TV: Doctor Who: S11 E03 (2018) - Reviewed

I’ve stayed away from other reviews of the latest season of Doctor Who after seeing – to call a spade a spade – the idiots who claim to call themselves fans condemning the show for casting a woman, Jodie Whittaker, as the Doctor. To those supposed “fans,” I have only one thing to say: fuck you.

I mention that bit of unpleasantness because skeptics of the new season tend to blame one false move or bad step on either Whittaker, new showrunner Chris Chibnall, or some other reason that has to do with their refusal to embrace change and approach the new season with an open mind. One such misstep would be this week’s episode, Rosa, which has its heart in the right place but doesn’t really work for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with Whittaker or Chibnall. For me, as with any review, it comes down to something more personal: seeing one too many time travel shows that tend to repeat the same formula over and over again.

If this is your first time seeing a show about correcting history, or if that sort of thing is your bag, baby, I have no doubt that Rosa will be a fun outing for you. For me, this episode resembled NBC’s Timeless – a show I could never quite get into precisely because it was too formulaic – a bit too much. Timeless focused on a group of time travelers who were pursuing a villain of sorts across time at various key points in history. I didn’t stick with the show long enough to find out the ultimate endgame there, but the show stuck to the formula of time traveling heroes foiling the big bad’s plans to erase major moments in time and I just got bored, which is exactly how I felt about Rosa.

Given what I’ve already said above, you might be able to surmise which historical event is in danger here, but if not, here’s a quick synopsis: A white supremacist from the future has traveled back to the day before Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat in an attempt to undo the Civil Rights movement that would soon begin. It’s a fun premise, but by no means that original and I just simply found myself bored. That doesn’t mean the episode is without its charms. 

Whittaker gets several nice scenes to show her character’s utter confusion, frustration and anger that racism even exists. To the Doctor we’re all simply humans, unique for many reasons that have nothing to do with the color of our skin. It makes the episode, at least in some ways, very timely and forces you to wish that others, perhaps those in positions of power, could have the same approach to the bigoted idiots of the world. 

The Doctor’s companions – Ryan (Tosin Cole), Yasmin (MandipGill) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) – all get some wonderful scenes as well. Ryan and Graham have been struggling to connect since the season premiere when Ryan’s grandmother, Grace, was killed saving the group. Walsh plays Graham’s desperation to connect with Ryan just right, and in Rosa gets to proudly tell white racists of the time that he, a white man, is the grandfather of a young black man. There’s also a charming exchange between Yasmin and Ryan where she teases him for inadvertently paying her a compliment. 

It is also interesting that so far this season there has not been a gap of time between the episodes. The companions have been, well, stuck with the Doctor since episode one, each episode beginning with her attempts at getting them back home. I wonder if this will continue for the full season – which to my knowledge would be truly different – or if at some point the series will return to the Doctor’s “visiting” motif from seasons past. 

Every show, especially one with a history as vast as Doctor Who, is entitled to its missteps. I’m not convinced that Rosa will be as unpopular among the masses as it was with me and that’s just fine. This season has gotten off to a fantastic start and I look forward to seeing the directions Chibnall and Whittaker will take it, even if I don’t always agree with them.

--Matt Giles