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Elisabeth Sandifer's review of this episode is worth reading.

 

http://www.eruditorumpress.com/blog/rosa-review/

 

Acknowledging the relief that the story is handled with more subtlety than it might have been...

 

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Of particular and satisfying note is the way in which it furiously rejects a white savior narrative. There is no scene where Rosa gratefully thanks the Doctor for showing her how to stand up for herself. More to the point, in the episode’s most fascinating sequence, the Doctor and company are forced to engage in active complicity with racist discrimination in order to accomplish their goals. Rosa’s arrest is portrayed as something awful and unpleasant to witness, not as an act of glorious heroism. That’s smart, and puts this several cuts above most of its genre. I’ve seen people on Twitter say this should be taught in schools, and yeah, actually, it wouldn’t be bad for that.

 

... But ultimately she found it depressing:

 

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Instead I got a story about small changes that might have significant effects some day. A story that blatantly says that the people upon whose neck the boot is resting cannot be saved right now and are going to endure a hard and difficult life, and whose prize is that the next generation can be slightly less brutalized by the police and maybe even allowed to be one. That views small acts of defiance as the whole of worthwhile individual action. A story whose limits and constraints are painfully, brutally clear and placed not so much as walls to pen me in as doors slammed shut in my face.

 

Rosa is fine. There is basically nothing wrong with it as a fifty minute chunk of television. It’s probably the best episode of the season, and next week I’ll probably bother to figure that out. It’s well-made and at times deeply fascinating and compelling. There are weeks where that’s enough. Hell, being this good, in some detached and vaguely objective sense, would have been more than enough last week.

 

But for a story aired on October 21st, 2018 that trumpets these ambitions? It’s not even close. This is a show that has over and over again shown me worlds where a righteous lunatic doesn’t so much stare down oppression as burn it down. That could have, this week, shown me a trans woman demonstrating how to end reigns of cruelty and brutality. That could have shown me worlds where minorities thrive and flourish instead of celebrating the demise of one that’s incrementally worse than the one outside my window and prophesying that the fuckheads making it so would be the ones to survive long into the future. That could have done anything—because that’s still the entire fucking point of this goddamn show that I love. Doctor Who could have imagined a better world. It didn’t even try. There are other standards you can apply to it, and if you did and got something out of this I’m genuinely happy for you. For me, not even The Twin Dilemma or The Celestial Toymaker left me feeling as empty and hollow and beaten as this did. This is the worst I’ve ever felt after an episode of Doctor Who. I’ll probably forgive it for that someday. But right now I just can’t.

 

 

I want to quote a few of the replies that review has received so far.

 

One of the commenters compares it to Back to the Future Part 2. (Though thankfully this avoided any scenes like those in the original BTTF where the white characters inspire the black historical figures to do the thing they're famous for!) So that makes it Predator, Pitch Black/Riddick, and Back to the Future, three episodes in a row... and Arachnophobia next week? ;)

 

 

The decision to use the asteroid name as the example of Parks' long-lasting impact is one of the things criticised in the review and by some of the  commenters:

 

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Naming an asteroid isn't "changing the universe," since it's just something that happens on earth and doesn't affect the asteroid itself. Hasn't the Doctor read "The Little Prince"?

 

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I must admit the ending with the asteroid rang hollow with me. It didn't help that there was a news story that came out this weekend about how NASA had named a constellation after the fictional TARDIS. (As well as after the Hulk and Godzilla as well!) As much as this appeals to my geek side, it made the naming of an asteroid after Rosa Parks less of an honor, if such an 'honor' is extended to fictional constructs.

 

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I hated the asteroid bit (couldn't you show some material social progress that exists partly because of Parks, rather than a basically meaningless 'honour'?) but my pleasing head canon is that the future racist 'Biff' figure grew up on that asteroid, and that's part of the reason he's so angry about Rosa Parks existing :)

 

 

This is probably the most negative criticism of the episode in the comments:

 

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Doctor Who has the means and the motive to, for once, do a story about black people. It chooses racism in 1955.

Doctor Who has the means and the motive to do a story about racism in 1955. It chooses a celebrity historical about Rosa Parks.

Doctor Who has the means and the motive to do a story about Rosa Parks. It chooses to spend its time and emphasis on her bus-taking habits, what time she got out of work, the circumstances of the guy driving the bus, the number of passengers on the bus, the condition of the bus, and the absolute, vital importance that all of these factors presumably had to the point that even one detail being changed would risk unravelling the course of black civil rights with repercussions as far-reaching as the 79th century. This is a logic imposed on events by Krasko, a genocidal white supremacist from the future, and a logic that the Doctor and company collude with completely. The episode culminates with the Doctor and friends sitting by and watching Parks' arrest, with the unambiguous subtext that this is a struggle they have to endure because it's the right thing to do. Particular visual emphasis is placed on the Doctor and Graham's feelings of guilt in this situation.

The closest the story comes to acknowledging the existence of a community of black activists who consciously, persistently organised in order to make the bus boycotts happen, and selected Rosa's case to fight in the courts because of her social standing, is the brief scene where we see Rosa having a soirée with MLK. Otherwise the episode is completely and utterly invested in the idea that a set of coincidences - ones so specific that they had to be micromanaged - were the only possible thing that could have instigated a phenomenon of widespread black resistance. That black people would have just sat around and not done anything otherwise. That the entirety of history pivoted on this one act by one special person, who even got an asteroid named after her because of how special she was. This isn't the civil rights story, it's the neoliberal remake. It's patronising. It's horrifying.

This is the best Doctor Who can do, and it's not anywhere good enough. And yet as far as the eye can see, white people in their millions patting it on the back for less than the bare minimum. I deplore this programme and crave its death.

 

The first half was pretty decent though! I think 13, Yaz, Graham and Ryan all received their first genuinely compelling moments this week.

 

As one of the other replies says: "We ask a lot from this show, don't we?"

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I thought that was brilliant. Like Hexx, I was really glad they didn't resort to having the Doctor have to convince Rosa to do what she did or something like that. They just had to make sure the path was clear, so to speak, and the result was all the more powerful for it.

 

Easily the best of the new run so far, and probably up there with the very best of Doctor Who as a whole.

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19 minutes ago, mr twig said:

It was pretty similar to the Red Dwarf episode 'Tikka To Ride', except instead of making sure that JFK gets shot, they had to make sure that Rosa Parks doesn't miss her bus.

I some ways you are quite right. Although the whole butterfly effect thing has been done a lot in sci fi.

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8 hours ago, Mogster said:

I thought that was brilliant. Like Hexx, I was really glad they didn't resort to having the Doctor have to convince Rosa to do what she did or something like that. They just had to make sure the path was clear, so to speak, and the result was all the more powerful for it.

 

Easily the best of the new run so far, and probably up there with the very best of Doctor Who as a whole.

 

What would of been a better episode would of been the Doctor letting the future racist succeed, because the Doctor knew Rosa's arrest and Montgomery bus boycott would of happened anyway. 

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On 22/10/2018 at 21:54, Made of Ghosts said:

Thinking the episode should’ve ended with the doctor rising up and destroying racism forever in the 1960s is... an opinion that a person can have, I guess. 

 

Belated reply, but I don't think Sandifer is saying that's how this episode should have ended: it clearly couldn't, given the limitations that are an inherent part of attempting a story with its tone and genre (a story set in living memory, about a real conflict, that's about venerating a real person and strives for historical accuracy, and involves stepping aside to let them go on to fight their own long fight). But this story ("a story whose limits and constraints are painfully, brutally clear") is not the story that she finds it important for the programme to tell at this time.

 

In a future/alien-set episode featuring some fantastical allegory for the civil rights movement, you could have the Doctor do exactly that, destroy prejudice in that society forever, and it would be a triumphant crowd-pleasing moment. Like this, from about a dozen episodes ago - a fun historical romp with a moustache twirling villain:

 

 

 

But instead, "Rosa" is an episode in which the Doctor's response to being confronted by racists is to say "We don't want any trouble."

 

That line didn't really stick out to me. It fits in the context of this episode's story (the need to lie low and avoid changing history) and it's tone/genre (I think part of the episode's success is in making those humans seem more threatening than any number of alien monsters with sci-fi tech). But I've since seen a few people bothered by it because it just seems wrong to them that almost any incarnation of the Doctor would react like that.

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I don't know. I haven't fully formed my thoughts yet but my initial reaction is that now more than ever it's important to stress that the civil rights movement was the start of something, not the end. 'The Doctor ends racism' would feel dishonest to me.

 

I was heartened to see two modern day characters have a quiet comradely conversation about the low level racism they face, as it echoed very closely a couple of hushed conversations I've had with colleagues in recent years. 

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On 23/10/2018 at 19:58, Eighthours said:

Interesting reactions from you guys. Unfortunately I thought the episode had all the subtlety of a thermonuclear explosion, and the plotting, writing and acting weren’t really up to much. 

I don't remember racism ever really being subtle.

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Now we're three episodes in, what do people think of the new doctor ?

 

Normally I'd have formed an opinion after three episodes, but still haven't with Jodie. Maybe it's due to the crowded Tardis not giving her space to shine. 

Surprisingly Bradley Walsh is the stand out of the new series so far...

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1 hour ago, Ste_S said:

Now we're three episodes in, what do people think of the new doctor ?

 

Normally I'd have formed an opinion after three episodes, but still haven't with Jodie. Maybe it's due to the crowded Tardis not giving her space to shine. 

Surprisingly Bradley Walsh is the stand out of the new series so far...

 

I'm undecided. I really like Jodie, but I'm not yet sure exactly what Chibnall's take on the Doctor is.

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I like the new Doctor, but the dynamic has certainly changed from the RTD and Moffat runs. The companions have much more of an active role in the team, with the Doctor feeling like their leader, but not the Sherlock Holmes-alike person with all the answers she used to be.

 

Also Whittaker's great. :)

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1 hour ago, JPickford said:

Hopefully a non-Chibnall episode will restore my faith.

 

It's a strange mix of writers they've selected for the non-Chibnall episodes. None of them have written for Who before, unless you count writing the blurb on the back of the classic Who Blu-Rays. Quite a few of them are at the start of their careers also.

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I get the impression that it's a combination of the standard "nobody knows how to write for this new Doctor yet" situation, with the added complication that the one big novelty item they could focus on is the fact she's female, but that would be too heavy handed so they mainly just avoid the subject altogether. As a result she's even more of a blank slate than usual. But as an actor I think she's doing fine with the material she's been given.

 

It still comes across as more CBBC than BBC1 to me, but I can live with that.

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On 26/10/2018 at 12:27, nakamura said:

Whittaker is fine but being failed by really poor writing. There is no edge to her yet and that's not down to her acting. 

 

It's down to her being a supporting actor in a lead actor's role. Nothing to do with her acting, just her presence, or lack of it.

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That’s got to be one of the worst episodes ever surely? It’s like someone thought, “big spiders!” and then couldn’t think of anything else at all.

 

The Doctor solution to big spiders was ‘play music to lure them into a room and then lock the door on them so they can starve to death/eat each other and let mummy spider get shot’ .

 

Terrible.

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Good MOTW episode. Bit of depth given by Bradley's performance and a few surface nods to ethical dilemmas which will at least get some kids thinking. Doctor is whipping out the zoology/chemistry knowledge to solve problems rather than just waving her hand around like she's already read the script. I like the new dynamic, the Doctor drives the plot forward but the humans provide the heard of the show. It's more Ecclestone era than anything else for me. Could have been horrible but it conjured up a bit of Jurassic park/arachnophobia/eight legged freaks fun for me. Wondering if and where the Mr Big stuff is going to go, will he be back as president or was that it?

 

Bit weird that the doctor keeps wanting to let them starve/suffocate rather than putting them out of their misery though.

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