Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Red Herring [noun] /ˌred ˈherɪŋ/
An unimportant fact, idea, event, etc. that takes people’s attention away from the important ones. Diversion. Digression. Deflection.
This is a story with red herrings. Lots of red herrings. In fact, one could say an entire shoal of red herrings, were it not for the fact that herrings only become red as a result of the smoking process. Doctor Who post-2005 has always been rather good at red herrings, but not always so good at keeping them secret. Chris Chibnall has been obsessively secretive about all aspects of Series 12; to an extent that fans who were so inclined started making up their own stories about what was going on in front of and behind the camera. It’s no exaggerated criticism to say that both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt blew some otherwise fantastic reveals by being less than discrete with their mates in fandom, who were then less than discrete with their mates in fandom… and so on. Chibnall, bless him, has kept his mouth tight shut… and boy, is it paying off now!
From its title, Fugitive of the Judoon felt like one of those middle-of-the-road stories where a villain who’s been popular in another story is elevated to above the title status, see Planet of the Ood or Angels Take Manhattan, and that’s fully what I was expecting here. The Judoon were serviceable heavies in a couple of David Tennant stories, but they were strictly Sunday League on the monster front, so I wasn’t expecting much from their first solo outing since 2007’s Smith & Jones (amazing to think it was 13 years ago – that’s a bigger gap than between The Sea Devils and Warriors of the Deep!) Whether intentional or not, that was Red Herring No.1. Fugitive of the Judoon is far from being the space-filler I expected; it’s a story that changes the course of this season and its pivotal to the developing story arc.
Returning to Earth, the Doctor finds that it has been quarantined by a squadron of Judoon in pursuit of a prisoner. Unhappy with anyone making free with her favourite planet, the Doctor traces the epicentre of the action to Gloucester, where the Judoon are stamping around the city in search of a quarry that they have been charged with finding by the mysterious Gat (Ritu Arya). A local busybody points them towards Lee Clayton, played by Game On’s Neil Stuke, who is very protective of a strange box, much to the bafflement of his wife Ruth, Holby City’s Jo Martin. Here, like most fans I expect, I thought I was ahead of the plot; surely this box contained a fob watch that would restore a Time Lord in hiding to his Gallifreyan self? Nope. Red Herring No.2, as the box contains a medal and Lee is unceremoniously shot by Gat whilst trying to protect Ruth. “Faithful companion,” purrs Gat. So, Ruth is the Time Lord…?
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s companions Ryan, Yaz and Graham get unwillingly transported up one at a time to a spaceship that appears to be under attack. As soon as we hear the pilot speak, we know that an old friend. There’s no disguising that voice – it’s John Barrowman making a welcome return as Captain Jack Harkness. Surprising to think that Jack’s creator Stephen Moffatt never brought him back during 8 years as the showrunner, but then again, Chris Chibnall did develop the character when showrunning the first couple of series of Torchwood. This was a great surprise, completely out of the blue! I hadn’t heard the slightest hint that Captain Jack was coming back, but it was great to see him again, his presence only compounding the links between this series and the RTD era. He’s not in for very long, but his scenes with the three companions are a joy to watch and I’m sure he’ll be back later in the run to meet the Doctor.
Escaping from a confrontation with the Judoon in the impressive surrounds of Gloucester Cathedral, the Doctor and Ruth follow an email sent to Ruth by Lee before his death to go to a lighthouse that Ruth remembers from her childhood. While the Doctor is outside investigating a mysterious unmarked gravestone, Ruth breaks the glass on a box on the wall of the lighthouse releasing a very familiar looking golden light. Yes! She was a Time Lord! We guessed it… didn’t we? With a shovel she found somewhere the Doctor digs up the ‘grave’ and finds the TARDIS buried there. Her TARDIS! Ruth turns up and announces that SHE is the Doctor. Okay, I didn’t see that coming, but I love the fact that the script lulls you into thinking you’ve second-guessed it, when really you haven’t. You can say what you like about the script by Vijay Patel and Chris Chibnall, but they certainly know how to pull the rug out from you when you least expect it.
Of course, the appearance of another Doctor poses more questions than it answers… a lot more. She insists she’s not from the Doctor’s future, but as Jodie herself says, “I know my past.” A lot of fans are up in arms about what they perceive as a ‘reboot’ of the series history (conveniently forgetting that Moffatt already did that with the War Doctor) but… y’know what? Why don’t you just wait and see what happens before you jump to criticise? The Ruth-Doctor’s confrontation with Gat, which doesn’t end well, shows her to be a lot more ruthless (pun only partially intended) than any of the Doctors we’re used to, even the aforementioned War Doctor, so it’s hard to believe that Chibnall would stamp all over the series’ most precious toys by making her a rebooted pre-Hartnell or earlier version of the Doctor.
This serial sets up A LOT for the ongoing story arc; it develops the destruction of Gallifrey, introduces the Ruth-Doctor, brings back Captain Jack and drops in mentions of the Cybermen, on their last legs and planning a terrible return to power. Chuck the Master into that mix and you’ve got the makings of one hell of an intriguing story. Past ‘arcs’ have been quite brittle and you got the impression that they weren’t really planned out in advance, but this one really feels like a jigsaw falling into place. Chris Chibnall’s biggest success as a writer has been with Broadchurch, so he knows how to build towards a pre-planned finale. I’m really crossing my fingers, toes and everything that he gets this one right – and if Fugitive of the Judoon is anything to go by, you know, he might just pull it off!