Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) in "Doctor Who" season 11 episode 3 "Rosa" BBC

“Doctor Who” season 11 episode 3 was one of the most emotionally charged episodes yet. For the first time in a long time, “Rosa” did not revolve around the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) or her companions, but the episode centred on one of the most iconic figures in civil rights movement’s history.

“Doctor Who” 11x03 “Rosa” spoilers are ahead. The show aired on BBC in the UK on Sunday and on the ABC in Australia on Monday.

The title of the episode refers to Rosa Parks, the American civil rights movement activist whose pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott became the nation’s symbol for heroism. Thirteen and her new companions — Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) — were sent by the TARDIS to 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a day before Rosa (Vinette Robinson) was supposed to defy bus driver James Blake’s order to give her seat up for a white man.

Wandering around the town proved to be a difficult enough task for the gang as Ryan and Yaz were targeted for being black and “Mexican” respectively. Yaz, a British Pakistani, is not Mexican. The group were saved from a tense interaction with a white man and his wife by Rosa, who admonished Ryan for not being careful around whites. She reminded him of Emettt Till, who, just months before that day, was lynched in another state for allegedly flirting with a white woman.

The gang could have just observed the surrounding until the TARDIS allowed them to travel to the right time and place, but there was a white supremacist in the future who time-travelled to alter events. Krasko was a recently paroled criminal who wanted to change history by ensuring Rosa the Montgomery Bus Boycott never happened. He was prevented from killing or hurting anyone, and so he just nudged a few things to change the course of history.

Thirteen and her friends tried hard to make the events happen as they should happen, but Krasko was determined to change them. It seemed that Rosa’s defiance wasn’t a fixed point in history. But in any case, the gang succeeded, and Rosa’s arrest subsequently started the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King and Ryan in "Doctor Who" season 11 episode 3 "Rosa"
Martin Luther King and Ryan in "Doctor Who" season 11 episode 3 "Rosa" BBC

‘Doctor Who 11x03 ‘Rosa’ review

Whereas Twelve (Peter Capaldi) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) touched on the subject of racism with a bit of humour in season 10, Thirteen and her companions dealt with it with more sombre tone, albeit with just as much gravity. There was a menacing atmosphere to the group’s time in 1950s America, with Yaz and Ryan receiving the brunt of the society’s bigotry.

There could have been a lot that could go wrong with a British show trying its hands on a politically charged moment in American history. It’s a story that has been done and re-done so many times on television, but props to “Doctor Who” writers Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall for not allowing the story to lose its focus. The Doctor was not another white saviour nor was she presented as the real inspiration behind Rosa’s actions in this episode. She was a bystander who wouldn’t let another supposedly bystander change the course of history. And for that, it was already a brilliant episode.

Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) in "Doctor Who" episode 11 episode 3, "Rosa"
Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) in "Doctor Who" episode 11 episode 3, "Rosa" BBC

The episode had a lot of stirring moments among the main characters as well. Ryan and Yaz, being from the future, were still not spared from prejudice, in the ‘50s America or even in the 2018 UK. The tender moment when the two shared the everyday discrimination they faced would surely resonate with anyone who has had ever experienced belittling in their life.

There was also a brief but impactful moment of a husband missing his wife. It was a loving moment when Graham fondly remembered his first meeting with Grace. And though it was apparent he was still in mourning, he was trying to live his life the way his wife would have encouraged him to.

As powerful as the whole episode was, perhaps the most moving one was when Thirteen and her companions were inadvertently made part of history. Graham most certainly did not want to be involved; he just wanted to do his part to let history happen as it should, but not become one of the white people in the bus, him particularly as the white man whom Rosa was ordered to give her seat to. Not one of them was thrilled that they were part of history. No one was smiling as Rosa was being belittled or when she was being led in handcuffs. They took no pleasure in it. They knew they had to be to let history happen, though. And what bittersweet moment that was.

As Thirteen told Graham, Ryan and Yaz later in the TARDIS, Rosa not only changed the US, not even just the world, but also the universe. She then showed them the 284996 Rosaparks asteroid, which was named after her in 2010, five years after her death.