Thankfully, “Rosa” keeps the sci-fi to a minimum and only as a catalyst for the story, which allows the focus to remain on the historical narrative. A former inmate named Krasko from Stormcage Prison (which also housed River Song) has traveled back in time to change history at the point where he believes “things started to go wrong.” The Doctor and her companions work to stop his meddling and correct the timeline while revealing that the true villain in this week’s episode is institutionalized racism.
There have been several occasions where Doctor Who touched on historical racism and bigotry; however, they usually gloss over the issue or approach it allegorically and avoid addressing it in a real-world context. Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall’s script captures both the frustration and hope for the future that comes with fighting for what is right. The episode acknowledges that while things have progressed in the present day, the fight for equality is far from over. With the clarity of hindsight, most people would view Rosa Parks’ actions as heroic; however, I fear that if she did this today, her refusal to stand would be just as controversial as Colin Kaepernick’s.
Too often in Doctor Who, the companions are relegated to receiving expository dialogue or being someone for the Doctor to save. Thankfully, the Chibnall era has done a good job of developing these characters and giving them agency in the story. They all have skills that allow them to contribute—Graham’s career gives him insight on the logistics of the public transit system, Yaz’s police skills and historical knowledge help to put the pieces together to formulate a plan, and Ryan’s mechanical background are used in the fight against Krasko.
While this episode is difficult to watch at times, it remains optimistic, and brief moments of light allowed for a respite from the darkness. It is a great reminder to take joy in victories while always continuing to push forward.