Fugitive of the Judoon: that’s how it’s done!

I’ve made the point several times in these reviews that it gives my no joy to be relentlessly negative about Doctor Who, a series that I have loved deeply. That I go into each episode with an open mind, hoping to enjoy it.

This time, I did. Amost without reservation.

It’s so nice to be able to write this! Fugitive is by far the best 13th-Doctor episode so far, and I’d already reached that conclusion half way through, before the big reveal.

First of all, we started by setting out a story that was already interesting, even before the intrusion of science-fictional elements. Ruth and Lee’s relationship felt real, unforced, believable. Ruth’s life was lightly shown to be mundane, her positive but sardonic personality effortlessly sketched out. Straight away, we had a character we cared about, in a way we never did with (say) Kane or Bella in Orphan 55.

Then when the Judoon were introduced, they were given time to introduce themselves — to appear aggressively alien in the very earthly environs of Gloucester, to show how officious and brutal they are. (It helped that this was happening in the nearest city to where we live, and featured a catherdral that I’m reasonably familiar with.)

And then the Doctor herself felt more Doctorish than previously. Still nowhere near the level of Doctor Matt or Doctor David, but definitely recognisably the character I love. More thoughtful. Less frantic. Paying attention. In the moment.

And all of this is before the story gets properly under way. Once that happens, everything more or less makes sense in its own terms: the Judoon’s actions are motivated; so are Lee’s (and he sort of ends up being the hero of the piece); so are Gat’s, in light of what we know so far. The big twist, when it comes, is done in a way that give us just enough reason to buy it, without leaping to the conclusion ahead of the reveal.

Even Captain Jack’s thread, while not really relevant to the main plot, was reasonably well explained. And while I am still not a fan of John Barrowman (who is looking noticeably older, contrary to his backstory), I did enjoy his assumption that Graham was the Doctor.

All of this competence! A well structured and paced script! Just the right amount of material to fit in to the available time! Characters who we can buy into (including throwaways like the bloke who runs the coffee shop)! Properly surprising twists! Character development! Welcome back — we’ve missed you.

Of course, all this leaves me wondering why we can’t have nice things every week. Is there some fundamental reason why the pacing has to be way off in nearly every episode? Now we’ve seen one where it’s not, we have to conclude that the answer is no.

I’m not saying it was perfect. It’s no The God Complex, far less The Girl in the Fireplace. As always, it could really have done with one less companion. But it’s such a huge step forward for the present series that it feels like an aberration. I really really hope it’s not — and that the mysteries it opens up get properly and satisfyingly resolved.


7 responses to “Fugitive of the Judoon: that’s how it’s done!

  1. Mmm, good all the way through but then didn’t have much of a pay-off, which makes it feel more like a set-up for future events than a thing in and of itself. {“Another Doctor, Tardising about! When might she reappear?”) A feeling enhanced by the digression into the Captain Jack info-dump, which I’d have to say felt like a… well, an info-dump.

    So I didn’t think it matched ‘Demons of The Punjab’, but then notably I’m comparing one Vinay Patel story to another. There is one story later this season which perhaps rivals it, but I won’t say which yet.

  2. Thanks for avoiding spoilers in that response, Gavin. Your critique that Fugitive has more set-up than pay-off is fair; but of course if the pay-off does come later, then it will turn out not to have been a critique after all, merely an observation. I don’t have enough confidence in Chibnall-era Who to be anywhere near sure that it will work out, but for now at least I am giving it the benefit of the doubt.

    One thing I will say, and I think this is important: having seen Fugitive, I am now actively keen to see the next episode and find out what happens, which has not been the case for a looong time. Admittedly, I expect it’ll let me down, but we’ll see.

  3. My basic problem with this (and with Spyfall) is that the ‘Doctor’ half of the story and the ‘companion’ half of the story have exactly zero interaction with one another past the opening set-up. The big cascade of revelations in both stories is confined almost entirely to the Doctor, and even when the companions are challenged to think about how little they know (in Spyfall), the problem is that they don’t have anywhere to start from.
    That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this episode – the opening few minutes were at least as good as the opening few minutes of ‘Rose’, which is still hard to beat for establishing everything you need to know about a character in a very short period of time (with the obvious irony this time that it was all essentially a lie.) The Judoon are still a funny concept and used pretty well here, even if they disappear from the actual story too soon. And the sequence with Captain Jack was funny and disguised its role as filler rather better than most episodes do.

  4. I would not get too attached to the notion of pay-off if I were you.

  5. Gavin, I think that verges on the spoileriffic. I would have preferred not to be told that.

    No big, though.

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