~Spoilers ahead! ~
11.3 Rosa – Malorie Blackman & Chris Chibnall
Accidentally landing in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 the Doctor realises that there are traces of artron energy – the same stuff that powers the TARDIS – hanging about. She wants to pop out and investigate, promising that they will all go home soon.
The plot is relatively simple (this feels like a recurring theme in S11). Krasko, an ex-convict from the future prison Stormcage has travelled back in time. Limited by a neural block rendering him unable to physically harm anyone after (it is implied) he committed a racially charged genocide, he decides to nudge history instead. He claims that ‘history changes when tiny things don’t go to plan.’ The Doctor and her companions bump into Rosa Parks and quickly figure out that they’ve landed just before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and they must stop Krasko from tampering with history.
The TARDIS crew end up holed up in a motel room (the spaceship is inconveniently too risky) where they gather data on Rosa Parks and the bus routes, aiming to set history back on course. Krasko tries his best to interfere with events but the group splits up and stops him. Yaz gets Rosa on the bus on time, Graham ensures that James Blake, the bus driver who calls in for Rosa’s arrest, is driving the bus and Ryan finds himself confronting Krasko. He uses Krasko’s own temporal displacement weapon against him – sending him back to an unknown time.
The four then get on the bus, waiting until it is full before Graham gets up to leave. We realise in that moment that if they leave, there will be space for others on the bus and there would be no reason for Rosa Parks to get up. They must be a part of history. Rosa Parks refuses to get up and is arrested, sparking the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott. History is saved, the Civil Rights Movement continues.
- The exchange between the Doctor and the police officer who suspects that they are harbouring non-white people in the hotel room is so wonderfully written.
Officer: Y’all happen to know a couple of mongrels, hmm? Negro boy, Mexican girl?
Doctor: I don’t recognise anyone by that description
Officer: Now you appreciate it’s an offence to harbour coloureds in a room here.
Doctor: We’re not harbouring anyone who doesn’t have a right to be here.
- Ryan meeting Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. The excitement of meeting a historical figure who is ignorant to their significance is so delightful to watch.
- The Doctor teasing that she might be Banksy
- Asteroid 284996 named after Rosa Parks is real!
Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff
Stormcage – the same prison that River Song was held in for so long.
The temporal displacement weapon is essentially a digital version of a Weeping Angel and I don’t know how I feel about it.
The idea of disrupting history for evil is really interesting – I would love for there to be an organisation of baddies trying to do this because I feel like that would have a more significant impact on history. I think the civil rights movement would have happened with or without this specific boycott.
The initials GBF on Krasko’s suitcase – is he working for someone? How did a convicted criminal manage to get access to a vortex manipulator and such a powerful weapon?
Monster of the Week
Krasko, the space racist: tattooed with the mark of Stormcage and armed with a vortex manipulator and time displacement weapon. He fell a bit flat for me, functioning as a plot device which would be somewhat acceptable if I had found the actor in any way slimy or intimidating. He was just a there. His plan seemed a bit shit too. If he’s from the 79th century, why is one event in the 20th century so significant? See point above RE an organisation of baddies.
Human prejudice. I felt so tense in this episode especially for Ryan. Black men in America still get shot down for existing and in the time of Jim Crow. Like the Emmett Till, young black boys could be lynched for doing something as innocuous as talking to a white woman.
This was my favourite episode so far. I love historical episodes and the subject matter was handled really well – the danger of the Doctor becoming a white saviour who inspires a movement is completely sidestepped. Bringing in Malorie Blackman was an excellent move – she a fantastic writer and as a black woman, this topic is close to her heart and she writes sensitively about it.
The historical prejudice was captured excellently. I’ve toyed with the question myself – if I could travel to any other time, where would I go? As a woman of colour, frankly I want to stay right here, right now unless there is a better future. DW has always shied away from addressing this. Tennant’s Doctor brushes off Martha’s concerns in The Shakespeare Code. When Bill points out in Thin Ice that slavery is still a thing although Capaldi’s Doctor has a better response, the danger is treated a little bit like a game. This Doctor is far more careful with her companions lives.
My heart broke a little when Graham became the white man who was left without a seat and said he didn’t want to be a part of history. People have speculated that the original intention might have been that he had to drive the bus for some form of bitter irony that he was the kind of bus driver that Grace had been wary of when they first met. I’m glad they chose not to go down that path because I think that would been more cruel than rewarding. Also, Graham is easily becoming my favourite character. He’s warm, funny and a fun companion.
What niggled me about this episode was how it wasn’t made explicit that Rosa Parks refusing her seat was not some spontaneous action. It was carefully thought out and planned. Yes, she would only have been able to do it on a day the bus was full but that wouldn’t have taken away from the idea that this was a fixed point in time which is something that DW has played with many times before.
Ryan is coming across as a little headstrong. This is the second time he’s gone in with guns ablaze and the Doctor has said approximately nothing about his actions – I think he might get himself killed, or worse, get Graham killed. We did see Yaz get a bit police officer-y in the initial confrontation between Ryan and the white man but she’s still a bit of a hazy character to me. I don’t think I’m on board with multiple companions; the Doctor is almost becoming a background piece.
A solid episode of a TV show but it’s still not exciting me the way that Doctor Who used to.