Now firmly established in its Sunday night slot, Doctor Who delivered yet another fantastic episode that had fans old and new stunned. Although the show has always been inherently political, as most science fiction is, rarely does it tackle politically charged historical moments head-on like it has done in this episode. With high stakes and nail-biting tension running throughout, this episode proves that Doctor Who can tackle these sorts of issues while still providing a great story and quality Sunday night entertainment. It has to be said, however, that this episode is not for the faint-hearted. It does not pull its punches. In fact, it might well be the most heavy-hitting episodes of Doctor Who in terms of real-life social issues in recent memory.
Before getting into the main story, Although it goes without saying at this point, Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is absolutely fantastic, as always. She can perfectly balance the wit, wisdom and empathy that the Doctor embodies with her own high energy and enthusiasm. This episode gives us our first look at this particular Doctor’s darker side, however – the scenes between her and the main villain, Krasko, are perhaps some of the best character moments for her Doctor so far. We are treated to some more lighthearted moments with Thirteen, which are always welcome – and there are some great little tidbits that veteran fans will appreciate. Likewise, Graham brings a lot of heart to this episode and although Bradley Walsh often brings some lighthearted comic relief to the series, here he demonstrates his ability to play the companion role straight, and he is well on his way to becoming a fan favourite.
The rest of the TARDIS team are also on point in this story, and for the first time we see some real character development for the younger two of the group as they grapple with the intense and heavy-hitting racism that infests 1955 Alabama. Ryan, in particular, is targeted several times throughout the story and there are some scenes – and dialogue – that would not seem out of place in a production of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as we see the uncomfortable but entirely necessary depiction of just how awfully black people were treated on a daily basis in this time period. Some of the more poignant moments in the story come when Ryan and Yaz talk about the situation as two 21st century youths experiencing segregation first-hand.
Speaking of which, the main bulk of the episode – dubbed ‘Operation: Rosa Parks’ by the Doctor – is to ensure that history plays out despite the intervention of a time-travelling racist from the future. Although it sounds ludicrous, the writers handle this situation with all due respect and dignity, and co-writers Chris Chibnall and Malorie Blackman have definitely made a fantastic contribution to Doctor Who’s already formidable array of excellent historical stories. The acting in this episode is also great – Vinette Robinson steals the show as Rosa Parks with a compelling performance, and her final scenes left many fans in tears.
Doctor Who is, and will hopefully forever remain, a show that will tackle important political and social issues head-on. Only last series, Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor punched an industrialist after he told black companion Bill to “stand in the presence of her betters”, and the Doctor’s attitude towards the sickening racism that pollutes human history has definitely been reemphasised in this new incarnation. Both the Doctor and the show itself should always be at the forefront of tackling injustices throughout time and space, and Rosa shows just how emotive and moving this kind of storytelling can be.
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