I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this episode. I just don’t find the Judoon to be a very interesting species, and haven’t missed seeing them on screen since they were last featured in an episode from 2008. When I saw they were making a return in Series 12, I dialed my expectations very, very low.
I wasn’t expecting to have my mind blown.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
If last season was a mixed bag of standalone episodes, this season has ratcheted up the mysteries that most prior seasons had embraced. And showrunner Chris Chibnall is not sparing any expense in throwing out the insanity this season.
First, the Judoon still aren’t a very interesting species, but they were put to good use here. Their very nature lent itself to the the stories deceivingly simple setup: an alien (what a shock) hiding on earth (never seen that before) is being sought and is hiding something (aren’t they all?). The Judoon are as regimented and narrow-minded as expected, fitting their one-dimensional status as a race. And in truth, they are simply there to move the plot forward and wind up adding little emotional weight to the story. If this episode has a flaw, it’s that it does zero to make the Judoon more interesting or provide any depth to their species.
But it doesn’t matter, because this episode provides one of the best twists / reveals the series has had yet.
And no, I’m not talking about Captain Jack.
Seeing John Barrowman reprise his classic Who role was fun, and seeing his reactions to the current TARDIS crew and the to the Doctor being a woman were on point. It’s a bit unfortunate that he never gets any face time with the Doctor, but that was to be expected. With all the cryptic hints about the Lone Cyberman, future details and to “not give him what he wants”, it just screams that Captain Jack will be back, most likely as some deux ex machina when the Doctor needs him. The cameo served its purpose – giving us tantalizing prospects for the future and more Captain Jack, which is never a bad thing.
Over the past couple of episodes, we’ve seen Whittaker in a more brooding portrayal of the Doctor, one who has undergone a serious amount of emotional trauma in a short amount of time and struggling to keep her TARDIS family at arm’s length while she figures out and comes to terms with what’s going on the destruction of Gallifrey and the Master’s haunting last words.
This tension has been subtle but tangible over the past couple of episodes, and it comes to a head at the end as Ryan, Yaz and Graham confront the Doctor. This scene is an important one for the season and the 13th Doctor’s arc, as she receives the emotional validation from her “family”. The cast comfortably plays there roles here and makes the entire scene natural and satisfying.
And there’s the entire twist about the fugitive’s true identity – and what the Doctor digs up at the lighthouse (somewhere, I thought I heard Lawrence Miles screaming). The implications are fascinating – has the Doctor really lived entire lives that she doesn’t remember? If so, why would that be the case? And how does this tie in to the Master’s warning that everything they know is a lie? This episode offers more questions than answers, but the questions are huge and could turn the entire lore of the series on its head – and that’s a fascinating prospect.
“Fugitive of the Judoon” nails the audience with serious mind games on what is going on – and it’s the better for it. The Judoon themselves are not the draw here – I mean, did anyone really think they were? But the questions we’re left with offer some intriguing story potential for the series’ future – if Chibnall is brave enough to follow it through.