Tempus Fugitve: Just how Ruthless is the Doctor?

I know you are but what am I? There's more questions than answers in this week's episode...

A platoon of Judoon are heading from the moon to a lagoon, in particular Gloucester  in pursuit of a very specific fugitive. And while the rhino-horned space-police cause panic in the cathedral city,  Ruth and partner seek to make an escape. The hi-tech chaos attracts the attention of the Doctor and she manages to break through the shielding now surrounding the city.

But who is the Judoon’s actual target and why? The Doctor can’t seem to get any answers, but is determined to stop the carnage.  However to do that, she is about to literally uncover a surprising truth and it’s one that will lead to a host of other questions and concerns…

Meanwhile, from far away, an old friend reaches out with another dire warning…


Well… that was quite something, wasn’t it?

Its been a while since Doctor Who blew fans minds and even though this will divide fandom and break the internet faster than a time-crack… at least this actually feels like Doctor Who again… or if you still feel iffy about the show’s current state, at least a remix of some classic Whovian moments and head scratching scenes.

There have been rumours swirling for some time that Chibnall might be rewriting some of the show’s continuity and revealing certain events or previous Doctors placed before the Hartnell era. That hasn’t sounded too appealing to this particular fan – construction has always seemed a better creative endeavour than scratching away the existing foundations – but while some read this episode’s events as confirmation, the opposite may be true if Occam’s Razor is sharp enough.

(As fans of the show will tell you, the Tardis looks like a police-box only because its chameleon circuit got stuck during the events of the very first episode An Unearthly Child when it was blending its exterior to fit in with 1960s London. To suggest this episode’s surprise craft and character revelations are pre-Hartnell incarnations… and admittedly the alt-Tardis design could be –  would throw a significant continuity spanner or sonic screwdriver into one of the basic tenants of the show. Yes, its possible – there are a river of contradictions if you look back over fifty plus years – and, as Moffat was wont to mess with things and not explain fully, the argument here is: ‘That was said in 1963, so who cares?‘ … but by that logic why undo such a foundational element for the sake of a reveal of such magnitude when what it arguably achieves in the longer term is nebulous? What exactly do you get to do after that pivotal confirmation? One story-arc that isn’t likely to stretch further? A spin-off show Doctor Who: The Even Earlier Adventures? What are the more fitting options? The ‘unknown incarnation’ option was done with John Hurt, so that is an unlikely. Much better, surely, to go with a different reality, a what-if incarnation that doesn’t actually need to be forced in willy-nilly or timey-whimey to continuity… merely being alternate is an immediate fix and still as potentially interesting. However Chibnall seems to have ruled that out).

But yes… there’s also a solid argument that whatever your take or preference, even the above questions being asked at all are a success for the series, undeniably generating earnest fan interest and speculation, the life-blood of any show. It’ll be down to the coming answers that will judge how big a gambit this is and where we actually go from here.

Performance-wise Jo Martin is deceptively great. At first she’s just fine as a quite non-descript tour-guide Ruth, in what feels like just another template supporting role… but when revealed as The Doctor (of some kind) she takes on an instant swagger and bravado as well as a more colourful costume (though from where it suddenly appears we’ll never know). Speaking of cosmic swagger, John Barrowman’s unexpected cameo as Captain Jack Harkness is fun. Yes, the all-star seems to be wearing a tad more concealer and his scenes feel designed to fill-out the running time of an episode that still needs to keep the ‘fam’ busy with side-dishes, but all credit to those who kept this quiet amid a full-tile rumour-mill. Neil Stuke as Ruth’s husband/companion Lee gives the kind of performance that you appreciate more in hindsight – the story and acting choices allowing him to shift between looking concerned and shifty until the reveal that he’s essentially in the ‘Martha’ role of secret protector while hidden… willing to sacrifice himself to do that if needed.

As much as this could be a story that fits between the tones of Troughton and Pertwee, it’s also an outing that feels like Chibnall attempting to deliver a hybrid of  Russell T Davies era style with Steven Moffat ambition – with all the brickbats and bouquets, triumphs and pitfalls that entails.  But this is the kind of episode you’ll likely want to watch again and when you do, you’ll likely note (along with the realisation that this series is making it truly dangerous to be a supporting player – yet more civilian casualties from the week’s ‘bad guys’)  more narrative clues along the way – there’s Sixth Sense levels in the placement of colour and phrases throughout. Ultimately, Fugitive of the Judoon‘s considerable shocks and  surprises work well but owe a huge debt to Paul Cornell’s Human Nature concept by way of the ‘The Next Doctor‘ Christmas special – and while not quite being quite as organically compelling as either, it still adds some much-needed zest to proceedings and will likely keep us watching to see the result…

'Doctor Who - Fugitive of the Judoon'  (television review)
'Doctor Who - Fugitive of the Judoon' (television review)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Direction
  • Pacing
  • Shock value