Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 7 “Kerblam!”

The Doctor investigates a definitely-not-owned-by-Jeff-Bezos property.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) receives a package containing a familiar fez from Kerblam!, the galaxy’s largest supplier of consumer goods. Which galaxy, I don’t know, but one of them. Inside the package is a note requesting help, so the Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (I will never stop fighting for this) head to the main distribution center for Kerblam! and sneak in claiming to be new employees. It’s revealed that 90% of Kerblam! is automated, but, by law, 10% of the workers are organic life. It’s also revealed that Kerblam! wasn’t exactly happy about having to hire 10% human workers, because, as the largest employer in the galaxy, they’d rather just use robots. Graham, Ryan, and Yaz (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill) meet three of the workers in the facility: Dan (Lee Mack), a stock man and literal poster boy for the company who works for his kids; Kira (Claudia Jessie), a member of dispatch noted for her clumsiness; and Charlie (Leo Flanagan), a maintenance worker in love with Kira.

E7 - 1Dan.png
Admittedly, it’s not the best poster.

While the Trio is meeting the rest of the staff, the Doctor meets with Judy and Jarva (Julie Hesmondhaigh and Callum Dixon), the HR managers, who deny any involvement in the recent string of workplace disappearances. The Doctor suspects that it may be the plant’s artificial intelligence trying to get rid of all of the human workers or a malfunction. Dan disappears in the middle of an order, leaving behind only the unbreakable necklace he received from his kid. When Kira goes missing, the Doctor tracks her to the main delivery floor, where she finds evidence of numerous murders and an army of delivery robots, called TeamMates, holding packages. The Doctor speaks directly to the Kerblam! AI, which reveals that it was actually the one that called for help, suspecting that someone was trying to kill off the workers and sabotage the workforce.

E7 - 2Twirly.png
She talks to the AI through “Twirly” and it’s adorable.

Yaz, Ryan, and Charlie find Kira just in time to watch her blow up after playing with the bubble wrap, something Charlie clearly knew would happen, even if he didn’t want it. The Doctor realizes that the army of TeamMates is delivering weaponized bubble wrap which will kill millions of people. Charlie reveals that he’s the one behind the plan, believing that if he causes a massive death from the automated workers that people will demand more human oversight and involvement in the company. The Doctor realizes that this was what the AI was trying to prevent and uses the AI to cause all of the TeamMates to pop their own bubble wrap, destroying the facility and killing Charlie who refuses to leave. After the incident, Judy and Jarva resolve to try to rebuild the company with more human workers.

E7 - 3Army.png
Unsurprisingly, half of those boxes contain drunk purchases.

END SUMMARY

So, it’s the Doctor in a dystopia, which we’ve seen used to varying levels of success in the past. This one is definitely in the upper half in terms of quality, but not the best.

First, the pros:

The fact that this is a clear parody of Amazon comes through immediately, but the truth is that Amazon becoming a mostly-automated monopoly and wrecking any number of industries is a completely understandable concern as of this writing (if you’re reading this in the future, Hail Emperor Bezos). So, the fact that they’re basically just showing us a slightly-sci-fi version of a real and imminent problem makes the dystopia feel much more grounded and relevant. The episode even hints at the idea that the corporation is evil or that the technology is evil or that the HR people are secretly evil, then rejects all of the expected answers. They don’t give us the easy message of “big company bad,” but instead they have the Doctor explicitly point out that the system itself isn’t bad, it’s how people use it that needs to change. I give them credit for acknowledging that the service that Amaz-sorry Kerblam!- provides is actually useful and efficient, even if it can be misused in the name of profits.

E7 - 4Kerblam.png
Yes. This totally doesn’t resemble any other company. Lawsuit averted.

The supporting characters in this episode are all great. Charlie is a complex antagonist, both because he has real emotions that are unrelated to his plan and because his plan isn’t born out of malice but out of desperation and concern for the future of his people. Is he a terrorist? Absolutely, by definition, but he also is shown to at least have some logical reason to believe what he does, which makes him more than just a mustache-twirling bad guy. Kira and Dan, too, are both likeable and portrayed realistically, both being people who are just trying to do the best that they can for themselves and their families. That’s what makes it so much more devastating when both of them die horribly to Charlie’s plan.

And btw, that’s a pro in my book. This episode was willing to make us like two characters, kill them both off, then got us to kind of understand why the guy who killed them was willing to do it even if he regretted it a lot. And yeah, this is brutal, she’s literally torn apart.

Each of the companions and the Doctor herself each got nice scenes exploring their histories or personalities while they interacted with the new characters, with Ryan being able to talk about his past work in a similar position and Graham being able to talk to Charlie about his past experience with love. They’re all solid elements of the episode.

Also, booby-trapped bubble wrap is hilarious and messed up at the same time and just… brilliant.

E7 - 7Bubblewrap.png
WHO COULD RESIST????

Now for the cons:

Kira’s death gets mostly overlooked, emotionally. I can get that Charlie is used to making compromise, but he pretty much gets over killing her quickly because the episode is running out of time. I mean, we spent much longer on establishing that he’s in love with her than we spend on him even reacting to his accidentally murdering her.

The designs of the TeamMates joins the “too creepy for the job you gave it” category in Doctor Who robots. These things look creepier than the generation 1 drone that used to deliver everything and I think if one of them showed up at my door I would empty at least 2 rounds into it just out of an abundance of precaution. It helps when they end up doing some creepy-esque things, but since they aren’t the ultimate bad guys and, honestly, are trying to help, it seems like no one would ever have made them look this way.

E7 - 8Teammate.png
KILL IT WITH FIRE AND BULLETS!!!!

Everything that’s slightly over-reaching about the company itself, including making employees wear GPS monitors, doesn’t really get followed up on much. I guess because, as the show points out, companies now do that in real life and no one seems to care much.

The finale implies that Charlie’s act of terrorism works and convinces two people to change Kerblam!’s business practices and now people will have jobs and puppies and unicorn wands, etc. This is somewhat unsatisfying in an episode that prior to now had been fairly realistic in how the company had worked. Now, I’m not saying that Judy and Jarva hadn’t learned something, but I am saying that the company is much bigger than them and, if they decided that 90:10 was the best ratio of workers before, the company’s overseers will likely want that ratio back, but with more security. Hell, arguably, they should lobby to get rid of the humans because the AI tried to SAVE people while the human tried to commit MASS MURDER. It just didn’t sit right with me.

Overall, this was a pretty solid episode. There are some great images, some great concepts, solid guest characters, and I admit that I love the company name “Kerblam!”

I give it an A-.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Advertisements

Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 6 “Demons of the Punjab”

This season of Doctor Who continues to try to push some boundaries. It’d probably get uncomfortable, or even boring, if they weren’t doing the episodes so well.

SUMMARY

Yaz (Mandip Gill) receives a gift from her grandmother, Umbreen (Leena Dhingra): a broken watch that must never be fixed, but refuses to speak any more about it. Yaz asks the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to take her back to when the watch was broken, but Yaz doesn’t actually know when that is. The Doctor uses the psychic circuitry of the TARDIS to take Yaz, Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) back to India in 1947, where they immediately meet a young Hindu man named Prem (Shane Zaza) and a Hindu holy man named Bhakti. Prem takes them to meet a young Umbreen (Amita Suman), who shocks Yaz by revealing that she’s going to be married to Prem, a man who A) is Hindu, B) is not Yaz’s grandfather, and C) is wearing the watch that brought them there.

E6 - 1Prem.png
He’s a sassy one for a man in 1947, too.

The Doctor finds out the date, which, unfortunately, is August 14, 1947, the day before the Partition of India (if you don’t know what that is, I will explain after the summary. I was only kinda familiar with it). The Doctor is beset by painful psychic images of demons. They find the holy man murdered and the wedding is delayed until August 15. The Doctor sees two nearby alien figures and assumes they committed the murder. She and the TARDIS trio try to track down the aliens, before she ends up being transported onto their ship. She discovers that the two aliens are Thijarian, a race of near-perfect assassins. The Doctor escapes and uses their technology to keep them away from Prem’s house, hoping that will allow the wedding to occur.

E6 - 2Thijarians.png
The Thijarians might also be Orcs.

Yaz works on trying to figure out what’s happening with her grandmother while the Doctor tries to create a repellant for the aliens. However, after studying some of the material found in the alien’s ship, she is teleported back onboard. The Thijarians reveal that they are actually the last two of their race. The assassin planet, unsurprisingly, made a lot of enemies and was destroyed. Unable to mourn their dead properly, these two Thijarians vowed to become witnesses to all those who die alone throughout time and space. They were present at the death of the holy man, who they reveal was killed by Prem’s brother, Manish (Hamza Jeetooa). It’s revealed that they’re staying in order to observe the millions of deaths that will follow the Partition, including Prem.

E6 - 3Prem2.png
Could have used a better picture, guys.

The Doctor informs the TARDIS trio that they cannot interfere with Prem’s death, because otherwise Yaz won’t exist. The next morning, Ryan and Graham help Prem prepare for his wedding. Prem, a veteran of World War II, speaks sadly that so many Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus are fighting now over the Partition, something he feels flies in the face of what he learned from the war. The Doctor officiates the wedding on the border of India and the new country of Pakistan, making Umbreen the first woman married in Pakistan. After the wedding, Prem offers Umbreen his watch as a gift, but drops it, making it the broken watch from the beginning.

E6 - 4Watch.png
This is a beautiful scene, honestly.

Manish leaves the wedding angry at his Hindu brother marrying a Muslim. The Doctor confronts him over the murder of the Holy Man, but Manish reveals he’s part of a Hindu Nationalist group that is coming to kill the Muslims. Prem tries to distract the group so that Umbreen and her family can escape, resulting in his death at the hands of a man he fought beside during the war. The Thijarians witness his death and honor him, as the Doctor and the TARDIS trio depart back to the present. Yaz meets with her grandmother again and asks if she was happy with how her life turned out. Umbreen says that she is, even with the bad times.

E6 - 5Gunman.png
Literally shooting a comrade dead for loving someone. F*ck you, guy.

END SUMMARY

This season of Doctor Who is not afraid to take on social issues, obviously, and this episode is a continuation of that, but with a few interesting added elements.

First, let’s go ahead and address the Partition of India. So, this doesn’t get covered in American Schools much, but in 1945-47, the British Empire was set to allow India to be independent. At the time, there were large populations of Muslims in India’s Western half, while most of the rest of India was Hindu until you get to the Buddhists on the Eastern border. So, Britain decided to instead create two states, Pakistan and India. Pakistan for the Muslims, India for the Hindus (and everyone else). Unfortunately, a lot of people near the border of these countries weren’t happy about suddenly having their property or family living in other countries. Others weren’t happy that there were Hindus in Pakistan or Muslims in India. These tensions quickly came to a head in a series of violent riots that killed at least a few hundred thousand, but likely millions. It also created a massive refugee crisis, with over 14 million people crossing borders over the following 5 years.

E6 - 6Maps.png
If your response to this is “there were Muslims in India?” there are still 172 Million there. 

Basically, this was a really shitty time in world history for a lot of people, with a lot of people working hard to make it worse. I think it’s pretty bold of the show to remind us that this happened and that much of the problems were caused by people who chose to make everyone different than them miserable or dead for reasons that were best described as “unreasonable.”

Second, I think subverting the villain in the episode was great. We’re introduced to a race of assassins, aliens who have spent their entire existence killing, only for them to have renounced it because, as violence begets violence, their race was inevitably destroyed. The beauty of this working with the theme of the episode so well overshadows my disappointment at the Doctor not having to deal with a race of super-assassins. It helps that the ultimate bad guy, Manish, is portrayed disturbingly realistically. He loves his brother, but, ultimately, he believes that killing all of the people against him is the only solution. He won’t pull the trigger, but he lets someone else do it.

E6 - 7Manish.png
Some mild discomfort around Thanksgiving is not a worst-case-scenario.

Third, the fact that the episode is focused around a wedding, and an inter-religious marriage at that, gives it an upbeat air that serves to make it more devastating when it’s revealed to be doomed. Since we know WHEN it’s doomed, it adds a ticking clock until the Doctor finally accepts that there’s nothing to be done. Then, we have to see the Doctor going through the motions of helping Prem and Umbreen, fully aware of what’s going to be their fate. It makes her speech at the ceremony in which she calls them “the strongest people on the planet, possibly the universe,” through the power of their love, all the sadder.

E6 - 8Wedding.png
It was a lovely ceremony, too.

Fourth, this was a great exploration of Yaz. I didn’t think she’d gotten her dues yet within the season, so this was a good way of expanding on her. You can even see that she’s conflicted about not saving Prem, even though it would result in her never being born. At the end, when she’s asking her grandmother if she had a good life, she’s basically asking if she did the right thing, which makes it all the better that her grandmother says that having Yaz made everything worthwhile. 

I loved this episode. It’s not traditional Doctor Who (and, admittedly, I’m antsy to get some again), but when combined with “Rosa,” it’s becoming apparent that the show is getting better at doing episodes from history that still have relevance in the modern day. This one isn’t quite as powerful as the ending of “Rosa,” but it’s a better overall episode.

I give it a solid A.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 5 “The Tsuranga Conundrum”

Never mind the Spiders, here’s a space ship!

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Cole) get hit by a sonic mine while on a junk planet. They awaken on Tsuranga, an automated spaceship heading to a medical space-station with a load of patients it picks up on the way: Yoss (Jack Shalloo), a pregnant man (no, it wasn’t planned, but don’t judge); Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer), a famous general; Eve’s brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith); and Ronan (David Shields), Eve’s android partner. The Doctor tries to leave but finds she isn’t able to get off the ship until they reach their destination.

E5 - 1Tsuranga.png
Also, she has an injury to her Squiddly-spooge. 

 

The Doctor and head nurse Astos (Brett Goldstein) discover that something has gotten through the shields. They begin searching for whatever entered, but Astos gets tricked by an alien creature into being jettisoned out on an escape pod which then explodes. The Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (I don’t care if they’re Team TARDIS, I’m keeping my name) find the creature, which is revealed to be a tiny monster that can devour things many times its size and eat almost anything. The computer identifies this monster as a P’Ting, but warns that the spaceship will be blown up if the P’Ting is onboard when it gets near the destination due to the fact that the creature is known to eat entire fleets.

E5 - 2PTing.png
It’s truly a sight to behold…

Yoss goes into labor and brings Ryan, Graham, and the remaining nurse Mabli (Lois Chimimba) with him to monitor the birth. The Doctor leaves Ronan and Yaz to guard the ship’s power source while she goes with Eve and Durkas to disable the signal that will lead to the destruction of the ship. In the process, they find out that they need to pilot the ship manually, so Eve is put in the pilot rig, but it’s revealed that due to her years of piloting spaceships, her heart is in danger of failure. She decides to sacrifice herself anyway and dies piloting them to safety. The Doctor realizes that there is a self-destruct bomb onboard the ship and uses it to overload the P’Ting’s appetite before blowing it out into space. As the episode ends, Ronan prepares to kill himself (his service over), but Durkas asks him to help eulogize Eve… with everyone having forgot about Astos, apparently.

END SUMMARY

Well, there are some positives and some negatives in this episode.

I like the P’Ting. It’s small and unassuming and it isn’t particularly threatening directly since it only eats non-organic matter. However, it’s also one of the most dangerous monsters out there, since it is A) apparently invulnerable, B) toxic to any organic life to touch, C) mostly immune to stunning, and D) able to consume entire spaceships without being sated. It doesn’t do anything out of a hatred of the people on the ships, it’s just hungry and acting on instinct. It doesn’t even appear to really “trick” Astos into going into the pod, it just eats the life support system while he’s in there. In a season of relatively unimaginative antagonists, this is the first one that I really might remember.

E5 - 3GlowWorm.png
And it looks like a Glow Worm when happy.

Yoss’s pregnancy is… interesting… as a side plot. I don’t know if I consider it good or bad, because it’s just very unusual. Yoss’s species requires both genders to get pregnant in order to survive, because males birth males and females birth females, but the pregnancy also only lasts a week. Yoss apparently got pregnant from anonymous sex, something that the show wisely doesn’t comment on, but he also originally planned on giving the baby up until Ryan convinces him otherwise, apparently seeing his own father’s abandonment in Yoss’s decision. That part I didn’t like. I agree that it was wrong for Ryan’s father to abandon him, but it’s also okay to give children up for adoption. There are a lot of couples out there who want kids, at least in America, and it is painfully difficult to adopt despite the huge number of children in the system. I’m not saying whether the show did it right or wrong, I just felt like Ryan kind of took the position automatically that giving a child up for adoption is wrong and, well, I’ve worked with too many families to believe that forcing a parent to raise a child they don’t want is a good idea. Maybe this one is just me.

E5 - 4Yoss.png
Use condoms, kids. 

Eve’s sacrifice is a pretty good sequence. It’s foreshadowed early on that she probably wouldn’t survive when Malbi warns her against using the last of the life-saving drug she needs before she is in trouble. Ronan basically threatens Malbi into handing it over because he doesn’t want Eve to be in pain, but ultimately this kills her. I can only assume this is part of the reason why he decides to stop living after she dies, because he feels that he’s partially responsible. When the actual sacrifice comes, it’s her telling her brother that she loves him, something that apparently their family doesn’t do much. It’s not perfect because it feels a little chaotic, but it still works.

E5 - 5Eve.png

They are having some issues with finding stuff for all of the TARDIS trio to do during the episode, since there are just so many of them and this season also tries to introduce some dynamic side-characters in every episode. Yaz still needs some more room to shine, having basically been a punter of alien in this episode. Admittedly, it was fun to watch her punt, but still, she needs more.

I still love Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, and I think the opening sequence where she’s desperate to find a way off of the ship while in agonizing pain is pretty solid. It’s basically the Doctor being desperate and a little overwhelmed, something we don’t often get to see. She still powers through it, but watching the Doctor being distracted by pain to the point of irrationality makes it all the more powerful when we see her finally realize that it’s happening after Astos confronts her with it. The look on her face is brilliant.

E5 - 6Face.png
She even apologizes. Progress!

Overall, the episode feels like it was a little slow, but not to the point of really letting my attention wander. I give it a B.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 4 “Arachnids in the UK”

The Doctor fights spiders, because why should I be allowed to sleep again?

SUMMARY

It’s the near future or near past… either last week or next week. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) returns to Sheffield with her companions, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole). They decide to go to have tea with Yaz’s family, the Khans. However, the Doctor and Ryan go to retrieve a package for the family that was left with a neighbor and find out that the neighbor has been cocooned in giant spiderwebs by, you guessed it, giant spiders. They’re joined by arachnologist Jade McIntyre (Tanya Fear), a friend of the deceased, who says she has been observing odd size and behavior by spiders in the area. The audience, and soon the group, learn that the source of the spiders is the basement of a hotel run by American Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), who just fired Yaz’s mom Najia (Shobna Gulati) because he’s a rich a-hole.

E4 - 1Spider.png
If I have to suffer, you have to suffer.

After the Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (or Team TARDIS as the show says) arrive at the hotel, they quickly find out that there are giant spiders everywhere and that, in a bizarre twist, they’re just old-fashioned B-movie monsters that have grown from toxic waste. Yes, it turns out that the billionaire hotel magnate bought a coal mine, turned it into a landfill for toxic waste, then built a luxury hotel on it. Well, ultimately, the spiders end up not being a huge problem because the queen spider grows so big she can’t respirate using book lungs. However, Robertson shoots it to death before it can die naturally, just so he can say he did and bolster his potential political career.

E4 - 2Gun.png
Admittedly, he DOES kill the mostly-dead spider. 

At the end of the episode, the Doctor plans to leave, but the three join her and ask to come along. They depart to places unknown.

END SUMMARY

Last episode, I had to laud the writers for having the guts to not use another allegory to get their point across. This episode, I’m telling them that they should have thought of a better one. The Spiders are basically a consequence of human ignorance and giving one person the ability to disclaim responsibility through use of corporate veils, which is a great thing to comment on… but they end up mostly just saying that this guy is a dick.

E4 - 3Noth.png
Which Sex and the City fans already knew.

First, if you want us to feel sorry for the spiders, and they kind of do, don’t pick spiders. They skitter and most people are afraid of them. If you’re going to spend the episode saying “spiders don’t eat people” and other stuff like that, you can’t also HAVE THEM DOING THAT THE WHOLE TIME. That’s like spending the movie going “the guy in the hockey mask just wants hugs” while watching Jason Vorhees slaughter people. I get that they’re mutants, but the Doctor repeating that they’re harmless around the corpses of their victims just makes her seem stubborn. Also, this marks the first time that I think Doctor Who has ever actually obeyed the “Square-cube law,” which makes giant animals nearly impossible, something that seems out of place in a show which has a blue box that doesn’t obey any laws of physics.

Second, Chris Noth’s Robertson is out of place. The character isn’t bad, in fact I hope they use him again, but he’s completely wrong within this story. He’s a greedy, rich industrialist who is planning on becoming president of the US solely to spite Donald Trump, with whom he shares a great number of idiosyncrasies. He’s selfish, a coward, a germophobe, and appears to not actually have any empathy for anyone or anything. The problem is, he’s never as wrong as you expect a villain to be, but they also don’t really point out why a system that allows someone like him also has issues. Basically, they just say “this guy’s a dick” but don’t try to do anything with that point. It’s really driven home when the Doctor gets angry at him for shooting the dying spider, but he literally just walks out without really suffering at all or caring about the deaths, as he is pretty much immune from consequence. Now, if the episode had done more to point out that he’s not immune because of who he is, but that he is who he is BECAUSE he’s immune, that would have helped. But, maybe next time.

E4 - 4Noths.png
The best part is when she thinks he’s Ed Sheeran.

Actually, Robertson continues the line of mediocre villains this season. Tim Shaw, Ilin, Krasko… none of them are the level of memorable foe that this show usually produces. I appreciate that they’re letting Jodie Whittaker and company get their feet before they throw them against some of the old enemies, but dammit, give us some better bad guys in the meantime.

On the other hand, we had some development in this episode and those character moments are amazing. We have Ryan doing shadowpuppets in the background while the Doctor deals with Jade to crack the new mystery in one of the most genuine moments in the show. Graham visits his now empty home and sees visions of the woman he loved trying to give him some comfort. Yaz is revealed to have interesting relationships with all of her family members. The team really is coming together.

E4 - 5Shadowpuppets.png
I hope that Tosin Cole was just messing around. It’s such a nice moment.

Overall, gonna give this episode a B-. It’s not bad, per se, but it could be a lot better, as this season has proved.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Doctor Who Season 11 – Ep. 3 “Rosa”

Doctor Who decides to drop all the pretense for once and I’ll be damned if it isn’t powerful.

SUMMARY

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), trying to get home with her companions, Graham, Ryan, and Yas (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill), becomes annoyed when the TARDIS refuses to go back to 2018 and instead lands the four in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Ryan, being black, quickly runs into some trouble and has to be bailed out by none other than Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson). It turns out that today is November 30, 1955, the day before her famous arrest.

E3 - 1RosaParks.png
Yes, Rosa Parks bails out the Doctor.

The reason why the Doctor and crew are there is that the TARDIS locked onto a time-travel energy signature. It turns out that Krasko (Joshua Bowman), a time traveler from the future, has come back to stop Rosa Parks in the hopes that it will derail the civil rights movement and result in minorities still being oppressed in the future. However, in the future, he was implanted with a chip that prevents him from killing or injuring any living thing, so he can only try to manipulate the situation indirectly, like giving the day off to James F. Blake (Trevor White), the driver who told Parks to move.

E3 - 2James.png
A man who, in real life, she’d sworn off 12 years prior. 

The Doctor and companions manage to fend off not just Krasko, but also the prevalent racism of the 1950s South. However, Krasko manages to make the bus 3 riders short, meaning that Parks would not have to move. The Doctor and the TARDIS trio (decent band name) are forced to play the part of people on the bus but, in order to not change history or undermine the significance of Parks’ protest, cannot help Parks at all. History plays out, Parks is arrested, the Montgomery Boycott ensues and racism is… still a thing, resulting in Parks spending the rest of her life advocating for equality that, the episode sadly makes clear, doesn’t yet exist, even in Britain.

END SUMMARY

So, this episode was about racism. Doctor Who is no stranger to the subject. Hell, the most famous villains in the series, the Daleks, are just thinly veiled analogues to Nazis, seeking genocide against anything that is not a Dalek, believing (despite all the times they’ve been defeated) that they’re the perfect race. But, unlike most of the portrayals in the show’s history, they didn’t use an allegorical layer to separate the story. This wasn’t a race of red aliens and green aliens fighting, this was white humans being dicks to black humans for… reasons that aren’t really reasons.

E3 - 3Daleks.jpg
These believe they’re the master race, rather than strange marital aids.

This isn’t the first time the show’s done this, but it is still rare, to say the least. In the 1988 episode “Remembrance of the Daleks,” which was about racism within the Daleks themselves, the Doctor goes back to 1963, when the show premiered. While there, companion Ace sees a sign saying “No Coloureds” prominently displayed, reminding the audience that the story about racism among space-Nazis might still be relevant in the real world.

E3 - 4Coloured
This episode was set THE YEAR THIS SHOW BEGAN. Yeah, this ain’t ancient history.

The big upside in this episode is that everything involving the actual protest is well-done and damned powerful. When Rosa refuses to give up her seat, the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day starts and it is… well, emotionally evocative, to say the least. In some episodes I would say it’s a cheap tearjerker moment, but they give this the level of gravitas it deserves. It also marks the first time I can remember a song playing over the show’s end credits, though the TARDIS Wiki tells me it isn’t the first ever.

Overall, I don’t know exactly how to feel about the episode. There isn’t a lot of humor (though Elvis having a cell phone is hilarious) and a lot of parts of it, where they’re interfering with Krasko’s interference, doesn’t really work great because it feels like they’re just forcing their way through the scenes to buy time. Sometimes it seems a little heavy handed but, since Montgomery WAS a LOT heavy handed in the 1950s, that actually seems justified. Ultimately, though, it did something great by having the Doctor and crew step back and let someone else be the hero of the story. Rosa Parks’s protest had nothing to do with the Doctor, they just got out of her way. It’s an amazing moment and one that needs to be remembered. 

E3 - 5Protest.png
And hats off to Vinette Robinson for her portrayal.

Without that last part, this would not be a great episode. It might even have been a bad one. However, with that, I have to give this episode an A-. It’s not perfect, but it’s damned “brilliant.” 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.