What I Like About Who: No. 6

This is the sixth column in a weekly series from Rob Hull, Figures and More. Check back Mondays for a weekly journey through time and space, or read all of our adventures here

This week’s episode brought The Doctor—now reunited at last with her TARDIS—and her new friends back to the past. It seems only fitting that we get a historical episode, since that’s where the program’s roots lie. But this episode will go down in Whovian history. It’s the ambition of the writer who chose this piece of history, and the further bravery of the showrunner and producers to tackle the issues presented, that made this episode such a landmark that Doctor Who fans will talk about for years to come. Season 11 Episode 3, Rosa, is not just a history lesson, but a masterpiece.

In Rosa, The Doctor and friends meet Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) when the TARDIS lands in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. That much, I was prepared for. What I was NOT prepared for, was how upfront the show was going to be about racism during this time period. The showrunners were determined to put raw racism front and center and right in your face. The goal was to make viewers feel the discomfort suffered by those who were discriminated against, and the shame, that modern Americans feel for the shortsighted attitudes that existed back then. Ryan getting slapped in the face is a truly shocking moment to see realized, Yas is referred to as “Mexican,” and the bar scene made me so uncomfortable as an American, realizing that there was a time when treating people like that was normal behavior.

As this is a Rosa Parks episode, it should go without saying that the plot will revolve around the famous day when Rosa was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus. This is where the “villain” of the piece comes in. His name is Krasko (Josh Bowman), and he looks like an ordinary human, except he’s also a time traveller.

I love this character, because it allows Chris Chibnall to work in some really cool references to the show’s past. He has a Vortex Manipulator, which both Missy and Captain Jack have used in lieu of a TARDIS, and he was incarcerated in Stormcage Prison, which is where River Song is sentenced after killing “a good man.” He also has a “time displacement” weapon.

Krasko killed a lot of people to get sentenced there, but before he was released he was fitted with a neural inhibitor, which prevents him from harming or killing a living being. So, you might think, that sort of “neuters” him as a threat, right? Wrong. He intends to change history by making sure Rosa doesn’t have to give up her seat on the bus, preventing the bus boycott that followed from ever happening.

Klasko is Chris Chibnall’s warning to all of us. Klasko is a racist from the future who thinks that the Civil Rights movement is where it all went wrong, so he decides to go back in time and return things to the way they were before civil rights existed. His face off with Ryan reveals how misguided and hateful he is, and I will bet most people cheered when Ryan sent him on his way.

Speaking of Ryan, this episode is a chance for us to see more of his character traits. He is willing to take a stand against injustice, and is incredulous at the attitudes toward black people in this time. He is in awe of Rosa Parks, and her houseguest, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ryan also seems to “turn the corner” in his relationship with Graham. Their scenes together in this episode are the most cordial we have seen them interact. They both talk about what Grace would think of the adventure, and I am glad that they have continued to make her legacy an important part of the series. There are also some great character moments between Ryan and Yas, particularly when they are hiding behind the dumpster. Also, there seems to be more than just a friendship growing between Yas and Ryan, but it’s early days yet.

It should be noted that, serious though the nature of this episode is, there are quite a few bits of humor scattered throughout. The Doctor and Graham playing a married couple in the hotel room is a big one, as is the Doctor pretending to be Banksy. Also, the Doctor ripping her coat so that Rosa will have to fix it was a great moment fans will love. We also find out that the Doctor lent Elvis a mobile phone, and that Elvis then lent it to Frank Sinatra. My favorite, though, has to be when Graham tries to describe a smartphone to a policeman in Alabama in 1955.

The balance of activity between the four leads is fairly equal in this episode, with each character having an important part to play in the Doctor’s overall plan. For example, Graham’s bus driving career comes in particularly handy. Everything about that time and place is faithfully recreated, and the actual scenes on the bus make you pause and pay attention as history comes to life right in front of your eyes. Though, there is a little poetic license taken. It turns out that the bus is a few passengers short of the amount needed to make sure that Rosa is asked to give up her seat, so the Doctor, Yas, Graham and Ryan must stay on the bus. And, worse yet, the Doctor must allow Rosa to be arrested WITHOUT interfering. This is where Jodie Whittaker really gets to show her range, as the anguish on The Doctor’s face, as she has to fight her desire to combat the injustice, to “right the wrong” is clearly visible to viewers. It is a tremendous bit of acting.

In the end, history takes its course, and the Doctor summarizes the rest of Rosa’s life, leading to her receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Clinton. It is a stark reminder that standing up for what you believe in and affecting change is never easy, but the fight is worth it. The episode ends not with the familiar closing theme played over the closing titles, but a song called Rise Up by Andra Day. The song is also played over the scenes of Rosa being led off the bus and arrested. It is a powerful melody for a powerful moment, and it is a very moving piece of music. I think it was absolutely the right choice and it adds so much to the moment.

 

This week’s episode was a bit more straightforward than the previous two, but I think this is probably one of the most important and powerful episodes the show has ever done. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but, what a world this would be if it was.

Next week, I will be cursing out Chris Chibnall and hating this job, because I’m Arachnophobic, and Next Week’s Episode is called Arachnids in the UK. Have I mentioned I REALLY hate spiders?  If anyone needs me, I’ll be clearing enough space for myself behind the sofa.

 


DID WHO KNOW?

  • The very first Doctor Who “historical” was the very first story broadcast, An Unearthly Child, in which the First Doctor brings his GrandDaughter, Susan, and her teachers, Barbara and Ian, to the Year 10,000 B.C.
  • This is not the first time The Doctor has found him/herself as a part of a historical event. The Tenth Doctor found himself in Pompeii on the day Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Although he initially vowed to not interfere with history, the discovery of the alien Pirovile race influencing events leads the Doctor to actually CAUSE the erruption of Vesuvius. In a further turn of events, The Doctor’s saving of a marble merchant named Caecillius caused the Twelfth Doctor to have his face as a reminder to himself to “save somebody.”
  • The episode perfectly recreates Alabama in 1955, but it was, in fact, filmed in South Africa.
  • Vinette Robinson, who plays Rosa Parks, was in an episode of Doctor Who during the tenure of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. The episode was called 42, and it was written by the current Showrunner, Chris Chibnall.
  • Krasko was rumored by many to be a rogue Time Agent, due to the Vortex Manipulator he possessed. Although this did not turn out to be the case, we DO know of one former Time Agent who had a Vortex Manipulator: Captain Jack Harkness.