Doctor Who 12.5 – Fugitive of the Judoon

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!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 3.1-2 – Prisoner of the Judoon (parts one and two)

And now to October 2009 and the completely wonderful third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Time’s a little short this evening, so I’ll just say that our son totally loved this fish-out-of-water story by Phil Ford. The three kids assist an incredibly grouchy Judoon police captain who is stomping around on Earth looking for an escaped criminal who is hiding out in Sarah Jane’s body. It kind of suffers from the problem of convenience that you see on almost all adventure TV – an alien fugitive just happens to need some nanotechnology on the same Sunday where Sarah Jane went and interviewed the head of a nanotech company – but on the other hand, there’s a magical scene where a grouchy space rhino in a commandeered cop car orders another driver to turn down his music, which is the funniest thing ever.

Doctor Who 3.1 – Smith and Jones

Geez, it seems like forever since we left David Tennant as Doctor Who. It’s only been two months, but since series twelve has been one of the most thunderous and controversial in the program’s history (we liked it!), it sort of feels like a lot longer. Since our kid’s been watching the show with us since Jodie Whittaker took the role, tonight he got the first-for-him experience of seeing an alien menace’s first appearance after he’d already met them. The “space rhinos” are the Judoon, an aggressively grumpy bunch of cops-for-hire with disintegrator guns that our son says “look like they turn people into molten lava,” and the Doctor has to save about a thousand suffocating humans from a Judoon platoon on the moon.

I hate to overshadow the debut of Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones, because she’s a great actress playing a fun character, but I was really thrilled – thirteen years ago! – to see Roy Marsden taking a guest role in the show. This was Marsden’s only appearance in Who and I wanted to say just how much I enjoyed seeing him as a hospital consultant who was really looking forward to retiring to Florida before the Judoon’s search for a fugitive alien criminal ruined his day. It’s not too late, BBC. Marsden seems mostly retired, but maybe he could play one of Graham’s old buddies from his bus driving job in series thriteen!

But since the character of Martha should get a little more mention in her debut story, I’ll say that I really love the way the Doctor is watching her reactions to the adventure and the chaos. He talks a big game about wanting to be alone, but he’s really looking for a new companion. He’s on the frames of the action as Martha keeps cool under pressure, uses reason and logic to deduce that something is providing them with some air to breathe, and shows compassion by closing Marsden’s characters eyes after they find his body. She’s being all the things that a companion should be. The Doctor frequently needs a clue-by-four; had he left Martha to her squabbling family, he’d need a whole lumber yard.