Doctor Who treated us this week to a whirlwind nostalgia trip. The Doctor came face-to-face with shadows of her past, the audience was gifted a visit by a fan favorite character, and all parties involved were reintroduced to a beastly villain. It’s a great week to be a Whovian! Let’s spend a few moments together discussing Fugitive of the Judoon.
This week requires a bit of knowledge of the past in order to fully understand. I’ll discuss the important details of the show’s past without giving away too many spoilers. I hope this will help anyone new to the show grapple with what they witnessed this week. Please indulge me in a little trip down memory lane.
The episode opens with a sweet woman named Ruth. She is overly friendly and kind to all she passes. She leads an unassuming life in which she takes people on guided tours of the town of Gloucester (or tries to, at least). She has a husband named Lee that is awkward and mysterious. However, in no time at all, the rhinoceros-like Judoon show up. They are our first callback to the past.
The Judoon are mercenaries. They hunt fugitives and other people on a contract basis. They are merciless. They consider themselves to be judge, jury, and executioner. We first met them back in season 3 of the revived series. It was also the introduction to everyone’s least favorite companion, Martha Jones. In that episode, titled “Smith and Jones,” Martha works in a hospital. The entire hospital is lifted from Earth and temporarily planted on the moon by the Judoon because the hospital housed an alien fugitive. The Judoon searched the facility piece by piece. Meanwhile, the Doctor was present and was simply trying to get all the humans back to Earth safely.
In this week’s episode, the Judoon aren’t quite so precise. They know the general area in which they’ll find their target, but they haven’t narrowed it down to a specific building. That is, until a jealous baker tells them where to find Lee. The baker foolishly pushes the leader of the Judoon, who determines him to be worthy of capital punishment and vaporizes him.
The Judoon catch up with Ruth and Lee, but so does the Doctor. She uses her psychic paper to manipulate them into letting her arbitrate the situation. All signs point to Lee being the alien fugitive. The Doctor, Ruth, and companions leave and the Judoon close in on Lee. Suddenly, a mysterious woman named Gat shows up (looking very much not like a rhinoceros). It seems that she represents whoever hired the Judoon to begin with. She and Lee know each other, and she vaporizes him.
Meanwhile, Graham is the first to see the beloved Captain Jack Harkness. For those of you unaware of what this means, here’s a quick overview. Jack is a human. He was introduced in season 1 during the best episodes of that entire season. It was a two-parter, with each part being respectively called “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances.” At the time, he was someone who worked (or claimed to work) for a Time Agency in the future. He traveled back in time to World War I and bumps into the Doctor and his then-companion Rose. These episodes are absolutely worth your time to watch if you haven’t seen them. Long story short, due to a series of bizarre events, Jack gains immortality in a later episode. He literally cannot die. He also loves the Doctor immensely. While he is never a full-time companion, he pops up repeatedly throughout the series in multiple forms. He is always great to have on screen. His character offers a totally unique dynamic to the show and even led the spin-off series Torchwood.
The last time we saw him, I was convinced it would truly be the last. But Doctor Who is nothing if not willing to revive the past. He has returned! The actor who plays him, John Barrowman, is marvelous in the role. He totally inhabits and understands the character. It is effortless for him at this point. He has also said at multiple points in the past that he would reprise the role at any time. I could not be happier to see him again, and it sure felt like he couldn’t be happier to be seen.
Unfortunately, his time here is brief. He meets the new companions, kisses Graham for a great length of time, offers a warning, and leaves. He has come to tell the Doctor that the universe is in danger (surprise, surprise). This time, one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies is lying in wait. A “Lone Cyberman” is going to confront the Doctor and ask for something. Jack warns that the Doctor must refuse this request at all costs or the universe will face the consequences. Then, Captain Harkness is gone as suddenly as he returned. I have no doubt we’ll see him again. I hope that it’s this season!
All of this has happened, and we haven’t even discussed the real meat of this episode! What a week. Let’s return to the Doctor and Ruth. Ruth receives a cryptic text message from Lee right before he dies. She begins to see images of a Lighthouse. Something awakens inside of her and she turns into a British Jason Bourne. She fights off an entire squad of Judoon with her bare hands. The Doctor and Ruth seek out this Lighthouse in which Ruth recalls being raised. When they get there, the Doctor decides to have a look around. Meanwhile, Ruth sees a sign that indicates she should break glass in an emergency, which the mysterious text message also commanded. She does so and her face is flooded with a ray of energy. Simultaneous to this, the Doctor is digging up an unmarked grave. She uncovers the top of a Police Box that looks suspiciously like the TARDIS.
We must take a quick step back and talk about another older episode. It was a two-parter featuring the tenth Doctor and Martha Jones. The two episodes, called “Human Nature” and”The Family of Blood,” tell a story of a Doctor in hiding. I won’t tell you what he’s hiding from, but it’s likely not what you think. These episodes function as an examination of who the Doctor fundamentally is as a person. In order to hide, the Doctor needed something beyond a disguise. He used a piece of Time Lord technology called a Chameleon Arch. He hid his mind, his personality, and everything significant about him inside of a trinket. His body became a new person. A fairly regular person, actually. A schoolteacher. At the climax of the episodes, he activates the Arch and his mind returns to him. This same technology was used by a different Doctor, one we have never seen or heard about, to turn herself into Ruth.
The climax of this episode reveals that Ruth is in fact the Doctor. Not a doctor, the Doctor. I’ll still call her Ruth for clarity from here on out. She has the same TARDIS. Multiple pieces of technology confirm that she is exactly the same person as our Doctor. Gant and the Judoon were actually hired by the Time Lords to hunt the Ruth-Doctor. They are from a time or realm in which Gallifrey has not yet fallen.
Ruth and the Doctor come face-to-face with Gat. Gat has obviously never fought the Doctor before, because she does something that no one who has ever seen an episode of the show would do. She takes Ruth’s gun and tries to fire it. The gun misfires and kills her. It was booby-trapped by Ruth.
Where does this leave us? Well, we have two Doctors. Consequently, we have a huge mystery on our hands. Most of this could have been solved if either Doctor had simply asked the other how many times they had regenerated, but that information is withheld from us. I understand why, of course. That would have prevented us from having so much to talk about!
Who is the Ruth-Doctor? I have three theories, each less likely than the one before. First (and I think, most likely) is that this is a past life of the Doctor. Some time between the first and thirteenth, there was at least one regeneration cycle that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor does not remember. I have no idea how or why she doesn’t recall this. It could be repressed. It could be intentionally forgotten (as with the War Doctor). I’d guess that the Time Lord leadership erased her memory of the Ruth-Doctor’s life for their own purposes. After all, only a couple episodes ago, we are told that that the Master learned that he and the Doctor have been lied to their entire lives by the Time Lords.
My second theory is simply that Ruth-Doctor is from a parallel universe, though showrunner Chris Chibnall has already come out saying she isn’t. We know that parallel universes exist in Who, but they have rarely been shown or utilized in modern Who. It would open up literally infinite storytelling possibilities if this were to be the case.
My final theory is my personal favorite, but I also think it’s the least probable. Perhaps the thirteenth Doctor isn’t actually the thirteenth! Perhaps when the twelfth Doctor turned into her, the audience was deceived. He could have regenerated into someone else, and then later turned into what we know as the thirteenth. We could have missed any number of regenerations in the interim. Jodie Whittaker could be playing the 27th Doctor, for all we know! Maybe twelve turned into Ruth-Doctor, who will later die and turn into thirteen. Of course, this would still necessitate a memory loss of some sort. Again, I think this is very unlikely, but you just never know.
This was the best episode of the season for a long-time fan of the show. It absolutely the best kind of fan-service. I cannot wait to see where we go next. I’m eager to learn all about Ruth-Doctor and the rest of her Time Lords.