Doctor Who has morphed into a cheery and easily-digested dollop of Sunday night escapism under its latest show runner, Chris Chibnall. He created Broadchurch, which wasn’t always easy to follow and certainly not cheery. So kudos to him for broadening his range.
The inevitable criticism, however, is that this straightforwardness comes at a price – that New Who lacks the devilish complexity that was a hallmark when Sherlock’s Steven Moffat was steering the Tardis. Some fans prefer Chibnall’s vision. Others do not. One or two – and you’re going to have to trust me on this – have even taken to the internet to discreetly share their concerns.
Does Chibnall take such criticism to heart? As Baron Broadchurch, why should he care what anyone thinks? But then you have an episode such "Fugitive of the Judoon", which unfolds like an impassioned and not entirely convincing cover version of Moffat-vintage Who. It was like that time Kylie Minogue got the Manic Street Preachers in and attempted to go all indie. All credit for trying but please stop it immediately.
What Chibnall has cooked up with "Fugitive of the Judoon" is opaque, a bit silly and tending to bash you over the head with how clever it is. We get a big, Moffatian gimmick, too, as the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) meet a version of herself from a different timeline. Suddenly you’re watching Doctor Two.
Yes it’s ridiculous (if a long way short of Moffat’s recent fangs-but-no-fangs take on Dracula). But there is lots of admire here as well. It’s an ordinary day in Gloucester when a squadron of space-going rhino people in riot-gear beam in. They are the eponymous Judoon. And, under the powers vested in them by the galactic Empire (something like that anyway), they are putting the town on lockdown.
This sounds like a job for the Doctor. Alas, she’s light-years away feeling mopey because Gallifrey, her home-world, has been destroyed (as we discovered in the New Year’s two-parter). Still, a Judoon invasion strikes her as slightly improper and she and the team ride to the rescue.
They arrive just in time to see squads of extras in latex stomping around Gloucester, doing their best short-tempered pachyderm impressions. Later, matters take a turn for the bizarre as it is revealed that local tour guide Ruth (Jo Martin) is actually a manifestation of the Doctor from an alternative dimension. This comes out as the Doctor discovers the Tardis – or at least a version of the Tardis - buried in the garden of the lighthouse where Ruth grew up.
Baffled? The Doctor certainly is and viewers could be forgiven for feeling likewise. Especially as Yaz, Ryan and Graham have been whisked away by Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Barrowman is also a judge over on ITV’s Dancing On Ice and thus capable of inhabiting two different dimensions at once. One is an extra-planar hellscape where the basic laws of the universe have been abrogated. And the other is obviously this week’s Doctor Who.
Captain Jack has a message for the Doctor: “beware the lone Cyberman”. Back in the vicinity of earth, the two Doctors outfox Gallifreyan mystery woman Gat (Ritu Arya). She is hoodwinked into obliterating herself with Doctor 2.0’s blaster (no idea how this came to pass but now seems a bit late to start asking questions). And then Whittaker returns to Gloucester to reunite with her team.
What just happened? Chibnall in his second season is clearly building towards an epic and convoluted resolution to the Gallifrey-has-been-nuked storyline. So far so complex. But, exhausted by years of Moffat’s twisting, turning plots, is that what fans really want? Either way, that, it is appears, is what we are getting.