoon-head feel like they’ve had an upgrade, and while some things are still puzzling – if they know they’re going to be surrounded by humans, why not pre-load their voice units with contemporary Earth languages rather than having to scare the bejesus out of a local when they get there in order to assimilate the language, for instance? – they feel like an altogether more with-it and believable alien threat in this episode than they ever have before. Their shooting of two small subsidiary characters feels intensely callous, but then that’s true to the expressed nature of the Judoon – they are pretty callous, they’re basically welfare assessors with guns, and if nothing else, the deaths serve to underscore that stompy Dirty Harry vibe they have – ‘Do you feel lucky, punk?’ should probably be their troop motto.

When the Doc and her Fam turn up, what we have is a fairly straightforward fugitive hunt with the Doctor, being the Doctor, stepping right into the middle of everything and offering to ‘arbitrate’ with the fugitive. The discovery of an alien trinket box is perplexing but intriguing because we’re Who-fans and we love a good MacGuffin, and pushes the drama on. Is Lee the alien fugitive then? Certainly, we’re encouraged to think as much by the suspicion of All-Ears Allan, but that’s all a touch too obvious. When the Judoon’s employer turns up…well, that’s when things give the first hint that they’re about to go totally tonto.

Before we know where we are, Lee’s dead, Captain Jack Harkness has returned like something out of a Broadway musical, and showing off like he’s been scooped from a point before the death of Ianto Jones. Graham’s copped a snog, Allan’s dead – yes he was a div, but still, bit harsh – there’s an absolute exposition-bomb dropped by Jack about a lone Cyberman and how important it is not to give it what it wants, because the Cyber-Empire has fallen but for that sole survivor, and Ruth, cornered in a cathedral by a squad of Judoon, has come over all Buffy The Vampire Slayer, without apparently knowing anything about why or even how that happened.

Are ya keeping up so far? Return of the Judoon, looking awesome and having much more personality this time round, story set in Gloucester (co-incidentally where outside footage for The Next Doctor was shot. Just sayin’.) Lee’s dead, Jack’s back, lone Cyberman, Ruth’s a badass, albeit a confused one.

Perfect time for a road trip. A road trip to the lighthouse where Ruth apparently grew up, where her parents are allegedly buried, but where she doesn’t live, and apparently doesn’t use as a rental property either, despite money worries being flagged up by amateur snooper Ryan earlier in the episode.


Very shortly after we arrive at her childhood home, the tonto dial gets turned up to 13. Or possibly some other number that’s definitely not from a parallel dimension and is totally legit, honest Fam. Chameleon arcs, hidden personalities, Time Lords wanting to track down and destroy the Doctor for some reason, it’s all agreeably mad and retro but the retro, importantly, pushes us in new directions – when Ruth is revealed as the Doctor, it messes with our brain. Sure, she could be a Doctor from the future of our point of view, but she doesn’t recognise sonic screwdrivers, has no memory of being all ‘rainbows and trousers that don’t go all the way down,’ has a way with laser rifles and hand-to-hand combat, has been hiding as a human from the wrath of the Time Lords, and all in all feels a bit of an enigma compared to the Doctors we know of late – except possibly the War Doctor. Damn, though, she’s good. Plenty of fans have gone the whole hog and said she eclipses Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, and there’s a degree to which this point is worth conceding – Jo Martin’s Doctor has a presence, a passion, a grin that invites immediate fan-fiction, and her striding about the place, involved in her own story with Gat the Judoon-employer does rather make for an intriguing Time Lord. And oh gods, that Tardis – that retro, updated, screen-stealing Tardis. Oh all kinds of hell yes. But it’s a mistake to assume that means she’s ‘better’ than Whittaker’s Thirteen – they’re very much different personalities, and to some extent it’s like Martin’s Pertwee arriving in a Troughton era: the personalities are sharply contrasted while still both being highly believable incarnations of the same individual.

Jo Martin’s Doctor opens up absolutely acres of room for fan theorizing too, with most people seeming to fixate on where she’s from in the Doctor’s timeline, or whether there’s a pre-Hartnellian explanation, or an Unbound Universe solution to her existence. Because fandom, that’s why.

Fewer people are worrying away at the in-story elements of her being – why was she hiding away under a chameleon arch personality in Gloucester? Why, come to that, are the Time Lords, or at least one Time Lord, for whom she used to work, determined to come and kill her? Whoever heard of the Time Lords using Judoon to find one of their own? What has she done to make her worth exterminating in the eyes of her own people? And where along her line did the Doctor start snapping the horns off Judoon as a distraction?

There are plenty of nits to pick with Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall’s story should you want to do that – the use of the Judoon at all serves no logical purpose in-story, though as a production decision, it’s great to see them again and they feel like they’ve had an expensive upgrade, simply by virtue of the way they’re shot and delivered. The return of Jack Harkness to deliver his exposition-bomb…alright, if you absolutely must, though it jars with his development in later Torchwood on TV and audio, and he feels a bit like a caricature of himself, so there’s a sense in which it has a whiff of desperation. The Judoon platoon gag was overdone the moment it appeared in this script and by the time we got to the ‘lagoon,’ it was flogging a dead rhino for no good reason. It’s getting really quite irritating when people mistake Graham for the Doctor – it was fabulous in Juno Dawson’s The Good Doctor novel. Since then, it’s brought diminishing returns, and it would really be great if people cut it the hell out now, because every succeeding time it’s used, it undercuts Whittaker’s authority in the role just a little bit. And then of course there are the fans who believe any explanation for Jo Martin’s Doctor that doesn’t involve her being from a parallel universe (naturally, as showrunner, Chris Chibnall almost immediately stirred the pot by insisting that wasn’t what was going on here) means a ruination of the last five decades of continuity, and that Doctor Who will be ‘destroyed’ by anything invented as part of this series story-arc to fit her in to the chronology we know.

This may or may not be the case – my money’s very firmly on ‘not’ because Doctor Who canon only ever really exists if we want it to, and many a showrunner has smashed it to bits with a baseball bat before now. But what can’t be denied is that Fugitive of the Judoon does a lot with its screen-time – it extends the ‘mardy Doctor’ drama with the companions, and ultimately gives it a bit of a salve at the end of the story, it brings back a moderately mediocre ‘monster’ and gives them a bit more stomp and danger, it brings back an old companion, giving Jack-fans a bit of a School Reunion moment, it foreshadows future stories with Cybermen, and then Holy Hell, it gives us a new Doctor out of nowhere, throws us into confusion and theories and pulls us forward along the story arc of a destroyed Gallifrey, and Time Lords with despicable secrets we’ve never known. By doing all of that under the notional cover of the small-scale flag-wave of ‘Yay…the Judoon are back!’ it turns Doctor Who back into watercooler TV, the way it was at several punchy points during its first decade of resurgence. It makes the fans squeal, and chunter, and theorize and argue – all of which are signs of a buy-in to the story arc – and it makes casual viewers widen their eyes and prick up their ears, to go ‘Wait…Doctor Who’s doing what now?’

All of that gives Fugitive Of The Judoon a much greater significance than it ever could have achieved as just a ‘returning monster’ story. The return of the Master was huge, but as far as we knew, he was the Master we already understood, just in a new body. The arrival of a new Doctor, given an out-of-the-park performance by an actor of Jo Martin’s quality, electrifies the whole series with a new buzz of potential.

I’m off for another rewatch now. You probably should be too…

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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