In yet another magnificently boneheaded maneuver, Chris Chibnall decides “the hell with being responsible for ones actions; here’s a story!” Now, Rosa is a damned good episode. Like any solid allegory, it makes us uncomfortable at the right moments. I have to say, I attribute this to episode co-writer Malorie Blackman. It may not be fair and, had I been reviewing the episodes in order, I may not have been able to identify this, but I haven’t gone in order. I went in reverse! And that made all the difference, to paraphrase a poet. The issues with Rosa is not that it’s not good. No, as I said, it’s a pretty powerful episode. But it feels like two writers were talking about an idea and one said “hey, let’s make a story about what Rosa Parks went through” and the other said “Ok, here’s some kitchen-sink ideas we can throw in and see how they work”. This is the spaghetti-at-wall approach. Throw enough at the wall, something is bound to stick. Introducing a random racist from the future is bad enough. Yeah, racism is a thing and it exists in our time, but we’re trying to educate people and that’s in just a few decades. We are making progress and we live in the 21st century. I’d like to think that by the time of River Song, the 50-something-th century would be populated with far more educated people. I mean, hell, look at Jack Harkness! He’s even willing to date bug-women. (In fairness, she was pretty cute so…) So why would Chibnall think that’s the way to go. Yeah, future racists, alright! Great idea, if you’ve got no alternatives!
But even if we do go that route, why is Rosa Parks the starting point? Why not have Krasko, our unfriendly neighborhood racist, be behind the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr? That would make him a proverbial badass while at the same time creating a troubling issue that the Doctor would be unable to prevent. Even if they went with the idea that he was prevented from actually doing anything, the mere fact that he was involved would create a dangerous adversary. That could be tied into the real life event as someone who influenced the actual shooter! Instead we get a guy who is basically utterly inept as a villain and equally terrible as a human being. He’s basically unable to do anything bad because he has a block put in his head (which begs the question: why not put that block in everyone? Ok, at least the bad guys???). I’m reminded of Asimov’s laws. The law states: no robot can harm a human or through inaction allow a human to come to harm. Krasko is basically the workaround to that law. “Oh, sure, I can’t actually do anything about it but by influencing things, I can cause problems. Except, did I mention, I’m lame and look like someone who tried out for The Outsiders but got turned down?” I think it would be hard to find a worse villain, and Doctor Who has had some winners, I can tell you. Mestor, anyone? When Mestor or the Borad are improvements, wow, we’ve got issues.
But the fallout from this episode is even worse. See, for one, the fallout is really the actual story. Rosa is arrested and it kicks off a civil rights movement and the Doctor doesn’t have to clean up a thing. So you’d almost think that this series would leave this episode unscathed. Based on Chibnall’s writing, this is a perfect episode for the Doctor because she doesn’t have to clean up a thing! There’s no cleanup necessary because the fallout is what we needed to kick off the civil rights movement that begins a change in society. But there’s a problem, one little thing: Krasko. He was beamed into some unknown time. Past? Future? Weaponless and alone and unable to do harm, he’d better hope it was the future; but a wiser one than the one he was busy trying to create. The past… well, depends when, I guess. But if he ends up with Za and Cal as they make fire… well, he’s going to find himself in the Cave of Skulls. He won’t be able to actually hurt anyone but will have to fight for his life. In the future, who knows? The thing is, the Doctor doesn’t try to find him or clean up the mess made by Ryan! She just accepts that he’s been cast into some unknown time, and she shrugs and leaves it alone. Oh, well! One more racist in the universe, inept and unable to actually do anything… who cares?
Like so much else with Chibnall’s writing, we are left with a question mark: is the Doctor capable of interacting with humanity without leaving a mess behind? If these stories are anything to go by, I’d say no. Granted, this one may not have much of an impact. Maybe Krasko is just lost and forgotten, but you’ve got to wonder. The show had a mandate that Chibnall wanted to get back to: education. If we’re really going to educate, I still think one of the best lessons we can teach is that actions have consequences. But that may be a lesson for another show. Perhaps the Ghost Monument will be the exception… There’s at least a ghost of a chance, huh? ML