By JD Phillips


Just kidding, it was awesome.

I have to admit though, when I saw the previews for this episode last week, I was extremely nervous. This is a very sensitive subject matter, the person of history episodes of Doctor Who are almost always terrible, (There are a lot more “The Shakespeare Code” episodes then there are “Vincent and the Doctor” episodes) and British television has a spotty record of accurately portraying America (Go watch “The Gunfighters” from the First Doctor era and tell me I’m wrong). But after watching “Rosa”, I can happily admit that the episode was surprisingly good. Not only did it do justice to the subject matter, but it reinvented time travel for the modern era of the show.

Doctor Who series 11 ep 3: "Rosa"

This episode featured the scariest monster since the Weeping Angels. History itself. There are few situations in the show where I am actually afraid that the Doctor can’t save the day. In this episode, I was terrified throughout. The challenge in this episode wasn’t really this week’s villain, but the Doctor navigating a difficult historical setting with companions of color where she can’t change history without potentially ruining the future. She essentially has one hand tied behind her back the entire hour. I’ve seen the Doctor face down Daleks without flinching, but when a police officer broke into their hotel, you could see she was terrified. Not of the cop, per se, but of the cop arresting Yaz and Ryan and her not being able to instantly save them for fear of accidentally disrupting the heart of the civil rights movement. It made history into the true monster of the week. Every place they sat down in, the hotel they rented, and the bus they sat in held extra tension as you never knew if more trouble was awaiting Yaz and Ryan around the next corner.

Speaking of Yaz and Ryan, this was the week I really felt the companions come into their own. Where the last two weeks have had them relegated to confused passengers on the rollercoaster ride that is the Doctor’s life, this week all four of them acted like a team. Yaz was the brains, doing all of the research and making one of those police picture walls. Ryan was the heart of the team, serving coffee to Rosa Parks and MLK and giving speeches about racism. (Also, he sorta killed the bad guy, but more on that later)

And Graham is that wonderful x-factor that is the endlessly useful bus driver. I hope that his bus driving experience being an unexpectedly massive help becomes a running joke all year.

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This was another powerful episode for Jodie Whittaker as well. Between her jokes about Elvis’ cellphone, letting the bad guy fail to choke her to utterly destroy his confidence, or breaking her own heart(s) by letting Rosa Parks be victimized to save history, Whittaker continued to knock it out of the park. I’m really ready for an episode where she is center stage and has to give a big speech or make an impossible decision. It’s gonna be good!

Rosa Parks was also a force to be reckoned with. The show resisted usual cliches its known for by having Parks almost entirely separated from the main plot. Not only was she unaware of any sort of sci-fi mischief, but I don’t even think she got the Doctor’s name. Instead, they allowed her to be as she was without the need for sci-fi elevation. She didn’t need an alien invasion to stop. Her real-life struggle had enough stakes by itself.

This also gave the episode a cool secret agent vibe. The four of them had to sneak around Montgomery, manipulating events of history from behind the scenes. This concept worked so well that I hope they do something like it in the future. It would be interesting to see them face a similar situation but fail. There could be dire changes to the future because of the slightest mistake and that could be fun to explore.

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Much more fun than Montgomery was. This stark view of the American south during the 1950’s breaks with how often Doctor Who glorifies the history it visits. Going to the 1700’s or medieval times usually involves a fun romp but very little in the way of slaves, disease, and horrible violence. This show went to great lengths to show the severity of the racial divide in that era. I hope they keep this darker tone as they continue to travel through human history. It would be cool to see some of the usual Doctor Who historical settings without rose colored glasses.

The episode wasn’t a complete winner though. This was the second week of a very lackluster villain. At first it seemed as though they were going for an anti-Jack Harkness character, (A roguish time traveler with a gun, a cool jacket, and a vortex manipulator) but in the end, he just seemed like a boring future racist. It motives were never truly explained and he was taken out very easily. (So the Doctor has a problem with shooting robots but not stranding a man at the beginning of time to presumably die?) His looming threat seemed a little silly. It would’ve been much more logical for the four of them to rush him and tie him up than any of the complicated plans they employed. He literally can’t even fight back!

Aside from a weak villain, this episode felt like the season really coming into its own. It handled a complex social issue in a very grounded and interesting way, it majorly developed the supporting cast, and it continued to showcase Jodie Whittaker’s increasingly interesting 13th Doctor.


A few closing questions:

  • Can Graham go by “Steve Jobs” from now on?
  • Which Doctor was the one who gave Elvis the cellphone? Ten bucks on Tennant.
  • Is the Doctor Banksy?!