Doctor Who – Rosa

  • Doctor Who (2005) Season 11 – Episode 3
  • Air Date: 21st October 2018, 18:55 (GMT)
  • Writer: Malorie Blackman

Straight off the bat let me just say that I’m naturally inclined towards the more futuristic or overtly scientific episodes of Doctor Who – historical adventures are fine but I’m generally not one to get a kick out of historical events or figures. Meeting Rosa Parks in this adventure was interesting but when our heroes start enthusing and gushing about a person who actually existed (Sadly Mrs Parks passed away in 2005), and repeatedly pressing home how important they were, it is hard to shake off the feeling I’m sitting through a school lesson rather than indulging in some breezy escapism.

(I’ll also mention I was a touch distracted throughout yesterday by meeting a lady online the who may possibly become my new girlfriend, so an argument can be made that my heart wasn’t really in the viewing experience)

I want to make very clear, however, that none of my personal feelings should be allowed to tarnish the message concerning Rosa Parks herself. What she accomplished in her life was utterly awe-inspiring; we should ALL be thankful for her object lesson in how to make the world a better place. To have suffered all her life, as many Black people did and still do, only to be recognised fifty years later by a Congressional Medal of Honor…is appalling. Her name rightly deserves to live on for all time. but for something far more inspiring than a simple space rock – Let’s sort that out, Humanity, eh? That we now have an episode of Doctor Who showcasing her achievement is only fitting.

Where It All Started To Change

It was good to see the Doctor and companions having to deal with some very real Racial prejudice. And deal with it directly too – not obfuscated or dressed up in analogy (Though 1987’s Rememberance of the Daleks did briefly touch on it with the Guest House’s “NO COLOUREDS” sign). Poor Ryan, a young black male, took the brunt of it, Yas being given a slightly easier time being mistaken for “Mexican”.

PHOTO: 7th Doctor Companion, Ace, encounters very British Racism in 1960’s London. (Rememberance of the Daleks, 1988)

Of course the Pink, Bow-wearing Elephant in the room was that Sexism went completely unremarked this week. I get the expediency of not having your script take on too much work, and focus on doing one objective properly, but I think both the Doctor and Yas got off lightly in this environment where they’d have struggled more in real life. The Docor will find that on Earth her new form isn’t going to be as well accepted as any previous one. I will keep waiting for this to be addressed because it’s exactly what I imagined would be great meat for the series to delve into with a Female Doctor.

SCRIPT PROBLEMS
I felt the script was weak. Dialogue was largely flat and much of the logical construction behind the tale felt ropey at best. Bad guy from the future just happens to be a racist bigot? Many of the white people depicted were decent people too and racist not out of spite or malice but because they didn’t know any better. I felt that undercut our villain, slightly. I wasn’t terribly impressed with his plan to “nudge” history out of shape either, relying on the kind of Goonies-level hi-jinks that is more irritating than threatening. I also felt the attempt to paint him as bad because he’d killed a thousand people was clumsily handled. The Doctor has dealt with people who’ve killed universes, son – you’re just a pimple compared to them, and your bad-lad leather jacket is as pathetically mockable as Peter Parker’s angst-driven dance “strut” in the Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man film.

I also think that any person stepping into 1950’s America should have possibly realised that taking a young black man with you was going to lead to trouble. For the Doctor (and Graham) to have made this error – and then to compound it by not sending Yas or Ryan straight back to the TARDIS after the first incident where Ryan got assaulted was incredibly poor, and barely credible. This wasn’t the small lack of paying attention made by the Seventh Doctor being gunned down as he closes his TARDIS door, this was Doctor thirteen ignorantly marching a burning torch into a fireworks factory, and then continuing to march around with it even after fireworks have gone off. Hide in a Motel? No, TARDIS!!! (The scene with the cop was wholly unnecessary, adding nothing to the story).

…can the Doctor see through the Fourth Wall???

TARDIS
While I’m on the subject of the Tardis – I loved the interior scenes. The new design is definitely growing on me. And it’s interesting that the Doctor is once again no longer in complete control of the vessel, having made 14 attempts to return to Sheffield by episode opening; it seems the controls have changed so much that the DOctor is still having to figure them out, creating opportunities for the TARDIS’ guiding intelligence to take the Doctor where she needs to be rather than where she wants to be. I do wonder if we’re ever to get any in-universe explanation for any of the TARDIS’ changes, or if this will be left to the imagination.

ACTING ISSUES
My concerns regarding the younger actors’ have returned this week. Tosin Cole was given a meaty chunk of story to get his teeth into this week (Yas once again playing cheerful support to the spotlight) but I think a more capable actor could have delivered a more powerful performance, which was needed given the subject matter. Tosin also needs to enunciate more. His accent and deep tenor conspired more than once this week to obscure what he was saying. But these are minor niggles – overall I still like watching him. And his enjoyment at meeting Dr King and being with Rosa Parks in the same room was infectious.

The Doctor…was okay. She’s a very capable actress and I still love watching her but she needs to learn to do darker tones with more intensity. There were lines during her conversations with Forgettable Future Fonz that I could have imagined any of her previous incarnations making a real growly meal of, but Doctor 13 didn’t come off as being able to convincingly threaten a puppy. I’m tempted to make allowances so early into her tenure: this could just have been just fault of the weakly conceived and frankly not-that-threatening bad guy she was playing off against (The less said about him the better).

ACTING NON-ISSUES
On the other hand Bradley Walsh impressed me for the third week running; Graham might even be working his way up to some kind of favourite of mine among the show’s companions. The man is seemingly incapable of not milking a line for everything it’s worth.  Once more he gets to show a little pain at the loss of his beloved wife, but his standout moment in this episode was his realisation that he would have to be part of the moment where Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat. His pain at having to compromise his beliefs, and possibly deal with the guilt of betraying his recently-deceased wife, in order to create the conditions that Rosa could rebel against was heartbreaking. That one line: ” No, no: I don’t want to be part of this!”…the clear pain in his eyes and voice…really powerful stuff, beautifully delivered. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

This was a difficult review to write as my feelings towards it are a lot less positive than they were for last week’s breathless romp. This third episode was, for me, a bit of a disappointment. I felt that it failed to engage me on numerous levels but was – ultimately – one that I’m glad the programme makers took a risk on. But in some parts it felt like a sermon or tuition in worthiness rather than a Doctor Who adventure. Too much time describing the important and pivotal History, and how pivotal and important it was, at the expense of actual drama and story-telling. I also believe some writing and acting issues marred what could have been a powerhouse of an episode with a stronger team behind it.

Lastly, how has it taken me two weeks to work out that the new title sequence is a modern version of the ‘howlaround’ opening titles of the classic series’, coupled with with a riff on the similarly iconic starfield-and-blast finish? I am Shame. *bows head*

Modern Howlaround (my name for it from now on) = Beautiful