Doctor Who Introduces the First Black Female Doctor and Upends Whovian Mythology
Doctor Who pulled off its most successful episodes of the new era this week. Most fans went into this episode expecting another standard mid-season standalone episode. Instead, what we got was a series of unexpected twists and turns that drastically upend Doctor Who mythology. The most important thing was we may have gotten the first black female Doctor! Though, we may not have, depending on where the story goes. This episode may also be the most important to Chris Chibnall’s new Whovian mythology. Below we will discuss what these surprises mean for the series. Spoilers, sweetie!
Image via BBC
Familiar Aliens & Characters Return To Doctor Who
Before we talk about the first black female Doctor, something else happened we should mention. Something a long time coming. The Doctor and her companions find themselves on Earth again in this episode. In the small English town of Gloucester a platoon of Judoon (near the Moon) show up searching for a fugitive. The Judoon are a race of rhino-faced aliens who act as a intergalactic mercenary police force. They first appeared with the 10th Doctor, in the season 3 episode “Smith and Jones.” Since then the race appeared sporadically over the years, working both with and against the Doctor.
Graham gets transported to an alien spaceship where he is greeted (enthusiastically with a smooch) by none other than Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Captain Jack is searching for the Doctor, but keeps picking up her companions by mistake. Barrowman’s delight to be back in Doctor Who after a full decade is evident. Captain Jack last appeared in the 10th Doctor’s final episode in 2010, “The End of Time.” Barrowman also starred in the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood from 2006-2011. Captain Jack is a beloved fan-favorite character whose return has been rumored for years.
Unfortunately Captain Jack did not get a chance to interact with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor in this episode. But he did give an ominous warning for Graham, Ryan, and Yaz to pass along: “Beware the lone Cyberman.” Barrowman’s appearance alone might have merited special acclaim for this Doctor Who episode… but this was only the beginning of the twists that Fugitive of the Judoon had to deliver.
Image via screengrab
Doctor Who Introduces A New Incarnation And Upends Mythology
The episode introduces a new character in Ruth (Jo Martin). The episode opens with Ruth (and the close-up of a watch ticking…) as she makes breakfast on the morning of her 44th birthday. Along with Ruth, we meet her husband Lee who is acting rather suspiciously. Viewers are meant to assume that Lee is the fugitive that the Judoon are looking for… and then everything goes topsy turvy.
The Doctor and Ruth escape the Judoon as the companions disappear one by one. A mysterious woman named Gat (Ritu Arya) shows up and executes Ruth’s partner Lee. There are some intriguing clues in this scene, such as Gat stating that she and Lee received the same training. Lee has also been holding onto a mysterious medal that Gat used to track him down, she blames his sentimentality for his doom. Gat also delivers the curious statement “I’m sorry it has to end this way, you got so close to escaping… faithful companion.”
Meanwhile The Doctor and Ruth run into a group of Judoon who identify Ruth as the fugitive they’ve been searching for. Ruth triggers some muscle memory to fight back against the Judoon, but has no idea what has happened. The two women set off on a trip to Ruth’s childhood home, a lighthouse on the coast where she breaks a glass seal and is enveloped by a very familiar golden energy.
Ruth picks up a very futuristic looking gun and strides out to where the Doctor has just dug up the top of a familiar looking police box. Ruth announces that she is the Doctor, and that this is her Tardis. And the minds of a million Doctor Who fans around the world collectively exploded.
The First Black Female Doctor Is A Gamechanger For Doctor Who
The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER), Ruth Clayton (JO MARTIN) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Ben Blackall
With the introduction of Jo Martin as a new (old?) incarnation of the Doctor, the entire mythology of Doctor Who is upended. Showrunner Chris Chibnall created quite a controversy in the fandom when he cast Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor. Now we have the first black female Doctor Who. Jo Martin really embodies the role in a beautiful way, with the swagger and confidence of so many former Doctors. But where does this version of a black female Doctor exist in the timeline of Doctor Who? Neither Doctor has any memory of living as the other, so it is unclear of whether or not Ruth is a future version of the Doctor… or a prior incarnation.
To be clear, it’s fantastic that Jo Martin is portraying a version of the Doctor, and hopefully a sign that the next regenerations bring more diversity than just English or Scottish. What could throw the whole mythology of the show out of kilter, however, is just which version of the Doctor Martin plays. There is the mystery that neither remember the other, of course. But no matter how that mystery turns out, what we think we know about the Doctor and her universe could be altered forever.
What Do We Know About Ruth – The First Black Female Doctor?
It appears that Ruth was hiding from her fellow Gallifreyans on Earth. She wiped her own memory and was living as a human, utilizing a piece of Gallifreyan technology known as a Chameleon Arch. She tells the Doctor that she used to work with Gat in a job that she ‘never applied for and couldn’t really leave.’ Was this job in some kind of mandatory Gallifreyan armed service? Ruth seems comfortable handling a gun, although every incarnation we have seen of the Doctor has detested guns.
In a final showdown with Gat and the Judoon, we learn that Gat is also from Gallifrey. Given her exchange with Lee earlier in the episode, it seems that Lee was also Gallifreyan. Was he one of the Doctor’s first companions? Gat’s statement before he died certainly seems to indicate that this is the case. Either way, he clearly knew Ruth’s true identity and sacrificed himself to protect her.
It appears that Ruth and Gat have a long history together. Gat states that she serves for the glory of Gallifrey, and the Doctor reveals that in her timeline (or universe?) her home has been destroyed twice now. Whittaker delivers the chilling line: “You’re only serving at the glory of ash and bone,” before allowing Gat to look into her mind and witness an image of Gallifrey in ruins.
Who Is Ruth And Is She Really The Doctor?
Ruth Clayton (JO MARTIN) – (C) BBC – Photographer: James Pardon
At the end of the episode, the Doctor tells her companions: “Time is swirling around me; The Master. Captain Jack Harkness, Ruth. Something’s coming for me, I can feel it.” It is clear that the story arc that Chris Chibnall is setting up this season will change the mythology of Doctor Who drastically. Right now there are two primary mysteries that must be related in some way. First, who or what is The Timeless Child that The Master claims is the lie at the heart of the Time Lords’ identity? Second, who is Ruth and what incarnation of the Doctor is she? Let’s look at a couple of potential answers and theories.
Ruth is an incarnation that precedes the First Doctor (William Hartnell)
In Fugitive of the Judoon, the Doctor known as Ruth seems to have knowledge about regeneration and how it works. She has definitely has regenerated before, as she states that she has no memory of ever being Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. She and the other Gallifreyans in this episode seem to come from a time before Gallifrey’s destruction, and notably it seems that their timeline exists before the war between the Time Lords and the Daleks..
The appearance of Ruth’s Tardis is stark and empty inside, hearkening back to the earliest episodes of Doctor Who. Ruth also does not recognize a sonic screwdriver when she sees one, a device that was introduced to Doctor Who mythology around the time of the Second Doctor. All of this seems to indicate that Ruth is an incarnation of the Doctor that precedes the First Doctor. We know of at least one other incarnation of the Doctor that was previously hidden from the Doctor’s own memory, the incarnation known as The War Doctor (John Hurt). So there is a precedent for the Doctor intentionally forgetting prior incarnations.
There may also be some evidence to support this theory, that can be found in the classic Doctor Who episode: The Brain of Morbius. This episode was part of the Fourth (Tom Baker) Doctor’s run, and involved a very Frankenstein-like monster being created to house the brain of a deceased Time Lord. Towards the end of the episode, the Doctor glimpses a series of faces in a mind-bending machine. These faces are his prior incarnations, but there are more than just the three that had canonically come before him. This led to speculation that there were incarnations before the First Doctor that have never been revealed.
Ruth is a Doctor from an alternate universe/dimension
The beginning of this season saw the introduction of the Kasaviin, a race of strange voiceless luminous beings. It is made clear that the Kasaviin come from another dimension altogether. Is it possible that the attack of the Kasaviin in Spyfall Part 1 created a breach between two universes? Doctor Who has dealt with multiple dimensions and universes in the past. Notably, former companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) got stuck in a parallel universe during the 10th Doctor episode Doomsday. At that time the cracks between the universes were causing reality to deteriorate. In order to keep both universes intact, they had to be sealed off from one another.
Perhaps now that the Time War was retconned, there are more Time Lords floating around the Universe. Despite Gallifrey’s new destruction. Thus, it is again possible to travel between the parallel universes. The 10th Doctor (David Tennant) said that the Time Lords could “pop” between universes and “be home in time for Tea.” It’s possible that Ruth comes from a universe where the Time Lords weren’t lost. It’s also possible that since Gallifrey is positioned at its original coordinates just billions of years in the future, Time Lords are back at their shenanigans. Ruth could be a later version of the Doctor of this or any universe and in servitude to the Time Lords because of her role in their fate. But, we digress.
Ruth is the Valeyard
We are getting deep into classic Doctor Who lore with these last two. The Valeyard is a villain from the classic era of Doctor Who. According to The Master, the Valeyard “was an amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker sides from between his twelfth and final incarnations.” Ruth definitely does appear to be the antithesis of the modern Doctor in many ways. She is harder, angrier, more biting and sharp to her other self. There is no playfulness or joy in their meeting as there typically is when the different versions of the Doctor meet. She handles weapons easily and seems ready to use them, despite the fact that the Doctor never touches a gun.
The Valeyard was often an enemy of the 6th Doctor who was always trying to steal the Doctor’s regenerations. We did see the 12th Doctor turn into the 13th so it isn’t highly likely that the Valeyard came about between the last Doctor and our current one. So that would mean that the Valeyard could yet be in the Doctor’s future.
Ruth is The Other (Or A Later Incarnation Of The Other)
Here we are at the most outlandish timey-wimey theory that we could come up with. And it all has to do with the cyclical nature of time. ‘The Other‘ is a mythical figure in Gallifreyan history, they are one of the founders of the Time Lords alongside Omega and Rassilon. This character is sometimes referred to as ‘The Stranger’ and the idea that ‘The Other’ is an incarnation of the Doctor is tied into a popular Doctor Who fan theory about “The Cartmel Masterplan.”
Essentially when the original Doctor Who series was losing audiences in the 1960’s, the writers alongside script editor Andrew Cartmel came up with a plan for the series. They wanted to bring back the Time Lords, and the mystery around Gallifrey and the Time Lord history. When the show went off the air, the majority of these stories ended up in Doctor Who novels, comics, and radio adventures. This is where much of the lore surrounding ‘The Other’ comes from. This suggests is that the Doctor is far older than even she realizes. This theory takes that idea all the way back to the origins of Gallifrey and gives the Doctor mythical status. We can combine this theory with the first one since ‘The Other’ definitely predates the First Doctor.
How Does the Timeless Child Relate to the First Black Female Doctor?
Gallifrey Pre-Destruction | Image via BBC
No matter which of this theories is true (if any!) there is still the mystery of The Timeless Child to unravel. These mysteries are bound to be woven together somehow, but I don’t have a ton of theories yet on how. We will have to see what answers Chris Chibnall has for us in future episodes of Doctor Who. In the meantime, I’ll be building my corkboard with red string in attempt to map everything out.
Update: Chris Chibnall Weighs In on First Black Female Doctor
In a new interview, showrunner Chris Chibnall offers up some information about Jo Martin’s iteration of the Doctor. But first, the bad news. Apparently, the brief cameo we saw with Captain Jack Harkness will be John Barrowman’s only appearance in this series of Doctor Who. It seems like a waste of a cameo, but he did “hope” that Barrowman returns in the next series of the show.
Regarding Jo Martin’s Doctor, Chibnall told The Mirror:
“The important thing to say is – she is definitively the Doctor…. There’s not a sort of parallel universe going on, there’s no tricks. Jo Martin is the Doctor, that’s why we gave her the credit at the end which all new Doctors have the first time you see them. John Hurt got that credit.”
We’ll just have to wait and see how Jo Martin’s Doctor fits into the character’s history.
(Featured image via the BBC)
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.