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!

Doctor Who 11.6 – Demons of the Punjab

“Demons of the Punjab,” which is Vinay Patel’s first Doctor Who adventure, has some natural surface similarities to “Rosa” earlier in the season. Both stories put our heroes back in recent history (here, 1947), and both have a comparatively minor alien presence in the story, and both leave the Doctor unable to meddle with the established facts of what’s known to happen. But as much as I admire “Rosa,” I think this one does something more interesting in a way. Here, the great big incident that will have repercussions for the future has already happened. The border between India and Pakistan has already been drawn. Imagine how “Rosa” might have played out had they landed in Montgomery just after Rosa Parks had been arrested.

That’s what makes the presence of the aliens in this story so intrusive. “Rosa” needed one of two things to keep the team in Alabama once they realized where they were: either the TARDIS needed to be inaccessible, walled up in an Aztec temple or commandeered by Marco Polo, as you had when the show first started doing stories in history, or it needed a villain who the Doctor needed to stop. “Demons” doesn’t have that problem. I think that’s the reason I don’t like this one as much as I hoped, despite it being a pretty good story with fine actors and great cinematography. This isn’t big established Earth history, it’s a story about Yaz’s grandmother Umbreen.

This could have played out precisely the same way without the Thijarians, and just presented a mystery about why Umbreen is marrying a man who is not Yaz’s grandfather. It’s a shame that the expectations of Doctor Who demand weird aliens so strongly that the story wasn’t made without them.

If somebody thought that Doctor Who needed aliens to be memorable, they’d be wrong, because this is the first episode of Jodie Whittaker’s run that we have rewatched and found that our son didn’t remember it at all. Not the aliens, not the plot, not the beautiful location. I’m glad that these aliens are not malevolent. Like the Testimony in “Twice Upon a Time”, the Doctor is mistaken and these beings have no cruel intentions at all. The real villain of the piece is a young man who has spent too much of 1947 “reading pamphlets and listening to angry men on the radio.”

So this was one of those stories where we had some talking to do. First we had to place the historical setting for him (a second time, because if he didn’t remember the 2018 broadcast, he certainly didn’t remember me explaining the events of the Partition that Sunday evening), and second, we wanted to talk about those angry men on the radio. As parents, we’re incredibly worried about radicalization. We don’t want our kid to grow up listening to the sort of stupidity that gets Hindus shooting at Muslims and Sikhs in 1947 or waving loser flags at our Capitol in January 2021 or any place in between, which usually involves video games. And it feels like there are a whole lot more pamphlets and angry men these days.