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Doctor Who: Rogue

"Ooo, she’s so posh, I love her!"

Doctor Who does Bridgerton. I think. I mean, if Bridgerton involves a lot of man-on-man romance and bird aliens. Does it? I'm afraid I haven't seen it.

OK, obviously I'm being a little glib about this. While I couldn't tell you if Bridgerton goes so far as exploring same sex love, I'm reasonably certain that it doesn't include shapeshifting bird aliens. This does, however, make a good segue for my mentioning that I know next to nothing about Jane Austen.

To be clear, I've lived on the planet for 50-some years, have a degree in English, and worked for public television for over a decade, so I'm not completely in the dark regarding Jane Austen. I'm aware of the tropes and general tone of things and something about Colin Firth coming out of a lake. but I really know almost nothing about specifics. So, if I miss some obvious reference, I'd very much appreciate you mentioning it in the comments.

This is a story of a doomed romance. Boy meets boy, they have an adorable meet-cute complete with misunderstanding, spend a lot of time flirting pretty overtly, and then are put into a situation where one of them has to sacrifice himself and their potential relationship to save a greater good. That actually sounds very 'Austen-esque' to my untrained ear, barring of course their both being men, but hey – details. The most admirable thing about this script is how clear it is about what it wants the big climax to be, and the extremely clean and disciplined way it goes about setting up all the different factors that need to be in play in order to get there.

So, let's take a look at what the finale they were building to is exactly.

The final dilemma, in brief:

1. The Doctor and Rogue have successfully trapped all five of the Chuldur in the triangle of death floor trap. The triangle of death is counting down to the moment that the Doctor can press the large friendly button and dispatch all five of them to an unknowable, empty, alternate dimension from whence they can never be found or escape.

2. But wait, last minute twist reveal. One of the Chuldur is not a Chuldur pretending to be Ruby. It's actually the real Ruby. Which means that the Doctor can't press the button, or he'll banish her to hell forever. And the real fifth Chuldur is rapidly approaching him with murder in her heart.

3. But not so fast. Because the triangle of death floor trap can only be used once. If he does not press the button, dispatching four of the Chuldur (and Ruby), they'll all escape, and the Doctor will have lost his only chance to prevent them from destroying the world. Which means he literally has to choose between Ruby's life and the entire world. An impossible choice.

4. But then, when all seems lost, Rogue – the dashing, mysterious love interest that the Doctor has clearly fallen for – comes to him and sacrifices himself, grabbing the real final Chuldur and jumping into the triangle of death with her, knocking Ruby out of the trap in the first place. The world is saved, and The Doctor doesn't lose Ruby. All it cost was the love they were just starting to explore with one another.

And, scene.

Now let's take a look at all the different factors that had to be set up in advance of that climax in order for it to work. Because if any one of the following hadn't been clearly explained to us beforehand, if they'd had to pause that final showdown to explain or remind us of any of the factors involved, it would have killed the drama stone dead. So, let's take a look at them as well.

We had to:

A. Recognize the triangle of death floor trap by sight, understand exactly what it does, how it works, and that it molecularly bonds its victims to the floor so there's no chance of Ruby stepping out of it.

B: Buy that the Doctor would reasonably believe that it was a Chuldur cosplaying as Ruby, and that Ruby is definitely dead. Obviously, we, as the viewer weren't ever going to really believe that, but the Doctor needed to.

C: Have been given, in advance, a plausible explanation for how Ruby could have possibly avoided being taken over by the Chuldur, and thus why it was her pretending to be a Chuldur in the first place.

D: Have been given a plausible explanation for why the trap could only work once.

This one is important, because it's an easy one to skip. A less disciplined script could have just said 'It only works once just because I said so' and gotten away with it. But that's a lazy choice that undercuts the tension. That way feels like a writer just gratuitously making up rules to make things harder, whereas here the fact that it was the Doctor himself that made the changes to the trap that cause it to only work once brings the tragic dilemma directly to his doorstep, which is so much more effective.

E: Believe that the Doctor and Rogue's feelings are genuine enough for any of this to matter. If the Doctor's choice is between Ruby's life or the life of 'Some guy,' well... that's hardly a difficult call, even though I'm sure the Doctor would have felt bad about it after.

And the script goes to great care to discretely set up each of those in what appears to be unrelated plot moments.

-The triangle death trap is an integral part of the Doctor and Rogue's meet-cute. Everything we need to understand about it we learn then.

-Of course the Doctor would believe that Ruby was really a Chuldur based on the circumstances. She was giving it all pretending to be one by using all of the little bird tics that we'd spent the entire episode being trained to recognize as 'Chuldur in a human body.' We understand that that's what those tics mean, so even though we logically know, as the audience, that Ruby must be fine, it makes sense why the Doctor is fooled.

-The psychic earrings ability to go into 'battle mode' is set up as a joke as part of the explanation of how Ruby knows the dance moves, and so goes almost completely unnoticed at the time.

-The Doctor had to limit the capacity of the trap to being a one-time use in order to make sure it could trap the unexpectedly increased number of Chuldur. It's a totally understandable decision on his part, but the consequences of it still fall squarely on his shoulders.

-Ncuti Gatwa and Jonathan Groff have great chemistry and are selling the hell out of their interest in, and later attraction to, one another. 'After this is done, let's argue across the universe.' Good god, what I'd give to have a time traveling hottie in period costume say that to me.

This episode is all about getting to that climactic scene, and it gets there brilliantly. That's a lot of balls to get into the air without looking like you're doing it. Well done.

Bits and Pieces:

-- When Rogue asks the Doctor if he can sacrifice Ruby to save the world, he already knows the answer. At least, he hopes he does. That moment is clearly a test to see if the Doctor might, after all, be capable of letting him down. He needs to be sure that it isn't the case that, maybe, the Doctor might not be worth the feelings he's experiencing and if so, he can just go back into his shell and return to his life of lonely bounty hunting. I think part of him is even hoping that will happen. And when the Doctor doesn't let him down and proves that he's worthy of Rogue's love, Rogue sacrifices himself to save the Doctor's heart.

-- I ran into a similar problem regarding my lack of Austen knowledge back in a review for Legends of Tomorrow a few years back. I really miss that show.

-- There's a lovely Easter egg in the name of the Duchess. Indira Varma is listed as playing 'The Duchess of Pemberton.' Victor Pemberton served as script editor for Doctor Who – albeit briefly – during the early stages of Patrick Troughton's second season. He also wrote the 'lost classic' Doctor Who story 'Fury from the Deep.' And even I'm aware that Pemberley is the name of an estate in one of Austen's books (I'm 95% sure it's Pride and Prejudice). It's the perfect hybrid Who/Austen reference, and I find it delightful.

-- It's been widely mentioned elsewhere, but the little visual cameo of Richard E. Grant as the 'Scream of the Shalka' Doctor was fun. The Doctor's history is more scrambled than we've yet seen, apparently.

-- It's fairly obvious that Rogue has more than a little of Captain Jack's DNA in him. Actually... that's an unfortunate way to phrase that given the circumstances, but you know what I mean. They even make the same joke about using the Sonic Screwdriver to build shelves. It didn't really bother me, but it's undeniable.

-- We're being a little coy about who has time travel capacity here. Is Rogue from the future? The Doctor just refers to him as 'Outer Space Bounty Hunter.' But it's also implied that the Chuldur are here to cosplay because they've seen the TV signals of Bridgerton, and that kind of means that they have to have time travel abilities of some kind, doesn't it?

-- They shoehorn a reference to 'the new boss' for Rogue and his bounty hunting business that feels like a late add to set up the series big baddy, because it's much less subtle than the rest of the script.

-- I was totally fooled by Emily right up until the last moment when she revealed herself as a Chuldur to Ruby. Although they did cheat a little. The lightning we see in the hallway during the first time we see that scene doesn't match at all with the lightning we see when they go back and show what really happened.

-- If you can't use your sonic to turn off the molecular bond trap you should totally use it to irritate your host with dance music.

-- I like the idea of aliens that just want to come to fun periods and cosplay in them. That's exactly what the Doctor and Ruby are doing after all. Although the Doctor and Ruby are doing like an attendee at comic con, whereas the Chuldurs are doing it like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. Still. Cute idea.

-- The string arrangement of 'Poker Face' during Ruby and Emily's fight – chef's kiss. No notes.

-- Out of curiosity, I did a little research, and the Doctor is right. In the Regency period, homosexuality would have been a huge scandal. The Doctor's race, on the other hand, would very probably have been no big deal, which surprised me pleasantly. It puts them ahead of the citizens of Finetime, if nothing else.

-- Please find Rogue and bring him back somehow.


Ruby: "Oh my Bridgerton!"

The Doctor: "Just try not to get engaged. Or accidentally invent tarmac. 1902 got away from me."

Rogue: "I didn’t know that the Duchess employs a court jester."
The Doctor: "Well, I’m hilarious."

The Doctor: "OK, Rogue. You’re tall, you’re handsome, you’re arrogant, you look great in that jacket. So there’s one thing I have to ask. Is that a shoe?"

Emily: "‘Cushy.’ I like it."
Ruby: "Ok, yeah, maybe don’t use it a lot."

Rogue: "Why isn't it cloaked?"
The Doctor: "It’s behind a tree."

The Doctor: "Ahh, did you get your name from Dungeons and Dragons?"
Rogue: "Roll for insight."

Computer: "Press send in ten vexils."
The Doctor: "How long does a vexil last?"
Computer: "Nine."
The Doctor: "Oh, that long."

Rogue: "And so clean."
The Doctor: "Yes, the things that you don’t recognize are called ‘surfaces’."

Rogue: "They have a lifespan of 600 years."
The Doctor: "Good. Good. Good. It’s a long time to suffer.

Rogue: "Find me."

A fun and romantic romp through a genre that I'm not terribly familiar with, which makes it more impressive. If enjoying the story requires you to have read all the back catalog from the genre, that's not really a success. This one succeeds.

Twelve out of fifteen Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.


  1. I wanted to like this one, and I did, but I was more lukewarm by the end. I also have never watched Bridgerton, and I kept wishing that they would stop referencing it. Ruby doing it once was cute. Everyone else doing it a dozen times got a bit annoying. (Although I guess the orchestral version of pop songs is very Bridgerton, and I did like that.)

    Sadly, Josh Gad is one of those actors who is only ever Josh Gad to me. I can't see him as whatever role he's playing. He did a very fine job, but was he a Time Agent or something? They played really fast and loose and coy with questions over who was a time traveler or not.

    Also, why couldn't the Doctor literally just walk a further 5 steps to see that Ruby wasn't lying dead in the room? It would have solved literally everything and I don't know why he just stopped short for literally zero conceivable reason. He could have saved his Rogue!

    Did love the earrings, though. Very very fun. I loved that they had battle mode, and I was waiting for it to be used as soon as they mentioned it.

  2. I have Scream of the Shalka and watched it as part of my trip from Unearthly Child through the end of Jodie's 1st season (which was the end at that time of watching). It's a bit weird, although Richard Grant was great as the Doctor in it.

    I gotta agree on this vs. the finetime people and the prejudice issue. Not a fan of any such things, but it was a nice little factoid that I did not know about, I did know about the homophobic portion here, not the racial one I mean.

    My mom would know a lot more about Jane Austen, as I too know almost nothing about her stories.

  3. This one didn't work as well for me despite being full of things that ordinarily I'd love (Bridgerton-romp! Jonathon Groff! Jonathon Groff playing a cool love interest for the Doctor!!).

    First, Groff's performance never felt quite locked-in to me -- it was 90% there but it felt like he and Gatwa never quite found the correct wavelength, which made it all the more glaring when the plot would stop and stand still for them to have big emotional moments with each other.

    Second, I think the fakeout with Ruby's death didn't quite work. The plot required the Doctor to believe she was dead but the script required a quick pivot to a funny climax. Thus we got the Doctor having a flashback to promising to always keep Ruby safe followed by him making jokes and seeming totally fine.

    Third, and this is the critique I'm least confident in whether I think it even is a critique, is whether Rogue felt too much like a retread of Jack Harkness' first appearance. (In a truly unhinged move, I started watching the show with the latest round of specials and then have since gone back and started from the beginning, currently through series 1 and 2 of the 2005 re-start. Which is to say that Series 1 is very fresh in my mind) The bits about the messy spaceship, the flirtation, the whole long-coat wearing, time-traveling, more morally loose foil. Sure Rogue is a ~sad~ rogue and Jack is a happy ~rogue~ but still...

    There have been times when this season has felt noticeably in parallel to that first season with Eccleston, giving me The Force Awakens vibe. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (for better and eventually, for worse, the Force Awakens was a pretty fun remake of A New Hope) but I'm curious how other people feel about the Ruby/Rose similarities/other retreads.

    Fourth, this is the third episode in a row where Ruby and the Doctor have barely interacted and the show is relying too heavily on them having a dynamic and partnership that we haven't seen.

    That said, the show remains incredibly watchable! I had a good time for the most part and as a Bridgerton watcher who enjoys that show but isn't necessarily devoted to it, I loved the Bridgerton elements. (They even used a string arrangement of Bad Guy like in Season 1!)

  4. I couldn't figure out why I loved Rogue so much, until you told me he was played by Jonathan Groff.

    I loved the animalistic prosthetics for the shapeshifters, too!

    I've only seen the first season of Bridgerton, but I've read some Austen, and I was hoping for a wedding final act.

    1. I forgot to mention that I also got strong Captain Jack Harkness vibes,. The "tall, handsome, great jacket line...I thought it was going to end with something like, "just my type."


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