Reviewed for The Tides of Time by Victoria Walker
Rosa was an episode of contrasts. Not only of its situation with our modern day, but also of the quality of various elements of the episode. I open this review by expressing my admiration and gratitude for the respect with which the story was handled. Throughout Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall maintain truth to their source and do not, in my mind, resort to hyperbole or exaggeration. I would be lying if I said that, as I sat down on Sunday night, I was not slightly worried beforehand at how the story would be handled. By the same merit, I would also be lying if I said I was not pleasantly surprised. Blackman and Chibnall were not afraid to address the tough issues surrounding race, not only in the past but also in the present. Making people uncomfortable is an important thing to do when you are exploring tough issues, and I hold it to the episode’s credit that it was able to make me stir slightly in my seat and consider my own interactions.
Accuracy is an interesting aspect of this episode, and that brings me to Krasko. What a trainwreck of an idea. He could have been executed so well, but unfortunately, I was continually left disappointed by the refusal for development. Joshua Bowman was admirable in what he did with the character, and I do not wish to make it seem as though it is him I take issue with. Starting from the costuming, I felt as though the disguise of a Greaser, while well-intentioned, was not well executed. Perhaps I am playing the pedant, but considering the rest was so well put together, the slap-dashedness of his costume was disappointing. I was also disappointed at his characterisation, or should I say lack thereof. We saw very little of him, and thus he was not memorable. His intentions were never developed past bigotry, which, considering the lengths he was going to, is disheartening. One does understand that this was done to remove any justification for bigotry, as there is none, but it made for a flat and bland character. If you compare this with other characters introduced this series it really is rather lacklustre – Ilin, for instance, who demonstrated cowardice, disdain, callousness and more. From a strict plot and story point of view, disregarding any politics, Krasko was weak as a villain. To some extent, I feel his character would have been better off as a Master-esque mischief-maker, who does not care for humans, as not all racism is as explicit as that in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s.
Speaking of character development, the core cast is developing nicely along with the story. Yaz has been my favourite of the three since she was introduced, and I have most definitely warmed to Ryan, especially over the course of this episode. We are also seeing a warm development of the bond between Graham and Ryan. The chemistry between the members of this cast is very genuine, and it is interesting how Whittaker’s Doctor is almost taking a side seat to her companions. Whilst she retains the vast majority of the limelight with her astute observations and wit, we are able to see the companions as individuals with great self-determination. I will be very interested to see where Chibnall takes the cast next.
The conversation between Yaz and Ryan is a good intersection for this episode, actually. It exposes writing issues while also being terribly important to the message of the episode. It functions very similarly to the Historical Notes chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale or any aspect of sci-fi/dystopian fiction that is meant to allow the reader to identify their world in the world of the novel or show. This conversation brings it all home and says the necessary: just because they’re in the past doesn’t mean these issues are not still present. Structurally, it is a long dialogue section for this piece of the episode and is an example of one of the recurrent issues with pacing this series has had. Ryan’s comments throughout about his treatment were a better example of how this sort of thing can be done well.
This series is also very structurally interesting. It was revealed before the series started that there would not be a typical overarching plot and that they would be trying to take a more educational approach. I shall refrain from making any comments as the merit of both these at this point of the run, but I am not disliking it at the moment. I always felt that Steven Moffat lacked a certain subtlety, and to not have hints (and I use that word lightly) spotlighted every episode is refreshing, to say the least.
When talking about this episode, one has to separate ideas from execution. Taking this episode from a historical and political point of view, it is far in excess of what I had ever hoped for it. Setting all that aside for a second, as an episode of Doctor Who, it wasn’t anything special. Personally, I felt that other episodes have struggled with issues with pacing and writing, and this one was no exception. It is not my favourite of the series thus far.