Rosa Review

(170 comments)

A strange case where the episode itself matters less than the standards you decide to apply to it. What, exactly, do we want out of “Doctor Who meets Rosa Parks”? What is this supposed to do? A lot of us, myself included, reacted with a measure of wariness to, really, the whole affair. There are a lot of very obvious ways to do this wrong, and very little sense of how you’d do it right. The news that it’s by Malorie Blackman was comforting, but the fact that Chibnall saw fit to rewrite a black woman on Rosa Parks was ominous, and Blackman’s absence from the publicity and relative silence about the episode on Twitter seemed a bad omen.

In light of that, the easiest emotion to feel about the episode itself is relief. This is tightly constructed and coherent in ways previous episodes haven’t been. The character work is appreciably more lively. As a technical object, it’s vastly improved over both of the episodes before it. And despite a few clumsy moments, most obviously the bathos of the “they even named an asteroid after her” sequence, this is mostly considerably more subtle and intelligent than one might have feared. In an episode where the “don’t screw it up” stakes are high and the bar for doing so even higher, the Chibnall era has once again acquitted itself.

None of this, however, answers the question of what we want out of this. The nature of Jodie Whittaker’s casting means that the Chibnall era is essentially unable to even pretend to be apolitical, but this is the first time it’s really stepped up and owned that role. And yet as a framework for talking about race in Doctor Who, Rosa Parks is profoundly limited and, in its own way, lazy. The racism is displaced onto a foreign country, the historical figure is easy to remain hagiographic about, and the targets are soft as can be. In three weeks time we get Doctor Who doing the partition of India, a concept whose politics are equally overt, but that feels dangerous and uncertain in entirely different ways—ways in which it’s a lot less clear what the show is even going to say. Here there’s never really any doubt what the basic political angle is going to be.

Of course, it’s not as though “racism is bad” is an unnecessary message in 2018. Far from it; it’s hard to think of a period in the program’s history where an overt anti-racism stance is more vital. But there are unquestionably framings of that stance that have a hell of a lot more teeth than this possibly can. Yes, the treatment of Ryan throughout the episode (and to a secondary degree Yaz) is viscerally upsetting, but it’s also framed entirely as “look at those people in the past.” They just as easily and justifiably could have hurled racist abuse at him in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. They’ll be perfectly able to next week. The fact that this is unthinkable (regardless of whether it’s a good idea) tells us a lot about how limited a confrontation with the brutal materialism of racism this is. Rosa Parks, as mentioned, is as safe a civil rights figure as is possible, and they predictably went for the tamest presentation of her. (Of particular note, the Martin Luther King cameo; Parks had significant disagreements with King on tactics, and favored Malcolm X later in life.) And the entire notion of a celebrity historical about the civil rights movement is limited, necessarily treating the status quo as a triumphant accomplishment no matter how much dialogue is inserted about how there’s still work to be done. Even if said dialogue hadn’t been overtly pro-cop, the entire approach pales in comparison to, say, doing an  afrofuturist story. Indeed, there’s something depressingly blinkered about projecting anti-black racism in to the far future instead of projecting black culture into it. Doctor Who could have done Black Panther. Instead it did a defanged civil rights hagiography. And yes, we have to accept partiality from Doctor Who. It’s never going to go far enough or be good enough. But ultimately, “have better politics than a Marvel film about a heroic king” should be doable.

But the episode stands up to this line of critique far better than it might have. 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.

Ultimately, though, the answer to my question is inevitable. I woke up today to the news that my government is considering stripping all legal recognition of my gender and implementing genetic tests to identify people like me and take away our civil rights. The question of what I want out of Doctor Who when it tackles the story of a civil rights hero isn’t abstract, and actually it’s not really about desire either. I need a story that can save me. I need a story that can save my brothers and my sisters; the ones who are actually dying out there. Who are being murdered for looking at the wrong person, who are suffering without necessary medical care, or who just can’t take another day of being afraid someone will beat them for having to pee.

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.

Comments

Nakeisha Dawson 4 months ago

Listen, I feel for you. Really. Minorities are treated like shit these days, but suggesting our world is no better than what Rosa Parks went through is the bullshit opinion I can only expect from a white reviewer. The story didn't give us a better world, but it gave us a reason to fight for a better world. The same way Roots, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr documentaries do. If you can't see that and instead compare this story to The Celestial Toymaker of all stories, then you're clueless.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 months ago

1) Good thing I didn't say that.

2) Wow. It's genuinely surprising and impressive to go from having what I've admitted is an embarrassingly white readership to having a woman of color be the first poster on my generally highly trafficked review threads. And with such a distinctive name too. Hey, you wouldn't happen to know Dawn Cheng, would you? She posted on one of Jack's posts to decry his white treatment of anti-Asian racism a month or two ago. Sounds like you'd get on.

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Angus 4 months ago

"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"

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 months ago

Yeah, you've got something of an uphill task in saying that calling the segregationist 1950s "incrementally worse" than 2018 is saying that 2018 is "no better."

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Palm 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Is this the hill you wanna die on, cracker? Whenever POCs question your viewpoint, all you can react is with vitriol and sarcasm. You know as much about race as Jordan Peterson does.

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Aylwin 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Hi! What's your favourite Doctor Who story from the Hinchcliffe era?

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C.S. 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Did you really just read a POC's comment on your blog and respond with "Hey because you're not white do you know the other POC commenter on my blog?"

Holy shit

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Bert Hill 3 months, 4 weeks ago

That's right. All POC know one another. And this episode is disgusting because it isn't all about you. You sociopath. You racist.

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Bert Hill 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Talking to Sandifer there, not C.S.

This sums up these people's attitude perfectly. POC are there to do as they are told. The very minute they try to use their voices they must be shut down because white saviours such as Sandifeer cannot bear to be criticised by those whom they claim to champion but whom they would in real life cross the street to avoid.

This review has shown the author's true colours. I bet it gets taken down in a hurry.

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Aylwin 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Well, that or "Hello, obvious troll. You're not the same person as that other obvious troll with the same game-plan, are you?"

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Generic Doctor Who Pun 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yeah, Sandifer's point was pretty obvious if you gave her the benefit of the doubt and read between the lines.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Oh, I wasn't asking because they're both POC, I was asking because they share an IP address.

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Kit Power 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Boom.

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C.S. 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Haha shit fair enough. Good on you Dr S.

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numinousnimon 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm going to guess that "Bert Hill" also has exactly the same IP address too.

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numinousnimon 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think you are missing the what El is implying when she says it is surprising to "go from having what I've admitted is an embarrassingly white readership to having a woman of color be the first poster on my generally highly trafficked review threads. And with such a distinctive name too."

That line is dripping with sarcasm. She isn't implying that all POC commenters know each other. She is implying that the poster is a troll pretending to be a POC (and is probably the same person as the other poster)

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Scurra 4 months ago

I can't disagree with any of that; all I can say is that I found it a decent episode of Who, albeit one whose reach probably slightly exceeded its grasp. I hadn't thought about what it could have done; alas this probably speaks more to my inadequacies than it does to the show.

All the actors were great even if it becomes increasingly clear that having a larger ensemble was just a snappy idea rather than being deeply thought through. (Having said that, the scene with Graham and Ryan at the river bank really did benefit from having two of them and not the Doctor.)

And the running theme of "teleporting the villains away" seems to be staying on course. I really hope this is an actual plan...

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Tom B 4 months ago

Actually, based on his actions 2 weeks in a row, the developing theme might be more Ryan shooting things with a gun of some type until it provokes a confrontation between him and the Doctor.

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TheMagister 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think he will absolutely show up again. Ryan getting rid of him the way he did was too easy. I wouldn't be surprised if they accidentally sent him to 1945 or something so DW can do a "What if Hitler won?" story.

Or we'll find out he's the first person who went "Heeey, couldn't we use these black people as slaves maybe?" and the Doctor will erase him from history and DW will move on to be a show without any racism whatsoever?

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Chris C 4 months ago

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.

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David Faggiani 4 months ago

Are you Chris Chibnall? ;)

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DC 4 months ago

Although removing black agency from historical accounts is definitely a thing, this episode was not as bad as I feared it would be. It avoided being another "white lady solves racism" story. It was just ok. It definitely felt directed at young viewers with all the historical infodumps and fact-dropping, but I don't have a problem with that.

"This isn't the civil rights story, it's the neoliberal remake."

This is what some of us mean when we call "neoliberal" a completely meaningless term, used as a vague epithet for something the user dislikes.

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

Well, someone obviously didn't see the effusive outpouring from prominent black Doctor Who fans such as @BlackTARDIS, @Travon, @ConStar24, @taigooden, @amandarprescott...

That this encouraged thousands of conversations between parents and their kids - and no, not ALL white parents and their kids, for God's sake - is a definitive social good, and you're calling for its death.

Genre fans.

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

The sad thing is that there is a great point in Chris' post (the episode's biggest weakness was not showing us the MLK/Rosa/Fred Gray meeting - though I think those scenes were filmed because the Gray actor talked about having his scenes cut, so perhaps we'll see it on the DVD one day), but all goodwill gets burned up under a layer of scorn for the people who have praised this episode and the powerful emotional impact it had on them and their children.

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Homunculette 4 months ago

I think El hits the nail on the head in her first sentence -- it's all about the standards you choose to apply. I'm happy to hear that there are many Black viewers that enjoyed the episode, but I can't imagine that a lot of notable Black authors and film theorists -- for example, Frank B. Wilderson or bell hooks -- would be as kind to this. Black people worldwide are not omnivocal.

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Homunculette 4 months ago

Monovocal, I should say.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think the word is univocal!

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

That's true, though it seems better policy to let such analyses actually emerge than to imagine them.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

(Also, I don't think I made it clear enough earlier but this seems pertinent - almost all the names I've listed are journalists/critics/reviewers, not just fans).

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Aylwin 4 months ago

Without feeling as harshly about it, I agree with the essential point that obsessing about this one particular trigger event for an incipient mass movement was bad history and dodgy politics. It has the same conceptual problem as The Waters of Mars in terms of the implausibility of it's "derailing" scenario, and this is a more significant problem here because it impinges on weighty matters of reality rather than merely on a futuristic fantasy with minimal political import.

I think though, that maybe some allowance can be made for it in terms of poetic licence, if we take it that the episode implies a tacit understanding with the audience (and that its confidence in doing so is justified) that it is using this scenario for symbolic, illustrative purposes as a way of addressing its subject within the current conventions of Doctor Who, rather than seriously suggesting that stopping this particular incident from happening would have changed everything. Also, I may be forgetting something, but I don't think the Doctor says anything much about what she thinks the consequences would be - it's only Bland Racist Spike who is explicitly convinced his plan could actually work. Determination to thwart him can be taken as a combination of "better safe than sorry" with "and also, fuck you".

I know that's a weak and partial argument, and may ask too much of the sophistication of the viewers, but it may blur the outlines of the problem a bit.

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Homunculette 4 months ago

Yeah, I think that's the kindest way to read it, and there are other things you can layer on top of it that are more flattering. If you stop thinking of this as a literal time travel story and think about it as the erasure of history of the kind that happens in history textbooks, then it works much better. The villain's tactic of nudging is reminiscent of the small changes that get made by creeping fascists to AP US History textbooks every year, such as:

"But the “peculiar institution,” as Southerners came to call it, like all human institutions should not be oversimplified. While there were cruel masters who maimed or even killed their slaves (although killing and maiming were against the law in every state), there were also kind and generous owners. The institution was as complex as the people involved. Though most slaves were whipped at some point in their lives, a few never felt the lash. Nor did all slaves work in the fields. Some were house servants or skilled artisans. Many may not have even been terribly unhappy with their lot, for they knew no other." (from a US history textbook)

If we see the villain's plan to slowly erase history by essentially putting a white supremacist spin on it, then the Doctor's insistence that Rosa Parks situation must be played out in exactly the same way as it actually happened becomes a call for undoing the damage done by racist historiography.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"As it actually happened"?

It was still to happen. It was in the future. They made it happen.

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Przemek 3 months, 3 weeks ago

They didn't. It was clearly implied that had the space racist not meddled in Rosa's timeline, the TARDIS team wouldn't even need to be there. History would have played out as we know it. Our heroes only removed the alien influence.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

But a time travel show that does historical episodes that glorify celebrities HAS to treat history that way. It is something of a butterfly effect. If Doctor Who suggests that it's okay for Rosa to miss the bus because someone else on a different day on a different bus would do something similar, it borders on saying that Rosa was not important. That she was a pawn of history. According to the time travel genre, tiny differences have to make a lot of difference in the future.

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Ike 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Arguably a more interesting storyline would be one which, while identical mechanically, focused just as intently on a fictional person of no real historical significance but whom the protagonists distinctly remembered as being a figure of identical historical import. A Rosa Parks analog.

And they fail. Space Fonzie wins and rides off into the sunset cackling with glee. Our heroes retire, defeated, to their motel room.

And in the morning, they see a newspaper reporting that some woman named Rosa Parks had committed the very act of civil disobedience they strove and failed to preserve. All their efforts were for naught, but history would not be denied.

And, one by one, We see the memories of the companions change to encompass this new history. Only the doctor remembers. She opens her mouth to explain, thinks, and shuts it.

I mean, it's probably a quantum leap episode, but fuck it, so was this.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months, 4 weeks ago

There is actually a Quantum Leap episode where he tries to prevent the Kennedy assassination, fails, and then the kicker is "but you did change history, originally Jackie Kennedy was killed too."

But that's a fucking brilliant ending that I love, so I'd be fine with it being used in Doctor Who.

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Kit Power 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yeah, that was an amazing TV moment.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I also loved that ending.

I've been meaning to ask - is there a reason you decided not to cover Quantum Leap on TARDIS Eruditorum, El? It seemed to me like an obvious choice for the Wilderness Years era and I was surprised when you covered Sliders but not QL.

Unless you did and I somehow missed it, it which case I'm sorry and could you kindly point me towards that essay?

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Dan 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"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."

No one is going to take away from this episode "oh, if that hadn't happened, if Rosa hadn't done that, the civil rights movement wouldn't have happened". It's a mechanism used by the writers to make the story work. The logic isn't imposed by Krasko. It's imposed by the show. It's a fiction that happens to correspond to the way the history is taught, but it would be a very confused viewer who took it literally. So it's not completely and utterly invested in that idea - it's clearly using a fiction to historical present fact conjoined with a story for today.

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Derik 3 months, 4 weeks ago

This episode feels like "Father's Day" to me; dedicated to setting up the 'rules' of time travel for a new audience. Don't disturb the past, terrible things can happen. It is our responsibility to preserve the flow of time etc.
Alas, that was the less interesting part of the episode. The first half was quite strong though and I think I would have preferred the episode if it was just set in the south DURING the bus boycotts without Rosa Parks in it. But the "celebrity historical" seems to be the show's default setting and while the show is taking some chances this season it isn't taking many chances that it does not need to.

The new Tardis set looks way better in this lighting.

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David Faggiani 4 months ago

Very moving review and thoughts. Hope things over there go as well as can be hoped for :(

I was comparing the episode as it aired to other time travel stories/philosophies, but it was only after it finished that I realised that they've basically remade 'Back to the Future pt II', right down to it being set in 1955 and having a 'Biff' figure with future knowledge attempt to disrupt events.

On that, I quite like the 'being electronically tagged' thing as an elegant if arbitrary solution for the "why not just kill Hitler/Rosa/major figure" perennial issue.

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 :)

Final thought, again, trivial really... is the stark title 'Rosa' partly a nod to 'Rose'?

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DC 4 months ago

At least it wasn't Back to the Future I: famous black person does their big thing only because a white person from the future inspired them.

As I conclude this comment, I note that my captcha is pictures of buses.

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Nick 4 months ago

When I read this my first thought was that you were referring to Mayor Goldie Wilson, which confused me because he's fictional and not a particularly famous BTTF character.

Then I remembered the *other* person your comment could apply to.

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Aylwin 4 months ago

is the stark title 'Rosa' partly a nod to 'Rose'?

I thought that too. Seeing your triviality and raising you a frivolity, I also thought it was an unfortunate preemption of the title of Jack's own first celebrity historical, when they get round to putting him in charge of Doctor Who. ;)

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Caitlin Smith 4 months ago

I don't necessarily agree with your opinion of the episode El, but you have thoroughly convinced me of it as a genuine take, and I don't think I could expect you to feel any other way, especially this week. It's also prompted me to do a lot of thinking on the way Doctor Who interacts with politics, and what I want from it on that - which again is not necessarily the same as you, but I do think I want more than this.

I still really liked the episode, and I think it did important things, but this review gives a really valuable counterpoint and I'm glad it exists.

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dave 4 months ago

Similarly, I can't disagree with why you felt upset at the episode but also think it did valuable things. Whilst it might not have engaged with a lot of ideas it could have done, I thought it packed a punch - especially a moment like the policeman coming to the hotel and Ryan and Yaz having to sneak out and hide behind the dustbin. As a means of showing the horror of racist social structures, something I find difficult to get my head back around the existence of even though, most famously, apartheid still existed in South Africa as I was growing up, I think it worked well. I also really liked the conversation about why Rosa became a seamstress - my Mum had similar restrictions on what job she could take when she came to the UK, and I imagine it's something a lot of kids might have a conversation with their grandparents about as a result of the show.

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MatthewB 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Ironically, this episode was *shot* in... South Africa. So...

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William M 4 months ago

Thank you, as always, Elizabeth. I found this review very moving, even as I didn't agree with all of it - which is probably what most commends the post as a political argument and a piece of criticism. As a person with very little personal experience of the issues at play - in the show; in your post - I can only give a distanced reaction to both, but there were a few moments of real nuance in the episode I hadn't anticipated. Considering this was Chibnall rewriting Blackman on a show about Rosa Parks (imagine reading that sentence the week after "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" came out!) I expected a well-meaning but fundamentally banal stab at social commentary. And maybe, in large part, that's what was delivered, but I was struck in particular by Yaz's line on the bus mid-way through the ep: "Does coloured just mean 'black' in 1955?" I read that moment as an acknowledgement of the broadening of racial persecution in modern times - at least "Mexican girls" could sit at the front in public transport in 50's Alabama, whereas now US political rhetoric assumes them to be part of the "immigration problem", the mass influx of "rapists and drug dealers" threatening white society. That subtlety feels more like Blackman than Chibnall, but without seeing every draft of the script and email pertaining to them, it's not possible to be sure.

Other stray thoughts: I really liked that the Cosmic Racist was just, and only, that. The show could have tried to humanise Krasko, to attribute his attitude to some childhood trauma (as in "The Ghost Monument') but it didn't. The harm you cause others is harm caused to others, regardless of the harm others caused you. (Of course, that said, the fact that the irredeemable white supremacist troll was also explicitly an ex-con has its troubling elements.)

And I'm not sure any of the dialogue, or the episode itself, was overtly "pro-cop". The only Alabaman police officer we see is a racist and abusive asshole, while Yaz tells Rosa that, while she doesn't particularly like her job at present, her professional ambition is to one day "be in charge". That's not actively damning of the police, sure, but neither it is hugely laudatory. The conversation behind the dumpster pointedly includes fact that Ryan gets stopped by the cops more often than his white friends. If that's the scene you're referring to, my reading is that it's more pro-Yaz (police by profession, accused of being a terrorist by ethnicity) than pro-cop.

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

There's also the really, really overt Ominous Shot and Ominous Beat of Music when a car marked "Police" slides into view. Explicitly labelling the police as the oppressors.

I continue to feel discomfort at the fact that Yaz is a cop, though I also continue to hope that she will decide to be something else when she leaves the TARDIS.

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AnJay 4 months ago

Yes, good point about the ominous shot. Practically Jaws-esque, having the car creep into frame, as the 'baddie music' plays.

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Weary Weary 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yes, because what's really needed in society is for the police to be even whiter. Although I suppose that, if you make people like Yaz feel that she has no place in the police, it makes it easier to say that the police is somewhere with no-one like Yaz be. That's about as intelligent an approach as that which tries to portray a 1960s police box as something to fear.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Eh? I'm not suggesting Yaz ought to quit working as a cop because of the hassle or harassment she faces in her daily job, or because I want the police to be whiter (??!) but because having the Doctor aligned with a police officer - of ANY ethnicity - feels uncomfortable in the way it aligns the character with an oppressive power structure. Now, perhaps they're going somewhere with that discomfort, which would be fascinating; time will tell.

More than anything, I'm echoing what Ellard says about how Davies leaves the Doctor's companion as warriors; Moffat leaves them as Doctors in their own right. It would be good to see Yaz changed by her experiences of travelling with the Doctor to the extent that she doesn't feel she can any longer be part of the police as an ethically dubious institution.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Well, he was an ex-con because he was a mass murderer. That's not terribly problematic.

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Laser Light Non-Canon 4 months ago

. I don't understand why Parks is delighted by Yaz being a police officer. Wouldn't she be the least bit curious why a POC would ever want to be one?

. "Racist with a time machine" feels like a commentary on alt-righters with twitter accounts. Technological advancement is faster than human social progress.

. Not sure how I feel about Graham's angst about his white privilege being so heavily played for pathos at the end.

. Malorie Blackman's writing is so much better than Chibnall's. The companions finally feel like actual living human beings. Really casts last episode's script in an unflattering new light. Not looking forward to two Chibnall episodes in a row these next couple weeks.

. Did they ever dramatise Park's tiredness with her treatment, the key part of why she stayed in her seat? It gets a mention by Yaz at the beginning, but in Park's scenes she's mostly defined by moral standing, speeches about hope and patriotic music cues.

. I won't ignore that this episode may be easier for me to enjoy due to the fact that my privilege puts distance between me and the suffocating experience of daily struggle against oppression. Its something I know I will only ever experience through empathy for others, and for characters in stories such as this one. All that to say, I'm grateful for your perspective and horrified it caused so much misery. Thank you, and lots of love to you, Elizabeth.

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still crooked 4 months ago

“Did they ever dramatise Park's tiredness with her treatment, the key part of why she stayed in her seat? It gets a mention by Yaz at the beginning, but in Park's scenes she's mostly defined by moral standing, speeches about hope and patriotic music cues.”

that’s actually an urban legend, and parks herself completely rebuked it:

“People always said that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

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still crooked 4 months ago

sorry, just realised i completely misread what you were saying! i thought you meant tiredness in general.

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Laser Light Non-Canon 4 months ago

Reading the quote again, perhaps I was mistaken after all. I first assumed she was describing a feeling of weariness there, but reading it again I can see her describing the stern indignation the episode portrays.

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Alex Watts 4 months ago

"I don't understand why Parks is delighted by Yaz being a police officer. Wouldn't she be the least bit curious why a POC would ever want to be one?"

Was Rosa Parks on record as being 'anti-cop' in the same way those on the left have learned and are learning to be? It seems possible to imagine that she may have been in favour of the sort of reform that would allow people of colour to become police, and police communities fairly. I freely admit I don't know, but it seems as likely to me as revulsion or confusion at the idea.

That could also be a symptom of the show's Britishness. Our Police can be as endemically racist as any other big institution (ie. LOADS) but because they aren't frequently armed, interactions with them tend to be less deadly than in America.

That adds up to a (broadly) less hostile attitude towards the police and the notion of policing and possibly more preference for reform than revolution.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

That was my impression as well - that for a woman in the 50s a country without a police force might have been a bit too much to imagine. A female POC in charge of the police would have simply seemed like progress to her. But I might be completely wrong here.

(In my country the police is also not usually armed and although there's plenty of racism and police brutality, I don't think it's as bad as in the US).

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Roderick T. Long 4 months ago

Some random notes:

a. I noticed there was an echo of “Fanfare for the Common Man” every time Parks appeared.

b. 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"?

c. Not once were segregation LAWS mentioned. The show made it seem as though segregation were solely a policy of racist bus companies and other business owners.

d. Is sending a villain into the past a good idea? What trouble might he cause there?

e. Is there a reason (other than "no story in that case") the Doctor couldn't zap the villain into unconsciousness for 24 hours?

f. The Doctor quotes Missy's line about vortex manipulators, though with considerably less glee.

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Aylwin 4 months ago

Is there a reason (other than "no story in that case") the Doctor couldn't zap the villain into unconsciousness for 24 hours?

Or just tie him to a chair and put him in a cupboard. I mean, if it's good enough for Hitler...

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William M 4 months ago

A few observations here:

b. 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"?

As Elizabeth notes in her review, this scene was indeed something of a bathetic bum note. Clearly, however, the intention was to use a real-life "space thing", DW being a "sci-fi show" in the popular mind, to demonstrate Parks' influence on later events and lasting sociological impact.

c. Not once were segregation LAWS mentioned. The show made it seem as though segregation were solely a policy of racist bus companies and other business owners.

Segregationist law was mentioned on at least one occasion, in the first scene, when Rosa had to re-enter from the back door of the bus having paid her fare at the front.The idea that this was just "bus company policy" was explicitly rejected when Rosa asked the Doctor, pretending to be a surveyor, if her findings on public transport would have any effect on legal policy. The Doctor admitted they would not.

d. Is sending a villain into the past a good idea? What trouble might he cause there?

Didn't Ryan explicitly state he sent Krasko very far back indeed? Not to say that a time-racist landing in a pool of primordial ooze wouldn't be a negative factor on later developments, but then again: "City of Death".

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Michael L 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Symbolically, the mention of the meteor is interesting. It’s a surprisingly powerful image and it actually reminded me of Carl Jung talking about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, of which he said ‘I consider it to be the most important religious event since the Reformation.’ It of course represents Rosa Parks’ ascent into heaven. You can read into this as deeply as you wish, but it positions her as a divine figure within the story.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Indeed: it ties the fight for justice to the wonder of space exploration, and the actual material concrete-ness of the asteroid ("a celestial body") stands as a real, solid monument to Rosa as a bodily reality (as James Wylder points out in his brilliant take on the episode, Rosa's entire protest is based on bodily autonomy).

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Homunculette 4 months ago

Re: point C - the racist cop both implicitly suggests that the law is racist and explicitly says that it’s an offense to harbor black people in white only spaces.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

b. 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"?

Yeah, that line was poorly though-out. The scene was clearly meant to be a variant of the usual "will I be remembered" celebrity historical ending. Had they just said Rosa Parks will be remembered forever (with the asteroid as proof) it would've worked much better.

On an unrelated note, I wonder if they actually made the CGI asteroid similar to its real life counterpart, if we even know how it looks... If not, some space nerds were very angry!).

c. Not once were segregation LAWS mentioned. The show made it seem as though segregation were solely a policy of racist bus companies and other business owners.

Well, the episode can't mention everyting. I thought the feeling that the racist policies are everywhere and don't just stem from actions of individuals was very strong in this story.

d. Is sending a villain into the past a good idea? What trouble might he cause there?

I hope this is explored, but sadly I don't think it will be. (Personally, I hope he landed in 1944 and got drafted and was sent to kill Nazis which he can't do so he was killed by the Nazis instead). And no, it's definitely not a good idea - that's why Ryan does it, not the Doctor.

e. Is there a reason (other than "no story in that case") the Doctor couldn't zap the villain into unconsciousness for 24 hours?

No.

f. The Doctor quotes Missy's line about vortex manipulators, though with considerably less glee.

And Missy, in turn, was quoting the Tenth Doctor (he said it in "The Sound of Drums", I think).

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Aylwin 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I hope he landed in 1944 and got drafted and was sent to kill Nazis which he can't do so he was killed by the Nazis instead

An irrelevant, I-just-think-it's-interesting pendant to that idea: I believe research has indicated that a remarkably large proportion of Western Allied front-line infantrymen in the Second World War never even fired their weapons, let alone killed anyone. Despite the best efforts of military training and the imperative of an immediate physical threat, basic human revulsion against killing can be almost as powerful a restraint as a chip in the head. (Admittedly, the particular circumstances of Western forces in that war, with their usual superiority in quantity, casualty-averse tactical caution and heavy reliance on armour, artillery and aircraft to do the killing, must have created unusually favourable conditions for such avoidance, but it still seems notable.)

(Also, I don't think it has been mentioned, but this was another bad week for "Hurrah, Moffat's gone! No more 'everybody lives!'" sentiment.)

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Andrew 4 months ago

More than anything else, 'Rosa' was very much Doctor Who doing its own version of a chapter from 'Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls' (the middle-class publishing success du jour – I'm not sure it's a thing outside the UK). So, of course, no room for (or interest) in the broader movement that Rosa Parks was involved in.

I think the episode was good in terms of it being a simple introduction for younger viewers as to who Rosa Parks was.

It seems to have gone down well. Expect Chibnall's second series to have the Doctor meeting Ada Lovelace, or Amelia Earheart.

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Chicanery 4 months ago

At least it isn’t a hagiography of Margaret fucking Thatcher like Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, but it similarly has no understanding of a non ‘great person’ understanding of history,

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thetrueelec 4 months ago

This was definitely an episode about racism being bad that said racism was bad, and said it'll still exist in the 51st century. That's a good use of all of our time. This was about as safe an episode as you could make regarding the subject matter, doing just the bare minimum to not be offensive but not really making an argument for it's existence.

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Lambda 4 months ago

Saying that racism will still exist in the 22nd century is a good idea. Saying it will still exist in the 51st century, in a way which remotely relates to today, seems overly pessimistic, and makes it seem more like a fundamental part of being human than a consequence of maintaining massive inequality through capitalism whilst insisting society values freedom and equality for all.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

We don't know what century he's from, as we don't know for how long the Stormcage existed (... or will exist).

To me, it came across that his was a very lone voice of racism in his time, that's why he thought that his racist cause had already been defeated. That's why his only course of action was to try and affect the past.

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antimony 4 months ago

I haven't had a chance to see Rosa yet -- was out of town and just got back -- it sounds like it's the best I'd expect, but not the best I'd hope for. I appreciate you pointing out its flaws, because I'd probably miss some of them.

I really wish Who would do more Space Allegory, because I think the show's better at that than trying to do political historicals. With the figleaf of SFness, they're willing to be way more political. (And while I actually liked the somewhat ham-handed attempt at an Earth-set allegorical in the Zygon Invasion/Inversion, pure allegory I think works better.) Why *hasn't* it done Space Brexit? Where the heck is the beleaguered renegade group of Cybermen who are converting voluntarily and don't force it on anyone or remove their emotions? (I.e. strip them of the idea that body modification is always horrific, which is fundamentally ableist and transphobic.) Etc. More climate change eps, too, although it's done that.

But I guess I'm not the viewer they're most trying to snag, which is fair, since I've been a fan since I was 7 or so and will keep watching as long as it's not completely terrible.

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Fahrenheit3000 4 months ago

Cybrexit is in Elton Townend Jones’ excellent ‘Whoblique Strategies’ charity anthology, that’s where!

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Jarl 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I remember hearing that "The Brexit of Peladon" was the original pitch that developed into Empress of Mars>

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antimony 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Oh, interesting. Seems like all of that got cut somewhere, unless there were allusions left that I missed. (I'm American, and while I try to be well-informed, I tend to stick to print news so if stuff makes allusions by having characters look/act/speak like prominent politicians or whatever I tend to miss it.)

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

It survives, albeit very faintly, in the tension between Mars as a world that is looking to the past (see lines like "Mars stands alone. We are strong") vs. the openhearted-ness of the Federation ("welcome to the universe" is a 100% joyous beat) but there would have been even more overt references to it - only the weekend before the episode aired, Mark Gatiss was talking about a line of dialogue about "taking back control", but this seems to have been cut last-minute by a BBC bigwig, alas.

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Sarah F 4 months ago

When I think of the vast possibilities a writer of Doctor Who can explore, I find it discouraging that the first two writers of color on the show were assigned the stories they were given. It feels like despite all of the trumpeting of diversity, these writers were still being constrained and restricted.

Yes, I get the argument that it is a better thing to have people of color tackle issues such as Rosa Parks and mid-20th century India... but how much better it would have been to give them the freedom to write something futuristic, or modern-day, or with alien spiders? Baby steps I guess.

I just know from personal experience that when a theatre I used to work at would mount one show a year about the black experience, we would always bring in a guest director who was black to direct it... and fair enough, but why was the black director only called upon for the so-called black show? Why was he only considered if the project was 'Raisin in the Sun' but never even considered when the project was 'Death of a Salesman', 'The Crucible' or 'Oklahoma'? It must be so depressingly tiresome to be restricted in such a way.

Getting back to the episode we did get, it was better than it could have been, which is faint praise indeed, but 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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mx_mond 4 months ago

“I find it discouraging that the first two writers of color on the show were assigned the stories they were given. It feels like despite all of the trumpeting of diversity, these writers were still being constrained and restricted.”

While I agree with your concerns and hope that in the (near) future we’re going to get stories by writers of colour which are not preoccupied with questions of race in such a direct manner, I think it’s worth pointing out that Vinay Patel at least said the story he’s writing was his first pitch – it’s a story that *he* wanted to write.

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Dan 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Where are you getting this "assigned" thing from?

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

They aren't getting it from anywhere, it's pure speculation/projection -- as is, to be perfectly honest, the idea that Chibnall "saw fit to rewrite" Blackman when all that we know about the writers' room concept was that it was completely collaborative (with more than just the credited writers involved - there's a writer who worked on this season, Tim Price, who just chipped in and doesn't actually have an ep credit to his name). If we are indulging in a bit of speculation, I presume the drafts were passed back and forth between them (and that he mostly handled Krasko and added the bulk of the overt 'references', e.g. Stormcage)

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Sarah F 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Just to clarify - I presumed that the stories this series were assigned by the show runner as the last time we had a situation in which a show runner took over the show with an entirely new writing team (Series 1) it was the case that the framework of the season including story assignments was completely set by RTD. I confess that this may not be what is happening this time, but I imagine Chibnall approached writers with a pitch that they fleshed out, as happened during the time of RTD - though I admit it could have been the case that he gathered writers, and then asked them what they wanted to write about.

Logistically, however, I imagine some thought had to be given to the overall framework of the series - as it was no doubt necessary to want a healthy mix of styles and stories and not an entire series of adventures taking place on a space station, for example.

What I hope did not happen was that a series of 10 stories was devised and Chibnall turned to the two POC on the writing staff and put them in charge of the two stories that were explicitly about race in a historical environment. I get that he may not wish for those two stories to be handled by one of the white writers... but if it meant depriving the two writers of color from writing about alien spiders.. well, that would be unfortunate.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Well, as above, we know that that didn't happen in Vinay Patel's case at the very least - it was HIS pitch which Chibnall and co then took him up on.

Re: this episode, it's a bit more uncertain; Chibnall has said that he always wanted the first historical of the new era to be about Rosa Parks, but what's not public knowledge is whether they hired Malorie Blackman for the writers' room anyway or specifically for this story and only this.

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Sean Dillon 4 months ago

If I'm being completely honest, I bailed at around the "and 53 years later, we'll have a black president," which is an odd thing to say for someone from a nation that hasn't had a black Prime Minister, not to mention that it'd be bathos in 2012 when he was president. But in 2018, with Trump as president? FFS!

Also, if you are going to do the "Doctor Who ends up within the Civil Rights movement" story, why not Bayard Rustin? I'm not sure if it would be any better than the Rosa Parks option (especially on the day it was released), but it would at least have the potential the illuminate a (deliberately) under discussed figure within the movement and one that could have some teeth. (I know why it wasn't, but I can dream, damnit.)

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Lambda 4 months ago

The significance of a black leader is different in the two countries due to demographics. The UK is 87% white, and 3% black. The US is just over 60% white non-Hispanic, and 13% black.

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kevin merchant 3 months, 4 weeks ago

We Brits identify a lot with Americans and their presidents. (Not with the current one!) It's because of the Special Relationship

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David M de Leon 4 months ago

The idea that there are future space racists struck a sour note with me as well. This is a far cry from the Davies era where the future was always multicultural, queer, progressive, etc. Even a silly villain like Cassandra, obsessed with "purity," was sufficiently alien to show how absurd such a claim is. Putting a American-style racist in the future goes a long way to reifying the idea that race theory is a valid way of thinking, not one that is an accident of history that would be utterly incomprehensible to any outsider.

I would also double a previous commenter's point that the episode erased all the work that large groups of people did to put Rosa in that place at that time. It wasn't an accident or a coincidence, it was a planned event. The episode framed it like the future folks (ie a white lady) had to plan it for her, which was demeaning.

I liked the episode a lot more than I thought I would, especially the twist at the end (poor Graham's face when he realized he had to be complicit!). But it's a long way from something that should be taught in a history class.

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

Isn't it just saying "there will always be cunts"?

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

And no, it was very explicit to go out of the way to *not* have any white characters explain the idea to her or have them inspiring her, as has been pointed out in countless takes on the episode. While the NAACP wasn't named (sadly), we were shown that they were meeting and planning "the fight" at Rosa's house.

Is that enough? Not really, probably. But Jesus, the programme has come a long way from sparkly, poverty-free Victoriana and Winston Bloody Churchill.

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Alex Watts 4 months ago

I think suggesting that racism and prejudice will dog humanity long into the future is a bit more constructive than suggesting they are 'an accident of history' that's going to wither away.

A non-racist society is not an inevitability. It's the result of extended and constant effort and there will be times when the clock gets turned back as well as great triumphs of fairness. Having a racist villain emanate from the far future is a guard against our complacency.

I used to think that the racists in society would simply 'die off' and as I grew into an adult things would naturally get fairer: this is manifestly not the case. Building a fair society means constant work and commitment to that cause.

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

Quite - thanks for putting it much better than I did!

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Tom B 4 months ago

I don't think it's a question of whether there's still racism at that time in the future as much as where the racism is focused. With the influx of all the different alien species, it seems like the racists would be more upset about alien races and focus on that instead of color differences in their own species (except for blue people, that seemed to have been established in the future as a place of prejudice)

Still, I guess you can always find some people who just push the racism to extremes. They pretty much needed to have someone like that to set up the story they want.


As a side note, I wonder when they started putting the neural inhibitors in people in the future who have murdered. In Torchwood, Captain John Hart had to undergo murder rehab, but he didn't have a neural inhibitor in him.

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prandeamus 4 months ago

The "American style racist" spoke with a British accent, interestingly. He may have dressed for culture, but he didn't talk like a good ole boy. Not sure how much of that is relevant. I'm hoping to see more of him, not because the character was particularly compelling, but I don't want to think he's not going to get resolved.

So far this series we've had three characters with immense priv: the face teeth guy; the billionaire race hologram guy; and the stormcage escapee with the racist agenda. They all been treated as narrative jetsam and I'm really hoping they are flotsam.

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Ettin 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Not even dressed for culture- dressed very specifically in the greaser uniform. Everybody else is in suits and ties. Krasko is dressed up like the cast of Grease. It's the weird sense of a 1976 time traveler dressed up as Vyvyan Basterd whilst declaring the wonders of the British empire.

It's themepark history in service of the horrific "reality". And it's something that modern culture continues to do today.

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Alex Watts 4 months ago

"The episode framed it like the future folks (ie a white lady) had to plan it for her, which was demeaning."

I feel like that's not quite a fair reading. One of my fears about the episode was that Doctor and co would 'inspire' Rosa Parks in some kind of way, taking away from her own historical motivation and achievement.

What was depicted in the episode was the Doctor's knowledge of what Rosa was going to do, and a determination that the villain wouldn't remove the physical conditions that allowed it to occur. The Doctor didn't 'give her the idea' or give her a pep talk. She just made sure the bus was there on time after a time travelling racist tried to prevent it from happening.

That seems like a non-controversial way to allow the show to tell a story around these events. Anything else risks pretending the civil rights movement was inspired by time travellers (especially white time travellers) from the future. It may not have absolutely sparkled, but it avoided the worst risks and had some extremely effective moments.

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kevin merchant 4 months ago

And it also showed Rosa refusing to give up her seat in 1942, long before the Doctor appeared

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prandeamus 4 months ago

Ah, I couldn't quite figure out the narrative purpose of the 43 incident. It demonstrates that Parks was capable of resisting segregation without being prodded by the Doctor. It also appears on Parks' Wikipedia page, so presumably it's a factual incident, but I'm no expert.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

It was also our first taste of racism against her and it put the later bus confrontation in broader context.

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Homunculette 4 months ago

I could be wrong, but as far as I know Parks and the activists she was working with didn't specifically plan that demonstration for that day. I think it was a spontaneous protest on her part that was then capitalized on by Parks and the other activists as an opportunity for a bus boycott.

I can see what you mean about how the episode deals with her agency, but the fact that it's presented as something she would've done anyway had there been no interference makes it a little better.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Don't you think it was clear that the Cosmic Racist was alone? He could effect no change in his own timeline, probably because he had no associates. He couldn't fight for his racist "cause". His cause had already lost - that's why he resorts to going back.

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5tephe 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Also he was explicitly called out as a mass murdering psychopath, whom the rest of society had thrown into prison.

Maybe look at the message as: even in the far future there will be racists - colossally deranged people whom the society of the time nonetheless treats humanely and releases with inhibitors. It's not perfect, but it's better.

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Aylwin 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Speaking of which, the way the mass-murder bit was played for laughs, à la Lionel Hutz ("He's had a grudge against me ever since I kinda ran over his dog ... Maybe you should replace 'kinda' with 'repeatedly' ... And 'dog' with 'son'.") was tonally rather odd, certainly in an episode aiming for seriousness in the way this one was.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I didn't mind the tone - I thought it was fitting for a lame nobody trying to present himself as a scary tough guy - but I thought 2000 victims was a bit much. It made him leave the realm of horrible people and head straight for "mustache-twirling villains".

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Sleepyscholar 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree with you -- I thought the 'laughs' it was being played for were his own, and his alone.

I also thought the '2000' figure was a lie. Once he started admitting to his crimes he couldn't resist bigging himself up. So he was a murderer, who dealt with it by portraying himself as a mass-murderer.

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Przemek 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I really like that reading. Fits with the character, too.

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Aylwin 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I had another look and yes, you're both right. I clearly wasn't attending closely enough.

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prandeamus 4 months ago

Oh boy; I'm conflicted about this one.

On a technical level, and on an emotional level, this was so much better that the previous two issues. Better scripting, a sense of urgency that was sorely missing last week, dialog less clunky. I even laughed at the Banksy jokes.

Not for the first time, it feels Neo-Hartnell: there's an exploration of a new environment and culture (well, new to the characters and much of the British audience), and an attempt to be educational at the end. The educational remit was also clunky and in its own way was also rather Neo-Hartnell - I mean, did the education content that was part of the original concept ever look elegant?

Not perfect, but technically an improvement on 1 and 2.

As to whether the Rosa Parks story worked, or whether it should have been attempted in this form, I'm not qualified to judge in detail. I'm a British Middle Aged White Cis Guy born in 1963. I am the least reliable person to judge the way in which the black experience in 55 was presented in any objective sense. I did very much feel the discomfort of the "gang" on the bus. Sometimes we have to feel the discomfort from our priviledge. Graham's expression sold that to me - well done Walsh. Did it make me feel the injustice of the black experience? Not at such a visceral level, and there's no point pretending that it did. To be clear, am I not trying to elevate Graham's manwhitepain over the much greater injustices experienced by others.

We ask a lot from this show, don't we?

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Roderick T. Long 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Re "neo-Hartnell," this was the closest thing to a pure historical that we've had in a long time. It obviously wasn't a pure historical, given Racist Time Travel Guy (with the very Classic Who name of "Krasko"); but given that a) he wasn't overtly alien in appearance, b) he had relatively little screen time, and c) his efforts to interfere with events were mostly ordinary and non-science-fictional, based mainly on historical knowledge rather than on his gadgets (thus putting him in the same position that the protagonists were in in pure historicals), it's pretty close.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Too much, sometimes, I think.

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Ozyman.Jones 4 months ago

Being Aussie, and not old enough to remember the civil rights movement in the US as something other that lessons half forgotten from a classroom, the story of Rose Parks is a story of another time and another place for the most part. Interesting to visit and see. And it felt, for me, like something that El has commented on before, which is Theme Park Britain. This felt to me like Theme Park USA. And because Doctor Who is not the medium to really delve into the dark recesses of history, it can only ever graze the surface.

I do wish my kids had watched it, if only to get an inkling of the events of the period, but they have again departed the show after re-sampling it, since bailing mid Series 10. The last two episodes bored them. And to be honest this one would not have fared much better in those stakes. Pity, really.

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Jack 4 months ago

It's interesting to go to Tumblr-which yes, can generally be a mistake-and see how many people that were genuinely moved by this episode. The reception for this episode among the not-We (and here I mean the people who are seriously into our critical analysis and knowledge of Doctor Who) was phenomenal.

I am not sure what this means, precisely. Myself, I thought it approached the topic about as well as it could, it didn't come across as too preachy or too heavy handed, it was close to the typical "accepted history" approach most stories about historical figures in television and movies without being massively inaccurate or even inventing things out of whole cloth. It skipped the fear I had, that Rosa would be inspired to action by a speech from the Doctor, and approached the changing history aspect in a less obvious way. It could have been a disaster.

Instead a lot of people loved it, reacted emotionally to it, and enjoyed it. I'd call that a pretty massive result for an episode that had scared me from the moment I heard it was coming.

Like someone above said, sometimes I think a lot of us ask way too much of Doctor Who.

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Homunculette 4 months ago

With all the historical discussion happening in this comment thread, I still think there are some interesting things going on with this just as an episode of Doctor Who.

This seems to be the episode where Chibnall decided that he was, in fact, writing the same show as RTD and Moffat -- Artron Energy, vortex manipulators, and Stormcage prison are together the first real continuity references we've gotten in this season so far. This episode, despite its unusual choice of subject matter, feels much less like a clean break from the RTD/Moffat eras than the last two did and makes the transition feel a lot smoother retroactively.

Also, people have been citing Davison a lot in regards to Whittaker's Doctor, but I felt a lot of Troughton in this episode -- specifically the parts that Matt Smith doesn't really draw from, like the sequence where she figures out that Krasko can't physically hurt anyone. The glee with which she stamped on his vortex manipulator made me think of some of the Second Doctor's more outright confrontational moments, like in the Krotons.

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TomeDeaf 4 months ago

Not quite the first - there was Venusian Aikido last week, although it's true there were certainly a greater number of references this time round, and more to the point they were linking back to things one imagines many NuWho viewers will know / remember (River Song, Captain Jack), as opposed to Pertwee and one-off lines in the Capaldi years.

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Camestros Felapton 4 months ago

I hadn't realised until I rewatched the episode that it was filmed in South Africa.

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Pete 4 months ago

This series of Doctor Who so far has been uninteresting and drab. I'm hoping it improves. I'm worried it won't.

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Jonixw 4 months ago

Personally I felt validated by the episode. That our struggle is just and will win in the end. That everything we do matters no matter how small. For me it actually was what I need but I get it... I really do. I am trans (non-binary) but not american so I still cannot imagine how scared you are compared to what I am feeling (and I am very scared).

For what its worth often when I need that angry revolutionary spirit to get me through the day I think of things you (and Jack) have written. I doubt I am the only transgender person among your readership who does that. Fury at the system is a coping mechanism. I have a right to exist and I will not allow anyone to take that away from me.

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Matt C 4 months ago

I’m a white cis gay man living in California, so I feel very limited in the commentary I can take on this episode: I live with rage and horror, but not fear for my personal safety. (I get no relief from that statement, but need to acknowledge that this evil administration is directing more hate and violence toward people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and transgendered persons than gay men). This episode left me with an empty feeling, but I don’t feel like it should have done anything else. This episode, airing in this hellscape, should not have offered relief, comfort, or what I really feared, a sense of congratulations. Instead I’m re-experiencing that same raging ache I did the day after the U.S. 2016 election when I called a trusted professor for help because I couldn’t get make myself get out of bed - fighting fictional monsters isn’t good enough and alien superheroes won’t save us.

In large part due to being an American, this felt visceral and real in a way Doctor Who rarely does. After Kavannah was confirmed to the US Supreme Court, I watched “The Happiness Patrol” because I wanted to see an evil regime taken down, but it felt hollow. As much as “Black Panther” was a triumph for breaking the white superhero paradigm and Hollywood casting myths, it still broadcasted a “preserve the status quo” message by making the villain a radical who wanted to upend the social order. Doctor Who has been doing racism parables with aliens (with varying degrees of success) since Hartnell. Those stories make it easy to bask in a sense of progress and are comforting to watch, but there’s a fundamental lie to it that’s hard to escape in 2018. It’s hard to watch “Genesis” as a Nazi-parable when people who subscribe to those same evils are running the government in my country. The awesome moment in “Thin Ice” when Capaldi punches a racist feels like a cheat whereas watching Ryan and Yaz hiding behind a dumpster because the Doctor is powerless to stop a Southern cop and the acknowledgement that Rosa Parks struggles didn’t end with the Montgomery bus boycott felt material. It didn’t give me hope or optimism, but it made me want to listen to Phil Ochs records and hope someone braver than I am will be the first to start tearing it all down and soon.

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Max 3 months, 4 weeks ago

This feels like a review of the episode I was worried about, not the one we actually got. Did you switch off for the scene where Ryan and Yaz discussed their racist experiences in the present?

Overall it feels like a white person attacking a black person for not doing a sufficiently good job of attacking racism. I have been an avid fan of this site for many years, but the more it goes on the more reason I have to suspect that your progressivism is a self-serving, attention-seeking sham.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Really bro? You're gonna go with "your progressivism is a self-serving, attention-seeking sham" in response to a post where a trans woman talks about her anxiety in the face of the US government's plans to delegitimize her identity? That's the hill you wanna die on?

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Chris C 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Ah yes, the scene where Ryan complains that he experiences racism from the police and is immediately met with a literal #notallcops response from Yaz. Powerful stuff!

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Dan 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The whole episode was pretty powerful. The treatment of the companions was powerful. The shadow of Trump obviously hung over the whole thing and particularly that scene, where they're both obviously thinking about Brexit and Trump (or it's certainly intended that way).

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Dan 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Hard for me to comment directly on El's points. It happens to be true that things have changed incrementally, and utopia is not here and utopia is not permanent even if it comes. The Doctor embodies hope for me.

The Woman Who Fell To Earth went out the day after Kavanaugh was confirmed. I'm not sure to what extent the two events can even be compared, or what value there is in even mentioning it. One was a far-reaching event that may have ramifications for decades, the other is a reboot of a modest British family TV show. Maybe we can't expect or worry too much about what the programme can do politically. I did think it was pretty amazing that it went there and seemed to pull it off.

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BeatnikLady 3 months, 4 weeks ago

It's rather sad there were so many people assuming this episode wouldn't work before it had even aired. Doesn't this risk sending out the message that the show's creators shouldn't even try to tackle issues like racism? It wasn't perfect - maybe only an entire series could cover things properly - but I stand resolutely against anyone who tries the "Doctor Who should stick to fighting monsters in space" line. It seems to me there are plenty of monsters in human form on Earth, 2018. Just in the last couple of days we've seen a woman losing her proper seat on a plane because there was a bigot beside her.
This is early days of a new era in Doctor Who. I'd be happy for this kind of political commentary to be taken up again - and hopefully more writers of Malorie Blackman's calibre will be enticed to write character-focused stories for the show.

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Jack 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think it was less that it wouldn't work, it was more being aware of the dangers of doing it. There's a lot of ways you could screw this episode up, and a lot fewer ways to do it right. Doctor Who generally lands on the "theme park" view of history, and a British television show tackling the American civil rights movement was rife with peril-peril which, thankfully, they avoided.

At least, that was my worry. I'd be just as worried if, say, Timeless decided to do a story about Northern Ireland or the Beer Hall Putsch.

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mx_mond 3 months, 4 weeks ago

While I liked the episode and thought it did a lot of things well, I think “fighting monsters in space” can be just as important. It seems to me that the closer to the actual material reality of history Doctor Who gets, the less radical it can be. Stories about monsters in space can also be about important social issues, but with the added advantage of being more revolutionary. I don’t think the two categories are mutually exclusive, Doctor Who can switch it up between them, but I can see why someone might wish we got more of the latter on this particular day.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

But surely part of the point is that THIS is what resistance looked like in the 1950s. Doctor Who suggests that after a while, we start resisting in much more inventive ways, as we can see in Planet of the Ood and Oxygen.

So the part where the episode stresses that it took so long, and that Yaz still feels persecuted despite being police, may point to a future in which Yaz and other POC will resist in bolder ways.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I think people here are arguing that resistance in the 1950s DID NOT look like that. There was much more going on, including the activist groups and widespread protests we never saw.

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Rodolfo Piskorski 3 months, 4 weeks ago

By the way, I have to add that all the historicals with celebrities are a bit shit and preachy.

I find it offensive that they wrote an art critic that says those things in Vincent and the Doctor.

I similarly find offensive that Shakespeare is so good with words that he is magic.

In that context, Rosa was a mature, sober, nuanced episode.

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BeatnikLady 3 months, 4 weeks ago

By contrast, The Shakespeare Code goes wrong in various ways - including having that line from The Doctor to Martha "Walk around like you own the place - works for me." Yeah... Of course it works if you're a white guy.
Then there were multiple rather white-focused stories in the Eleventh Doctor's era (couldn't we do better in the early 2010s - really?) So despite imperfections, I am glad to see an episode like 'Rosa'.

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Charles Knight 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm curious - what preknowledge would a young UK audience have about Rosa Parks to put the episode in a wider context?

At 42, I don't think I did anything about her at school but it's difficult to separate out adult knowledge from childhood knowledge

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Roderick T. Long 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Growing up in the u.s., I never learned a damn thing about Rosa Parks in school. The American history classes I had were pretty much all 19th century. Most of what I know about 20th century American history I had to learn outside of school. (Well, most of 19th too, actually.)

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kevin merchant 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yes, I was surprised when reading comments on US fan sites that Americans didn't get taught much about this at school. They said things along the lines of : I never realized this, I was never taught this. Many parents in the UK have commented that their children were very interested in this, not realizing that things were so bad. Of course the racists were out in force : accusing Doctor Who of "brainwashing" children etc

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm from Poland and I've never heard of Rosa Parks before (but my girlfriend has) and it is definitely not taught in schools, so make of that what you will.

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Michael L 3 months, 4 weeks ago

One of the things I’ve most loved about the Eruditorum is the point that has been made time and time again, to paraphrase it, is that Doctor Who at its best is essentially putting The Doctor into any story and then telling a better one. The problem we ultimately have here, is that by telling a historical story such as this in a mostly straight forward literal fashion, it's at odds with the whole point of a show like Doctor Who. If the point is that you can put the Doctor into any story and tell a better one, the problem with this and the limitation of doing a historical story in this manner is, it doesn’t do that. It's not like this is an entirely straight forward, purely factual historical either, is it? If you're going to insert sci-fi tropes such as time travelling racist villains trying to subvert the arc of history into the story of Rosa Parks, then we sure as fuck have the right to rip this episode apart on this same basis for fundamentally failing to use the same kind of tropes which are very much at its disposal, and failing to deliver a better story and a better message, at the end of it.
‘Rosa’ tells a story, a compelling one, but it actually doesn’t tell the kind of story that Doctor Who really should be telling. As a piece of compelling television this is a success, it’s absolutely brilliant. As a Doctor Who story it's an absolute disaster. The story Doctor Who should be telling isn’t one where the Doctor and her sidekicks essentially sit idly by at the end as a woman achieves a small moral victory, then spends the rest of her life enduring difficulties and at best, just getting by. The story of Rosa Parks is a story that SHOULD be told, but for me, where this episode fails, and this is exclusively a failure in terms doing Rosa Parks as a Doctor Who story in this manner, is that as you rightly say, Doctor Who SHOULD be about tearing down the very fucking fabric of a society like this and replacing it with a better one. The problem is that this is EXACTLY what the show does in pretty much every single episode, when it's NOT dealing with real life historical figures/stories, but here, where we actually do have a story with real world significance, where the Doctor SHOULD be ripping this whole society apart and again, it's far from being outside of the possibilities of the show, even in an episode about a historical figure, to demonstrably do this. Instead, what we end up with is *this* shit. Yes, achieving small victories is something that’s actually non-trivial, however, in a show where you can by definition tell any story you want, this is almost unforgivable. Watching The Doctor, the supposed moral centre of the series being complicit with racists in order to achieve a small moral victory, and then sitting idly by as a historical black woman is arrested and then just acknowledging that she spends the rest of her mortal life suffering abject difficulties can be nothing other than a failure.

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Matt C 3 months, 4 weeks ago

It quite effectively validates the argument El made back in the Troughton era about why the pure historical died. (This is probably as close as the modern show will ever get). The show cannot do “Doctor tears down racial oppression in the US in the 1950s” without either stepping in it in the way many of us seem to have feared it would - the Doctor inspires the activists - or doing it as a parallel universe/dream sequence. Doing it as a historical while not changing history (which would have been a far more egregious problem in my opinion, especially with the Civil Rights era) forces the Doctor onto the sidelines and to become complicit in events.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yes, this. The Doctor can't do what she usually does because this is real history. If she did, the whole thing would feel hollow - we know that tearing down the racist society of the 1950s America is not what really happened in our world and so such a story would be pure fantasy. Maybe it would be a comforting fantasy but ultimately a hollow one. That's why you do stories like this on alien planets in the future: because then you can do whatever the fuck you want and it has weight.

Also, I agree with mx_mond's comment somewhere here that the closer DW gets to the real world, the less powerful it gets. You can't fight real life monsters with fictional heroes.

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Pete 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I agree with what you are saying here. My concern is very plain and I think it is the same as yours. This is not good 'Doctor Who'. The three episodes so far feel simplistic. Nothing to spark my imagination. There are better ways to tell stories than these. My opinion, I know. I'm being careful to eliminate adverbs. Nothing to do with issues, content, politics. Simply that the storytelling, characterisation and dialogue is literal and dull.
It reminds me of Terminus for some reason. She's a bit Peter Davison? Except I liked Terminus. And Peter Davison.

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Dan 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Not sure that putting the Doctor into a story has ever necessarily equated to a "better story". Alchemically transformed perhaps (in El's view), but that is different.

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Ross 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I'm haunted now by the idea of what it might mean for the narrative for the Doctor to put her foot down, take a stand, and refuse to be complicit.

I feel like the crux of this episode abuts the thing that bothered me about The Zygon Inversion, but the Zygon Inversion softened the blow by having the moral message be wrapped in a level of science fiction allegory; at least it was shapeshifting aliens who could zap humans into tumbleweeds who the Doctor told to settle down and be content with living a lie because it was better than using violence to get your rights. As a matter of allegory, "Even if we don't want to be, yes, we are all complicit in systemic racism" is a good message. But we're only complicit because we've decided to take "Actually, let's burn the whole fucking thing down" off the table. I am complicit. But... this is the Doctor. "Actually, let's burn the whole fucking thing down" should be on the table. And we weren't beholden to treat Earth as special and inviolable, the Doctor's reaction to 'We've got to be complicit in this because history requires that this go that way" would be to tell history to get stuffed. The Doctor is the person who finds another way.

Given that I maintain my own private universe powered by infeasible ideas, I think I might have to revisit this at some point.

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Mica 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I can't wait to watch the sequel to this story, "Emmett," in which time-traveling racist Krasko, knowing that Emmett Till's murder will serve as a flashpoint to ignite the Civil Rights Movement, tries to save the boy from being murdered. It's up to the Doctor and her companions to preserve the course of history and lead Emmett Till on to his certain doom!

Because, you know, "fixed points in time" and all that.

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AuntyJack 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The technology he's using (from another stash) to disguise himself as a black man so he can infiltrate Emmet's circle of friends is sabotaged by the Doctor, causing him to be mistaken for Till. He ends up being lynched by the mob and ironically kickstarts the movement he was trying to snuff out.

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kevin merchant 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Star Trek did that plot in "City at the edge of forever"

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Lambda 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I've decided to reject this story. It's certainly decided not to be what you'd normally understand as a Doctor Who story, putting the Doctor in a situation where she can't fight or make a stand against the bad things, where her task is to keep things exactly as they are instead of changing things, to make everything remain exactly as established wisdom says.

This means its value comes from its pseudo-documentary nature. Which does immediately mean I'm not really in its target audience, which would be people who are either white, but don't normally think about this stuff so need something like this in their Doctor Who slot, or non-white, and want to see the reality of their experiences and struggle on television/Doctor Who, of which I am neither. But fine, it should still have value.

Except actually, there is one small thing it could have done for me. Going into this, while I knew Rosa was an activist, I was under the illusion that the bus thing was an act of spontaneity, her being an activist merely making her the sort of person who would do it. And this story did not tell me it was a planned event, I had to learn this from the comments. Indeed the whole time meddling part was predicated on it not being planned.

So it doesn't say "band together and resist", it says "wait, and things will happen". Which makes the good it's doing, I reckon, a bit of a placebo. Triggering "good things are happening" reward mechanisms without really making the good things happen. (Claimed at a low level of certainty, I may well be wrong about this.)

I think this is the double-edged sword which is modern television technique. The more powerful your tools, the easier it is to make everything look good without actually making everything good.

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UrsulaL 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Perhaps it is also a comment on how to be an ally. The job of the TARSIS team is not to lead or inspire. It is to listen, respect, and serve.

For that reason, the threat they managed had to be alien - to tackle any of the real problems Parks faced would diminish her real accomplishment.

The Doctor knows they are travelers passing through. They won't be staying around for the long slog of resistance. In a way, it's like volunteer tourism. But they can pick one task, for which they are uniquely suited, and do it well for the sake of providing the locals with the clear path to do what they have to.

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Pôl Jackson 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"Time's Ally".

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5tephe 3 months, 4 weeks ago

El, I am sorry that this caused you so much pain, and your review has made me feel some of the horror you must be going through. Thank you for that.

I'm (yet another) person with no skin in this game, in any way, but I have to agree with you about wanting our Doctor to be burning down institutions like this. And making making much more radical statements about current politics. But we're never going to get that from this flagship BBC program (TomeDeaf mentioned Gatiss' line in Empress of Mars "taking back control" being cut by a BBC bigwig). As prandeamus said above: we ask a lot from this show.

The positive take I'll try extracting is this: This episode would have been pitched and written just around the time of the Charlottesville riots, and filmed a couple of months after them. Considering that, Chibnall and his writer's room decided that their response would be a story in which a racist from 1955's future (overtly painted as a psychopathic murderous arsehole) tries to interfere with the history of the civil rights movement, and our Doctor and her best friends stand staunchly in defence of that history. They acknowledge that they're not doing enough, that the struggle is ongoing, and harmful for those involved. But that it's vital.

My 6yo boy and 9yo daughter in Australia were shocked at Ryan being slapped in the first five minutes, and continued to be outraged throughout by the police and societal treatment of PoC.

Any era of Doctor Who which gives me that, I am on board for. It's not enough, but it's good.

(And Jodie's "Don't threaten me." - sensational.)

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David Ainsworth 3 months, 4 weeks ago

One thing I'm not sure about here: I'm not sure that both authors wrote this episode for the schmaltzy ending soundtrack and the "changed the universe" scene. Because the scenes leading up to Rosa Parks on the bus are sickening. And the scene on the bus? Also sickening. That it will lead to something better allows for hope, maybe, but the claims made here would seem improbable even if they weren't (would King and Malcolm X have been stopped without this specific bus boycott happening at this specific time?), and the episode does go out of its way to establish that nothing has been resolved, only that things aren't as overtly awful: in this particular place, for a particular group of people.

But we're not all living in a moment where we need to preserve events that we know already will happen and lead to known futures. We're the ones who get to decide whether we'll remain complicit. So while I'm fairly certain El was not in the target audience for this story, I do think maybe it's aimed at making privileged folks like me, or privileged kids not yet old enough to take such things for granted, think about the other implication of the butterfly effect. And think about what the alternative is for us. If the episode fails, it's in not presenting a clear vision of that alternative. Maybe none exists.

I give the showrunners great credit for trying this: from many perspectives, it was a no-winner concept, and it was never going to produce material social change or overthrow the government. Then again, I can easily see a perspective where the same could be argued for casting the first woman as the Doctor. We'll have to see how the rest of this series unfolds.

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Przemek 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I am very sorry this wasn't the story you needed this week, El. I hope everything turns out okay for you and other people like you.

It was definitely my favourite episode so far and I enjoyed it a lot despite the usual flaws - e.g. a bland and casually defeated villain and shallow main characters. (I don't remember who said it but Ryan definitely should be younger. He looks 26, is supposed to be 19 and acts 15 at best). It was much better written and shot and I enjoyed it a lot. It felt like proper DW at last. I don't really want to comment on what this episode did with the topic at hand vs. what it could have done, but I'll say this: this episode would've made a strong impression on me as a child and I think that's worth a lot.

It's interesting that we've had the Doctor focused on keeping the history intact. On one hand, it screams "the great man theory of history" and that's a pity. On the other hand, I like what Andrew Ellard wrote about it on Twitter: that Rosa Parks takes on the role of the agent of change the Doctor usually plays, and so the Doctor just has to help protect that change.

Lots of people called it "Doctor Who does Quantum Leap" and that's my impression as well. Which is awesome because I love QL to bits. (Sam Beckett was my first Doctor). Between the setting, the lack of flashy action, the way this episode treated famous historical people, the Martin Luther King cameo (done in a classic "kisses with history" QL fashion) and they way the protagonists were mostly just passers-by trying to help, DW couldn't have gotten closer to a QL episode.

The funny thing is, the part of Quantum Leap "Rosa" resembles the most is the Evil Leaper storyline in season 5, where instead of putting right what once went wrong the protagonist must undo the damage done by their evil counterpart. Which would make the villain of "Rosa" the anti-Doctor. And there are curious similarities: they're both time-travellers who can't return home, they both don't use violence (although for different reasons)... There's also the Stormcage prison connection which in a way makes the villain a cracked mirror of River. Who's, in a way, the original "female Doctor". Interesting.

I also agree that there were lots of similarities to "Back to the Future", although much more superficial than the QL ones. Is this the "The Doctor lands in American time-travel sci-fi" episode?

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Nick 3 months, 3 weeks ago

> Is this the "The Doctor lands in American time-travel sci-fi" episode?

Doctor Who episodes being reminiscent of other sci-fi stories is nothing new, but in this series the comparisons have felt unusually strong to me:

Episode 1: Predator

Episode 2: Pitch Black/Riddick (uneasy alliances on an inhospitable planet that's home to monsters that attack at night)

Episode 3: Back to the Future 2/Quantum Leap

Episode 4: I've never seen Arachnophobia (is it even a sci-fi story?) but it seems the obvious comparison judging by the teaser. But maybe it'll have elements of something else mixed in too!

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FezofRassilon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I always though Ghost Monument was more of a Hunger Games homage. Between the environment that was 'made dangerous', the evil decadent empire in the background, and the subversion of the 'there can only be one winner' idea.

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prandeamus 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Consider Jon Pertwee's famous Yeti-On-The-Loo-In-Tooting-Bec comments. But instead of applying those comments to scary monsters, apply them to awfulness of the black experience as detailed in this episode.

I "know" the basic story of Rosa Parks. I "know" about segregation. I "know" Racism is bad. In my head. But it's not a lived experience for me. The closest I've got to compare it to is the divided community of Northern Ireland where I grew up in the 70s, and that's not quite the same (still pretty awful).

If the program had taken us to Montomery colony on the the planet Alamabus-IV and shown us a thinly veiled racial allegory, how would that have worked for me? The blue bugs aren't allowed to use the same transmats as the red bugs? Terrible (To use the Pertwee era again, this sounds a lot like "The Mutants".) I'll tell you. I would have nodded, I'd have thought "racism is bad". But I wouldn't have felt a sense of disgust, because Alabamus-IV is a zillion miles away and doesn't exist.

However imperfectly, "Rosa" attempted to show real people caught up in real injustice on a real planet, only a generation or two before the present day. Everyone watching knew at least something about buses, about skin colour, about tailoring, and about petty injustice. And the true horror of the story builds on the things that everyone knows, and gives a glimpse of what it was like that day. And for me, it had a much stronger resonance. In that sense, it worked.

But this is a limit case for the show. As it moves into times and matters that are lived experiences for at least some of the viewers, it cannot be accurate. There are no Time Lords, Tardises, Vortex Manipulators, and the rest. The closer it reaches to the real Montgomery, or the real Rosa Parks, a kind of fiction/fact Blinovitch limitation effect takes over. Allegorical stories based on impossible physics and biology mean that any telling of the Rosa Parks story has to be a lie at some level.

At the production level, it didn't completely F**k up (another Pertwee comparison, if I remember El's analysis correctly). At the ethical level it did make some people think and feel much more deeply than they previously had. It's a net positive.

More than that, we're asking the impossible.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Well said, and agreed on the net positive. I admire El and Jack for staunchly asking the impossible, but it's never been something I outright *ask* from Doctor Who; I just love how it occasionally lets us glimpse it.

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Weary Weary 3 months, 4 weeks ago

It's surely more than a little hypocritical for white Sandifer to express outrage at the notion that white Chibnall should presume to rewrite Malorie Blackman, while herself presuming to critique Malorie Blackman's approach to telling a story about race.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Whilst still being appalled by and furious about what's going on in the States right now and sympathetic (far too mealy-mouthed a word, I apologise) as to how this affects trans rights, I agree with this to an extent. I know it's been pointed out that guests for podcasts are essentially randomly assigned and so any unfortunate faux pas can't really be remedied at this stage, but the prospect of not having a guest of colour on this week's podcast similarly rankles. It's no great crime, it just feels like the conversation is being led by progressives outside of TARDIS Eruditorum for once, by the folks behind Black TARDIS, or by Tai Gooden and other critics.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I think that's as it should be, tbh.

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prandeamus 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Do we know how much was a Chibnall re-write? Let's assume Blackman knows her "who" to begin with (I believe that is the case) then the showrunner contribution might have been just to line up the script with the show's season arc and that rather bland postscript. Question for those who understand TV writing: at what point does showrunner editing become a co-author credit?

Given what I know at the moment, we can critique the script, but the balance between the two authors is not known.

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TomeDeaf 3 months, 3 weeks ago

No, I don't believe we do, which is why it's best to exercise caution in making definite statements. I believe there are industry regulations about at which point a co-credit is permissible or even required, but there must be some degree of flexibility to allow for Davies doing huge uncredited rewrites on, say, The Fires of Pompeii but then taking a co-credit on Planet of the Dead; or in Moffat's case for sizeable uncredited contributions to stories like The Doctor's Wife but then a co-writer's credit on, say, The Pyramid at the End of the World when he stepped in to do late-in-the-day rewrites. Noticeable in both cases is that the showrunner began by not taking co-writer credits but did so towards the end of their respective tenures; perhaps Chibnall is just being more honest out of the starting box.

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Simon Blake 3 months, 4 weeks ago

"the episode itself matters less than the standards you decide to apply to it"

I expected this episode would be the one where you lost me, and you didn't disappoint. In the first sentence, you're admitting that you're making this review about YOU, not Doctor Who. Your house, your rules. Whatevs.

When I heard what they were doing, I thought "brave. Thankless and stupid, but brave. Hope they don't fuck it up". They didn't fuck it up. No white saviour, no over-hagiographic depiction, no sugar-coating the racism (beyond what was necessary to show it to kids at tea-time). There wasn't a chorus of black voices crying "no". In fact as noted there were black voices say "yes". That there are some WHITE voices saying "no" doesn't suggest to this white man anything of any significance.

"[the show] could have, this week, shown me a trans woman demonstrating how to end reigns of cruelty and brutality"

The Doctor is a trans woman in the same sense and to the same extent that Spock is a black man.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Spoilers: every review's perspective is dependent on the standards being applied. The difference between my critical methodology and some other people's is that I own this fact.

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Prandeamus 3 months, 3 weeks ago

"Own" can mean "posess" but it can also mean "admit/confess". The lattter usage is slightly archaic but that's how I've previously interpreted the phrase.

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Aylwin 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Indeed. Probably commonest now (or at least recently? Haven't actually heard it in a while) in the expression "own up to [something]", meaning admit to having done something.

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UrsulaL 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Is there even a way to show how to end reigns of cruelty and oppression? Let alone in an hour of television?

The Doctor sometimes comes in and smashes a corrupt organization. Ends the reign of cruelty and oppression. But rarely sticks around to rebuild the pieces into something better. And that is an insanely privileged thing to do, because the Doctor is shielded from the consequences of this destructiveness.

The Montgomery bus boycott nearly bankrupted that transit system. And it was a system needed and used far more by poor black people than by middle class whites, who could afford cars.

The Montgomery Black community chose that risk.

The Doctor respected the chosen risks of that oppressed community. As compared to, say "The Long Game," when the Doctor destroyed an oppressive system without respecting the needs of the oppressed, and then discovered, in "Bad Wolf" that he'd made things much worse.

We see this in historical examples, such as the US revolution helping to consolidate power for wealthy slave owners. (Of the first 12 US presidents, only the two Adamses never owned slaves.) In general, if you destroy something, the powerful and wealthy will be better able to exploit the ensuing chaos than those who started out weak.

***

As for showing MLK rather than Malcolm X, MLK was present and active in Montgomery at the time, Malcolm X wasn't. Although other leaders were more influential in turning her arrest into the boycott.

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Arkay 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thank you for a thought provoking review.
I still haven't decided how I feel about Segun Akinola's music. For me one of the joys of earlier who was the distinctiveness of the music. Doctor who didn't sound like other television. I feel that Akinola is very much in the mainstream of current TV music (which is not the same as saying it bad music).

But I wonder if anyone else hears an echo of Mingus's civil rights anthem Fables of Faubus in the two note rising theme that plays when Krasko appears. https://youtu.be/QT2-iobVcdw?t=23

If that was Akinola's intention it works well as a fairly conventional villain theme but also connects it to music that specifically satirised the racist south and makes me want to keep listening.

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UrsulaL 3 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm curious. I can think, offhand, of a variety of historical episodes featuring well-known real life historical figures. (e.g., Shakespeare, Churchill.)

However, I can't think of any other than this which were about a real-life, well-documented, historical event.

And an event is going to be far more limiting on the story than a person. A historical person in a fictional event, you only have to get the personality right. But if the event is real, you can't change it, and your story has to wrap around these unchangeable moments.

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CJM123 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The Unicorn and the Wasp is about an event. But it's about an event that is ultimately unknown, because it's a mysterious disappearance.

This is the first celebrity historical I can think of where the celebrity and the sci-fi parts do not interact directly at any point. Part of the RTD set-up was always historical injokes built around revealing a secret history. So Dickens unfinished novel was about ghosts, or Victoria was part Werewolf.

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Ross 3 months, 3 weeks ago

After a week to mull it over, I just can't get past the paradox between "We need to leave this thing alone and letting Rosa be a turning point that leads to a gradual improvement which still has work to do but really is making things better" and "THOUSANDS of years in the future, single individual white supremacists are still murdering thousands of people."

If anything, the existence of Kresko should be proof that, no, the right thing to do is burn it all down. Zap Montgomery with a perception filter so that no one can tell who's black and who's white anymore. Make it stop.

Also, it really bugs me that Krasko's plan wasn't just "Zap a bunch of white people forward in time an hour so they take a different bus". As it stands, the temporal displacement gun seems like something that has coding way more important than it deserves. (The Doctor's utter non-reaction to Ryan using it Krasko is also weird and offputting. One gets the feeling that they didn't really know what to do with him after the second act and frankly the part might have been better played by, like, some kind of non-sentient entity. A broken tessalacta on autopilot or a racist solar flare or something.)

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