Doctor Who Series 14 Episode 6 Review: Rogue

"Rogue" is a whirlwind delight with an all-timer guest star. SPOILERS.

Ncuti Gatwa and Jonathan Groff dressed in Regency costume in Doctor Who episode "Rogue"
Photo: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios

Warning: this Doctor Who review contains spoilers.

This episode is delightful.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

OK, obviously there’s more to it than that. For a comparatively lightweight romp in which the Doctor and Ruby battle silly-looking bird aliens cosplaying an episode of Bridgerton, there’s plenty going on under the hood. But if you’re after the tl;dr, delightful really does the job. The writing by Kate Herron and Briony Redman, is sharp, full of funny lines and clever misdirects. The performances directed by Ben Chessell, are all on point – the leads are predictably great, but the guest stars are also completely dialled in, particularly Jonathan Groff. The costumes naturally look sensational because the BBC can do this stuff with its eyes closed. The whole thing is just a really good time.

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So, where to start? Perhaps with a question that has been hanging in the air ever since Ncuti Gatwa’s casting was first announced. The first question, you could say, hiding in plain sight. A question that really comes to the fore in this episode.

Is it possible for the Doctor to be too sexy?

In terms of pure physical attractiveness, the answer is probably no. After all, Gatwa is by no means the first Doctor to be hot. David Tennant was obviously a pin-up. Paul McGann’s 1996 TV movie incarnation was arguably the prototype for the Doctor as dashing romantic hero. Fans will no doubt make fierce arguments for the relative sexiness of any of the modern or classic incarnations.

The point is, a sexy Doctor is not inherently ground-breaking. But appearance and affect are two different things, and there is an argument to be made that if the Doctor appears too confident in their sexiness, it risks detracting from the fundamental, unique weirdness of the character. They’re not Han Solo, after all. The Tenth Doctor had plenty of romantic dalliances, but David Tennant tended to play them with a slightly alien awkwardness, as if he was always slightly out of his depth. And Matt Smith‘s Doctor, while arguably more explicitly horny, was still more gawky teenage boy than smooth-talking lothario.

With Gatwa, however, it certainly seems as though the series has been actively leaning into the sexiness. From the photo shoots, in which the actor demonstrates his ability to look good in just about anything, to the episodes themselves, with his frequent use of “babes” and “honey”, there’s a confidence and a flirtatiousness to Gatwa’s take on the character that plays differently to previous incarnations. He appears supremely comfortable in his own skin, happy to own his attractiveness and use it against his opponents, which again is an approach that feels quite distinct from other Doctors.

It’s not un-Doctor-ish – the actor has nothing to prove at this point, he is the character through and through – but it is different. And “Rogue” takes it much further than the series has so far. It’s in play from the moment the Doctor first approaches the titular bounty hunter on the balcony – never mind Jonathan Groff, Gatwa has chemistry with the hand rail, for God’s sake – and it develops throughout their initial interactions as the two characters constantly try to analyse and one-up each other, the balance of power shifting from moment to moment. To pick just one moment of many, let’s all luxuriate in the absolutely filthy expression on Gatwa’s face when mouthing Kylie Minogue lyrics to Rogue. This is weapons-grade flirting, a new tool in the Doctor’s arsenal that he deploys with palpable delight.

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But then it starts to get real… and the Doctor hesitates. And suddenly we see that awkwardness, the shy, slightly stumbling alien who, despite their bottomless warmth and empathy, often struggles to express deeper emotions. All the sexiness, all the bravado, all the confidence, it just slips away, as if the Doctor has unexpectedly found the limit of this new strategy.

None of this is to say that the Doctor has to be asexual. We’re long past the days of “no hanky panky in the TARDIS”, thank God. But equally, as we’ve already established, the Doctor isn’t Han Solo – or, to pick a more apropos comparison, they’re not Captain Jack Harkness. They can cosplay at flirtatious screwball comedy, but when it gets serious, they get flustered. And that’s part of what makes the dynamics here so wonderful to watch – a sudden whirlwind romance for the Doctor could easily have felt forced, but it makes complete sense that he would be spellbound by Rogue, and that Rogue would be drawn to him. While the Doctor might instigate the flirting, it’s Rogue who starts making real moves, and the Doctor’s complicated reaction feels entirely in character. It doesn’t matter how sexy this new incarnation reads on the surface – when it comes to matters of the heart, he is a mess, just like his previous selves.

Of course, Jonathan Groff is also a big part of why this relationship works. It’s an all-timer guest performance, nicely understated, with zero need to showboat. It’s all in the little smiles, the pauses, the way he blinks and hesitates when asked if he has always travelled alone. The actor communicates so much history with no histrionics, giving us a fully rounded character with comparatively little screentime. He’s Captain Jack Harkness without… well, without the John Barrowman of it all, really. A version of Captain Jack with whom the Doctor could actually travel as equals. Every step of their interaction is a joy to watch, from the Doctor’s petulant reaction to the reveal of Rogue’s cloaked ship, to the Kylie Minogue exchange, to the absolutely sizzling dance, to their final tearful goodbye. It’s a genuine whirlwind, and one that carries us along just as it carries the characters.

If there’s one aspect of the script that doesn’t quite work, it’s the sudden upping of stakes to world-ending territory. Up until that point, the Chuldur are very effective guest villains – big, loud, silly in a way that fits with the overall tone. They’re there for fun, to soak up the drama and scandal, which is a refreshingly low-key motivation for bad guys – led with relish by Indira Varma. But in order for the final scene to carry the necessary dramatic weight, the episode suddenly needs to establish that the Chuldur will “cosplay the planet to death” if left unchecked, and it feels a little rushed. The scene is still effective, largely because of the performances – Gatwa and Gibson’s tears, Groff’s quiet tenderness – but the escalation is a tad forced.

It doesn’t sink the episode, though, because everything else is firing on all cylinders. Millie Gibson gets a bit less to do than Gatwa – though it’s fun that the episode initially hints at a romantic plotline for Ruby, only to flip it to focus on the Doctor – but she makes the most of it as always, showing Ruby’s growing competence and emotional intelligence as she follows her mostly solo B-plot. The episode also wisely doesn’t try to offer too much commentary on the social mores of the time, simply allowing the Doctor and Ruby to use their awareness of those mores against the Chuldur.

We also get that lovely, quiet scene between Ruby and the Doctor after Rogue disappears. The Doctor trying too hard to be fine, Ruby gently but firmly forcing him to let her comfort him, the Doctor submitting to the hug and finally letting his emotions show – albeit to us instead of her – is all great stuff, and reinforces what the Doctor says earlier in the episode about her being his best friend. Their pairing may not have the complicated, subversive edge of e.g. Twelve and Clara, but it’s emotionally rich nonetheless.

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So, a delightful episode, with a delightful guest star. They have to bring Rogue back, surely? After all, the Doctor has his ring, and if Harold Saxon taught us anything, it’s that where there’s a ring, there’s a way. The petition for Rogue to return starts here.

And speaking of returning, after her cameo as Mummy in “Dot and Bubble”, we have another mysterious appearance from Susan Twist, this time as a painting whose eyes follow the Duchess around the room in “constant judgement”.

Hang on, judgement? Like you get in a trial? As in trial… of a Time Lord?

That’s it. We’ve cracked it, lads. She’s not Susan Foreman.

She’s the Valeyard.

Doctor Who series 14 continues with “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” on BBC One and iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ around the world. Learn more about Den of Geek’s review process and why you can trust our recommendations here.

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