Doctor Who - Episode 11.03 - Rosa - Review

I was very nervous about this episode going into it. For a fun sci-fi show to deal with a pioneer like Rosa Parks had me nervous. The show has dealt with historical figures before, but this had to be handled delicately. Luckily, it was, and the result was one of the most stunningly beautiful episodes in the show's 55 year history.

The episode opens 12 years before the bus incident that made Parks a superhero. The reason for that was perfectly clear - the Doctor will have no influence on her. She is already this special. She is already a superhero. The contributions Rosa Parks makes to the fight on racism will not because of the Doctor. It is because she is that spectacular herself. 

As that was my biggest worry going in, I was happy to see that the show was taking the only approach it could when broaching this subject. The episode didn't shy away from the very real racism that was happening then. Ryan and Yaz, both people of color, had a difficult time. We, yet again, got more Ryan character development. Yaz had a bit, but it is still very lopsided. She is criminally underused.

The sci-fi aspect was tied in well. A white supremacist from the future was trying to prevent Rosa Parks from protesting, thereby changing history. There was a bunch of write-arounds to make it so he can't kill, but we got some Doctor Who staples out of it: Perception filters, Stormcage, and a vortex manipulator.

Malorie Blackman, the writer of this episode, handled everything with poise and grace. Chris Chibnall had a writing credit too, and I am very curious as to what parts he contributed.

The Doctor has had a lot of instances of making the hard choice to get involved. That choice has killed her on more than one occasion. To make the choice not to get involved in the face of injustice is one The Doctor rarely makes. The Doctor tried to make that decision on Bowie Base 1 (in the episode title "Waters of Mars") and he just couldn't. The Tenth Doctor wasn't supposed to get involved, and he did, and caused more trouble. The Doctor and her friends found themselves in the situation of having to witness Rosa Parks going through what she did. For the sake of history, they couldn't do anything. They had to sit there and let it happen. It was one of the most powerful scenes in the history of the show. If you can watch it without crying, then it makes me wonder exactly what you would cry over.

Every scene was powerful. But there were some really humorous moments too. Humor is a tricky thing in a situation like this. It can feel shoe-horned in, or inappropriate. But Blackman and Chibnall found the right moments, like when Ryan was between Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. His reaction brought levity to a heavy story, really earning the name comic relief.

Segun Akinola's score has yet to disappoint. He seems to write new music for each episode, which is incredible. His score enhanced the powerful writing, and made the episode that much better.

This is not a criticism of the episode itself, but for the structure overall: I miss the cold openings. I like when he get thrown into something, and then something is done, or a proclamation is made, and then we hear the buzzing that brings us to the opening theme. I don't see a moment in this episode where that would have worked, so having it at the very beginning was smart. But going forward? I hope it changes depending on story. 

Usually, I am all for America staying out of Doctor Who. When they interfere, we get things like the 1996 movie and Torchwood: Miracle Day. But I was actually nervous about the lack of an American voice when dealing with Rosa Parks. My concerns were unwarranted however. It couldn't have been handled with anymore dignity, grace and class than it was already. Something special happened this week folks. This will be an episode that will be remembered for a long time.

Next week, we get a present day story with more about Yaz (or so it seems). Hopefully the momentum of the season can keep swinging in the right direction!

Doctor Who airs Sundays on BBC One and BBC America.


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