Sometimes the Doctor and her companions wind up in the middle of history. Sometimes they wind up making it happen.
This week was one of those times, as they meet civil rights activist Rosa Parks just before her moment of destiny. They also meet someone who wants to stop it, because he thinks he can.
The episode begins in 1943 in Birmingham, Alabama, where Parks, played by Vinette Robinson, tries to get home via the bus. She’s told by the driver she has to enter by the back door, and she wonders why. She’s not allowed back in, as the bus rolls away.
The Doctor and her gang arrive in 1955, the day before Rosa is supposed to refuse to leave the white section of the bus, which leads to the bus boycotts. It turns out some “artron particles” are floating around that aren’t from the TARDIS, and that caused it to land.
Ryan and Yaz get a harsh lesson about what life was like in Birmingham back then. Everyone is on edge seeing the Doctor and her Companions, especially Yaz and Ryan.
The plot seems to be similar to any episode from Timeless, where the heroes try to keep someone from ruining history. Actually, that’s because this show came up with this plot decades ago.
The adversary, known as Krasko, used to be in a future prison called Stormcage after he killed 2000 people. He’s in the South, wanting to ruin history for kicks. It’s the modern version of a Time Meddler, but he also lets his bigotry peak out to Ryan.
From here, the Doctor tries to make sure history works out as it should but not be too involved in it. Thing is, they all but stalk Rosa just to make sure she’ll be OK.
Ryan gets the best of it as he not only gets to know Rosa, but meets Martin Luther King (Ray Sesay).
While hiding out from a suspicious cop, though, he and Yaz talk about how casual racism affects their lives. They also see why it’s important to fight back against it, and Rosa had to do the same.
Krasko does his best to ruin history, like changing bus drivers, cancelling a route or even telling people the bus isn’t running. The Doctor counters with fake raffles while Graham and Ryan make sure the original bus driver’s working that day. Somehow, they’re able to make sure history plays out…by being part of it. They ride on this bus to make sure there’s a shortage of seats for white passengers, forcing Rosa to refuse to give up her seat. This is the moment.
Ryan also manages to get rid of Krasko (Josh Bowman) by using his temporal displacement ray against him. That means he’s sent to another century, while his gizmos are somewhere in the 79th Century. He seems to be an evil version of Jack Harkness who just wants to cause serious trouble. He may be a successor to the Master, especially if he gets his time travel gizmos back somehow.
Still, the episode does a wonderful job recreating Birmingham in the 1950’s, and giving 21st century people a hard look at the past, prejudices and all, to see how far people have come. It also shows, though, how quickly those lessons are ignored or forgotten. The Doctor and her friends won’t forget this history lesson, and neither should those who saw it. In fact, she proves Rosa changed more than just America…
It’s also a reminder that, in its early days, the show was a combination of science fiction and history lessons. That’s why the Doctor crossed paths with cavemen, Marco Polo and Richard the Lionhearted back in the 60s.
Jodie Whittaker is still proving to be a Doctor for the ages. She stammers a bit trying to explain how she is in control of the TARDIS, kind of. Fans, though, remember “The Doctor’s Wife“, which revealed that the TARDIS always gets the Doctor to where she has to be, if not where she wants to go.
She also hints she might be Bansky…or not, and that she once lent a cell phone to Elvis and maybe Frank Sinatra.
Even Graham gets into the act when he tries to keep a suspicious cop from finding Yaz and Ryan by describing something “ridiculous” like a phone that takes pictures and plays music.
Next week, the Doctor returns to Earth, but there’s something wrong with the spiders.