Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon – Reviewed

In my Making Up For Lost Time review of the first four episodes of this season, I said that this would surely be the season that makes or breaks the Chris Chibnall/Jodie Whittaker era of Doctor Who. Season 11 showcased a fantastic new take on The Doctor and boasted some great episodes, but its scattered focus among such a large cast, and the decision to build the season almost exclusively out of one-off monster-of-the-week episodes, made it ultimately feel like less than the sum of its parts. With last year's Resolution and this year's season premiere Spyfall Parts 1 and 2, showrunner Chris Chibnall seemed to learn the lesson from those common criticisms, and started delving deeper into the series' long-running lore to make the episodes feel more connected to the history of the show as a whole. Spyfall in particular did a great job of reintroducing mythology and plot points from the show's past, and teasing the idea of the season twisting it in new and unexpected directions. Now, after a monster-of-the-week adventure and a one-off trip into historical fiction, Doctor Who season 12 is making good on the promises of the season premiere. This is it: this feels like the moment when the Chibnall/Whittaker era truly realizes the full scope of its potential and pulls off something truly magical, ascending once again from a very good sci-fi show to a genuinely great one. Not only is Fugitive of the Judoon far and away the best episode of the Whittaker era so far, it is also the best episode of the show in a couple years, at least since the stellar season 9. I was pretty blown away by this one; as a lifelong Whovian, there were moments in this episode that made me squeal with nerdy glee, moments that made my jaw drop a bit, and moments that made me think of tantalizingly mysterious glimpses into Time Lord mythology going back to certain key Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy episodes.

This is an unusually hard episode to describe without spoiling anything, so I'll leave it at the most basic premise conveyed by the title alone. The Doctor and friends get caught up in the middle of a manhunt by Judoon – triggerhappy and amoral interstellar police-for-hire who look like anthropomorphized rhinos – who are searching for a fugitive hiding on present-day Earth. As they try to solve the mystery of who the Judoon are after and why they're here, they soon get caught up in a larger web of events spanning multiple times and places, and involving secrets from the show's mythology and lore. That's really about all that can be said, but suffice to say that the episode goes to some places I would not have expected, and introduces some plot points that very much caught me off-guard (even if at least one big one had already been spoiled for me by a headline from a site with less spoiler-free integrity than us).

The wild adventure that follows represents Doctor Who's great big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff at its best. It feels like something fresh and new – a reality-twisting adventure very much of the Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall era – while also drawing heavily on the series' past in a way that feels deeply satisfying for long-term fans (one moment in particular will surely have Whovians everywhere fangirling out – I certainly was). Bringing back the Judoon – a race of aliens introduced pretty early in the David Tennant era – is a good starting indication of the episode's desire to tie this era back to past iterations of the show in a cohesive way, and that's really just the start. It does things that honor the show's mythology in interesting ways, but it also doesn't feel gratuitously fan-servicey, and makes some very bold choices that appear to turn that mythology on its head. Of course, the show has turned its mythology on its head multiple times before, and indeed, aspects of this episode made me wonder if we might finally get some answers to some of the mythos-shattering hints and teases that were left dangling when the original series was canceled in 1989. It leaves a lot of possibilities open, and gives fans a whole lot to think about and puzzle over. It certainly raises more questions than it answers, which is the hallmark of a great mid-season Doctor Who story as an ongoing arc continues to build.

Chris Chibnall co-writes this one, and builds on his work in Resolution and Spyfall which seemed to indicate that he was getting more comfortable, self-assured, and skilled in his role of showrunner. This is his best Doctor Who work yet. But he isn't doing it alone, of course: co-writing the episode with him is last year's most impressive newcomer to the writing staff, Vinay Patel, whose Demons of the Punjab was far and away the best episode of the season. I'm so glad that he has returned to the show: he is clearly a very talented writer, and his sensibilities pair very well with Chibnall's, and they seem to bring out the best in each others' work. Whittaker digs in to the excellent material, and delivers some of her best work yet as The Doctor. And she has some excellent guest-starring support from Jo Martin, who plays the Earth woman caught up in the midst of the Judoon's plot. Martin is great, delivering some unexpected gravitas, and the dynamic between the two of them works very well. This episode also boasts some very cool art design, and once again the creature design work on the Judoon is stellar, with the animatronic facial features looking incredibly convincing and well-executed. They are very effective creatures, and it's nice to see them rise to the level of recurring Doctor Who baddies.

This is one of those rare episodes that truly is an absolute game-changer, both in terms of how it reshapes the narrative of the season, and in terms of how it sets a whole new standard for the quality of this season, and this era of the show, going forward. It will be fascinating to see where the series goes from here, and how this season's arc continues to unfold. But one thing is for sure: anyone who has been skeptical of Chris Chibnall's tenure as a showrunner up to this point can relax, and feel safer that the show is in good hands, and going somewhere worthwhile. After showing a lot of promise, and the foundational pieces of what could be something great, the Chibnall/Whittaker era has solidly arrived, and it is fantastic.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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