Ten Thoughts About Doctor Who – Rosa

Okay, so I got the sniffles out of my system. The first episode of Doctor Who to make me cry since Father’s Day. So let’s dig into the whole thing. Spoilers going in.

1. A Rosa By Any Other Name

The episode is called Rosa – not just a reference to Rosa Parks, the American Civil Rights’ icon. It is also a reference to the very first episode of the revived Doctor Who – Rose. And as with her, the idea that one person can make such a massive difference, and their absence could rip the universe apart. Note that we don’t start in 1953 but 1943, same Rosa, same bus driver, that this small moment of resistance had been building over the decade.

Doctor Who has always done ‘historical episodes’ – indeed that was the original intent of the show. But over time they have become fewer and generally involve sci-fi interference. Rosa follows in that tradition, with a chance to recreate 1950s Alabama when filming in South Africa. You may draw whatever parallels you wish…

2. We’ve Been Here Before

We have a TARDIS that doesn’t want to go where the Doctor wants her to go. And fourteen attempts meanst there are plenty of stories for Big Finish, the Titan novels and BBC books to fill in. We’ve had a continual run on Doctor Who, with episode happening directly after episode for two years. Now there’s a little more continuity wiggle room. And a more traditional, unpredictable TARDIS, not the one where Peter Calpaldi was in perfect control with just one lever. Not the only familiar note, as Cranzo had a time vortex manipulator, just like Captain Jack and River Song from the 51st century used to sport, was messing with artron energy and was imprisoned in the Stormcage, just like River. This is a series that is not relying on past continuity, but is peppering the script with a few references. Is this the Chibnall touch? Oh and a perception filter as well…

3. The Meddling Fonz

Moreover, this shows us a fuller universe, with more than one person visiting significant moments in time. Captain Jack did it in World War II looking to make a quick buck, Krasko has more… ideological motivations. But it also put me in mind of The Meddling Monk, the Time Lord (though not named as such then) that the First Doctor met in Medieval England, messing around with steam trains and radios and the like. And a battle of time-changing wits that ensured. But the idea of more that one time traveller wanting to access a certain moment in history has played out in other media – and the 1950s America aspect did make me bring Quantum Leap to mind quite a few times.

4. 1955 And All That

The best line had to be from Ryan. Rosa Parks – the first black woman to drive a bus. As much as the episode made mecry, that gave me a proper laugh, encapsulating so much about how we remember history through school lessons, something divorced and far away that gets mixed up in the head – and now right here, playing out in real life.

5. The Mexican Problem

Yaz being repeatedly identified as Mexican mirror an oft-observed experience of those of Indian, Bangladesh or Pakistani origin when travelling in the USA, they are presumed to be Mexican. Whether that happens to Mexicans coming to Britain, I couldn’t say… but it did lead to the ‘P’ word being used in an early evening drama on British TV where the ‘N’ word was not, as Ryan and Yaz exchanged mutual experiences.

6. The Other Butterfly Effect

This episode concentrated a lot on tiny changes in the past making bigger changes in the future. A history without Rosa Parks’ moment would not have given Krasko the future he wished for, there were many other Rosa Parks-and-similar events, something else would have come forward, and taken that place, but Rosa’s story and background was seen as perfect, not only for inspiring black people to protest but for white people to sympathise with and, possibly for the first time in their lives, put themselves in her shoes. However, the movement was more than just one story and Krasko was doomed.

Or was he? He was sent back in time, further, by Ryan. Who knows what he is getting up to? Will the Doctor have to hunt him down again?

Also, if he had succeeded, what about those big flappy time guardian dragons from Father’s Day? Wouldn’t that have been an opportune moment to show up?

7. Fire Up The Roof

Yaz being a police officer, and being relevant with regard to her race does touch on another moment I have read concern about. The image of the TARDIS as a ‘police box’, the iconography used in many images of the show, and not everyone having a great experience or regard for the police, often regarding racial issues.  But here was a moment of inspiration to Rosa that somewhere else, the police could be something else.

8. Old Blue-Light Eyes

Frank Sinatra has Elvis’ mobile phone. And the Doctor is worried about changing history.

9. At Least They Didn’t Make Graham Drive The Bus

There was a moment, when it was clear that the Doctor and her friends were going to be complicit in the events that would make Rosa Parks take a stand – or a seat. And, given what Graham said about his wife Grace being such a Rosa Parks fan, and the grief she had given him about being a bus driver, specifically not this bus driver, that they were going to make Graham drive the bus – and be the bus driver his late wife hated so much. Then be the one to challenge Rosa and call the police, just to keep history on track. Not sure if he – or us -could have recovered from that one though.

10. The Scariest Moment of Rosa

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently over there. Doctor Who can often be scary to little kids, but they have a parent to snuggle up to, that’s usually the way things work and why, certainly in the UK, Doctor Who has become a family bonding moment for many. This story told in the past makes the events less scary, even though the parallels are drawn by the Doctor’s friends for their own time, and we get to see the history of things getting better.

Except The Meddling Fonz is from the 79th Century. And he is as racist as anyone, trying to change history to take away one of civil rights’ biggest icons. So, yeah, things get better. But 6000 years, there are still elements that are as bad as ever. The kids may not have got that. The adults should have…

So, what are your thoughts?

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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