Most episodes of the current season of Doctor Who were kept under wraps for various reasons (new Doctor, new showrunner, no idea what to expect), however one (confirmed) rumor caught my attention. The revelation that an episode would focus on the civil rights hero and activist Rosa Parks. The plot filled me with curiosity and excitement; I have looked up to Rosa Parks since I was seven years old so hearing that she would be the focus of a Doctor Who episode was more than enough to grab my attention.
But what would happen in the episode I wondered; will she be running away from aliens? Will there be spaceships in the Alabama night sky? What would happen? However with the announcement that Doctor Who would partially return to its ‘educational television’ roots (yes Doctor Who was originally educational television) I began to get an idea of what would happen (and hoped there would be no giant spaceships with Daleks chasing after Rosa Parks).
Minor Spoilers from this point on
The episode actually toned down most of the science fiction elements of Doctor Who where the most that is mentioned are specific particles around Rosa Parks and the Doctor wondering why Rosa has these particles in the first place. Some mention of time travel, and a few high tech devices that are disposed of with ease, but as stated before, science fiction takes a backseat for most of this episode.
The episode actually does something not seen in previous Doctor Who episodes. Fully addresses the issue with time travel and race. While the Doctor has previously had two companions of color onboard the Tardis, the subject was more or less glossed over; Martha Jones saw that race wasn’t such a big deal in the time of WIlliam Shakespeare (allegedly) and had to put up with being a ‘servant’ in victorian times (I think it was victorian times) and bit her tongue while most of the cast treated her as a servant. With Bill there is some racism, the Doctor initially tells her to not take it so personally, but then punches a guys lights out for making a racial slur at Bill’s expense (the rest of Bill’s tenure on the Tardis are either in present day, the future, or more fantasy based).
Here Ryan and Yaz experience the racism of Montgomery Alabama first hand with no glossing over anything with Ryan even being referred to as a negro in one scene and Yaz being called ‘a Mexican girl’ just because she’s brown. The Doctor doesn’t even consider risking the lives of Ryan and Yaz ordering them to go back to the Tardis for their own safety.
Some scenes were very chilling to watch, with one scene in particular where our heroes are having a personal conversation at a diner table turning out differently than they expected. Where in the Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat era, the conversation would have gone on uninterrupted with nothing big happening, the whole restaurant goes quiet as the Doctor and her friends slowly begin to realize they’re being watched and that people are listening in on their conversation before being told to leave the restaurant.
However the relationship between Ryan and Graham is strengthened with Graham immediately jumping to Ryan’s defense and refusing to allow any harm to come to his step grandson. We also continue to get reference to Grace whom Ryan and Graham are still mourning for.
I continue to be impressed with Jodie Whittaker’s acting as the Doctor, there were many scenes in the episode where she had the same strength and character as David Tennant and Peter Capaldi and could see previous incarnations of the Doctor within the performance.
While the ending is a little bittersweet with the arrest of Rosa Parks and the Doctor informing her friends that just because history was preserved and Rosa was still a hero remembered in positive light in history, life would only become harder for her during the civil rights movement, it really does have it’s strong moments and concludes with the Doctor reminding the viewers and her friends that Rosa Parks will eventually receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and that her actions would cause waves of goodness throughout the universe.
I give Rosa, the third episode of season 37/11 of Doctor Who five out of five asteroids.