“If Rosa Parks can live here all her life, a couple of hours ain’t going to kill me. It ain’t going to kill me, right?” Ryan – Doctor Who
Montgomery, Alabama, 1943, Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) boards a bus in the front to pay her fare. She tries to walk down the aisle to the back, but the bus driver James Blake (Trevor White) barks at her, “Hey you. You don’t go that way. It’s not for coloreds.” She tries to explain it would be easier just to walk straight to the back, but he won’t listen to her. They exchange words and he angrily heads towards her. Rosa drops her handbag and sits down in the white section for a minute. She warns him, “You better not hit me.” She picks up her bag and gets off the bus to enter through the back. Blake sees her in his mirror and drives off. [What a dick!]
Twelve years later, the TARDIS materializes in an ally. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is disappointed they haven’t made it to Sheffield yet. Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) are complaining that it’s the 14th attempt to get to Sheffield. The Doctor whispers to the TARDIS, “You’re doing this deliberately.” The Doctor announces they are in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Graham: “1955? Elvis, could we see Elvis?” The Doctor: “I think he’s in New York this week. I could give him a call.” Graham: “You haven’t got Elvis’ phone number?” The Doctor: “Don’t ever tell anyone I lent him a mobile phone.” The Doctor detects artron energy in the area; that’s worrisome, the TARDIS uses the same type of energy and it shouldn’t be here. The Doctor decides to investigate. As they are walking down the street, a white woman drops one of her gloves and Ryan politely picks it up and touches her to give the glove back. The woman’s husband turns around and slaps Ryan hard across the face. The Doctor, Graham, and Yaz run to Ryan to keep him from killing this man. The husband threatens Ryan with lynching if he ever touches another white woman. Rosa Parks stops by to defuse the situation. She knows the husband and is able to calm him down enough for him to leave. Rosa turns to Ryan and asks, “Are you crazy?” Ryan: “He slapped me.” Rosa: “Do you read the newspapers? You know what they did to young Emmitt Till?” The Doctor: “We’re from out of town.” Rosa: “So was Emmitt Till, on vacation from the north. A couple of words to a white woman in Mississippi, they find his body in the river.” This sobers Ryan up. The Doctor asks who she is to thank her, and Rosa tells them she is Mrs. Rosa Parks. The four are excited and delighted to meet the icon. As she walks away, the Doctor detects that the artron energy surrounds her. A man in a leather jacket (Josh Bowman) spots the TARDIS. It’s obvious he knows what it is and tries to break in. He realizes the ship has a force field around it.
The Doctor and her friends are sitting in a restaurant. Everyone is staring at them. Graham: “Is it me or has it gone very quiet in here?” The waitress (Jessica Preddy) comes to their table. Waitress: “We don’t serve Negroes.” Ryan: “Good. Because I don’t eat them.” Waitress: “Or Mexicans.” Yaz: “You talkin’ to me?” After they leave, the Doctor suggests the companions go back into the TARDIS while she investigates the artron energy on her own. They want to stay and help her. Ryan: “If [Rosa Parks] can live here all her life, a couple of hours ain’t going to kill me. It ain’t going to kill me, right?” The Doctor agrees to let them stay and help. Graham: “We will stop somewhere else to eat, now won’t we?” The Doctor: “No time, Graham!” Graham: “Have you noticed that happens a lot? I need regular food.” A police car slowly follows them. Meanwhile the man in the jacket stops Rosa but pretends he doesn’t want anything. He gives her a nasty look as she walks away.
“I can be a police officer now because people like Rosa Parks fought those battles for me.” Yaz – Doctor Who
The Doctor traces the center of the artron energy near the city’s bus depot. They walk into an empty abandoned building, but the Doctor uses her sonic and a suitcase appears. Someone used a perception filter to hide it. The Doctor walks over to the suitcase to open it. The Doctor: “Is anyone excited? Because I’m really excited.” Graham: “You won’t be if it’s a bomb.” The Doctor: “Don’t kill the vibe, Graham!” It’s not a bomb but futuristic equipment. The man in leather starts shooting at them. After they run and take cover, the Doctor leaves them to talk to the mystery man. His name is Krasko and he and The Doctor begin their verbal sparring. Krasko: “Blue box in the alley. Is it a T.A.R.D.I.S.?” The Doctor: “Might be. What’s it to you?” Krasko: “Could be worth a lot.” The Doctor: “Nah. Not that one. Second-hand. Huge mileage. One careless owner.” He orders the Doctor and her friends to leave Montgomery or he’ll kill them. The Doctor scans him before she leaves and joins her friends. Yaz: “Are we actually leaving?” The Doctor: “Not in a million years.”
Graham and The Doctor check into a crummy motel room and sneak Ryan and Yaz in. The Doctor needs time to figure out what is happening here. During her standoff with Krasko, she took his temporal displacement gun. She explains what it does and tells Ryan to be careful with it. She begins writing what they know on the wall. Graham: “What are you doing? That is vandalism. We’ll have to pay for that.” The Doctor: “Don’t worry. Special pen.” Graham: “No, pack it in. You ain’t Banksy.” The Doctor: “Or am I?” Someone knocks at the door; it’s the cop in the squad car. Yaz and Ryan go and hide. The Doctor erases what she wrote on the wall. The Doctor: “Banksy doesn’t have one of those? Or have I?” Officer Mason (Gareth Marks) walks in. He was following them because of reports that Ryan was causing trouble. He reminds them they can’t have people of color in their room. Mason: “What’s your business here in Montgomery?” Graham: “We’re here to pitch an invention. It’s a telephone that plays music and it’s a camera, also. It takes photos. And it’s a calendar. And it sends letters.” Mason: “Sounds ridiculous. What’s your name, sir?” Graham: “Steve. Jobs. Steve Jobs.” Mason: “You being disrespectful with me, Mr. Jobs?” Graham: “Steve Jobs would never disrespect a Montgomery police officer, sir.” Mason walks into the bathroom hoping to catch Ryan and Yaz, but the bathroom is empty. Mason: “You get yourself gone as soon as your business is concluded.” He leaves. The Doctor: “I did not warm to him.”
Yaz and Ryan are in the ally hiding behind a garbage bin. Ryan: “I’m having to work so hard to keep my temper here. I could have slapped that guy back there as soon as we arrived. Thank God my Nan taught me how to keep my temper. Never give them the excuse.” Yaz: “Yeah. My dad tells me the same.” Ryan: “It’s not like Rosa Parks wipes out racism from the world forever, otherwise why do I get stopped by the police more than my white mates?” Yaz “Oi, not by this police.” Ryan: “Tell me you don’t get hassled?” Yaz: “Of course I do, especially on the job. I get called a ‘Paki’ when I’m sorting out a domestic or a terrorist coming home from the Mosque. They don’t win those people. I can be a police officer now because people like Rosa Parks fought those battles for me. For us. And in 53 years, they’ll have a black president as leader. Who knows where they’ll be 50 years after that. That’s proper change.” Ryan: “Were you born this positive?” Yaz: “I guess so; it must be my Mexican blood.” Graham calls for them, they go back inside the motel. The Doctor begins writing on the wall again; they need more intel on Rosa. They need to follow her around. They begin reciting the facts they already know about her. Graham knows about the bus driver James Blake because Grace mentioned Blake when she found out Graham was a bus driver too. She told him not to be like Blake. She admired Rosa Parks. Graham: “I wish she was here.” Ryan [humorously]: “I don’t, she’d start a riot.” The Doctor: “Right. Operation Rosa Parks.”
“Now we know what our task is, keep history in order. No changing it, just guiding it against someone who wants to disrupt it.” The Doctor – Doctor Who
They go to the department store where she works and wait for her at her bus stop. Once Rosa is on the bus, the Doctor sits down next to her to talk. She pretends they are doing market research for the bus company and she asks her where she catches the bus, and where she lives. Rosa answers and tells the Doctor if she sits there, the other black passengers will have to move further to the back to make room for white passengers. She asks if the survey will allow her to sit wherever she wants on the bus, the Doctor sadly says no. Rosa already knew that. When she gets off the bus, Ryan gets up to follow her. The Doctor wants Graham to find James Blake, and she wants Yaz to work on the timeline. She will go back to talk to Krasko to tell him to leave. While following Rosa, Ryan thinks, “Stalking Rosa Parks, I don’t know about this.” Rosa notices Ryan following her and asks what he wants. He says he wants to help the movement. She decides to take him to her house for a meeting. She introduces Ryan to her husband, Raymond Parks (David Rubin), to attorney Fred Gray (Aki Omoshaybi) and to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Ray Sesay). Ryan is thrilled beyond words. He tells Dr. King how much his Nan loves him. When he asks if she attends his church, Ryan tells him she recently died. Dr. King offers his condolences. Ryan: “Thank you Martin Luther King. She’d be chuffed to know you said that.” Rosa asks Ryan to serve coffee. Ryan: “Yes Rosa Parks, whoa.” When he gets ready to leave, he thanks her. Rosa says she hasn’t done anything yet, but Ryan knows she will.
The Doctor has her second confrontation with Krasko. She knows he was in Stormcage, the prison in the future that keeps the worse criminals. [River’s old hangout.] He tries to play dumb, but the Doctor knows because of the tattoo on his wrist. The Doctor: “What were you there for in the first place?” Krasko: “If I tell you, it might color your view of me. I was young. Nobody got hurt. Well, a few people got killed. A few hundred people, thousand tops. Two thousand.” The Doctor had asked herself why Krasko hadn’t tried to kill Rosa, but she figured it out. The prison installed a neural restrictor in his brain. He can’t hurt anyone no matter how hard he tries. She destroys his vortex manipulator to make him mad. He tries to strangle the Doctor but the neural restrictor won’t let him. She tells him the gig is up, he should leave while he can. Krasko brags he figured out the best way to change history is to make small changes that result in an event not happening. The Doctor knows what he is up to now.
Yaz is busy working on the timeline and Graham is playing pool with Blake. Blake tells him that he is going fishing tomorrow because someone changed his work schedule. When they all meet up back at the motel, Graham tells them what happened. Yaz says that can’t happen. Graham: “That’s what I said but strangely he wasn’t listening.” Another bus driver, Elias Griffin (David Dukas) is taking his place. The Doctor knows that Krasko is behind this. He plans to nudge history to get it out of order. The Doctor: “Now we know what our task is, keep history in order. No changing it, just guiding it against someone who wants to disrupt it.” She gives her marching orders.
The Doctor and Yaz go to Elias Griffin’s home and tell him he’s won a raffle for him and his wife to see Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. They have to pack and leave in 30 minutes because a cab will be there to take them to the airport. They assure him they’ve arranged for someone to cover for him. They were able to arrange the trip because Elvis lent the cell phone The Doctor lent him to Sinatra. Ryan and Graham join James Blake at his fishing hole. He doesn’t want them there, especially Ryan. They tell him protestors are going to have sit-ins along his route. Not wanting to fish with Ryan and Graham and wanting to stop protestors, he leaves to go to work. The Doctor and Yaz arrive at the department store Rosa works at and ask her to mend the Doctor’s coat. They’ll pay extra for her to do it. She agrees and the Doctor leaves Yaz with her and tells Yaz Rosa has to leave by 5:40 to catch her bus.
“An education makes you unstoppable.” Rosa Parks – Doctor Who
Krasko vandalizes the bus so Blake can’t drive his route. The Doctor has Ryan run to each bus stop on the route to make sure no one leaves. The Doctor and Graham hotwire and steal another bus for Blake to drive. Blake: “How do you know that? What’s going on? What happened to that damn sit-in? Nobody else knew anything about it.” The Doctor: “Love to explain all that to you but you know us Brits—very imperious, not prone to explaining ourselves to anyone, no time to chat, just get driving.” Krasko sees this and glowers. Rosa and Yaz chat while she sews. Rosa had to drop out of secondary school to take care of her ailing grandmother and mother, but she was able to learn a trade. Rosa: “An education makes you unstoppable.” She asks Yaz about herself, Yaz tells her she’s a police officer. Rosa is impressed, she asks what Yaz wants, Yaz replies to run things. Rosa laughs and agrees. Finally, Rosa gets through with the Doctor’s coat and they leave. Ryan runs into Krasko. He has his car in the middle of the road to block the bus. Krasko talks his racist BS and tells Ryan to know his ‘place’. Ryan has the temporal displacement gun and sends Krasko somewhere further in the past. Ryan: “Oh! Oh! It worked! Nice one, Ryan! Thanks, Ryan. Move the car, clear the route, find the bus, and Rosa Parks can change the world. Good, here we go!”
Rosa Parks gets on the bus with Yaz; Graham, Ryan, and the Doctor are already aboard. Graham is ready to get off the bus thinking they’ve saved history but the Doctor does a head count. Not enough people are on the bus. She tells Yaz and Graham they have to stay on the bus so there will be enough white passengers to force Rosa to give up her seat. Yaz: “We’re here. We’re part of the story. Part of history.” Graham: “I don’t want to be part of this.” The Doctor: “We have to, I’m sorry; we have to not help her.” Blake tells Rosa to give up her seat and go to the back. Rosa refuses; he tells her he will call the police on her if she doesn’t. She tells him to do what he has to. The police arrive and arrest Rosa, taking her off the bus. The Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan look on helplessly as Rosa walks away bravely with the cops. We’re back on the TARDIS where the Doctor tells them what happened to Rosa. The Doctor: “Life’s still hard for Rosa. She loses her job, so does her husband. It’s a struggle. But they keep fighting.” She tells them Rosa received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Clinton in 1999. Ryan: “It took so long though—her whole life.” The Doctor show them an asteroid outside their door, “She changed the world. In fact, she changed the universe. Look at this. Asteroid 284996. Also known as Rosaparks.”
Rise Up by Andra Day played when Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in the white section, sparking the Montgomery Bust Boycott. It was a smart song choice for the scene.
Here is the stirring score for the episode.
The episode begins in Montgomery, Alabama in 1943. After paying her bus fare in the front, the bus driver James Blake tells Rosa Parks she has to enter the bus through the back because she is black. After they exchange words, she gets off the bus to go through the back, but the bastard takes off, leaving her by the side of the road. Twelve years later, the TARDIS arrives. The TARDIS won’t let the Doctor take Graham, Ryan, and Yaz directly back home. The Doctor detects artron energy in the area and decides to investigate. Ryan picks up a white lady’s glove and tries to hand it back to her, the woman’s husband slaps him and threatens to have Ryan lynched if he tries to do that again. The Doctor, Graham, and Yaz have to restrain Ryan from fighting back. Rosa Parks shows up to defuse the situation. The Doctor and companions are astonished to meet her. The Doctor detects the Artron energy around Mrs. Parks. Meanwhile, a man named Krasko spots the TARDIS and tries to break in unsuccessfully. The Doctor and friends continue to face blatant racism, but stay in Montgomery because they uncover a plan to stop Rosa Parks from refusing to sit in the colored section of the bus, resulting in her arrest and sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Krasko is a racist time traveler who came back in time to foil the civil rights movement. [So the alt-right survives into the future, whoopee.] The Doctor draws up a plan, they will make sure history proceeds as it had before, and prevent the small changes Krasko tries to introduce to stop the event. Ryan gets to meet Dr. Martin Luther King at Rosa Parks’ house. Yaz gets to hang out with Mrs. Parks at work. Graham gets the unpleasant task of hanging around James Blake. The Doctor has a talk with Krasko and shows him he’s out of his league. The Doctor and her friends are on the bus as observers and participants. They have to stay on the bus to make sure it is full enough so that Blake will try to make Mrs. Parks give up her seat to a white person, who in this case is Graham. The Doctor feels helpless in not being able to help, but she maintains her discipline so events will unfold. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor tells how the events played out. Rosa Parks had some hard times because of her activism but President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. The Doctor shows them an asteroid named in Rosa Parks honor.
When I first heard they were doing an episode about Rosa Parks, I was apprehensive. Television has a spotty record on doing episodes concerning race. Many times, it will end up being about some heroic white savior standing up to racist for the downtrodden minority of choice. With Rosa Parks, I was afraid they would have the Doctor give Rosa the idea not to give up her seat to a white person, or worse, the reason Montgomery was so racist was because of alien influence. I thought they would probably do a good job with the story, but I’ve been burned before. To my relief, they exceeded my expectations. This is the first great episode in the Thirteenth Doctor’s era. The writing in this episode was fantastic, thanks to first time Doctor Who writer, and the first woman of color to write an episode, Malorie Blackman, and showrunner Chis Chibnall. They told a serious story that centered on Rosa Parks, while also making an entertaining episode of Doctor Who. They weren’t afraid to show the harshness of racism. That slap Ryan received really shook me up. I knew then they weren’t going to sugarcoat the era. The writers kept the episode from being gloomy by having the appropriate amount of humor. Everyone in the main cast said something that made me chuckle. Vinette Robinson did an exceptional job portraying Rosa Parks’ dignity and gravitas without making her a living statue. Her Rosa was kind, brave, and determined along with having a sense of humor. The regular cast was great as usual. Mandip Gill got to do more this episode, showing Yaz being a realistic optimist in the face of the racism she and Ryan were facing in the past, and in our present. Bradley Walsh’s Graham delivered the funniest lines, and yet showed great sensitivity to the situation they were in. Tosin Cole has been the standout amongst the companions, and remains so in this episode. He went through the wringer, but showed Ryan to be more than a hotheaded teen. I grew up in the south but I never faced the level of overt racism my parents did, so I can imagine what Ryan was going through. Jodie Whittaker is so naturally the Doctor that I would hate it if we had never gotten to see her portrayal of the Doctor. It makes you think how many great performances we’ve missed out on because of gender or race. In this episode, she was caring and sensitive while totally being a badass to Krasko. The Doctor never wavered in keeping Rosa Park’s timeline intact. This is a great TARDIS team and I love their chemistry. The idea of a racist villain from the future was interesting, it proposes that racism doesn’t die out as we hope it will; that unfortunately seems realistic to me. I would have never thought in 2008 that we’d be in the racial quagmire we are in now. I believe we’ll continue to make progress, but the Krasko’s of the world will always be there trying to undermine it. We have to be the Doctor and keep them from succeeding. [If you’re in America, vote in the mid-terms and toss some of these Krasko(s) out of office. It’s what the Doctor wants us to do.]
Here is next week’s trailer and a scene from Arachnids in the UK.