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Sunday, 21 October 2018

REVIEW: Doctor Who - Rosa



Following The Doctor’s recovery of the TARDIS at the end of the previous episode, the time traveller and her friends attempt to return home to Sheffield. However, given that the TARDIS has a mind of its own it isn’t exactly a surprised that the new TARDIS team end up in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama and discover that there is a strong trace of artron energy in the heart of Montgomery; artron energy that seems to be connected to Rosa Parks. With The Doctor and her friends worried about the possible ramifications for history, they have to ensure that history follows its correct path and stop whatever is causing the disturbances to the time stream.

In previous years, Doctor Who’s attempts to tackle history have been mixed – whilst some stories like The Shakespeare Code have been able to accurately sum up the period in which they are set, others such as Daleks in Manhattan have felt more like an attempt to simply show off monsters in a previous time.



Rosa is very much an example of the former. Rather than attempting to simply be a story about a monster attempting to change the past, this story demonstrates that humans are often monsters of the past. Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall’s excellent script is so raw, funny and utterly respectful to the memory of a great Civil Rights icon that you can’t help but love it. Both Blackman and Chibnall manage to artfully mix a science fiction romp in the past with an accurate and disturbing depiction of America’s past. A lesser drama would attempt to skirt round the issues that both Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill) face when travelling back to the 1950s – a fact that is reflected during their conversation about racism in the present day.

Nor does it ever try and moderate the language or actions that the would have and did happen in Montgomery. The rawness of the language and actions are startling and refreshing to see in a programme like Doctor Who, that is so often decried as “merely a children’s programme”. Thanks to the writing by Blackman and Chibnall they are proved wrong; the script for this episode of Doctor Who is as adult and inspiring as any script about the Civil Rights moment could be.



By removing a stereotypical science fiction “monster” and instead demonstrating the horrific nature of the institutional racism that Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson), Martin Luther King (Ray Sesay) and the black community of Montgomery faced during the period of segregation, the story feels so real and personal. However, the inclusion of Krasko (Joshua Bowman) is welcome – Krasko is the first really intriguing villain that this series has produced. A future white supremacist criminal, his inclusion alongside the conversation about racism in the present day that Ryan and Yasmin, allows the story to have a real timeless appeal; it demonstrates that the horrors of racism exist in all times and that they have to be constantly fought is society is able to move forward.

The guest cast for this story is the best of the series yet with Vinette Robinson giving an award worthy performance as Rosa Parks. Robinson brings a sense of inner steel, humour, sincerity and up all believability to her portrayal of Parks. It is a testament to Robinson’s ability as an actor that she can truly bring the spirit of Rosa Parks so much to life that you truly believe she is Parks. Robinson’s performance is at its best in the final scenes when she refuses to move off the bus when asked by James Blake (Trevor White). Her determination and strength shine through, as it must have been in 1955 when Rosa did the same thing. Robinson should be commended for artfully and sincerely bringing the script and history to life.



Joshua Bowman’s portrayal of the villainous Krasko is also excellent. He brings a true coldness to his part and demonstrates the real horror and vitriol of racism. Bowman brilliantly plays his first confrontation with The Doctor exuding the correct amount of smugness and cold bloodedness. Krasko may have simple motivation but it is effective in the story and he is a perfect antagonist to The Doctor and co. Yet the brilliance of Blackman and Chibnall’s script is that they never allow him to overshadow the true horror of segregated life in Montgomery; lesser writers would have allowed Krasko to be the focal point of the story but by allowing him to simply be a reminder that the evil of racism is constant, no matter what time you live in.

In conclusion, Rosa is the best episode of this series yet – artfully mixing history, politics and science fiction to produce a profound and exciting adventure into the past. It also demonstrates that Doctor Who is often the perfect programme to educate people, of any age, about the past and to do it in an entertaining and engaging way. Rosa isn’t just the best episode of this series – it is a great piece of drama in its own right and one that we will be probably talking about for a long time to come.

Contributed by Will Barber Taylor 

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