The Doctor faces the horrors of history when she has to bear witness to the racism of 1950’s Alabama. But what do she reveal about herself along the way?
This week on Doctor Who, the Thirteenth Doctor’s first excursion into history (well, give or take nine to fourteen false landings) is a baptism of fire. Rosa is a real test of character. As for once the Doctor has to save the day by not standing up for what’s right. But what does that, and this Doctor Who adventure, say about her?
This Doctor is keenly aware of her privilege
Previously the Doctor’s been a bit vague on the whole human racism thing. Especially how they’re presenting with a pale skinned appearance impacted on it. The Tenth Doctor was outright bewildered by why Martha Jones was worried about the possibility of facing Elizabethan racism. And while the 16th century really wasn’t as racist as some, his shrugged suggestion to simply ‘walk about like you own the place’ because it’s always ‘worked for him’ is a bit feckless. And while the Twelfth Doctor is happy to punch a racist in the face for racially abusing Bill Potts, and also acknowledges that, yes, they’re in an era where the slave trade has only just been outlawed in the UK, he seems genuinely puzzled that it’s the first concern a 21st century person of colour might have when visiting the 19th.
But in Rosa, the Doctor is immediately concerned about the danger to her young charges and she’s almost visibly in a state of high tension everywhere they go. In moments like their bus journey there’s also a tangible air of her horror and shame, as a white skinned alien, at being better accepted by the local racists than the darker skinned humans Yaz and Ryan.
She’s still getting used to the new TARDIS design herself
As above, the Doctor’s now made
nine fourteen attempts to land in Sheffield in 2018. More than that, they’ve all been disasterous enough that Alabama in 1955 counts in the ‘Almost’ category. And she has difficulty even reading the readouts on the new scanner – which works by projecting an image onto metal, rather than the traditional screen. The Doctor even says she suspects her ship is deliberately trying to annoy her.
The Doctor considers herself “one very careless owner”
In fairness to the TARDIS, even the Doctor admits she hasn’t been the best owner. At one point she compares time machines with white supremacist from the future Krasko. During their chat admits she hasn’t exactly been the world’s most careful and considerate time machine driver. The past thirty-seven seasons of Doctor Who bear that out, to be honest.
The Doctor’s coat was once mended by civil rights activist Rosa Parks
This seems like an obvious one since we actually see it happen in the episode but it’s worth noting for a reason. The Doctor has always been full of anecdotes about where they pick up their different bits and pieces. The Tenth Doctor’s iconic ankle length coat used to belong to rock legend Janis Joplin for instance. And the Fourth Doctor’s epic scarf was knitted by Madame Nostradamus. But this is about the only time we get to see a future anecdote in the making.
The Doctor isn’t Banksy… or is she?
The Doctor’s not only familiar with the works of the mysterious guerilla artist but suggests she might be them. Certainly a TARDIS would be a very useful way to appear and disappear unseen. Or for that matter, to gain access to apparently inaccessible places to leaver her art. And, let’s face it, a self-destructing painting is exactly what we’d expect from the woman who once wrote “THIS IS A FAKE” under the paint of the Mona Lisa so it would show up under X-rays.
She has a special invisible marker
The Doctor can write on walls to her hearts’ content because she has a special marker which ink can be rendered invisible by a wave of the sonic screwdriver. Handy! Especially if she’s Banksy.
The Doctor’s stocked up on rainbow tops
The Doctor’s often been a dab hand at finding variants of the latest style they’ve fallen in love with. The Eleventh Doctor stole a burgundy Paul Smith shirt from the locker room at Leadworth hospital, for instance, and liked it so much he obviously immediately went and bought the blue version too. Now the Doctor’s lucky charity shop find of a navy tee with rainbow stripe has gotten the same treatment. Somehow or other the Doctor’s managed to source the same top in a kind of dusty pink version.
The Doctor Who adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 6.55pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with Arachnids in the UK by Chris Chibnall. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair). Arachnids in the UK guest stars Chris Noth, Shobna Gulati, Tanya Fear and is directed by Sallie Aprahamian.
“Something’s happening with the spiders in this city.” The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan find their way back to Yorkshire – and Yaz’s family. Only something is stirring amidst the eight-legged arachnid population of Sheffield.
The first three episodes of Series Eleven, plus the ten previous seasons, are all available on iPlayer’s Doctor Who page.