I like historical episodes of Doctor Who and the third episode of the 2018 series – Rosa Parks – dealt with a difficult period in Earth history.
Parks was the black bus passenger in 1950s America who became a world famous civil rights activist after refusing to give up her seat on a racially segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
It’s a moment in time, but one which appears to be in danger of not happening as a criminal with extreme views appears to have begun meddling with small things in the periphery to try and ensure that this moment of history doesn’t come about.
That’s where the Doctor and her friends come in. With the TARDIS momentarily having a mind of its own, depositing the travellers in 1955 when their target was 2018 Sheffield, we get the first sighting of the Doctor, baffled as to why the TARDIS has not landed where she was aiming to land, suddenly noticing that not everything was right thanks to some sensor readings.
It complicated matters that two out of the diverse four current TARDIS passengers were non white, and the show was very effective in giving Tosin Cole (Ryan) and Mandip Gill (Yasmin) some powerful scenes exploring their experience of a very different world in a town where racism was not only overt, it was legal.
Things may not be perfect in 21st Century Britain, but they have come a long way since Rosa Parks’ time even though the American experience may have been far different to the British one.
Parks is played well by Vinette Robinson – she’s been on Doctor Who before as well as Sherlock and Black Mirror – and we can thank Malorie Blackman for contributing some powerful writing for the episode.
The episode was filmed in South Africa, no stranger to their own version of legalised racism – Apartheid – and it was obvious that the show had some uncomfortable themes to explore – and they did it well.
We’re a long way away from the time when David Tennant travelled with Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) where such topics weren’t always tackled head on.
Here, our time meddler wasn’t given much screen time before he was dispensed with, a function of the early evening time slot no doubt.
The rest of the episode raced through a Quantum Leap style cause and effect race against time (haha) to get Rosa onto the bus in a situation where she would be moved to act by the reaction of that fateful bus driver.
The extra running time and relaxed writing gave the exposition scenes more room to breath but the artificially imposed cliffhanger and some slightly out of place music felt a bit misjudged.