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Doctor Who’s ‘Rogue’ is a welcome return to business as usual for RTD 2.0 - spoiler free review

Revelations abound in an episode that could have easily been a Ten and Rose adventure.

Doctor Who "Rogue" header - the current Tardis team in Regency garb, with David Tennant in view.
Image credit: BBC Studios, VG247

At a time when we’re all desperate to get to know the new Team Tardis, and with precious fewer episodes than before to have to do it in, two Doctor-lite episodes in a row was a big ask for the audience. As extraordinarily good as they were, 73 Yards and Dot & Bubble were excruciating in their distinct lack of the show's newest star, although I’m sure they’ll be standout treats once the box set is out.

This is all to say that if you’re missing Ncuti Gatwa’s playful, eminently watchable take on our favourite Time Lord, Rogue puts him right back in the centre of the frame, giving him ample chance to shine in the high society of Regency Bath. And shine he does. As the aforementioned previous episodes demonstrated aptly, Gatwa doesn’t need much screen time to impress. If he was a plane, he’d be a Harrier jump jet: capable of soaring without any runway to speak of.

Cutting a fine figure in period garb, he flits mesmerizingly through a lavish country estate which is obviously designed to evoke Netflix’s Bridgerton but is equally reminiscent of the classic dance scene in Pride and Prejudice, which is my main cultural touchpoint for all the regency stuff here because I’m old and not young. It also puts one in mind of The Girl in the Fireplace, a standout quasi-historical from way back in series two, which is a very cosy association indeed.

The Doctor and Ruby Sunday in Regency garb
The Doctor Dances | Image credit: BBC Studios

Without giving too much away, because we’re not allowed to, this is a bodysnatch murder mystery that feels extremely classically Russell T. Davies, right down to the running, the goofy one-shot monsters, and an exciting but iffy conclusion that we’re not meant to think about too much. It’s so evocative of series two that I think the episode could have worked just as well for Tennant and Piper without too much tweaking. Which, again, is high praise – to be clear, I consider that series to be the unassailable gold standard of Doctor Who, so anything that hits those highs is welcome.

And there’s the titular character, Rogue, played by Hamilton alumni and Mindhunter lead Jonathan Groff as part of a dazzling cast (Obsession’s Indira Varma is also here, pulling double duty as a Georgian madam and Cartoon Villain – ever get the feeling that RTD watches a lot of Netflix? Like, a lot?). Groff’s casting puts me in mind of something ol’ Russ said about Neil Patrick Harris during last year’s specials: that they needed someone who could match David Tennant’s talent and energy, and that there’s a very short list of actors who can do so. It strikes me that a similar thought process led to Groff as Rogue. Few performers could go toe-to-toe with Gatwa: you need Broadway royalty. And with a silent “lovable” implied ahead of his name, this is a character whose intentions are dubious, but whose distinctly American charm is irresistible. Remind you of someone?

The Chulder, villains from Doctor Who's Rogue
These lads will never top any Best Villain lists, but in context of the episode, it works that they're a bit of a joke. | Image credit: BBC Studios

The sheer RTDness of it all shines through despite the writing duties having been passed over to Briony Redman and Kate Herron, otherwise known as the key creative team behind the first (and only good) season of Disney’s Loki. A show so Doctor Whoey that it comes as little surprise that they’ve absolutely nailed the brief here. If anyone at BBC Studios is wondering who on earth could be the next showrunner after RTD’s inevitable departure, I’d earmark some of that Disney cash to make an offer to this pair. Whatever it takes.

Yes, I think this episode is a real statement of intent. It seems designed to remind you of why you fell in love with this amazing, dorky, daft as hell show in the first place. Following some real off-piste stuff in recent weeks, perhaps some of the most leftfield Who has ever been, Rogue returns revival-era Doctor Who to its most comfortable, default setup, rather like the reset buttons that Russell is so fond of. A classic historical with alien baddies, rammed to the brim with familiar elements and callbacks to eras past. And a soft blink-and-you’ll-miss-it revelation which will have keyboards clacking furiously over on Gallifrey Base for years to come.

If this season’s mission parameters could be distilled down to one popular phrase, it would be “we are so back”. With no further progression of this season’s big arc, and with its throwaway villains who are about as convincingly menacing as The Absorbaloff, some may be tempted to call this unessential. But it’s an extraordinary showcase of the talent exuding from both sides of the camera, and with hints of stories to come far beyond this first run for Fifteen, it stands confidently as a show that knows itself again.

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