In Rosa Doctor Who achieved the balance between education, personalisation, new stories, and call backs.
The Doctor Calls
It’s a new era but the comforting sense of continuity um, continues, with call backs to the Storm Cage, Perception Filters and a Vortex Manipulator. New viewers won’t care these have a provenance, while everyone else will go aha. And there is a new thing: neural thingamy to inhibit violence. Also a new enemy who knows what a TARDIS is. The other call back: Vinette Robinson as Rosa Parks. She was Abi Lerner in 42. Her performance here was wonderfully understated and dignified.
On the Bus
This episode did the required thing to ensure history remains as is, while also doing the Doctor Who thing where the main characters become intrinsic to the historic event happening. As for Fires of Pompeii, so now for Rosa. There is a pleasing sense of circularity to these types of stories. Things happen because we know they should, while the telling relies on their character’s (and our) knowledge of history to heighten emotional responses. It’s dramatic because we know what’s at stake (with reminders for those catching up with history). In putting history aright, The Doctor (and companions) become part of the causal chain. There is no Pompeii without The Doctor and Donna, there is no civil rights strike without Graham, The Doctor, Yaz and Ryan on that bus. To enable what must happen, the companions with The Doctor must help. But achieving this means sacrificing what they believe is the right thing to do (save people, leave/make room on the bus) to ensure history happens in the way it should. Hence the reactions of the Companions to these situations. And in this story more so than Pompeii as it is more personal. I mean while Doctor and Donna allow people to die, they are not personally connected in the way Ryan and Yaz.
The writing where Ryan and Yaz together reflect on how their experiences are (mostly) different because of people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jnr is deft and sensitive. Yay for two companions talking about more than The Doctor, or their relationship/s.
Meanwhile Graham and Ryan centre Grace in their responses to events, which also heightens the emotions and forms another call back (see above). Grace continues to be present to those who mourn her. Thus, while nothing in either of these stories change history, the companions, The Doctor, and we are changed…and with the power of story telling perhaps even a future or two may change.
There and then, here and now
Through The Doctor and more so the companions, the audience gets to see how current times interpret the past and versions of the future. They are the lenses which show us the universe. But every lens contorts and shapes what is seen. From the point of view of October 2018 (or a little earlier when this was written) the past is a lesson about our now. There are people today who do believe things went awry with Rosa Parks and want the world wound back to 1955. So while Yaz and Ryan rightly and thoughtfully reflect on what the civil rights achieved and its legacy, they (and we) see the movement as incomplete. And as fragile as those who feel as threatened as Krasko. So while it is almost an adage that there is nothing so alien as the past it’s not quite true. Nothing that happened in this episode is very far from happening now. And yet it is not like Doctor Who has never examined racism before either (Daleks = Nazis). The Doctor has confronted racists directly, (by punching them in the face), but that was always the point. It was mainly The Doctor taking centre stage to confront attitudes and actions. This episode sees Yaz and Ryan take active roles beyond what Bill did (for instance). Instead, for history to unfold as it should, The Doctor must not take a stand, but rather must take a seat using the inherent privilege she possesses (as white), and watch all this play out.
Beyond all this, the highlights were
- Yaz’s face when they first encounter Rosa Parks.
- Ryan’s face when he meet’s Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.
- Rosa, looking up at Ryan as she is walked from the bus.
- Graham’s face when he realises he must stay on board to create the conditions needed to cause Rosa to sit.
I like this tendency in the series to go small, but refer to big. One Stenza enemy defeated, but with later references to whole planets being cleansed. In the Ghost Monument, one race across planets with thousands of competitors, but only two left in the last hours of the competition. In Rosa, not a Master(mind) taking over the planet, just one dude nudging history to derail the civil rights movement. How utterly mundane he was and completely human. It worked because of how very well Krasko fit into 1950s Alabama, and could fit into 2018.
As far as writing endings go, there haven’t been any. Well, each episode finishes, some answers are found, history is put aright, but antagonists just disappear. Not as a metaphor, I mean literally vanish: ‘Tim Shaw’ escapes to his world, the holographic llin (the race adjudicator) is not really there in the first place, while Krasko is transported in time by Ryan’s use of the vortex manipulator…
Ilin is the least likely to reappear because the space race, while terrible, is finished. But ‘Tim Shaw’ and Krasko require more of a reckoning, not least because the Stenza continue their mission to ‘cleanse’ planets, while Krasko, where-ever he ends up, has the malice and drive to keep changing history even if he lacks his tech. In fact, sending him back far enough means all he needs to do is blunder about and squish the wrong prehistoric creature and something weird will result (like giant spiders in Sheffield?).
As for my writing, this looks as likely a place to end it today as any…