Some UK and international viewers were frustrated recently when American broadcasts of Doctor Who came with a trailer for the second half of Series 12 that wasn’t shown on air in the UK. This week’s episode was an internationally broadcast full-length coming soon trailer, less of a story and more a handful of reveals and twists to be unraveled and explained over the course of future episodes. Still, Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall’s “Fugitive of the Judoon” was the most excitement and fun I’ve had watching any Chibnall era story, even if it was largely fan-service and promises of things to come.
Doctor Who (Series 12)
“Fugitive of the Judoon”
Nida Manzoor (director), Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall (writers)
Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill (cast)
January 26, 2020
The episode’s first big reveal is the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness. Barrowman steals the show and instantly becomes Jack Harkness again, and watching him is a delight. He vanishes just as soon as he returns, teasing a possible future appearance and offering ominous hints about the upcoming Cybermen story. Harkness may be the first canonically queer character in the Chibnall era, and it’s disappointing that a cameo of a character created by the previous two showrunners is the closest Doctor Who gets to LGBTQ representation. But keeping John Barrowman’s return a secret is an amazing achievement on Chibnall’s part. His return feels like such a big reveal, and then the episode immediately turns toward something even bigger.
Jo Martin stars as “Ruth Clayton”, who is revealed to be a possibly forgotten incarnation of the Doctor. Martin gives an amazing performance, and is immediately funny and ruthless and alien. Martin and Whittaker humorously play off each other, as always happens when different Doctors meet. Martin’s Doctor comes with a beautiful new Tardis interior as well, echoing motifs from early Doctor Who. I’m curious to see how Chibnall fits her into the timeline (or doesn’t), and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up being the mysterious “timeless child” hinted at in last season’s finale and this season’s opener.
— Doctor Who Official (@bbcdoctorwho) January 28, 2020
Still, Chibnall’s Doctor Who has an uncomfortable history with women of color, especially older black women, and I fear where Ruth’s story will lead. I highly recommend Nicole Hill’s article on Den of Geek for a good read on the complications of race and casting in the Chibnall era. I worry about Martin’s “Doctor” being erased from time or revealed to be an impostor of some kind. Still, she paves the way for future actors of color to portray the Doctor, and that’s exciting. I really hope we get to see more of Martin’s Doctor. I want to see her become a fully fleshed-out character and for her to give her own spin on the character.
Aside from all the big story arcs, this episode managed to have great moments for every companion and all minor and major guest stars. Patel and Chibnall succinctly sum up every character in small interactions like Jack Harkness immediately switching pronouns for Whittaker’s Doctor, Ruth’s failure to interest passersby in her history of Gloucester tour, and the conversations with the Tardis crew that open and close the episode. The story’s messy, but not overcrowded like many other Chibnall era episodes. Whittaker’s Doctor in particular gets a great range of scenes, from her sadness and frustration with her companions to her awkward quipping “Judoon by the lagoon,” to her wonder, fear, and curiosity at the existence of this new old Doctor. Her Doctor’s been on an emotional roller coaster this season, but she feels more genuine here than ever. Even Ruth’s husband and jealous suitor both get funny strange character moments, despite being there to distract both the Judoon and the viewers at home.
“Fugitive of the Judoon” moved quickly and effortlessly between set-pieces and kept me on the edge of my seat in a way Doctor Who hasn’t in years. I just had so much fun watching it. Between this and “Demons of the Punjab,” Vinay Patel is definitely my favorite writer of the Chibnall era. This episode energized fandom and garnered every kind of response from every kind of fan, and will likely still have people talking for years.