Reunited with the TARDIS at the end of last week’s episode, this week’s Doctor Who should see The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) returning her companions to their Sheffield home in the 21st Century. Alas, the willful ship has other plans for its passengers and delivers them to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, where they encounter Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson), the “Rosa” of the episode’s title.
The Doctor makes repeated attempts to get her companions home safely, but the TARDIS keeps landing in the wrong place and time. When it lands in 1955 Alabama, The Doctor notices something unusual on one of the displays– evidence of another time traveler’s energy signature. She decides she needs to investigate, so the crew disembarks in pursuit of the energy’s source.
It isn’t their anachronistic clothes that call attention to The Doctor and her companions. It’s their integrated group moving guilelessly through segregated Montgomery. They’re harshly reminded of the time and place they’ve entered when Ryan (Tosin Cole) stops to retrieve a white woman’s dropped glove and is thanked with a hard slap across the face from her husband for tapping her shoulder.
Fortunately, Rosa Parks witnesses the incident and intervenes before things escalate.
As soon as the angry white man is gone, Rosa admonishes Ryan for his foolishness, reminding him of what happened to Emmett Till. When she introduces herself, the gang is starstruck, which baffles Rosa as she hasn’t yet done anything noteworthy.
As they separate, The Doctor scans Rosa with her sonic and detects evidence of the time traveler’s energy all over her. She takes her companions to a diner, where they realize that the next day is the day Rosa makes her famous refusal to give up her bus seat for a white passenger and that the coincidence of that and the aberrant energy must be why the TARDIS brought them there.
A hush descends on the diner while they’re talking, and finally a waitress (Jessica Preddy) approaches to say that they don’t serve colored people or Mexicans, assuming that that’s what Yas (Mandip Gill) must be. Our heroes leave peacefully, and The Doctor encourages them all to go back to the TARDIS to stay safe while she figures out what’s happening. Of course they refuse, so she uses the sonic to trace the energy’s source and they set out towards it.
They arrive at a warehouse at the bus depot, again pointing to a connection to Rosa. The warehouse is heavily padlocked despite being apparently empty. The Doctor uses her sonic to scan the room, identifying and removing a perception filter that had been hiding a suitcase from sight. She giddily rushes to open it and discovers a variety of tools that definitely don’t belong in 1955 and all relate to time travel.
Someone enters the warehouse behind them and begins shooting energy blasts. They successfully dodge, running outside and taking cover behind a propane tank. The shooter pursues, climbing on top of a tank to look around. The Doctor follows him, demanding to know who he is and why he’s there. Krasko (Josh Bowman) is more convincingly attired for the era, but he is definitely not on the same side as The Doctor. (He’s found her TARDIS, and it’s lucky it’s protected by a force shield or he would have stolen it to sell.) He refuses to cooperate, but he engages her long enough that she can scan him and his weapon, and she leads her crew away unharmed and better informed than before.
The Doctor and co. seek lodgings away from the TARDIS, now that they know Krasko has found it. They find a “whites only” motel, and The Doctor and Graham (Bradley Walsh) check in, sneaking Yas and Ryan in through the bathroom window.
They begin sorting out everything they know about Rosa Parks, but they’re interrupted by a loud knock. Yas and Ryan hide in the bathroom, and The Doctor opens the door to find a police officer (Gareth Marks). He tells them they’ve been upsetting people with their presence, and that it’s illegal to harbor colored people where they aren’t supposed to be. Graham stalls him by claiming to be Steve Jobs, on business in Alabama to pitch a telephone that takes pictures and sends letters. This gives Yas and Ryan enough time to escape out the window and hide next to a dumpster in the alley behind the motel. The officer warns The Doctor and Graham that they’d better get out of town as soon as their business is done.
As they wait for the all clear, Yas and Ryan commiserate about the racism they’re experiencing in 1955… and about how it hasn’t been completely resolved by the 21st Century. Ryan is having a hard time managing his anger in this offensive place, but Yas is encouraged by remembering that Rosa Parks’s upcoming action will spark a revolution that leads to Obama’s presidency in the United States.
When it’s safe for them to come back inside, they finish sorting out what they know about Rosa and agree they need to split up to learn as much about her and her routine as they can to ensure that the following day will happen as it’s supposed to.
They manage to avoid racist barriers to knowledge gathering in town and reconvene in the motel room with bus schedules, a map of Montgomery, telephone directories and more. They know where Rosa works, Graham figures out which buses she’s likely to ride and they find her home address. Their next task is to ride the bus with her and see what more there is to learn. They successfully join Rosa on the bus that evening, and The Doctor confirms from her that she rides the same bus at the time every evening.
When they reach her stop, Ryan gets off and follows Rosa home. She notices him almost immediately and confronts him about his intentions. He says he wants to join “the fight,” and she invites him inside, where her husband (David Rubin) is hanging out with Martin Luther King (Ray Sesay). Ryan is awestruck, although Dr. King is not yet the national celebrity he will be a short time later. By the end of an evening with them, Ryan’s appreciation of the fight they’re undertaking has grown exponentially and his own desire to make a contribution has begun coming into focus.
Meanwhile, The Doctor has gone back to the warehouse to get answers from Krasko. She tricks him into shooting his suitcase full of tools with his weapon, which is a time displacement gun. He’s shot his toolbox into who-knows-when. The trick works twofold in that his weapon overheats in his hand, causing him to drop it. The Doctor fast-talks him into confirming her earlier deductions, that he’s a former inmate of a high-security future prison and that he has a neural inhibitor in his head that prevents him from harming or killing anyone.
He tries to hurt her, but the inhibitor kicks in and shocks him hard enough that lets her go. The Doctor grabs his wrist-mounted vortex manipulator while he’s still in pain. She throws the time travel device to the ground and stamps on it, then declares that he’d better cooperate because she’s just become his only option for escaping this timezone.
She learns that he’s acting on a plot of his own device to change the little things in history, like Rosa refusing to stand on the bus, that had significant ripple effects. He reveals enough of his plan before he gets away that The Doctor knows she and her team need to guard Rosa’s timeline until she’s been arrested the following night.
The next day is a whirlwind of undoing the things Krasko has done to interfere. He’s changed the bus drivers, disabled the bus where events should unfold and posted flyers at every bus stop on Rosa’s route saying that service is canceled that day. The TARDIS team meets his every move, culminating in Ryan facing off with Krasko as he blocks the bus route with a car and his body. The Doctor had salvaged Krasko’s weapon and brought it back to the motel, explaining enough that Ryan set it to the beginning of time and brought it along. When Krasko explains that his plan is motivated by a desire to stop people like Ryan (blacks? humans?) from getting ahead, Ryan shoots him, blasting him into another era, and moves the car.
The gang converges on Rosa’s bus, riding with her and nervously watching the seats fill. When the time comes for Rosa’s fateful choice, there aren’t enough white passengers to allow them to disembark without altering history. They have to stay on board and contribute to the pressure for Rosa to move from her seat. They have to bear witness without assisting her.
From there, things unfold as they ought to. Rosa refuses to give up her seat and bus driver James Blake (Trevor White) has her arrested. The Doctor and her companions return to the TARDIS and confirm that the timeline is safe, then they visit the asteroid named for Rosa Parks.
This episode raises a number of questions! The number is 5!
- How do we feel about a Doctor Who episode that feels uncannily like a Quantum Leap episode?
- If a vortex manipulator is in play this season, does that mean Captain Jack Harkness might show up?
- Is the neural inhibitor a loving wink to Buffy fans? Because that whole “chip that stops the bad guy from harming others” was a pretty big part of Spike’s arc.
- Was this episode more about giving us a history lesson, demonstrating that reality (in this case, prejudice, a.k.a. a metaphor for fanboy trolls?) can be way scarier than sci-fi or setting up something sinister for the entire universe when Ryan sends Krasko somewhere unknown in the past and The Doctor sends Krasko’s tools someplace else in the future? (My fingers are crossed for the latter.)
- Am I the only one who cringed through the southern accents?
I hope we get to address these questions on this week’s episode of GGA’s post-Doctor-Who Twitch talkshow, AnyWho!