The Doctor and Companions returned to the screen last night engaged in what appeared to be the standard hijinks of alien invasion of Earth. The Judoon, cosmic mercenaries arrive on Earth and in their typical fashion proceed to break, spindle and mutilate in the pursuit of profit.
You may remember them from their visit to the Moon and their kidnapping of an entire building in the episode with the Tenth Doctor and our first meeting with my favorite companion, Doctor Martha Jones.
Last night’s visit promised more of the same as they visit the quiet city of Gloucester and proceed to terrify the natives in search of their latest fugitive.
It is then we meet Ruth and her husband, Lee (Neil Stuke), a charming couple celebrating a birthday and doing the normal things families do on a birthday. Forgetting, promising to get it right later, forgiving. They were terribly cute. Ruth Clayton (Jo Martin), gets up goes to her job as a tour guide and I admit to expecting she would be the inciting event happening in three, two, one … To be fair, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable, because the opening was so bland, I admit to being a bit bored, figuring the Doctor would have this handled before the second commercial break. The Judoon are powerful but dumb.
This quickly changes as we watch Graham kidnapped right from under the Doctor’s and the other Companion’s noses. I was surprised no one noticed, but there were Judoon around, so perhaps they figured he was just lagging behind. The Doctor engages the Judoon gets them to relent for a few seconds and discover there is absolutely nothing interesting about Ruth, but her husband begins to seem more mysterious by the second.
To say something like “the surprises don’t stop there “seems hopelessly inadequate. The rest of the Companions are also kidnapped – by none other than Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, who has somehow stolen a Judoon battlecruiser.
Then everything goes pear-shaped. The Judoon, no longer delayed or confused, are about to invade the flat of two innocents only to discover that Ruth has escaped and Lee is stalling for time when we see the unexpected. Gat, a mysterious person who has contracted the Judoon appears wearing clothing which is strangely reminiscent of Gallifrey. I made the connection with the raised collar and the cool headpiece. I dismissed it. I mean, after all, Gallifrey is gone, right?
Lee is summarily dispatched but the word Companion is spat out by Gat with more than a bit of contempt. Second clue. Didn’t miss it. Just didn’t understand it.
The Doctor and Ruth are on the run and are about to be summarily captured with Ruth disarms, disrespects and dispatches the Judoon surrounding them in about ten seconds, with the same skill one would send a group of kittens packing.
Now things get interesting. There is something familiar about this. I can’t put my finger on it. We arrive at Ruth’s ancestral home to discover it hasn’t been lived in for years. The Doctor looks around and makes a startling discovery. There is a TARDIS buried in the front yard.
Ruth, experiencing memories, flashbacks to a note sent to her by Lee before his death, and breaks glass.
Then, a Universe shattering moment occurs as my wife and I recognize something we had seen before. When the Doctor was on the run, he hid himself in a Human body masked by the Chameleon Circuit (again with the beloved Martha as his guardian). We assumed it was a new Timelord coming into the mix. We were excited to see Ruth, a Black woman getting to be a Time Lord.
But the surprises didn’t stop there. She wasn’t just any Time Lord. She gets dressed, and I commend her tailors. Her outfit was both bold and commanding and carried hints of Kente cloth as a nice touch.
Her imperious introduction to 13 (the current Doctor) was everything I expected from a Time Lady, who at this point, thought she was addressing a Human. I was pleased to see Ruth but had to start going back through my Gallifreyan lore to make sense of what I was seeing.
In order: Old Tardis. Reminiscent of the early first through fourth versions of the Doctor’s Tardis. No awareness of a Sonic Screwdriver. Means she’s an old-school Time Lord. Not a pacifist. A conqueror.
Then she reveals she is THE Doctor. Heads explode. At the end of the explosion, we are left with Two Doctors, one mysterious Gallifreyan and a complete rewrite of the canon as we know it.
Who is this new iteration of the Doctor who is unknown to 13, who prides herself on recognizing her past? We know the old-school Gallifreyans could give or take regenerations, manipulate memories, rewrite history at will, so it is possible, 13 may not remember this iteration of herself, just like she didn’t remember Jon Hurts, War Doctor.
We learn Ruth’s Doctor works with their mysterious pursuer, doing something for her Gallifreyans. History of the Doctor says that between Doctors 1 and 2, he worked with the Celestial Intervention Agency, a Time Lord covert ops team destabilizing potential enemies. Oh, you didn’t know that. Yeah. The lore of the Doctor is vast.
It appears the new writers are going to dive into the past and bring out some new tricks for the season. Did I mention there used to be at least nine Gallifreys? Anyway, as the episode ends and we see Ruth sending 13 on her way, I presumed this was going to be a one-and-done. A quirky episode where the Doctor meets an earlier version of herself and leaves to return to her past.
But as the credits roll, I see these words: “Introducing Jo Martin as The Doctor!”
Oh my. This is going to be more interesting than I thought. Oh yeah, Captain Jack Harness cameos and mysteriously disappears, letting us know of some new threat in time, the Lone Cyberman. I’m sure it’s nothing.
Welcome aboard, Jo Martin. Your Doctor was glorious (and terrifying.) This season promises to be more interesting than the last.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.