Hey, remember last week when I was all “Who knows where this season of Doctor Who is going?” And the Master’s warning at the end of “Spyfall Part 1” about how everything the Doctor knows is actually a lie? About that: Chibnall didn’t come to play this season and I’m shook even if I’m not sure where we’re headed or how this will change Doctor Who canon (which, let’s be honest, is a loose concept at best).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. “Fugitive of the Judoon” starts out simply enough and opens on the morning of Gloucester tour guide Ruth Clayton’s (Jo Martin) birthday. Her husband Lee (Neil Stuke) promises to make good on getting her a cake and all’s right with the world–until the Judoon show up.
Meanwhile, the thirteenth Doctor is having a bout of doubt and still trying to find signs that the Master has escaped. The TARDIS fam is waiting for her to snap out of her funk when she hears the Judoon’s call and she springs into action, with her faithful companions up for another adventure.
Looks like the Judoon are out to capture someone. At first, it seems that they are after Lee (who seems to have mysteriously popped up in Gloucester with no previous history.) The Doctor does her best to stall for time and figure out what’s going on, but it doesn’t help that her companions get snatched up on a shoddy spaceship by a very familiar face.
Graham is the first to get beamed up and that’s when we hear that voice—the one and only John Barrowman. That’s right, it’s Captain Jack Harkness, back at last after how many years and news cycles of rumors. Of course, he mistakes Graham for the Doctor, which Graham quickly clears up and Jack’s reaction is 100 percent fan service and in character:
“This I’ve got to see.”
Ryan and Yaz are next because Jack can’t get a lock on the Doctor, who’s helping keep Ruth safe. Although there’s a moment where another personality breaks through and Ruth attacks a bunch of Judoon, including ripping off the leader’s horn (a massive sign of disrespect.) It’s also a good time to mention that Lee’s toast, but before he’s killed, he sends Ruth a cryptic message and she has a vision of where she needs to go (an abandoned lighthouse). So that’s where we’re off to next.
Meanwhile, Jack is losing control of the ship so he decides it’s time to cut the Doctor’s companions loose, but he leaves them with a warning: “Beware the lone cyberman.” (As if the Master’s “timeless child” riddle wasn’t enough!)
Once at the lighthouse, Ruth mentions she’ll get a fire going and the Doctor decides to check out the property for clues. She comes across a blank gravestone. As the Doctor digs through the unmarked grave, I got the biggest Ashes to Ashes feels (and I really hope that was a hat tip because it took me emotionally to the place I needed to be for the next moments to play out and I need more people to watch that show). There’s not a body in the grave…it’s a TARDIS. And it’s Ruth’s. Because Ruth is the Doctor, too.
Confused? So am I. (Feel free to grab a drink. I’m having a bourbon, neat.) It turns out this Doctor became Ruth to hide from someone named Gat (perhaps the equivalent of the Master in a different universe? Another yet-to-be-known adversary in this timeline?) Gat is also who killed Lee, who we can assume was Ruth!Doctor’s companion. (Think Martha Jones in “Human Nature.”)
Speaking of Gat, she and the Judoon find Ruth!Doctor and the two face off, but not before Thirteen shows her a destroyed Gallifrey (via that mind trick we saw in “Spyfall Part 2”). Gat decides it’s time to take Ruth!Doctor out except the laser gun backfires (just as Ruth!Doctor wanted it to). Afterwards, Ruth!Doctor drops a shell-shocked Thirteen off and it’s up to the TARDIS fam to pick up the pieces.
Chris Chibnall and Vinay Patel packed a huge sucker punch with this episode. I took a look over at Twitter after the episode aired in the UK and everything was burning. (And there was the usual yelling about ruined childhoods. To quote the War Doctor, for God’s sake…Gallifrey Stands…just not in this universe.) The best part, though? The return of Jack Harkness was the red herring. There’s a joke in there somewhere. (I’m too blindsided to make it.)
Things that aren’t a joke: We have two female Doctors now, and one is a woman of color. And she’s the exact opposite of everything the Doctor we’ve slowly been getting to know over the past two seasons and it’s amazing and confusing. (Cue more fanboys crying about destroyed childhoods. Deal with it, lads.)
Now, don’t trip—there are plenty of times I watched Steven Moffat be clever for the sake of showing off said cleverness, but it’s almost always paid off. Can Chibnall spin this twist? (And that’s not to say Moffat always succeeded. See the end of Series 4 of Sherlock and the third episode of Dracula as examples of spun out insanity.)
While “Human Nature” (the Russell T Davies-era episode and New Adventures novel) introduced the concept of Time Lords becoming human, it was the New Adventures novels that wove the concept of pre-Hartnell Doctors through its backstory. (Let’s not forget the Morbius Doctors from the classic series.) Add in the fact that Ruth!Doctor’s outfit recalls not only the current Master but the various Doctors from “The Curse of the Fatal Death” (which ended with the joke of the Doctor being a woman) and well, damn, it’s just a lot, okay?
Chibnall tried to steer the show’s last series into monsterless territory with a “humanity is the biggest threat” angle, and people were angry (or bored). This year, he’s decided to take the series Bible, pour lighter fluid on it and torch that sucker. It’s a glorious mess and I’ve never felt so conflicted as I did when I saw Thirteen looking sad and confused whilst in a TARDIS that could have been hers but wasn’t. (Also, why didn’t Jodie get that killer set design? The round things! All that white space and light!) Everything’s off-kilter, but at least the TARDIS fam is standing strong next to Thirteen. No matter which companions stand by their Doctor, they’ve always been the best of her (or him), and it’s never been truer than today.
“We do know who you are. You’re the woman that brought us together. The woman who saved us and loads of other people. You’re the Doctor. Whoever you were in the past or are in the future, we know who you are right now…the best person we know.”
I’m off to pour myself another round, and I can’t wait till next Sunday (something I haven’t felt since Peter Capaldi left the TARDIS.)