“Rosa” started as many DOCTOR WHO episodes have, The Doctor is unable to convince the TARDIS to go where it’s being told, and instead materializes at a specific place and moment in time. The place and moment in time that the TARDIS has chosen is Montgomery, Alabama on November 30th, 1955 — one day before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, influencing the civil rights movement in the United States.
Rather than having an interest in the history of civil rights, the TARDIS chose this time and place to materialize because it picked up traces of artron energy, the same kind of energy that powers the TARDIS.
A fellow time-traveler turns out to be the source of the radiation. Wearing a leather jacket, white T-shirt, and jeans — greaser style — Krasko, a convicted serial murderer of thousands, is an escapee from a prison in the distant future. Krasko reveals his plan: he came back to this specific moment in time to ensure that Rosa Parks would not become an icon for the civil rights movement. Krasko, revealing himself to be quite the bigot, describes Parks’s refusing to give up her seat as the moment when everything changed. He seeks to prevent the ensuing push for civil rights for visible minorities.
DOCTOR WHO: “Rosa” – Doctor Who or Doctor Beckett?
Although it’s true the Doctor has had similar adventures over the show’s long-running tenure, I can’t think of any that were so on the nose. “Rosa” reminded this viewer more of an episode of QUANTUM LEAP than it did of an episode of DOCTOR WHO. The commentary on racial intolerance in 1950s America was well done. The commentary provided by way of Ryan thinking Rosa Parks was the first black female bus driver, rather than knowing about her actual role in history, was similarly on point. It all just felt a bit contrived.
Combining the Doctor’s drive to keep history on track with the forgettable villain bent on wreaking havoc with the timeline, and it felt like the only thing missing from this QUANTUM LEAP episode was a holographic projection named Al that only the Doctor could see and hear.
DOCTOR WHO: “Rosa” – Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks
One of the strangest moments in “Rosa” came when Ryan got to sit in on a meeting between Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Although this scene provided for some adorable reactions from Ryan — calling Dr. King “Martin Luther King” and Parks “Rosa Parks” every time he referred to them — it stuck out as unnecessary to the plot, seeming more like padding than anything else.
The historical reference is there — King started the Montgomery bus boycott shortly after Parks was arrested — but this scene did little to advance the story.
DOCTOR WHO: “Rosa” – History from Behind the Bins
The highlight of “Rosa,” for me anyway, was Yaz and Ryan’s conversation about the contemporary state of racial inequality. Both bemoan the lack of total equality they face: Ryan talks about getting pulled over by cops, and Yaz talks about being called a terrorist on her way home from the mosque. They have this conversation while hiding behind a dumpster from a racist Montgomery police officer.
The content of this scene, although not wholly related to the episode’s plot, highlighted a point that hasn’t gotten much time on DOCTOR WHO. Although women and visible minorities have been accompanying the Doctor on his (and now her) adventures over the years, many who traveled back in time would be subject to a variety of racist and sexist attitudes from the temporally native populace. In truth, they would likely have to participate in the adventure “from behind the bins” as Yaz and Ryan did. It’s refreshing to see producers and writers tackle this sticking point rather than simply gloss over it.
DOCTOR WHO: “Rosa” – Final Thoughts
Bigotry is a difficult topic for any TV show to tackle, and DOCTOR WHO has attempted this tackle on a number of different occasions. Although I take issue with the somewhat ham-handed way in which the topic was broached, I applaud the creative team for their effort in highlighting an ongoing problem that many pretend is solved.
Ryan’s somewhat hasty actions again have me questioning his emotional stability — sending a mass murderer to a random point back in time was hardly a good idea. And, that the Doctor didn’t immediately reprimand him for doing so struck me as uncharacteristic. That Ryan set the controls to as far back as possible has this reviewer wondering if Krasko is indeed the “timeless child” that the Remnant mentioned in “The Ghost Monument.” We shall see.