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Series / Escape of the Artful Dodger

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The usual suspects. From left to right: Wild Will Grady, Hannah Schuller, Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger and Becky Micawber.

Escape of the Artful Dodger is an Australian children's television series from 2001, which ran for one season (thirteen episodes) and starred Luke O'Loughlin as the Artful Dodger and Rowan Witt (Spoon Boy) as Oliver Twist.

The series is a Broad Strokes sequel to the classic novel Oliver Twist, and centers around Jack Dawkins ("Known to my friends and hintimate acquaintances as the Artful Dodger"), who after his arrest is being sent to the penal colony of New South Wales, Australia, together with another prisoner around the same age, named "Wild" Will Grady; really an aspiring actor framed for crimes he didn't commit. On the same ship is also Oliver Twist, who is being sent to Australia by his grandfather, Mr. Brownlow (officially so that he can learn the family shipping trade, but in reality because Mr. Brownlow wants to get him away from the corrupting influences of London) and Hannah Schuller, a German family friend of Mr. Brownlow's, who is going to Australia to live with her brother Michael.


On the journey to Australia, Oliver learns that the ship's bo'sun is planning to steal Hannah's jewelry and both frame and kill the Dodger and Will for it, and soon all four of them are on the run from the law — thanks to the head of the law in New South Wales, the greedy and corrupt Sergeant Bates, who has sneakily taken over Mr. Brownlow's warehouse and is turning a good profit that he doesn't want to lose, and therefore grabs all the chances he can get in order to get Oliver out of the way. Furthermore, Hannah's brother Michael has disappeared without a trace, and they have to find out what happened to him if they're going to have any hope of proving their innocence of the various crimes Sergeant Bates is accusing them of.

A few citizens of New South Wales, who don't like Sergeant Bates, are willing to give what aid they can — most notably the young cleaning lady Becky Micawber (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Micawber from David Copperfield) and the kindly Dr. Hartman, who become the group's main allies — but things don't exactly get easier when it turns out that the Dodger's old mentor Fagin has also made it to New South Wales, now with a new gang of urchins led by a tomboyish girl named Kelly, who views herself as the Dodger's replacement and is not happy at seeing her predecessor turning up on her turf.


It's fortunate that the Artful Dodger has so many tricks in his arsenal, because he's going to need them if he's going to help Hannah and Oliver straighten everything out, find Hannah's brother, deal with his complitated relationship with Fagin, and most importantly become a serious thorn in the side of that villainous lawman, Sergeant Bates.

This show provides examples of:

  • Always Second Best: Kelly, who is the best pickpocket and smartest member of Fagin's new gang, to the point that they're called "the Kelly Gang," is still outclassed by the Dodger, who does better than her with barely any effort. This certainly doesn't make her any more friendly towards him.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Cedric Townsend, who in one episode sets out to help Sergeant Bates track down the Dodger, but who ends up making a Heel–Face Turn when the Dodger saves his life (and whose off-screen actions play a significant part in the series finale).
  • The Artful Dodger: The Trope Namer himself is the main protagonist.
  • Batman Gambit: A few of the Dodger's plans become this. They usually work.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Scratch in the last episode, shows up to break Dodger, Oliver and Hannah out of the shed they've been locked into, just as Dodger is about to admit that he's out of ideas.
    Oliver: Any ideas, Dodger?
    Dodger: Don't rush me, Oliver, I'm trying to think.
    Hannah: You have a reputation to live up to, you know.
    Dodger: Princess — when you can't 'ide, you run. When you can't run, you pick the lock. And if the lock won't give, well, you dig a hole in the roof. And if that don't work... *pauses* ...then... *pauses*
    Hannah: (a little sarcastically) Yes?
    Dodger: (feebly) Well, then you... you 'ope that, uh...
    *The locked door opens, and Scratch peers in*
    Hannah: Scratch!
    Dodger: (triumphant and relieved) ...then you 'ope that the Kelly gang will turn up! Hah!
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mrs. Posset, at first glance, is Sergeant Bates's matronly and kindly housekeeper, but she quickly proves to be just as nasty and greedy as him, with her "sweet" persona only serving to make her more unsympathetic.
  • Broad Strokes: The series' treatment of the original novel; while it stays faithful to the characters and themes, it flat-out ignores the ending, going off in an Alternate Continuity direction shortly before the Dodger's arrest. Justified, as in the first episode, a fleeing Dodger briefly encounters Charles Dickens, who takes an interest when Dodger mentions "an orphan named Oliver Twist," suggesting that in this continuity, Dickens wrote Oliver Twist as a novel inspired by the "real" events and people.
  • Character Development: The Dodger goes through a bit during the series, going from a selfish and amoral Anti-Hero only in it for himself to a genuine hero who, while still not particularly respectable or moral, sticks up for his friends and does the right thing in the end.
  • Cheerful Child: Oliver, of course. When he's not being a Deadpan Snarker.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Wrong Way Brown, the town original, has traces of this. He works in a stable, but spends much of the series trying to raise up enough capital in order to go out and search for the "mountain of gold" he claims to have seen on one of his travels. Apart from Mr. Micawber, nobody believes him.
  • Continuity Snarl: The series pretty much ignores the ending of the original novel — most notably the imprisonment and death of Fagin — taking on more of an Alternate Continuity tone.
  • Crossover: While ostensibly a sequel to Oliver Twist, the series also features Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep from David Copperfield in minor, but important, supporting roles. Mr. Micawber's daughter Becky is one of the main characters.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Dodger, most frequently, but Oliver gets in a surprising amount of digs as well. Becky also indulges in a little snarking from time to time.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the early episodes, Oliver is one of the main characters, second only in importance and screen-time to the Dodger. In most of the later episodes he gets very little to do and is mostly just "one of the gang."
  • Determinator: Hannah, who is prepared to face just about anything in order to find out what happened to her brother.
  • The Dragon: Uriah Heep eventually becomes this to Sergeant Bates, managing to weasel himself into his good graces by being "umble" and "knowing his place."
  • The Fagin: The Trope Namer himself plays an important role in the series, having been Spared by the Adaptation and running a new gang of criminal children. He's sort of the series' Wild Card; not truly an antagonist but not really an ally either. He's rather fond of the Dodger and doesn't wish any harm on him, but he still (albeit reluctantly and under threat) sells him out to Sergeant Bates at one point.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Sergeant Bates can certainly be polite and even friendly, if it's to people he has no authority over and/or it's people he's trying to manipulate into doing what he wants. The moment he's in a position of power over them, though, the charade drops and he reveals himself as an unscrupulous and merciless tyrant.
    • Also, Uriah Heep, who hasn't changed much since David Copperfield.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: You never really know whose side Fagin is on, other than his own.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Kelly makes one towards the end. Mr. Butterfield makes one just before his death.
  • Honor Before Reason: Hannah shows traces of this sometimes.
  • It's Personal: Uriah Heep's main motivation for aiding Sergeant Bates is that he wants to get revenge on Mr. Micawber, who in David Copperfield exposed him as a cheat. Framing him for, let's say, theft would be a nice start...
    • He even does a Just Between You and Me, where he gleefully admits to Micawber that he was the one who committed the crime Micawber is being blamed for, but that nobody's going to believe that.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Lampshaded by the Dodger, who at one point when the topic comes up in conversation admits that he robs from the rich but never from the poor — because the poor never have anything worth stealing.
  • Karma Houdini: In a radical departure from the novel, Fagin (who admittedly is played more sympathetically here, but is still not a good guy).
  • Lighter and Softer: It's a kids' show, so the more gruesome aspects of Oliver Twist are toned down or just alluded to rather than shown. There's still quite a bit of the classic Dickensian commentary of the plight of the poor and on the slave-like conditions of the workhouses (complete with Obstructive Bureaucrat making speeches on how workhouses are a blessing that keep children safe and learning a trade), but the bleaker stuff is kept firmly off-screen.
  • Loan Shark: One of Sergeant Bates's many on-the-side businesses.
  • Lovable Rogue: The Dodger and Wild Will both fit this trope. Kelly starts out less sympathetically but eventually becomes one.
    • Fagin, unlike many other modern depictions of him, is not really an example, though he is played marginally more sympathetic than he was in the book (and absolutely no mention is made of him being a Jew).
  • Master of Disguise: Wild Will — which makes sense, since his ambitions were to be an actor before he was framed for 52 armed robberies and sent off to the penal colony.
  • Morality Pet: Scratch, one of the youngest members of the Kelly Gang, is this to Kelly — she can get borderline Mama Bear if someone's threatening him. Even Fagin seems to have a soft spot for him, distressing when he vanishes and chiding the gang that they always have to look after the "young'uns."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Fagin, after selling out the Dodger to Sergeant Bates. Doesn't help that the Dodger later on gives him "The Reason You Suck" Speech mentioned below.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: It's the Dodger's theft of the medical supplies that Sergeant Bates has confiscated and hidden away that eventually leads to Sergeant Bates discovering that Dr. Hartman is helping the children out (who else but the doctor would need the medical supplies?), which in turn enables him to capture the whole gang and imprison Dr. Hartman for "handling stolen goods."
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Occasionally happens, since it's a mainly Australian cast, a number of them playing English characters.
    • Happens in-universe a few times as well, on occasions when the Dodger and Wild Will disguise themselves as members of the upper class and affect a "proper" accent.
  • Principles Zealot: Sergeant Bates's superior, Colonel Springer, who plays a smaller role in the series, is very much an unlikeable and antagonistic figure, but he's not the out-and-out villain that Bates is, and sticks faithfully to the principles, if not the spirit, of the law.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Father O'Brien, the blind priest, is one of the few adults in the series willing to hear out the Dodger and thinks he deserves a second chance. Dr. Hartman could also be said to be one, though he's less of an authority figure.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Dodger delivers one to Fagin after Fagin has sold him out to Sergeant Bates.
    Dodger: You know what it feels like — the constables coming up behind you, the hand on the collar —
    Fagin: Let's not speak of it —
    Dodger: The bang of the cell door!
    Fagin: Don't be hasty, Dodger! I imagine you're feeling a little bit put out...
    Dodger: No, not at all, Fagin! Never felt so jolly! I can't stop smilin'! Y'see... the joke's on you, Fagin. I wanted to get caught.
    Fagin: You what?!
    Dodger: I needed to be inside that lockup so I could get me 'ands on those medical supplies, didn't I? Bates had to believe he got me fair and square — so I made up that story about escaping by sea, and I told you where I'd be. I guessed you'd give me away.
    Fagin: ...but what if I hadn't?!
    Dodger: Then I would be wrong, and you would be a true friend. But you ain't. You never was.
  • Secret Keeper: Becky Micawber and Dr. Hartman are the ones who hide Oliver and Hannah in the theater, and also end up in the know of most of the gang's secret schemes and plans.
  • Sentenced to Down Under: Both the Artful Dodger (like in the novel) and Fagin (unlike in the novel).
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mr. Micawber, as should come as a surprise to no-one who has read David Copperfield.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: It's a sequel to Oliver Twist that primarily takes place in Australia.
  • Ship Tease: There's quite a bit of subtext between Becky and Wild Will, and to a lesser extent between the Dodger and Hannah, but nothing is ever stated.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Fagin was sentenced to death in the novel — in this series he's been Sentenced to Down Under instead.
  • Stepford Smiler: Mrs. Posset is a villainous example.
  • Tomboy: Kelly, who fancies herself to be not only the Dodger's successor, but his superior in every way. She quickly finds out she's wrong.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Hannah spends much of the series dressed in boy's clothes, in order to better hide from the authorities. Kelly dresses exclusively like a boy, though she makes no attempt to hide the fact that she is a girl.
  • Yes-Man: Uriah Heep, always 'umble' and willing to help the good Sergeant out.


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