The third episode of Doctor Who season 11, "Rosa," left a lot of questions unanswered about its main villain. This was a historical episode unlike anything we've ever seen before in Doctor Who, a character piece that also acted as a social commentary on the issue of racism and prejudice.
Where previous episodes dropped tantalizing hints about season 11's arc, "Rosa" was a chance for showrunner Chris Chibnall and co-writer Malorie Blackman to explore the true potential of a time-travel series. "Rosa" was science-fiction as social commentary, and - appropriately enough - it's releasing in October 2018, which is Black History Month in the UK. The episode raises the bar on what we should expect from the rest of Doctor Who season 11. Even the stand-alone episodes, removed from hints about a "Timeless Child" and with a villain who's unable to physically hurt anyone, can have a tremendous emotional power.
So, in the aftermath of "Rosa," just what questions were left unanswered? This time round, few of them are to do with the main arc. Rather, they're mostly focused around the villain, and one particularly strange decision made by the Doctor.
- This Page: Of The Doctor, Her Friends, and Her Most Curious Decision
- Next Page: Focusing On Krasko
9. How Historically Accurate Is "Rosa"?
Doctor Who has often played fast and loose with history, revealing that aliens were responsible for the AD79 eruption of Vesuvius, that the Doctor started the Great Fire of London, and that a crashing spaceship caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. "Rosa," however, is different; it's a far more understated episode, one in which the Time Lord and her friends are attempting to ensure history runs on the right course. As such, it's fitting that the script is surprisingly historically accurate. Even some of the dialogue is lifted straight from reports of what was said on that fateful bus journey in 1955. And yes, the opening scene in 1943 - in which the very same bus driver threw Rosa Parks off a bus - did really happen. Sometimes there's a strange sense of poetry to history.
8. What Other Times and Places Did the TARDIS Visit?
The Doctor has never been able to control the TARDIS, and several of their companions have been rather unwilling - forced to stick around while the Time Lord tried to get them home. It's amusing to see season 11 work with this classic trope, with Jodie Whittaker's 13th Doctor making a mess of getting back to Sheffield. "Rosa" picks up with the Doctor having tried for some time; apparently the TARDIS has made no less than 14 stops before this point. There's a sense of weary resignation when the Doctor's friends suggest she wants to explore 1955, as though they've had to talk her out of having an exploratory jaunt several times already.
It's often been implied that the TARDIS takes the Doctor where it believes she is most needed, and "Rosa" suggests that as well. After all, the TARDIS ignored the Doctor's piloting because it detected Artron energy back in 1955, and it decided the Doctor should check it out. That raises the curious question about just where the TARDIS had tried to take the Doctor before now; what 14 other adventures did the Doctor and her friends pass up? And just what went wrong in the universe because the Doctor was talked out of investigating?
7. When Will Ryan and Yaz Really Begin Their Romance?
The chemistry between Ryan and Yaz has been clear since season 11 began, but it's upped a notch here in an understated moment that comes off so naturally. Long-term Doctor Who viewers will find Ryan's back-handed compliment to be reminiscent of the banter between Ben and Polly, back in the Patrick Troughton era. There's just the same kind of dynamic, although in the '60s the BBC would never have considered two of the companions actually becoming an item while traveling in the TARDIS.
One of the most powerful scenes in "Rosa" is a shared moment between Ryan and Yaz as they each admit their own struggles against racism. "It's not like Rosa Parks wipes out racism from the world for ever," Ryan complains, and Yaz admits to the way she's treated while out on patrol and as "a terrorist coming home from the Mosque." This brief scene, a quiet character moment, is the episode's contribution to season 11's arc. It's a deepening of the bond between Ryan and Yaz, and a crucial step in their journey to become more than friends.
6. Will There Ever Be A Time Without Racism?
There's a sense in which this is the ultimate question asked by "Rosa." The episode carefully explores the racism of the past: the true "monsters" in this episode are really the racists of the Deep South - the businessman, the cop, the waitress, and of course the bus driver. While Doctor Who deliberately avoids certain terms, the use of words like "Negro" and "mongrel" is as jarring as it should be. And yet, through Ryan and Yaz we're reminded of the fact that the battle against racism is ongoing. "Rosa" is subtle - it references Barack Obama but not Donald Trump, and it avoids explicit talk about the political issues of the modern-day United States and UK - but it isn't exactly hard to spot the social commentary.
But here's the heart-wrenching thing: "Rosa" implies that we'll always be battling against racism, that we'll always have to choose a side in the fight for equality. The villain, after all, is essentially a white supremacist who's traveled back from the 52nd century who hopes to prevent the Civil Rights Movement ever happening. In "Rosa," the past, present and future are bound together by the simple fact of human nature; that sometimes it is easier to hate than to love, that prejudice will always be there, and that we must continue to guard against it.
5. Why Didn't The Doctor Say Her Name?
There's a curious moment in "Rosa" in which Krasko asks the Doctor who she is - and she refuses to answer. This is in marked contrast to recent incarnations of the Time Lord like Matt Smith; who can forget the moment in "The Eleventh Hour" when the Doctor claimed his identity, warning the Atraxi that Earth is protected? Jodie Whittaker's Doctor seems a little more cautious, wary of revealing her identity or indulging in that kind of grand-standing. She doesn't want her opponents to respect her because she's inherited the mantle of the Doctor; she wants them to fear her because she's just messed their plans up herself, and proved herself to be a threat.
That will work for season 11, which we already know isn't going to feature any of the classic monsters. But looking forward to season 12 and beyond, sooner or later the Doctor will come face-to-face with enemies who know just what to expect from her.