TL;DR – While on the technical side of things this was not the best episode of Doctor Who, the story is leaps and bounds above the norm, and it shows the power this show can have if they apply themselves.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
When you can travel through all of time and space, you can visit wondrous alien worlds, go back and visit key moments in history like the construction of the pyramids, or even explore what looks an awful lot like a quarry on the outskirts of Cardiff a couple of times. However, would you go back in time a visit the less fun parts of our history, those parts that we politely pretend do not exist, even though the ripple of those events still dominate our world today. Well in a world that needs to visit this part of its past Doctor Who has decided to do so for them as we delve into the world of the 1950s segregated America.
So to set the scene, at the end of last week’s The Ghost Monument (see review) The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) was finally reunited with her TARDIS. Now, since she had accidentally brought Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yas (Mandip Gill) along for the ride at the end of The Woman Who Fell to Earth (see review), the first job was to take them all back to Sheffield, and well they got back to Earth but missed 2018 UK and ended up in 1950s America. Not just any part of 1950s America, but it the still-segregated Montgomery Alabama, on the day before Rosa Parks instigated what many people argue was the start of the Civil Rights movement in America. There is only one hitch, well other than the systemic racism that we see first-hand, and that is that the TARDIS is not the only time trailer here on this momentous day.
One of the interesting things at the start of this season is that there has been a concerted push to market Doctor Who in America. Now this has been happening for a while, but not really with the same intensity as we have seen here, and so at first glance it might look odd jumping into the past of America, to a world we don’t like to think off, but it shows the power of the series when it really wants to put its social capital on the line and shine the spotlight on an issue, and now is a good as time as any to shine the light on racial inequality and the systemic structure that perpetuate them.
Indeed, in this week’s episode, before we explore anything of the world, the show literally slaps the audience in the face about what life was like in America at this time. We see it in how the characters have to both deal with a world that there is a very real fear that they could be killed because of the colour of their skin, but then also the realisation that has things actually changed all that much? As well as this, there was a focus on the structures that perpetuate inequality as well as the individual. So yes, that one bus driver was an ass, as was the restaurant worker, and that upper-class man, but they are also able to live in that world because the support structures like the law and the police allow it to thrive. This leads us to the villain of the week Krasko (Joshua Bowman), and while his character has no depth to it what so ever, I did like that his plan was just to nudge history in a different direction because sometimes that is all you would need.
Now, when you are doing an episode where a bunch of Brits go back in time to lecture the Americans about civil rights in absence of all the harm the British Empire did in the world, there is a very real chance of it coming off as hypocritical. However, this was not the case, at least for me, because the heart of the episode was not on The Doctor but on the titular Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson). Vinette brings such amazing power to her performance, and it was hard not to feel emotional when she sat down, in open defiance of the law. As well as this, the show writers are getting better at involving everyone in the episode, and I hope we see more of that in the future.
Finally, there was one downside to this week’s episode and that it is starting to show some of the issues that have become recurring problems for the series. The show seems to have a problem with the connecting tissue in-between scenes. For example in this week’s episode, the gang break into the villain’s lair only to have him shooting at them in an open room with no cover and with the element of surprising and missing in such a comedically bad fashion that even Stormtroopers would be like ‘damn dude, come on”. This is a problem, but then we jump cut to everyone outside running in some place that looks nothing like a bus depot for some monologuing. We have had the exact same scenario play out in the last two episodes, and it is starting to be noticeable. Also, I’m not sure what it was, but the research montage music really grated on me whenever it played. None of these are deal breakers in any way, shape, or form, but they are issues that seem to have become recurring problems this season.
In the end, do we recommend Rosa? Yes, yes we do. This might be the strongest episode the show has done in quite a long time, and while it might not have gotten all of the execution correct, it shows just how powerful the show can be if it wants to be.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Doctor Who
Directed by – Mark Tonderai
Written by – Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall
Showrunner – Chris Chibnall
Starring – Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole & Mandip Gill with Vinette Robinson, Joshua Bowman, Trevor White, Richard Lothian, Jessica Claire Preddy, Gareth Marks, David Rubin & Ray Sesay