The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) dancing in "Rogue", Doctor Who

Doctor Who Came to Dance and Break Hearts in “Rogue”

We need to have a talk about the definition of the term cosplay, methinks.


The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) dancing in "Rogue", Doctor Who
Credit: BBC / Disney+

In 1813 in Bath, England, Lord Galpin (Maxim Ays) is berating Lord Barton (Paul Forman) for leading on his sister. Galpin eventually realizes that Barton is getting to have all the fun here, and decides he would rather do that; he kills the Lord with lightning powers of some kind and takes on his likeness. Later on, the Doctor and Ruby are at the home of the Duchess of Pemberton (Indira Varma) for a party. Ruby is wearing psychic jewelry that allows her to do all the dance moves, and the Duchess takes a liking to her, deciding to show her off to the eligible young men. The Doctor tells her not to get engaged or accidentally invent anything, and lets her go, noticing a handsome man on the balcony (Jonathan Groff).

The Doctor introduces himself to the man by teasing him for his brooding—he introduces himself as Rogue and the two go for a walk. Ruby meanwhile catches Lord Barton breaking the heart of Emily Beckett (Camilla Aiko), and moves to comfort her in the aftermath. The Duchess finds her housekeeper outside on the ground and berates her, but the woman insists that she made a mistake becoming staff and would much rather experience the party as the Duchess. As the Doctor and Rogue are walking—and flirting—they come across the Duchess’ body and both accuse each other of her murder. Rogue has a weapon, however, giving him the upper hand. He believes the Doctor is a Chuldur, a shapeshifting species, and Rogue is a bounty hunter sent here to imprison and execute him.

On Rogue’s ship, the Doctor learns that he likely got his name from playing Dungeons & Dragons, and that he likes Kylie Minogue. Rogue is about to incinerate him when the Doctor forces his ship to do a deeper scan and it comes back with an assortment of his old faces (including that of Richard E. Grant, importantly). He tells Rogue that he is far more ancient and powerful than the Chuldur, and that the man needs his help. Then he shows Rogue the inside of the TARDIS, which the man adores, and asks him who he lost. Rogue is vague about his former partner, and the Doctor suggests that they argue across the stars together.

They head back into the ball and the Doctor figures that the Chuldur are “cosplaying” other people, and that they’re fans of things like Bridgerton—they like a scandal. So he suggests that they cause a big one by dancing together. At the end of it, the Doctor calls Rogue out publicly for dramatic reasons like asking him to give up his title for love. Rogue kneels and proposes to their Doctor, offering him a ring. The Doctor takes it and runs off, Rogue following. The Chuldur follows as well, which leads the duo to discover that they’re not looking for one Chuldur—there are four of them. They need to reconfigure Rogue’s trap. Meanwhile, as Ruby talks to Emily, she learns that the young woman is also a Chuldur and gets attacked. The Chuldur accelerate their plans and begin a mock wedding, with Ruby now presumably dead and played by formerly-Emily. The Doctor is furious and perfectly happy to kill them all, thinking back on his promise to Carla to keep her daughter safe.

Once the Doctor has trapped all the Chuldur, he learns that Ruby isn’t dead—she was pretending to be Chuldur after fighting off Emily, who shows up in a huff. The Doctor can’t disengage the trap to let Ruby go without freeing the entire crew, something that Rogue insists he mustn’t do for the safety of the world. The Doctor can’t hit the button to trap the Chuldur in another dimension and lose Ruby. Rogue kisses the Doctor, saying that he knows, and taking the switch from him. He picks up Emily, swaps places with Ruby, and tells the Doctor to come find him before pushing the button and vanishing. The Doctor puts Rogue’s ship in orbit around the moon, but knows that finding him is likely an impossibility. Ruby insists on hugging the Doctor despite his desire to move on immediately, and he puts on Rogue’s ring before they depart.


The Chuldur stalking their prey in "Rogue", Doctor Who
Credit: BBC / Disney+

Oh, we’re canonizing Shalka Doctor now? That’s how hard we came to play this week? Let’s gooooo—

For those who were possibly confused, one of the Doctor’s previous faces according to Rogue’s little machine was one Richard E. Grant, who has played the Doctor twice, and appeared on the show elsewhere as the Great Intelligence. His two Doctor appearances were in a parody Red Nose Day special written by Steven Moffat called The Curse of the Fatal Death and an animated Who serial by Paul Cornell titled Scream of the Shalka—both of which pointedly aired while the show had its sixteen year hiatus. Shalka is frankly a lot of fun, but went ignored when the series was revived two years later. No longer, it would seem.

This is, uh, ironic because Russell T. Davies was quoted as saying that he didn’t like Grant’s performance as the Doctor, so who can say what prompted this change of heart. But if Shalka is now in any realm of canon, I have, shall we say, questions. We can get to that later, though.

But here is my real question as it pertains to the episode: Rogue, who the hell are you, my guy?

Look, it’s entirely probable that he’s just a new character intended to fill a similar role to Captain Jack Harkness in the Doctor’s life, particularly if we won’t be seeing Jack again (which is likely after the flashing accusations that I’m not going to get into here). But if that’s true, I’ll be disappointed because there is too much in this script to suggest that Rogue is someone we know already.

First off: Why hide the name? Why give him an obvious alias that is very in-line with both Time Lord titles and the Toymaker and his kids? You could easily give him a normal name that’s not his own. Jack did that. But instead we’ve got a name indicative of an archetype, and presumably something he’s come up with recently because the D&D dice are on the table of his ship. Secondly: Why don’t we get any detail about the person he lost, and why did he use “them” as the pronoun for that person? Perhaps they’re non-binary, or perhaps the guy doesn’t want the Doctor to know their gender. Or perhaps they were a person who could also change their gender via regeneration…

But the thing that really makes me feel that they must know each other is the final scene between them. When Rogue gives the Doctor the choice between his friend and the world. When the Doctor cannot make that choice and Rogue wipes his tears away, kisses him, says “I know” and makes that choice for him—that entire sequence is familiar in a way I absolutely don’t buy if they only met this evening. Not a chance.

Y’all know who I’m hoping this person is. Someone who once stored his entire person in a signet ring? Who also had playlists full of queer anthems that applied a little too easily to the situation? If Rogue isn’t someone known, the whole character is way too convenient and a little too cloned for comfort. Sudden Jack-alike who knows just what to say and how distant/intrigued to play in order to get the Doctor falling head over heels? Look, I don’t enjoy any version of love-at-first-sight, even if it’s queer. (Do I like it better than usual? Sure! It’s still silly.) But I would happily dig into someone who came here with a plan.

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa), Rogue (Jonathan Groff), Ruby (Millie Gibson) and Emily Beckett (Camilla Aiko) standing together looking surprised in "Rogue", Doctor Who
Credit: BBC / Disney+

This episode is wall-to-wall fun regardless, and I would like Kate Herron and Briony Redman to write more for the show, please. The banter between Gatwa and Groff is on point, and they both look like they’re having a ball together. The Bridgerton-ness, up to using their soundtrack picks, is pretty cute. And the Chuldur are a fun new villain, in that they’re over-the-top, but not in a universe-ending way. It’s going to be fun to watch them come back for other episodes—in fact, I can’t help but wonder if they aren’t meant to be a replacement for the Slitheen, who were a fun species for story purposes, but outrageously fatphobic in concept. The Chuldur are much the same as the Slitheen, stealing people’s forms to cause trouble, but without that aspect leaving a sour taste in its wake.

I’ve got two very specific quibbles. One is around use of the term cosplay because cosplay refers to the act of dressing up as a specific character, and sometimes is applied to taking on aspects of a thing. But the play-acting factor isn’t commonly referred to as cosplay; it would be more accurate to say that the Chuldur are historical LARPers. Even role-players, which works with Rogue’s D&D reference! It wouldn’t bug me so much if the episode weren’t absolutely adamant about using the term “cosplay” every chance it gets. It got weird.

The other is the Doctor telling Rogue that the two of them dancing will cause a scandal, which… isn’t necessarily true. Same-sex dancing partners were more common than people seem to think in the past. There are two potential issues at play here that might make it a problem, one, that it would be considered rude to dance together if there were young women on the floor looking for dance partners, and the other being that it might be frowned upon if they’re in an area where folks were getting particularly prosecution-happy about even the barest whiff of sodomy. But the idea that seeing two men dancing together would come as a complete shock to this crowd is plain erroneous. People generally learned to dance in gendered groups at this point in time—meaning all of the men on this floor have danced with other men before and all the women with other women.

I can buy that it’s scandalous if you’re going to give us more information, but a generalized “you should have researched this time period” isn’t going to cut it. The lack of specificity threw me right out of what should have been an absolutely dazzling scene. At least I got pulled back in time for the proposal.

And as we’re getting to know Fifteen a little better, we’re finding that he has his own Oncoming Storm mode—he’s fully ready to destroy the Chuldur crew for possibly killing Ruby. Two things to keep in mind there: We’re given a flashback to a scene with Carla where it’s made clear that he promised her he’d keep Ruby safe, a promise that I don’t think we’ve seen him make so blatantly since Rose. It feels important.

The other thing: The instant that the Doctor chooses rage, he loses. He gives in to that impulse and traps his best friend in with the bad guys. And in giving over to that anger and grief, he forgot that his friends are never so helpless. (Look, I’m not saying that the way the Doctor lost Bill has kind of permanently screwed him up on this score, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) He forgot that Ruby is clever and capable and would never go down without a fight.

And then he gets to pretend he’s fine, but at least this time he acknowledges that he’s doing it on purpose. He doesn’t shut Ruby out the way he has for past companions, just acknowledges that this is a bad coping mechanism. Onwards.

Time and Space and Sundry

Ruby (Millie Gibson) comforting Emily Beckett (Camilla Aiko) in "Rogue", Doctor Who
Credit: BBC / Disney+
  • The episode was dedicated to William Russell, who passed away last week and played one of the very first companions, Ian Chesterton. He was last seen on the show in Graham’s lovely companion support group.
  • The Doctor gave Ruby jewelry that basically invades her brain without letting her know it does that, all for the purpose of having a reveal where he gets to tell her that he gave her jewelry that does that? We need to work on this, sweetie.
  • Okay, but it’s really funny that this version of the Doctor is not okay with “Doc” as a nickname, after allowing both Jack and Graham to use it without issue. I love specific Doctor preferences, and also seeing what carries over. (Like the fish fingers and custard.)
  • You cannot have this man singing “Pure Imagination” to me, I will die. This is my personal Achilles, Doctor Who. How dare you.
  • And there’s Susan Twist on the wall again. At least we’ll be getting an answer to that mystery next week.
  • I guess the Chuldur are musical fans too, because the Duchess potentially gives reference to both Cabaret and Camelot with “Willkommen, bienvenue! C’est moi!”
  • But again, Shalka Doctor had a robot version of the Master on his TARDIS (played by Derek Jacobi before he played the Master on the show) as his basically live-in partner, and you’re just telling me this is canon now? So Missy wasn’t even close to being an anomaly is what you’re saying? Right in front of my (Time-and-Relative-Dimension-in-)Salad? Bring them back.

See you next week! See Mel next week, too! icon-paragraph-end

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