When one has a show about an alien with two hearts that looks human and flies around in a spaceship/time machine stuck looking like a police box, the sky is generally the limit and even history is open to some fictional additions and alterations to fit the story. The new minds behind the long-running science fiction series though have taken a different tact. Written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall the third episode of the new Doctor Who era travels back to the 1950’s in order to focus on the story of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks, and the episode does not shy away from the issues of the time one bit.
Right off the bat, Ryan runs into trouble as he tries to return a dropped glove to a woman, something that would not necessarily be an issue in 2018 depending on where and who and when, and is attacked by her husband who spits bile at him and threatens that he’ll be lynched quickly if he ever touches a white woman again. Soon after the group is tossed out of an establishment where Ryan is called a negro and Yas is misidentified as Mexican, because the racists of the time don’t care. All brown folks are the same to them, sadly something that hasn’t changed to this day for some folks. Ryan’s speech to Rosa Park’s though sums it all up very nicely though. Things have changed since then, they are not perfect but they are definitely better than they used to be. We can’t ever stop fighting though, like Rosa and Martin Luther King and so many others we have to keep pushing for change. It’s the only way to make it happen.
One big thing that people of color and women and LGBTQ and others often mention if they are talking about the theory of time travel is that all the films and shows show it being a fun and sometimes dangerous romp, but for those that are not white males there are many periods that would be dangerous only for them to visit. Where the people in charge would not only discriminate against them, they would potentially kill them right off the bat for literally nothing other than existing. This episode does not shy away from that aspect, unlike some in the past where companions or others of color didn’t have as many issues
A big theme for the series now is change following the Doctor’s latest regeneration into a woman, and that continues with the crew being bounced about time. In previous series, the formula is usually Doctor stumbles across a human or humans that help them with an adventure and then said human(s) end up agreeing to join the Doctor on voluntary adventures. Ryan, Yas, and Grahmn though didn’t agree to any adventures and after helping the Doctor have now been swept up in her wake as the TARDIS isn’t really letting the Doctor decide where to go right now. The TARDIS making the initiative to take the Doctor and crew where they are needed rather than where they want to go is a great way to go about all this.
A villain that isn’t some cackling alien or human trying to take over the world or end the universe but one that is just trying to nudge history into being changed because they are a future racist was an interesting turn. It speaks to the fact that sadly some things don’t change and racism or hatred will never fully be gone, even if we make things better. There is no utopian future where all things are wiped out, there is just the chance for humans to do better and make people like the villain Krasko (Josh Bowman) a minority outlier.
Science Fiction has always tackled the issues of the world, dipping into the political when necessary. Doctor Who can be a silly show playing through all of time and space and it can also be a very serious look at issues in the world through the lens of science fiction. This week it took that aspect, pulling at something very prevalent to our current world and presenting a reminder of a story that most of us know so well but using it as a way to push us to hope. To continue to fight and push for things to be better, no matter how hard it is. It’s a powerful and needed message, and continued proof of just how strong and relevant and different this series is under the new writers and showrunner and cast and others. Different is very good sometimes.
Score: 10 out of 10