Dear reader it’s a couple of weeks since episode 5 aired and with such an arc heavy episode its been a good opportunity to digest and discuss its contents. Forget an uncomplicated romp with the stompy alien policemen this is definitely an episode to be savoured slowly with a glass of wine in hand.
This is probably the strongest episode to date of the Chris Chibnall showrunner and writing era, It was described online after transmission in many quarters as a game-changer for this series and it would be lovely to see this as a beginning of a cohesive arc from which we get the answers about the timeless child teased last year. I tend to watch episodes at least twice for review purposes and this episode has become more exciting each time I’ve seen it for all for the tantalising questions it raises.
Episode 5 An arc heavy episode, return of an old friend and a startling discovery
My reaction on live transmission of this story was similar to others as in > ooooh there’s a nice little mystery going on > oh yay Captain Jack is back!!! > what is going on ? > What, what? Ruth is who? OMG Really? I need to lie down but I need to know more. I’m so curious therefore with the writing credits ascribed to both Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall as to who wrote bits of the episode. I certainly rate Vinay Patel on the strength of last series “Demons of the Punjab” and also his non-Doctor Who drama Murdered by my Father. He writes emotional true characters, strong with dialogue. Chris Chibnall’s writing efforts last series were more disappointing but it feels this series that he has discovered some form, the training wheels have come off and he’s talking to the fans in their language, challenging the canon of what we know.
Looking at the structure and dialogue for this episode, except for the part where Ruth is out and about high fiving kids or admiring dogs in a slightly cheesy way of showing how nice she is Fugitive of the Judoon is tightly scripted. It starts inauspiciously with a domestic situation but just builds and builds as the surprises just kept coming through the episode after the Judoon beamed down to Gloucester. What I liked is the script was written well enough to showcase the few characters we were introduced to from a city of around 150,000 people. Each supporting character had their moment as we were shown how rule-bound the Judoon is.
The old lady Marcia got her ball of wool and knitting needles “confiscated” as she panicked and Alan ended vapourised after his jealousy of Lee got the better of him. Gat treated the Judoon as brainless thugs, at the call of the Timelords but they meant business exactly on their contract terms. I thought the commander of the Judoon Pol Kon Don, played by Paul Kasey, was actually an excellent prosthetic in terms of movement and speech.
Oh, I really want to talk about all ears, Alan. Thank god the actor Micheal Begley played it with a light touch of comedy as he did. It was hilarious seeing the dossier on Lee and his “you can do better” cake was a laugh out loud moment. Alan must have spent hours trailing Lee, either that or swapping gossip with the librarians. He’s the kind of slightly weaselly guy who has an obsessive streak and probably takes out ten hardback crime novels out of the library rather than invest in a Kindle! Did hapless Alan deserve to get killed? No, but I did wonder why he was attracted to Ruth, as they seemed completely mismatched but I guess it takes all sorts.
So, talking of Lee? Lots of questions raised in the episode of what is in retrospect an important role. Played by Neil Stuke, a really good actor who I’ve seen as a ducker and diver character called Billy Lamb in a legal series called Silk. Given that Gat called him ‘old friend’ my theory is he was working as an operative or a foot soldier on an alternate version of Gallifrey, together with Ruth. They were both run by the Celestial Intervention Agency ( a covert arm of the High Council to safeguard the Time Lords’ interests ) and they both deserted. I enjoyed the faithful companion comment by Gat for the double meaning (of Doctor and his/ her companions) but also, Lee was in the role of protector of them both. What mistake did he make? Escaping perhaps.
I really got vibes of a watcher protecting the important one (similar role of Giles from Buffy, the vampire slayer) here. It’s not anything new now to introduce a spouse for the Doctor but I was interested in the lack of reaction from Ruth at his Lee’s death. I would have loved to have seen him alive once Jo Martin’s Doctor was restored to herself but it was not to be.
I haven’t mentioned Captain Jack yet but I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw him. I’m so glad Chris Chibnall brought him back even as a brief teaser. Chris Chibnall has borrowed a lot from Who’s past but this is one of the better ideas. Jack’s a reminder of a popular era and he has an energy which is infectious. Captain Jack’s larger than life alpha persona did highlight the rather passive nature of the current companions, who are more everyman observers in the Tardis. Saying that I loved Graham’s face after Jack kissed him. John Barrowman’s appearance was a cameo but it also gave tantalising glimpses of future episodes and I absolutely loved it.
I found the direction for the episode was stunning at times especially in the cathedral and at the lighthouse. How interesting that in the cathedral which should be a place of peace, and contemplation is where Ruth becomes this warrior beating the Judoon soldiers. Unknowingly we are being given clues. echoes of previous doctors (3rd Doctor with Venusian aikido) This Ruth-less Doctor is merciless, driven by instinct and it is such a switch, a jolt. I love the later sound of the church bells, a call to action, as she sits meekly confused about her actions, convinced it isn’t her (echoes of the 10th Doctor struggling as a human under the chameleon arch) with the little flashes where Ruth is guided to the lighthouse.
The episode steps up a gear at this point visually and we are on a physical but also metaphorical journey alongside the 13th Doctor to find out the truth. I love the shots of the car on the road. It’s entirely appropriate that she and the 13th Doctor alone are doing the journey together. Their conversation together in the car up to the lighthouse is more than just an information stream at the audience. At this point, the 13th Doctor is the one we trust and the inquisitiveness Jodie brings at this point is testament to the cleverness the Doctor normally has. Did anyone else wonder at the decision of Ruth’s parents to live in the middle of nowhere? Was it deliberate, where they were timelords too hiding out, or just human foster parents?
The physical separation that the 13th Doctor imposes by wanting to look around the lighthouse and leaving Ruth highlights their individuality. Both similar but also different. There is some gorgeous cinematic visual direction as Ruth lighting a fire becomes emblematic of what’s coming. The revolving shot on the top of the lighthouse as Jodie/ the 13th stands on the brink feels beautiful, totally apt to portray her spinning confusion.
The moment Ruth broke the glass was really exciting and in hindsight took me all the way back to the excitement of “Utopia” as the Master opened the fob watch. For a minute with the red bolt of energy and her leaning for the gun pretty quickly I thought it was the Rani. Yes, that old chestnut Certainly, with the swagger she gave hauling the gun to the Tardis and the “You’re probably a bit confused right now,” as she confronted the 13th Doctor Jo Martin brought a dangerous air with her which I kind of love. Jo Martin has joined an exclusive club now and her success will really depend on how the story plays out.
I hope we see her again. Chibnall has addressed the controversy of why the series hasn’t had a black Doctor before now and that can be laid to rest as long as it isn’t a one-off meeting. I’m sure all of those production people behind the scenes following the BBC Content Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines are fist-pumping the air at the positive reaction to the episode.
It was really interesting to see the interaction between the two incarnations after Ruth Doctor took 13th to the Tardis. A doctor who isn’t like our hippy trippy 13th, who is disdainful, quick to action. She’s a kick-ass Doctor able to scare the Judoon and tricking a fellow Gallifreyan Gat into discharging a gun. Whilst the 13th Doctor couldn’t believe that Ruth could be her there are the overlapping dialogue and the way they insulted each other over their clothing to suggest they are the same person. Unknown versions of the Doctor are nothing new. In the more straightforward days of my superfan youth in the classic series, there were six doctors and Peter Cushing from the films.
The mathematics was simple as long as you didn’t consider all other forms of media. Then on tv, it started to go pear-shaped during the Trial of a Timelord when the Valeyard was revealed as an amalgamation of the darker sides of the Doctor’s nature somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnation. Due to the later cancellation of the series, this idea of unknown versions of the Doctor wasn’t taken much further. But the new series has been much braver introducing the War Doctor, and we now have Jo Martin as Ruth Doctor who is a gun-totting timelord.
A lot of people have been extremely positive regarding Ruth Doctor more forceful version compared to the 13th Doctor but I rather enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s confused, inward-looking stance. She is far more measured than Ruth especially the way she appealed to Gat and they made contact. The 13th’s reaction to Ryan’s comment that they knew her felt uncharacteristic of her normal bubbly, full of smiles persona but I enjoyed that bite.
Ruth suggested that the 13th doctor is a later incarnation than her. Do we believe Ruth’s version? I originally thought she was from a parallel universe but Chris Chibnall says she isn’t. There is an idea floating that she is pre-Hartnell as she doesn’t know about the sonic screwdriver (created by the 2nd Doctor) and her Tardis is a gleaming white. Whilst we might speculate on the Doctor’s early life on Gallifrey with a family (to have a grand-daughter to run away with ) I’m not sure how I feel about expanding the history backwards with a different person as a first. It is a time travel programme but it doesn’t feel entirely respectable to place Ruth before the William Hartnell incarnation who began the whole show off. But then it is also worth remembering that showrunners build on existing history all the time.
Gallifrey, which has been destroyed, resurrected and destroyed again was first shown six years into Doctor Who’s history and the name mentioned in the 1973 story of “The Time Warrior” ten years after the debut. Perhaps the answer is something else completely different as Ruth’s Tardis is a police box which only occurred after Totters Lane. There is another theory doing the rounds that she is part of an unscreened season which occurred between season 6 and 7 when Patrick Troughton’s Doctor continued missions for the Timelords before regenerating into Jon Pertwee. Whatever the truth Chris Chibnall has set in motion a new strand of history for Doctor Who which I’m so excited to find out about.
Triumphs in the dialogue
“They are coming for me, always the nanogenes”- Captain Jack Harkness
“Feels like instinct against the bullies and you know the thing about bullies there’s always a weak spot” Ruth
“Let me take it from the top, Hello I’m the Doctor. I’m a traveller in Space and Time” Ruth
The best episode so far of the Whittaker era 9 /10