On the day BBC Radio 6 Music brought us an engrossing documentary marking fifty years since the Black Power protests, with Don Letts and The 6 Music Black Power Soundscape, the Thirteenth Doctor found herself in 1955 for Rosa Parks act of defiance in the eponymous episode Rosa. It was a moving, powerfully told piece of drama, and respectful to historic events while still moving the new characters forward. Full marks to Malorie Blackman and the whole production team for a story that looked and felt authentic (I’m sure a history expect might find some flaws).
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The composite TARDIS team of Graham, Ryan and Yaz (and even Grace in absentio) were an ideal vehicle for examining Rosa Parks in context of racial discrimination in 1950s America. Montgomery felt threatening, brutal and more alien than many worlds the Doctor visits. Dropping Martin Luther King into the story felt credible, and all four of the main cast deserve credit for the portrayals of modern sensibilities in this historic setting. Vinette Robinson gave a measured performance in the title role, and the whole was an uncomfortable, yet compelling, watch. I expected Yaz to be more central to this story, but it was Tosin Cole’s Ryan who I felt had most development. And once more Bradley Walsh delivers as Graham.
Aside from the setting / drama / performances the lesser part of the story was the science fiction elements and the Doctor herself.
Adding to the vagaries of Artron Energy we now have Artron molecules; when will the show get a scientific adviser? In Krasko we also had one of the most one-dimensional villains we’ve seen (and that’s after last weeks Sniperbots). At least his inability to shoot someone from six feet was explained by his (Gan from Blake’s 7 style) neural inhibitor. The references out the River Song thread with Stormgate and the vortex manipulator were a surprise. For such a violent character, his approach to changing history was subtle, and I wonder if he might reappear in a future story? He seemed to be acting alone, what are his motivations? Why is a criminal from (what I assume to be) the far future so bothered about racial equality? What if he’d been female or even non-white? Too complex for the story I suspect.
Speaking of alternate ideas, it’s almost a Doctor-lite adventure. There’s an interesting alternative where Krasko displaces the Doctor in time, but in so-doing is also displaced (sonic magic perhaps) leaving Graham, Ryan and Yaz to keep history on track without her. Very little specialist knowledge or skill was needed apart from the belief a solution was possible? Maybe it’s just the writer in me, and I’l be clear, this was about covering Rosa Parks and raising questions in the mind of viewers. It was exposition heavy in places, but all this is secondary.
A lot of people are calling this one of the best episodes ever. It took a potentially difficult topic and treated it with respect. The writing was strong, and there’s another essay to write about the reality of time travel where the Doctor doesn’t appear, breeze in and become the centre of events. Instead small-minded people and petty concerns are the order of the day and as an unknown, the Doctor doesn’t dominate proceedings. For me it’s more like the real world than the usual story, and not something I’d want in every episode as it would change the show too far. Once in a while I appreciate it.
Before I watched Rosa, I had expected to compare it to the now cancelled show Timeless, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader!
What did you think? What have I missed? Let me know!