Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. Here’s what we thought of series 11 episode 3, Rosa after aa single view.
A full review of the episode will follow.
Needless to say, this article contains massive spoilers, so only read on if you’ve already watched Rosa.
Rosa is a return to Doctor Who roots. The programme was originally conceived as an educational tool for young children as the time travelling concept was use to meet historical figures and understand past events. In this episode the Doctor and her companions become part of one of the defining moments in the American civil rights movement, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Blackman and Chibnall kept story historically accurate, even including the 1943 clash between Parks and bus driver Blake. Yaz and Ryan also experience the racism of the time which if anything was under portrayed given the number of lynching at occurs at this point in the US’s history. The story was highly educational for audience and the interaction between Graham and Ryan was once again a highlight. Graham delighted in calling Ryan his grandson to any and all. The villain Krasko (Josh Bowman) was relative easy to deal with and was less challenge to Team TARDIS than the time itself. A good solid episode and an excellent history lesson.
Our new TARDIS team have finally taken their first trip back in time, continuing Series 11’s fantastic form while also telling what might be this year’s most significant story. Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall managed to produce an emotionally and politically charged script, injecting just enough sci-fi trickery while still honouring the impact of real life events. The decision not to shy away or tone down the horrors of the past was both brave and shocking, but absolutely the right thing to do. Admittedly there was a lot of talky exposition throughout the episode, and its deep-rooted morals were at times quite in-your-face. But the message it portrayed was so strong and so important, I’m willing to forgive a little heavy-handedness. Rosa was very much an education in history as well as a masterclass in television. This is how you do a Doctor Who historical!
I’ll confess I approached Rosa with some trepidation. The story of Rosa Parks is such an important one that even in the Malorie Blackman’s hands there were a danger of not doing it justice. But Rosa is about as perfect as it can be while still being Doctor Who. Importantly all agency is kept to Rosa herself. Her pre-existing role in the civil rights movement, alongside Dr King is emphasized, as it being her own dignity and determination that drive her refusal to give up her seat – not some inspiring speech from the Doctor. Instead, for our TARDIS fam, the script is split between defending history, and how they respond emotionally to events. Graham’s – the show’s representative middle aged straight white guy – gets to be an offended ally and horrified at being dragged into events (and Bradley Walsh nails that completely) but it’s never about him. Ryan’s anger and Yaz’s optimism are the true heart of their experience. While their conversation – and the presence of the 51st century’s Krasko – make sure this is not ‘Doctor Who Solves Racism’ but rather one battle in the ongoing struggle. Heartfelt. Magnificent. Rosa makes you proud to be a Doctor Who fan.
I have to admit that I was more than a little bit nervous going in to this episode. Rosa Parks and the crucial part she played in the American civil rights movement helped to shape the world we live in today, and I was afraid that this incredible woman and her brave act of defiance would not be portrayed with the sensitivity and respect they deserve. However, I’m very relieved to say that at least coming from my own white, British perspective, I felt that this episode was brilliantly done. Right from the get-go, it was clear that the cruel reality of living as a person of colour in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 was not going to be shied away from. I did appreciate the small moments of humour as we continue to get to know our new Doctor (who isn’t Banksy… or is she?) but the overall tense and serious tone of the episode was no doubt appropriate. I have to say I found Krasko more irritating than truly menacing, but there’s no doubt that his thoroughly ordinary appearance made him that much more scary. He’s a reminder that unwaveringly prejudiced individuals such as himself do (and apparently will) continue to exist no matter what progress is made. My one main fear was that the credit would be taken away from Rosa Parks for her impact upon the civil rights movement, but those final scenes alone powerfully portrayed just how much change can come from one simple act.
This episode is probably the closest we’re likely to get to a ‘pure’ historical. Sure, there’s a time travelling bad guy looking to disrupt history – but he’s human and there’s no ‘bug eyed monster’ or supernatural-like elements in sight. The episode is very much focused on the historical setting that the Doctor and her friends have found themselves in and it doesn’t shy away from presenting that setting as it would have been. The moments when the team, particularly Ryan and Yaz came face up against the racism of the era were genuinely tense, I was on the edge of my seat at points waiting to see what would happen next. Malorie Blackman has done a fantastic job in crafting a gripping episode that also is educational without feeling like a lesson (well maybe that ‘what happened next’ bit in the TARDIS at the end felt a bit like a lesson but that was after the plot had wrapped). I have no doubt that many people will go out and find out more about this period of history because of this episode.
It was nice to finally see Yaz put to some good use as well. Her interaction with Rosa I think started to reveal elements of her character we hadn’t seen yet but also we saw development within the TARDIS team with some nice moments between Yaz and Ryan…. maybe even some flirting?
Vinette Robinson as Rosa Parks was warm and engaging and Josh Bowman as time-travelling bad guy Krasko had great levels of smarmyness mixed with confidence that made him intriguing. We didn’t see much of him though and I’m torn if that’s a negative or if any more would have been too much. Plus, having been sent into the past by Ryan, I suspect its not the last we’ve seen of him. A thoroughly captivating episode, my favourite of the series so far.
There are times in Doctor Who, as in life, where the biggest monsters are the human beings we meet. Rosa is a perfect example of this. A very genuine sense of terrifying, sickening menace permeates this episode. But there’s a sense of hope, too, thank heavens. I was more fearful of this topic being covered by Doctor Who than any I can think of. The importance of Rosa Parks’ story is such that it surely cannot be tampered with. And this is the approach taken by writer Malorie Blackman who tells a tale of the Doctor and her new pals doing everything they can to make sure Mrs Parks’ story plays out exactly as it should. Vinette Robinson, who I loved even before this episode, delivers exactly as she should, showing strength and fortitude despite fear, despite the hatred around her. I was moved to tears by Rosa and it will surely go down as one of Doctor Who‘s great episodes.
PS – Is the Doctor Banksy?
This week, Doctor Who goes heavy. Very heavy. Perhaps the most alien place the TARDIS has ever been in history. Watching with our modern sensibilities the viewer is, hopefully, appalled and made to feel uncomfortable by the location and the attitudes.
Whilst there is of course a place for telling this type of story, it kills the positive-happy-go-lucky vibe of a new series. Telling these stories is important of course, but does an insignificant science fiction show give due deference to what is a genuinely significant moment in human history?
Overall, it was all very well done, carefully handled with excellent acting, although the accents were more neutral than I expected. What I was most uncomfortable about however is having the time travellers become part of history in this circumstance. Graham’s reaction is perfect but his place in the situation rather than observing history distracts. Whilst Rosa Parkes triggers the civil rights movement, The Doctor contributes towards it and that troubles me greatly. This is of course in response to the actions of Krasko, a villain from the future who is looking to change history. Yet again an inability to shoot one of four targets even when stood directly in front is laughable. He is of a white supremacist persuasion and I naïvely thought that being from the future those attitudes would be long gone. Krasko is certainly the weak link of a strong episode with limited motivation, threat or, well anything really. A poor character who threatened to derail the episode in a way that was not intended.
Final word has to go however to Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. The key scene in the episode is not Rosa being arrested. Yaz and Ryan sat behind the bins is why this episode is in the series. For that scene alone, and ignoring all the other science fiction time travelling nonsense, Rosa has to be applauded and exhaulted upon high as a way in which we as a society need to take a look at ourselves.
A very important issue to tackle, and very brave to tackle it on episode 3 where everything could still be settling in. Luckily, these characters are still great to follow, and are working together so well. The dialogue really crackles this episode which helps as it feels so different to your usual Doctor Who. It tackles the issue well, and finds room to throw in lots of fan service – Stormcage, vortex manipulators. Unfortunately, for me, it’s now the third week running that the sci-fi story has been very light and either underplayed or Ill thought out. I enjoyed this one, but also came away wanting to BRING ON THE SPIDERS!!!!!!
GMGH (our youngest viewer), Suman Kanchan and Mat Greenfield will be back next week with their views for the Blogtor Who Group Review.
You can watch Rosa on BBC iPlayer now.
The next episode of Doctor Who – Arachnids in the UK – on BBC at 18:55pm on Sunday 28th October.