Friday 14 June 2024

Doctor Who: Rogue

Doctor Who has a storied history with period drama. The Girl in the Fireplace has been my favourite episode since 2005. Doctor Who goes Bridgerton in Rogue.

Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, is on a timey-wimey adventure.

Taking the Short View's Andrew Lewin has materialised over from The WELL - we would be honoured if you would join us!

Guest post by Andrew Lewin

Love them or hate them, we’ve had quite a lively run of episodes in Doctor Who season one!

From the childishness of the Space Babies to the musical antics of The Devil’s Chord, the high suspense stillness of Boom and the mysterious folk horror of 73 Yards, and an on-the-nose satire of the corrosive effects of social media in Dot and Bubble. There was plenty to talk about in each case.

This week, not so much. Or maybe that’s just me? Once Rogue established the 'Doctor Who meets Bridgerton' premise, that was pretty much it. Perhaps the problem is that I’m not a fan of Bridgerton and have never watched it, or its spin-offs or copycats, so for me this just looked like exactly what I would expect an episode of Doctor Who set in Regency-era England to be. The two shows' energy and vibe are comparable, so I didn’t think it gained anything from the ‘crossover’, nor lost anything if you didn’t ‘get it’ as a viewer.

It was exactly how a Russell T Davies costume period drama episode would look – although the twist, in this case, was that it wasn’t written by RTD but by Marvel Studios' Loki director Kate Herron and comedian Briony Redman. Herron also worked on Sex Education so she clearly knows how to write for Ncuti Gatwa, and he duly gets his best material of the season so far in this episode.

The meta aspect of the episode is that the bird-like shapeshifting aliens called the Childur (led by the wonderful Indira Varma) are happily cosplaying their favourite Netflix show, with added fatalities, but someone is there to stop them. No, not the Doctor and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) – they just happen to stumble in on a situation which is already being taken care of by a bounty hunter called Rogue, played by US stage and screen actor-singer Jonathan Groff (I know him best from his show-stealing cameo as King George from the original Broadway production of the brilliant Hamilton).

So away from the Bridgerton visuals we actually get a cute romance between Rogue and the Doctor, which is beautifully played with lovely performances from both men. Some may say that this incarnation of the Doctor is too sexually assertive and should be more, well, dorkish, but there’s still plenty of the familiar Doctor we know and love underneath if you go looking – and I don’t mean by that the sequence of holographs of past guises to which RTD impishly adds Richard E Grant (Withnail and I) just to cause a storm in online forums.

No, it’s more how this Doctor drives Rogue mad with a Kylie track in a way that feels quintessentially Troughton-esque (even if his miming of the lyrics is positively filthy) while his panicked response to Rogue’s proposal couldn’t have been a better comedic performance if it had been delivered by Matt Smith.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that we have the Doctor showing romantic (okay, let’s not be coy, downright sexual) interest in a man. You can imagine how some of the less enlightened corners of the media and fandom were going to react to this latest evidence of RTD’s wokery. But it’s 2024 for heaven’s sake, surely we’ve got over such prudishness by now? Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor helped get us past that sort of thing with her feelings for Yaz (Mandip Gill). Other fans have churlishly complained that Rogue is just a pale imitation of Jack Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness, but while both are American and gay that’s about where the comparison ends.

One might as well state that Rose and Ruby are exactly the same person while you’re at it!

(Actually, that is something that’s crossed my mind at certain points. They are very similar: they came from similar social backgrounds and one-parent families with a dominant mother, they’re 19-year-olds and blonde and short and gobby, and even the names – Rose and Ruby – are practically an invitation for the rushed reviewer to stumble over and mix up if they’re not really careful and moreover lucky. So what’s with the similarity? Is it a lack of imagination on RTD’s past? A sense of nostalgia for his first time in charge of the beloved BBC sci-fi show? Or an intentional overlap? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. After all, not long to go now until the end of the season hopefully provides some answers; or knowing RTD, probably not.)

But there seems very little duplication between Rogue and Captain Jack!

Jack was unabashed, out and proud, ebullient and outrageously flirty to a fault. Rogue on the other hand is much more serious and focused, touched by past trauma and loss, making him more reserved, vulnerable and introspective. And yet for all that, he’s the one most closely in touch and honest about his emotions than the Doctor who is caught by surprise by what develops - for all his overt surface flirting from the get-go.

For once the Doctor is not the one in charge, not the one who gets to hold the other person’s hand and tell them to “Run”! If anything, the Doctor is the companion in this episode – the Captain Jack figure – and it’s Rogue who becomes the strange, mysterious alien hero of the piece. He’s even got a costume that any Time Lord incarnation would regenerate for.

There’s more than enough substance there to justify a return appearance for Rogue although I suspect we’ll have to wait a year for it. In fact, this episode felt that it was holding back on the relationship front, and also on any of the series arc business or the many mysteries of Ruby Sunday who was rather put to one side this week. Instead, the episode disguised itself amid the fun and frolics of the Regency frocks.

That made it enjoyable and entertaining, but oddly the least substantial of the six episodes in this season. When I watched the episode again a second time (as I’ve done with them all this year), I didn’t feel I got anything more out of it on the repeat round, which I had done with the previous stories. Again, maybe that’s missing out on the Bridgerton dimension.

In fact, I found it hard to pay attention and not drift off during the second viewing. I know it’ll be controversial to say this, but I think Space Babies had more heft to it than Rogue! This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it perfectly well and that I’m eager to see the return of the eponymous bounty hunter as soon as Groff’s availability makes it possible. Just that I’m hungry to get to the serious business of this week’s first part of the season one finale.

Gosh, time goes by so quickly, doesn’t it?

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched Rogue? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated for spam. Stay on topic and do not embed links. Keep it family-friendly.

Thank you.