There are 2 episodes I consistently recommend to people who don’t know Doctor Who but are willing to give it a shot. 2 stand alone, brilliantly written and performed episodes that show Who at it’s very best. The first episode is “Vincent and the Doctor”, Matt Smith journeying back in time to meet Van Gogh himself. The second is
“Blink”, David Tennant in our first super creepy introduction to the Weeping Angels. Sunday’s “Rosa” just shot straight to the top of my new recommendation list. Topical and heartfelt it was a perfect example of what Doctor Who can be.
***mild spoilers ahead***
Our team lands in Montgomery, AL and discovers a time traveler, Krasko (Josh Bowman) bent on nudging history in the worst of directions. His goal? Stop Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) from ever getting on James Blake’s bus, refusing to give up her seat and being arrested. Krasko wants to send ripples down the timeline that would stop the civil rights movement from ever getting started. Not only must our team stop Krasko, they have to “fix” his changes in a way that leads to the heartbreaking, but the necessary arrest of Rosa.
Setting down in the virulently racist south, watching Ryan (Tosin Cole) be confronted, kicked out of restaurants and confronted with outward racism was difficult at best. No, I am under no illusion that Tosin himself does not deal with racism on a regular basis, our society hasn’t come far enough for that. But it’s a very different deal to be told, in no uncertain language, “We don’t serve your kind here.” Yasmin (Mandip Gill) is mistaken for Mexican and faces discrimination, having to make the distressing choice about where she’d even fit in – not black enough to be sent to the back of the bus, not white enough to sit up front. The everyday choices, the everyday pain was devastating.
Graham (Bradley Walsh) has perhaps the most moving scene at the finale of the episode because of all this racism being shoved in his face. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say I am yet again reminded that I truly love him being a part of this team.
Robinson was tremendous as Rosa Parks. Portraying that struggle, the pain, grace, and determination. She shone in every single scene. Her face at the end, sitting determined even through her fear, is an image that will stick with me permanently. This moment should echo through the rest of the season. If she can do this? You can do anything. That is what viewers should take from this episode. I’m hoping that we’ll call back to this during the season as well, inspiring our companions and the Doctor herself to be better.
Jodie Whittaker continues to steal my heart with her compassion and joy. It’s honestly hard to picture her not being the Doctor. She inspires everyone around her to be better, while of course dropping in that Doctor humor that we all love. That she’s still surprised when someone calls her ma’am just cracks me up. After an eternity as a man, it must be very exciting. I do wonder if we’ll see sexism addressed more up front as the season goes. The Doctor has always been able to slide by in part because of his male whiteness, what happens when she needs to take charge but is treated differently? What happens when someone tries to defer to Graham instead of the Doctor? These are things I need!!
I think that writers Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall nailed this episode. With moments of levity breaking in (Ryan meeting Martin Luther King was just spectacular), the lasting impression is of a call to action. Learn your history. Respect those who made the painful decisions and who paved a way forward. Carry it on. Do not let their sacrifices go to waste. Beautifully done Doctor.
5 out of 5 Vortex Manipulators
Doctor Who airs next on Sunday, Oct 28th at 8/7c on BBC America