Rosa opens in Montgomery, Alabama in 1943, as Rosa Parks tries to catch a late bus – resulting in humiliation and even the loss of her bus fare. Cut to twelve years later, Mrs. Parks sitting on a bench eating her lunch – and the TARDIS appearing in an alley just around the corner.
The Doctor discovers that there are traces of Altron energy – the same energy that powers the TARDIS.
A few moments later, the four are introduced rather forcibly to the race situation in the South of 1955 – when Ryan (Tosin Cole) tries to return a dropped glove to a white woman, her husband slaps him. Only the intervention of Mrs. Parks (Vinette Robinson, Sherlock) keeps the situation from escalating.
As Mrs. Parks heads off to finish her lunch, The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker, Broadchurch) examines her with her new Swiss Army Sonic and learns that the Altron energy is coming from her!
Enter a mysterious young man who has come upon the TARDIS and, after checking it out with an unusual device, knocks on the door. An attempt to force entry fails and he wanders away muttering about force fields.
In a bar nearby, The Doctor notices the date on a newspaper – the day before Mrs. Parks refuses to give her seat on a bus to a white person – the incident that sparked a boycott by ‘coloreds’ that grew into the civil rights movement.
Rosa is a solid, history-based, hour that provides a look back into the era of Jim Crow segregation.
This episode provides the mix of accurate history and unique science fiction that Doctor Who reboot/continuation has done so well through its run.
Written by Malorie Blackman (Pig Heart Boy) and Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch, Torchwood) – and directed by Mark Tonderai (Gotham, The Five) – Rosa is a more deliberately paced episode than the previous two, but that’s necessary to lay in the historical details and let us get to know Rosa Parks.
When there’s action, it’s dynamic – though in one particular case, it’s actually kind of anti-climactic (by design – think Indiana Jones facing the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark). It’s also a nifty bit of wit.
So far, Doctor Thirteen is a delight and her friends – or companions if you’re old school – are a very interesting team. They balance out abilities in the same way that Ian, Barbara and Susan did in 1963.
An important thread involving Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan has them dealing with the loss of their wife/mother – and how she might react in this situation.
That little touch of continuity adds so much depth to the show.
Another thread that puts Yasmin (Mandip Gill) in Mrs. Park’s company also adds unexpected poignancy and humor.
Three episodes in, Doctor 13 seems to be firmly settled in the right direction – new foes, intriguing situations and well-drawn characters add up to something that’s as special as the best seasons of either incarnation of the series.
Final Grade: A-