My favourite Doctor Who stories are those set in the past. We explore something we know, or we think we know, and then we get a timey wimey twist.
But most of all, I love it when a DW episode can stand out on its own without actually needing an alien invader. I’m thinking, for instance, of ‘The Aztecs’. In ‘Rosa’ we got a villain of sorts, more like an evil Jack Harkness than an actual alien overlord, but the scary monster of the episode was the idea of a historical event that changed the course of so many people’s lives never happening at all.
After a cold open of sorts where we see a young Rosa Parks being reprimanded in a bus in 1943 in Montgomery, Alabama, we end up travelling to the same place in 1955. This is where the TARDIS lands, in what is her fourteenth failed attempt at returning to present day Sheffield. The guys decide to explore the area, until Ryan tries to be nice to a white lady and things go awry. This is not the most inclusive of places. But our friends meet Rosa Parks the day before Rosa Parks gets arrested for not giving her seat to white people, and the Doctor realises something is wrong. Why are they there? She senses artron energy all over the place, and the source of it is the guy I will refer to as Danny Zuko. This time traveller is an ex con that, although he can’t kill by himself, like Spike from Buffy, he is there to make sure Rosa’s turning point never happens. Moron.
The interesting study about this episode, of course, is the matter of race. Ryan is seen as a second-class citizen, Yaz is mistaken for a Mexican and Graham can’t come to terms with the fact that he is somewhere where his marriage to Grace would have been considered illegal. It is truly an opportunity to take a look at the episode and realise that, although we have evolved, so many things haven’t changed.
The Doctor’s idea to solve this problem seems to be taken straight out of El Ministerio del Tiempo: they will make sure history remains the same. Ryan will follow Rosa the night before the big day (meeting Martin Luther King along the way) and then on the night of the bus incident, making sure enough people get on the bus. Yaz will stall so that Rosa leaves work at the exact time, and Graham will ensure that the James Blake drives the bus. But they didn’t know that they will be part of history itself. At the last minute, Graham is forced to stay in the bus so that there won’t be seats for other white people and Rosa will be told to move, and as painful as it is watching his heart break doing what he surely considers a betrayal to his wife’s memory, he agrees, knowing it will change history for the better.
‘Rosa’ was a beautiful episode, emotive, meaningful and a break from your usual alien chase, allowing us to breath and learn a bit of history in the meantime. Just like the first Doctor would have wanted.
“Banksy doesn’t have one of those… or have I?”
-I now desperately want an Elvis/Sinatra episode.
-“If she can live here her whole life, a couple of hours ain’t gonna kill me. It ain’t gonna kill me, right?”
-I love when the show does meta jokes to talk about the unexplained: “We will stop somewhere else to eat, though, won’t we?” “No time, Graham!” “Have you noticed that happens a lot? I need regular food!”
-I have the feeling we might see Danny Zuko again.
-“Is anyone excited? Because I am really excited.” “You won’t be if it’s a bomb.” “Don’t kill the vibe!”
-Please, tell me the Doctor is indeed Banksy.
-The comedic timing of the Steve Jobs bit was priceless.
-“Good thing Elvis lent Frank that mobile phone against everything I told him.”