Doctor Who does playful juxtaposition of weird space monsters with the mundane and the ordinary better than anything else. It always has done, it’s the “Yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec” thing that Jon Pertwee often found reason to mention in anecdotes and interviews. Even if this story, co-written by Chris Chibnall and Vinay Patel, didn’t have enough huge things to discuss and dissect on its own, I’d absolutely enjoy the Judoon stomping around Gloucester, invading the small cafe of a paranoid little jerk who compiles “dossiers” on the people he distrusts and dislikes. It’s a lovely evocation of the Sarah Jane Adventure “Prisoner of the Judoon” from a decade earlier. Fandom’s going to argue about the Fugitive Doctor for several more years before it finishes, but I’d argue that this particular episode’s only real flaw is not allowing us a good look at this silly man’s silly dossier.
All Doctor Who writers deal with the challenge of what to do with the lead character’s companions. This episode finds an incredibly neat way. John Barrowman returns for the first time in – wow, a decade again – as Captain Jack Harkness, and he teleports the companions out of the episode. Amusingly, for readers who know too well our son’s trouble with names and faces, “Fugitive” first aired in January 2020. We had only just shown our kid the Christopher Eccleston series shortly before, wrapping up with “The Parting of the Ways” in November. Did the kid recognize Barrowman that night in January? Did the name “Captain Jack Harkness” even mean anything then? Of course not.
There’s some gobbledygook talk about his tech having trouble getting a signal through the Judoon’s force field, but it’s really to isolate these characters from what the Doctor is doing. She is, of course, meeting a previously unknown incarnation, played by Jo Martin. It’s not necessarily the decision I’d have made if I was showrunning this program – into an immediate cancellation, probably – because I instantly thought how much fun this could have been if Martin was playing the Doctor’s next incarnation instead of somebody pre-Hartnell. I’m not deep in any fandom trenches, so it’s very likely that I’m missing something, but I’m not sure I’d agree that the development of the Division and the Timeless Child business has inspired “fun” so much as crankiness and hostility.
I like to be open-minded, let things play out, and if they don’t work in the end, shrug and move on. I’m not completely convinced that Chibnall’s going to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. After all, there’s still so much that does not make sense about this, and it’s not like Doctor Who in very many of its forms has a great track record in seeding an idea, letting it grow, and bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s like how Capaldi’s Doctor was the first one to ever hear about the mythical “Hybrid,” about ten episodes before it would become important; why is Whittaker’s Doctor the first to run into a mention of a Timeless Child?
How are the Fugitive Doctor and Gat utterly unaware of what’s happened to Gallifrey? I guess I can’t wrap my brain around the timeline, how the Division “was” active when the Doctor was more than two thousand years younger but still “is” active in the character’s present while simultaneously being ignorant of galactic events. Jo Martin’s Doctor leaves on her own at the end of this episode. Eventually, at some point, she – or one of her later incarnations – will be released from Division, have her memory erased, and be given the first of a new cycle of 13 bodies as a young white boy who’ll spend much of a frightened childhood in an old Gallifrey barn, and eventually start looking like William Hartnell. Time travel stuff frequently induces headaches. This one sends me to a room with the lights out, a sleep mask, and a shot of good whiskey. I seriously hope it ends well!