Everyone seems to love Fugitive of the Judoon. Adulation isn’t universal, as Victoria Walker assesses Chris Chibnall’s entry to the Great Doctor Who Bake-Off
Fugitive of the Judoon is through and through a fan-pleasing, plot-progressing, stodge of an episode. It is one that is thematically weak and relies heavily on fan favourite John Barrowman to push what should have been a compelling episode.
Theme deficiency presents most evidently through the Judoon. Their debut appearance in Smith and Jones balanced well its plot and themes. The Judoon are generally presented as a pastiche of police and state bureaucracy, with their cataloging, forms, and marker pens. Many jokes from Smith and Jones are reproduced in this episode, such as the compensation form, the low-tech way the Judoon mark their processed subjects and their manner of bowing to rules. The success of these reproductions varies. I feel Fugitive of the Judoon doesn’t quite carry these jokes, as they do not build a serious foundation on which to ridicule. The hand stamp is almost the best of these, as they have advanced from a marker pen to something marginally more high tech. However there’s no real build-up to it, and so I can imagine someone who has never seen Smith and Jones not fully appreciating the dissonance of a species like the Judoon using a hand stamp.
The Judoon fully take a back seat to Ruth/the Doctor(/the Valeyard?) (I’d rather hoped for an episode further exploring the office work side of the Judoon, perhaps they use filing cabinets? Rolodexes?) I’m not impressed at present, although I think it sets up an excellent chance for Whittaker’s Doctor to later fully reflect on her moral standing. For, if she cannot remember being this gun-wielding Doctor, how can she trust her judgment as to the lily-whiteness of her conscience? After all, McCoy wasn’t a stranger to the odd bomb or two. Up to now, Thirteen has operated within the usual grey morality that the Doctor occupies, without any of the self-awareness that previous Doctors have presented. It will either lead to a very cathartic character moment or nothing. There is the potential for this to lead to a very, very interesting personal revelation.
I can’t write this review without talking about him. Captain Jack is back everybody! If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not impressed. I’ve not watched that bit of New Who (shoot me) and I realise that the bits totally outside the plot of the episode (whatever there is of it) do not stand if you aren’t already enamored by him. This part felt completely disconnected, and simply a way to remove the rest of the crew from the narrative. I think Jack should have returned in a different episode that stood alone anyway. So many arc-relevant moments should not be crammed into a single episode. I like to think of it thus: each showrunner has a floury bucket of plot elements. Some previous writers would use these to thicken the delicious soups of episodes we already have, adding a richness that is perhaps only totally visible upon reflection. Chibnall tends to take out big heaping scoops and hides them in amongst the bowls, leaving the soups delicious, but thin.
So, all in all? Most of the time when I rip into an episode like this I did fully enjoy it and am simply being picky. Not this time. It seems like an episode that would stand very well when viewed as part of a marathon showing, to not have the chance to consider it on its own. It is not one I would choose to watch alone again, but I would not skip it if I was watching the whole series.