In the fifth episode of the twelfth series of Doctor Who, I TRULY WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of police brutality
Holy shit. y’all. Y’ALL. What the fuck is happening on this show? Let me just say this upfront before we dive in: I LOVED THIS EPISODE SO MUCH. It’s bizarre. It’s thrilling. It completely fucks up the mythology of Doctor Who in a way that’s wildly entertaining and fits super well with Thirteen’s current emotional arc. I. WAS. NOT. READY.
So, I recognize that from a story standpoint, the return of Captain Jack Harkness isn’t really a story at all. Like, literally: There is a beginning here for the companions, since all three of them meet Captain Jack for the first time. But there’s no structure beyond that. And Captain Jack’s story is somewhere in the middle or perhaps at a point just before the big climactic scene. That’s admittedly a cool idea! I like that they are in such drastically different points of their own respective stories. But it largely serves as a portent for a dark, dark future, one that Captain Jack is aware of but which is news to the Doctor.
That’s ultimately why it doesn’t bother me how incomplete this part of the episode is. It’s mostly a piece of a puzzle for an inevitable story that’s coming. Captain Jack is The Doctor’s unknown future, which is just as threatening as The Doctor’s past. This is a story of dichotomies and where The Doctor lands in between them.
Also? It’s just FUN. It’s a little weird for me only because I’ve spent the last few years watching John Barrowman play Malcolm Merlyn on Arrow, but it was so nice seeing him slip right back into this role and still be his chaotic, cheesy, queer self. I am also INCREDIBLY eager to see what it’s going to be like when The Doctor and Captain Jack are reunited.
So what’s the Lone Cyberman? HOW IS ALL OF THIS CONNECTED?
Ruth and the Judoon
You know, watching the Judoon here in 2021 is a very weird thing.
I’m glad that there’s so much attention being paid (though not nearly in a substantive enough way) to the fictional depiction of police officers and law enforcement in TV and film. Watching the Judoon is horrifying, both because they really are a threat, but also because of some of the more unexamined elements of their characters.
I’ll give an example. There’s a telling moment when Graham can’t understand what the big deal is about the Judoon. He wonders why The Doctor is so worried, and he says something to the effect of, “But they’re the police.” The understanding is that the police are a good thing. And while I think it was apt that the older white gentleman was the one to say something like this—and not the other two non-white companions—The Doctor’s reply is just that they’re trigger-happy.
Which seems to suggest that Earth police forces aren’t.
I’m sure you know how I feel about that. The evidence that counters this is so overwhelming, so deep in its detail and scope and size, that it’s even offensive to attempt to spell it out here. I had hoped that Graham’s line would be unpacked, but it never is. The Judoon are less an analogy for Earth police forces. Actually, they seem a lot more like bounty hunters or lawyers with guns. They’re obsessed with following their rules and the rules of the worlds that they inhabit, but surely murdering Marcia didn’t fit any of those?
I get it. They’re meant to be intimidating and scary, and they certainly achieve that over the course of “Fugitive of the Judoon.” There are some very neat things done here to escalate the search for the fugitive, as well as an expertly executed red herring in Lee Clayton. I have to wonder, then: Is the larger examination of the Judoon absent because this story really isn’t about them? Because that does make this episode more complicated to talk about! They are just a tool of the Time Lords; this episode is actually about THEM as antagonists. (Maybe antagonists? I assume there’s a reason behind the events we see here, and The Doctor did what she did for good reasons? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS???)
All that being said: Once this episode moves away from being about the Judoon, it becomes something else, y’all. It’s special. It felt special, like I was watching this monumental thing in the Doctor Who canon. First, I want to praise both Jo Martin and Jodie Whittaker for their performances, as they’re able to pull of something that was magical to watch. Jo Martin in particular had an interesting challenge: She couldn’t play Ruth as anyone but Ruth. The Doctor chose to hide herself from herself, so Ruth had to convincingly not know anything that was going on. It sold the red herring, too! From the beginning, Lee seemed off. He was very odd about Ruth’s birthday; All Ears Allan had assembled a dossier about how weird Lee was. It was so obvious that he was the fugitive!
And then the transformation begins. God, it was so SUBTLE. We saw a glimpse of Ruth as The Doctor when she read that text message from Lee. Again, Jo Martin pulls off a masterful thing in that scene, too, snapping from The Doctor out of instinct and back into Ruth. The fear and confusion on Ruth’s face felt so real!
By the time Ruth breaks the seal and becomes the Doctor again, a second transformation unfolds, though. God, I want a THOUSAND episodes with Jo Martin’s Doctor, first of all. That outfit! Her behavior! Her mannerisms!!! I love that Jo made this version of The Doctor so distinct. That’s important, though, because there’s such a dramatic role reversal. Before ruth’s secret is out, the Thirteenth Doctor is the knowledgable one. She seems to be in control, insofar as she CAN be in control of a situation that was so mysterious. Part of that is because The Doctor thought she was just dealing with a human who was in over her head, whose husband had lied about who he was and had sent their lives into chaos.
Yet once Ruth becomes The Doctor, the dynamic shifts. Suddenly, this Mystery Doctor is the one with more information. She’s in control. The Thirteenth Doctor stumbles about in confusion and shock, at least until she can throw a curveball to Gat and the Judoon. (God, that moment was so quintessentially Thirteen, y’all. I LOVE IT.) Even in the closing scene of this episode, we see how deeply affected Thirteen was by all of this. How could she not be? Thirteen made a conscious decision to move forward in this regeneration. That’s how she’s treated her companions, too! Yaz, Ryan, and Graham know virtually nothing about her, and not in the same way past Doctors have been reluctant to share who they are. I’m thinking of how Nine was in series one, for example. He absolutely hid much of who he was and where he’d come from from Rose, right? But he eventually opened up, slowly at first. Up until the events of this series’s opener, Thirteen did no such thing with her companions.
And now, she can’t ignore it. One of her past companions, Captain Jack, has resurfaced with dire warnings of the Cybermen. A past regeneration of herself—one she has no memory of—has now appeared, and from context clues, I’m guessing that Mystery Doctor pre-dates the First Doctor. She has to, right? I mean… her TARDIS console??? That looked like the First Doctor’s console, but also not like it?
Anyway: the point I’m trying to build to is that I love that this is making The Doctor more vulnerable with her three newest companions. She’s clearly not ready to talk openly about her past or take them to Gallifrey, but this is a start, right? It’s a way for her to let them in just the tiniest bit, and I don’t think this is all she’s gonna give. She just needs time.
Look, I’ll repeat what I said at the end of the video for “Fugitive of the Judoon.” I think it’s wonderful that Chris Chibnall is getting a chance to reimagine Doctor Who canon now that he’s the showrunner. Each showrunner previous has gotten to, and if this is a sign of what’s to come, I’M FUCKING READY. I don’t have as strong an attachment to Who canon as people who grew up with it, so the idea of mucking up the whole timeline doesn’t bother me at all. Play with it all! It’s time travel. It’s science fiction. Have fun with it! (And lord, is this episode ever FUN, y’all.) Right now, this feels like a huge, game-changing moment in the Thirteenth Doctor’s story, and I am incredibly excited to see what may come of it.
The video for “Fugitive of the Judoon” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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