I don’t know if there’s ever been a Doctor Who episode that looks so much like a Monster-of-the-Week excursion, only to shake the show to its core. “Fugitive of the Judoon” is a mountainous hour of television with a twist that hits like a meteor. It’s another piece in a mostly-fantastic season so far that is challenging and confounding our titular Time Lord to a level rarely seen.
The episode starts off simply enough. A fleet of the rhino-headed, intergalactic police force for hire, the Judoon, set up a force-field around Gloucester, looking for a fugitive. The Doctor, still distracted by the destruction of Gallifrey and snappish towards her companions, is not having the Judoon set up shop on Earth. The TARDIS lands and the team begins investigating themselves, realizing that the fugitive swirls around a local, average married couple, Lee and Ruth Clayton.
As The Doctor tries to buy time before the Judoon attack and unravel the mystery on her own, one-by-one, Graham, Ryan and Yaz are teleported to another nearby spaceship. But for once, this is one kidnapping we’re all happy to see. With a shout of, “You missed me, right?” Captain Jack Harkness waltzes back onto the show and into our collective hearts! Yes, John Barrowman is finally back on Doctor Who as the immortal time traveler and Torchwood leader. And he’s lost none of his glee, good-nature or suggestiveness.
With the Judoon shield interfering with his teleport, he sadly never meets The Doctor this episode. But there’s still plenty of fun one-liners to be had with his companions. Jack is the first sidebar from the Judoon plot, but it sets up some stakes for the future. As the ship’s anti-theft system attacks him, he tells the companions to deliver a message to The Doctor: beware the lone Cyberman, do not give it what it wants. With that, Graham, Ryan and Yaz return to Earth and Jack heads to parts unknown. Hopefully he’ll return and get the reunion with The Doctor he’s been looking for.
While her companions are mainly sidelined for the episode by their adventure with Captain Jack, The Doctor faces her own tumultuous trials. You would think the return of a beloved character would be the big surprise for the episode, but it pales in comparison to what comes next. Right before the Judoon’s contactor, Gat, kills Lee, he sends a text to Ruth, on the run with The Doctor. That text triggers something in her, where she’s able to take out several Judoon single-handedly, but with no idea of how she did so. There’s something more to Ruth than meets the eye. Jo Martin does a great job switching between these moments of ferocity and her scared reaction to these impossible abilities.
The text also triggers memories of her childhood home, a lighthouse outside of town. When The Doctor and Ruth arrive at the lighthouse, the former finds something suspicious about a nearby unmarked grave, while the latter hears a voice calling on her to “break the glass.” She does so, and is encompassed by a bright light, while The Doctor digs up the grave, only to find….the TARDIS. She turns to discover Ruth, dressed in a snazzy blue coat. She reintroduces herself saying, “Hello, I’m The Doctor.”
Yes, Ruth is also, inexplicably, The Doctor, one that hid her consciousness from even herself. Our Doctor is shocked to run into another version of herself, but things get even stranger when neither version recognizes the other. Either RuthDoctor should be in the past or future for our Doctor. One of them should remember the other. It’s a confusing and wonderous scene, bolstered by an excellent performance by Martin. Her Doctor is extremely confident and quick-fitted, but also fairly ruthless. The Judoon issue is almost immediately handled as RuthDoctor tricks Gat into using a tampered weapon on her, vaporizing herself instead. Since the incidence occurs in international space, the Judoon have no jurisdiction and are forced to retreat. But the enigma of the two Doctors remains unanswered, their personalities clashing and RuthDoctor choosing to go off on her own.
The Doctor is deeply troubled by this other version of herself, one who doesn’t recognize her, or the sonic screwdriver, or knows that Gallifrey has been destroyed. But their DNA and minds prove they’re the same. Plus, the threat of the Cybermen and the Master still being out there just adds to the pressure. When Ryan tries to reassure her, The Doctor lashes out, noting that she’s thousands of years old and none of her companions really know her. But they’re not taking that. They argue back that they know who is right now, the best woman they know, and they’re sticking by her side, no matter what comes. It’s a great moment that breaks through to The Doctor, who looks a bit relieved, only for a TARDIS alert to go off. On to the next adventure!
- The last multi-Doctor story came with Peter Capaldi’s finale in the role, “Twice Upon a Time.” Last time we saw a previously-unseen Doctor onscreen in a multi-Doctor story would’ve been Capaldi’s first cameo appearance in “Day of the Doctor.” But we’ve never seen a completely new, unexplained version of The Doctor like this before.
- This is John Barrowman’s first time back on Doctor Who in ten years! He last appeared in David Tennant’s final episode, “The End of Time Pt. 2.”
- Ruth’s version of the TARDIS console hones very closely to the classic design used by the First Doctor, but with a modern sheen.
- Our Doctor’s companions refer to Captain Jack as “good cheesy,” a potential commentary on how different Doctor Who is now compared to the mid-2000s.
- Like her previous incarnation who ran into the Judoon, The Doctor keeps trying to find words to rhyme with the species. She settles on lagoon, but it’s a stretch. Tenth Doctor took all the good rhymes!