Series 11 – Episode 3: “Rosa”
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Vinette Robinson, and Josh Bowman
Written by: Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Mark Tonderai
Beware! The Oncoming Storm…of SPOILERS AHEAD.
“She changed the world. In fact, she changed the Universe.”
Series 11 gets a damn near Vincent and the Doctor level story with the premiere of Rosa. Co-written by novelist Malorie Blackman, this episode directly confronts the racism of the era with a, frankly, First Doctor like tale of the Doctor and the gang having to keep time itself safe. I won’t lie. When this episode was announced, I had prepared myself for the worst, despite my loving the first two episodes. BUT, much to my surprise and delight, Rosa is a genuinely harrowing and powerfully emotional science fiction tale. One that continues Doctor Who’s commitment to growth, diverse production staff, and telling more socially relevant stories on a global platform.
If we really want to boil this story down to its base components, Rosa is basically Team TARDIS vs. a time racist by the name of Krasko (played with a British alt-righty sleaze by Josh Bowman, who hilariously dresses like a chorus member in Bye, Bye Birdie). First off, we really need to appreciate the show just doing full tilt with confronting the idea of racism within its own universe. Before the closest, we have ever gotten in the new series was a throwaway gag between Ten and Martha during The Shakespeare Code by Gareth Roberts. The less said about the Classic era’s racial politics and representation the better.
BUT, seriously! Seeing the Doctor and her companions facing down “Whites Only” signs and having to navigate through being questioned by openly bigoted Montgomery police officers is worlds beyond tossed-off lines. Having Malorie Blackman, a woman of color, lending a heavy hand with the script gives this episode a real air of authenticity, as does Mark Tonderai’s continually intimate and character-focused direction. Of course, it would have been better had she had had sole credit. It is still a huge leap forward for the series in terms of narrative and giving large-scale production jobs to people of color. Arguably this could also be looked at as one of Jodie Whittaker’s best episodes so far.
On top of all of the episode’s earned progressive points, it is also a pretty dang great single story. Armed with the infectious charm of the Thirteenth Doctor and her increasingly amazing rapport with her new companions, this episode really strips the new series down to the brass tracks historical drama that the property started as. Just with a new healthy layer of social and emotional intelligence. Our new Team TARDIS has really gelled, quicker than I could have hoped. Better still Tosin Cole’s Ryan and Mandip Gill’s Yaz get to shoulder most of the episode’s emotional load, which in turn gets great things from them. We might even see the blossoming of a romance between the two. Even without that, I really believe that they are old schoolmates now thanks to Cole and Gill’s natural chemistry.
The Doctor and Graham also solidify their fun. The teasing energy in this episode with Graham still being an irascible old codger and the Doctor going out of her way to tease him. There is a runner about Banksy and a time-displaced mobile phone during this episode that really had me rolling. Guest star Vinette Robinson really adds a maternal, poised grace to the episode as Rosa Parks. She adroitly avoids being a straw-woman version of the civil rights leader. It makes her feel like a real, living, breathing woman standing at the center of history. Her performance is an integral part of the episode’s truly gut-wrenching finale that I don’t think I can talk about without openly sobbing.
Verdict: Watch It
I was fully prepared to cringe through Rosa. Man, did I ever do the opposite. Funny, uncomfortable at times, and positively saturated with heart, Rosa is a triumph for Series 11 and a wonderful throwback to the historical and detailed storytelling of the show’s first adventures. I really hope that Series 11 continues this kind of preservationist thread with 13 and her stories. We could do with more Doctor Who episodes precisely like this one. Especially now.
NEXT TIME! “Arachnids in the U.K.” by the man himself (again, is he writing all these?) Chris Chibnall! Sounds very spooky. I am v excited. Plus, Chris Noth! Be seeing you.