“Doctor Who – Rosa” (Season 11)
Produced by: Chris Chibnall
Featuring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill
The Doctor: “Operation Rosa Parks: We have to make sure we keep history in order.”
Into the third episode of the eleventh season and its a bit of a flashback to very early ‘Who’ in that it takes place in Earth’s past and involves making sure an event occurs to a seemingly pivotal figure in that history. Trips to Earths past used to be a staple of ‘Who’ episodes from the 1st Doctor and well into the Russell T Davies episodes, they were a way to instantly capture an audiences attention while keeping budgets low as well as shortcutting narrative as hopefully viewers we would have an idea of who the episode was about. In this case this new episode deals with Rosa Parks who refused to sit in the ‘coloreds’ only part of a bus in the South of the United States. The events of the her actions would be profound, helping to ignite the civil rights movement along with many other actions, protests and people who believed that all people should be created equal.
The other aspect of this episode is an old ‘Who’ trope of the inability of the titular charter unable to control the TARDIS properly so seemingly ending up in places that were not planned but seem to be destined to intervene in events. So we have two aspects that collide as well as being illustrated directly by the fact that two of the Doctors friends are non-white and within a few minutes of arriving in the South are confronted by the racism that existed in that time, of course as we find out these may be magnified by the fact that Rosa Parks might not actually succeed in her actions because of some other worldly event – remember this is still “Doctor Who”!
Of course the main ‘bad guy’ of this episode is not really the person from another planet but the treatment of minorities in the South in 1955, it also illustrates perfectly how far we as a people have come, as well as how far there is to go. It goes without saying that the real heroes of this episode are the characters of Rosa Parks as well as all those who were around here, as well as those that were to come and exist now. What I loved about this historical episode was how subtle it was, how it wrapped a narrative around real events all the while balancing humor, drama and it has to be said the horror of racism. The central premise, as well as the pivotal event when it occurs, is a completely powerful scene, as well as overwhelming, this is fitting with the casting of the new Doctor as well as the supporting cast; has there been a more poignant episode ever of “Doctor Who” to date without being preachy or knowing, witnessing history through the eyes of others who all know how important their part in history was.
Once again though the set up of the villain is completely forgettable, in fact half way through episode I had forgotten about him as well as what he was trying to do and his motivations for doing it. My feeling is that he was unnecessary and another reason for the episode could have been created quite easily. It is easy to see that these regular characters are growing into their roles, I do think it is about time to have an antagonist that is worthy of this Doctor as well as her friends to really open them up to new experiences as well as some adventure that tests them as well their production team.
Speaking of course of the biggest change in the casting of Jodie Whittaker, how is she going after three episodes? Well I think the answer is very well, she seems to understand the randomness as well as the whimsy of the character as well as how to deliver her lines, should we have expected anything less of someone who has skill and time in her profession? Probably not, however she does have something that many of the great ‘Doctors’ have, that is that ability to project true emotion in the understanding of what is important to the main character. Another aspect of The Doctor is the humor which comes to the fore in one particular joke about Banksey which is not only hilarious but surprisingly relevant for a show filmed months ago, just shows the Doctor is indeed timeless.
The other element of this new season are The Doctors friends who after this episode we are starting to get a real for, the best for me and the most obvious stand out is Bradley Walsh who seems to be the main comic relief who also has a feel for what he and his friends are involved in, he delivers his lines like a pro, he plays his part much like he did in his outstanding role in “Law and Order: UK” (2009-2014). As for Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill they act as the audience asking questions about almost everything as well as sometimes being in peril, especially in this episode, so The Doctor can assist them. As the audience we see each new world through the supporting characters eyes which is something that has been true for almost all the seasons of “Doctor Who”.
Even though we have been led to believe that the Doctor is returning her friends to Earth it is obvious they are going to be around for a few more episodes yet, my only concern is that with three of them one or more is likely to get short changed in the story department but other than that I am looking forward to seeing where this season will be headed, if it is one off stories then that may be a good re-set for the series heading into twelve.
Written: Chris Chibnall & Malorie Blackman
Directed: Mark Tonderai
The Doctor’s attempt to return her friends to modern-day Sheffield goes awry when the TARDIS lands in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama. The team soon encounter civil rights activist Rosa Parks, just days before she refuses to give up her seat on a bus and ignites a historic black rights movement in the Deep South. However, the Doctor soon realises someone is meddling with history: a white supremacist from the future, determined to stop Rosa from sparking a revolution. The TARDIS team must work against the clock to put history right, and soon end up embroiled in the legendary moment themselves.