Oh wow, this episode. I’m not even sure where to start.
Doctor Who has tackled racism before, but usually in an off-hand, allegory manner, some times with a little humour injected to lighten the mood. But Rosa was an on-the-nose, raw, and uncompromising look at an issue that is still very real today.
The premise of the story is simple; the TARDIS is pulled off track by traces of artron energy and the gang finds itself in 1950’s Alabama, on the eve of Rosa Park’s famous sit in. Almost immediately, Ryan gets into trouble for touching a white woman, the situation only diffused by Rosa’s intervention.
The Doctor detects artron energy around Rosa and then tracks it to a warehouse, which has a suitcase full of far-future tech inside. Here we’re introduced to the villain of the piece. Krasko is from the future and has recently been released from the Storm Cage. While not as developed as he could have been, the fact he’s nothing more than a futuristic racist echoes the main storyline well.
The conversation between Ryan and Yaz in the alleyway is what a lot of people are calling “uncomfortable.” And you know what? There’s nothing about how Ryan gets stopped by the police more than his mates or how Yaz gets called a Paki that should make you comfortable. It’s not “political correctness gone mad” to acknowledge how real, every day life is for people of colour in the UK and the USA.
Or maybe it’s 51st century Krasko referring to Ryan’s “kind” that unsettled people. All that time and people like him still exist? Yes, probably. There’s always going to be those who blame their problems on the other, whether that’s race, or gender, or sexuality.
Back to the story, and one thing I absolutely loved was that the Doctor and gang used their heads to solve the problem. I think too often that the Doctor has relied on being able to talk or sonic their way to a solution, but this time it needed brain power and all four of them working together.
Though Ryan meeting Martin Luther King was utterly adorable.
Those last scenes, though. The Doctor is far happier effecting history, than having to choose the lesser of two evils and allowing history to unfurl. Pompeii or the world. Rosa or the civil rights movement.
Bradley Walsh shone in this scene. His agony at having to let something so against his morals happen was written in every anguished line on his face and he was the character I empathised with most. He knew he had the power as a white man to at least try and stop things. Yet he had to be complicit, otherwise history would have changed. Not altogether – because I believe the civil rights movement would always have happened – but there’d have been a set-back of years. Maybe even decades.
Rosa was then, in short, the most powerful episode of Doctor Who since Vincent & The Doctor. Wonderfully written, beautifully shot, and very powerfully acted. It deserves a lot of awards.