The Galactic Romp of Rogues: "ROGUE" - A Doctor Who Episode Review

On a TV landscape where competition for eyeballs is as much about competing for cultural moments as viewership, it is worth remarking that Doctor Who has, in a way only it can, won itself a place in the hearts of its fans with an episode that is as gloriously daft as it is fiendishly clever. Written by another great playwright, Chin Nyirongo, and with direction by Charlotte Brändström, Rogue is brilliantly paced, brilliantly original and brilliantly full of things that are brilliantly familiar. This is a review of Rogue, exploring what that says about the persistence of the show and just how well-placed it is to surprising and delighting in turn.

Roguishly Charming: An Introduction to "ROGUE"

Rogue rides a thrilling wave of taut dialogue and wry comments that harks back to the Doctor Who of the show’s early years, while – in place of the familiar Doctor-lite episodes we’ve recently grown accustomed to – the guest appearance of Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor realigns the series with what made it so compelling to begin with.

A Tale of Time, Twists, and Regency

(a regency romp fraught with gossip and intrigue)Capitalising on the fizz and sparkle of Bridgerton (as well as the involvement of its choreographer Jack Murphy), Rogue plays out a compelling, if preposterous, plot line about cosmic kings and queens, in which evil is thinly wrapped in a plot that’s by turns compelling and laughable, with villains whose motivations are comfortably, forgivably, bizarre.

The Doctor and ROGUE: A Timeless Connection

The most enjoyable thing about ‘Rogue’ might be watching The Doctor and the space-faring bounty hunter Rogue (played with wicked charm by Spider-Man’s Jonathan Groff) verbally sparring with each other. Groff’s Rogue is impish and irreverent and plays well against The Doctor’s natural charisma. Their scenes together are the ones that make you want to laugh out loud, when the episode is most fun to watch.

ROGUE: A Mirror to The Doctor's Soul

‘Rogue’, in an interesting move, plumbs the depths of The Doctor’s psyche to find a side of him that is vengeful and haunted by sins of the past. The ‘serious’ side of the episode does a service to the whole, lending the episode emotional heft and providing a bit of narrative nuance for the character. This character-driven aspect serves well as counterpoint to the show’s lighter side as The Doctor acts foolish and childish.

Villains in Feathers: The Chuldur

The episode’s bad guys, the birdlike Chuldur, who engage in bird cosplay as one of their hobbies, are intentionally on the cornier side of the baddie spectrum, and even then, they never overshadow the dynamic that this episode is really about – between The Doctor and Rogue. And their motivation, hilariously tied to Bridgerton, strikes me as a funny moment of indulgence: it’sicle-skating past ‘bad’ and right into ‘playful fun’.

The Lasting Legacy of "ROGUE"

But even if Rogue dies at the end of this episode in what is clearly intended as a sacrificial way, her death adds even more tragic dimensions to The Doctor’s character, as well as providing the potential for more such meetings in the future. When The Doctor is called upon to find Rogue, he is implicitly constituted a series as much as an episodic production. Formally speaking, this affords The Doctor the possibility that Rogue will return and become a regular character in the series.

Understanding ROGUE

But there in Rogue you also find what Doctor Who is at its best – part heart, huge amounts of fun, and a kitchen-sinking, high-stakes, galaxy-spanning level of adventure. As a character and as an episode, Rogue exemplifies what this resurgent science fiction institution can be, not just as a reboot but as it sheds the dead skin of a generation and emerges ready to continue delighting and entertaining, with characters and situations that seem both fresh and instantly familiar. From its fast-paced narrative, to the lively characters, not to mention all its fun, ‘Rogue’ is a highlight of the series, and one that suggests a roadmap for how Doctor Who continually reinvents its premise while carrying on its tradition.

Even in writing the story of ‘Rogue’, Doctor Who shows that it is the greatest genre-blender in the medium, and that in a single episode it can have multitudinous themes and tones, making it not just television but an experience. And in this very special episode, we who have never seen a single second of the show are given a glimpse back to what we sense is the show’s legacy, not just via The Doctor’s eyes but through lifetimes of adventure that make it part of our culture. All of that – and humour, heart and just a bit of regency verve – is splendidly captured by ‘Rogue’, so that we now look forward – we look forward – to see where in time the TARDIS decides to land next.

Jun 08, 2024
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