Oh, the history of it! Not only do our intrepid adventurers end up in America on Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 3 but they land on the eve of one of the greatest events in the civil rights movement, the Rosa Parks bus protest.
There has been much speculation that our Thirteenth Doctor is meant to harken back to the First Doctor, portrayed by William Hartnell from 1963 to 1965. With the lookalike job done by David Bradley in the Twelfth-to-Thirteenth regeneration adventure, Doctor Who Season 10 Episode 14, it wasn't hard to see the signposts.
Even the trio of Companions is a tip of the hat to the first incarnation of The Doctor. The First Doctor traveled with his granddaughter and two schoolteachers and their adventures often took them into historical events, an educational by-product for children glued to the show.
Which brings us to the Thirteenth Doctor and HER trio of Companions in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 meeting Rosa Parks in the flesh.
For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Companion Ryan is BLACK and the blatant, institutionalized, and widely accepted racism of the time that welcomes him to Montgomery is incredibly hard to watch.
Specifically, Ryan gets slapped by a white man and threatened with lynching for daring to return a dropped glove to the man's wife. Ryan and Yaz are also singled out as undesirables in a restaurant although Ryan does handle it with some wit.
Waitress: We don't serve Negroes.
Ryan: Good. Because I don't eat them.
It is an episode of extreme highs and lows for Ryan. When he follows Rosa Parks for more information, she allows him to serve coffee at the meeting taking place in her home. There, he shakes hands with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the star-struck look on his face is just amazing.
Incidentally, we haven't seen evidence of Ryan's chronic clumsiness since the fact was introduced in Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 1. I predict it'll be important eventually and it's nice that it's not his defining characteristic but I was actually anticipating him spilling coffee on Dr. King.
Ryan even gets to zap the baddie with an alien weapon. Not a Doctor-approved tactic, of course, but Ryan is starting to develop into an action-first sort of personality.
(I'm honestly surprised there wasn't more follow-up from The Doctor on the unauthorized use of the temporal displacement weapon considering her big anti-gun stance on Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 2 but that might come later.)
At the same time, his discussion with Yaz about the state of the world they come from drives home the fact that racism is still a problem today. Yaz pushes a more optimistic perspective though.
I can be a police officer now because people like Rosa Parks fought those battles for me. For us. And in fifty-three years, they'll have a black president as leader. Who knows where they'll be fifty years after that? That's proper change.Yaz
Graham and Yaz are also proving themselves to be incredibly effective Companions. Graham's matter-of-fact approach is refreshing although the generational gap between him and the other two gets played up a lot for comedic effect.
I appreciate that they've all bought in on this adventure and really love that Graham will ask the questions that I'm asking as I watch. For instance, when they check into the motel, I wondered, as Graham did, why they weren't heading back to the T.A.R.D.I.S.
Also, after being kicked out of the restaurant, I wondered if they'd eaten anything since landing. Graham cleared that up too. His pragmatism is a joy for nit-pickers like me.
Graham: We will stop somewhere else to eat, now won't we?
The Doctor: No time, Graham!
Graham: Have you noticed that happens a lot? I need regular food.
A good baddie is always exciting to behold. Krasko is about a 7/10 in that respect. He's clever and incredibly motivated by his racism(?). He's planned his "history nudge" well, getting out ahead of the team on almost every turn. He's also got a top-notch menacing look.
He loses marks for being a TERRIBLE shot with his temporal displacement weapon. And what's with climbing the gas tank when he was chasing the team? It's not like they were all that well hidden where they were.
Perhaps, he was posturing to cover for the fact he wasn't able to harm them? Same with showing up on Rosa's path home. So much lurking and creep factor but no real reason to be there.
Of course, he does bring a lot of toys and tidbits to the table. Not only does he carry the temporal displacement weapon but he wears a vortex manipulator just like Captain Jack Harkness (SQUEEE!).
Furthermore, the Doctor draws attention to his wrist tattoos which identify him as an inmate of Stormcage Prison (where RIver Song was also incarcerated... sort of). That gives him a chance to humble-brag about his crimes.
The Doctor: What were you [in prison] for in the first place?
Krasko: If I tell you, it might color your view of me. I was young. Nobody got hurt. Well, a few people got killed. A few hundred people, thousand tops. Two thousand.
What doesn't get answered at all (mostly because Ryan zaps him into the past) is how an interstellar sociopath comes to fixate on the American civil rights movement as the beginning of his problems. Your thoughts on this would be very welcome. I'm stumped.
Historically, the villain of this story is James Blake, or "Blake the Snake" as Grace used to call him, the bus driver who called the police on Rosa when she wouldn't give up her seat.
His portrayal here is brilliant without being brutish. As a driver, he's clear on the letter of the law he upholds but what really impressed me was the fact that he immediately gave up his fishing holiday to go back to driving when he heard that black people would be staging a sit-in on his bus that night.
That, my friends, is one committed racist.
And it's not like he's alone. Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 does nothing to appeal to the sensibilities of a modern-day audience. The script pulls no punches. Quite literally.
From the man who assaults Ryan, to the pub staff, to Office Mason, the attitudes expressed and actions taken by the citizens they encounter are the product of racism in its most unchecked, rampant state.
In contrast to their cowardly hate and ignorance, Rosa Parks is courageous in her convictions and strengthened by her belief in education and setting an example.
Education makes you unstoppable.Rosa Parks
There is so much to pay attention to when you watch Doctor Who online. The writers continuously build in hints for the season's ultimate conflict while throwing in Easter Eggs for classic Whovians. There's simply a lot going on and the pace doesn't let up one bit.
Meanwhile, it's clear they are not afraid to change things up a bit. Not only did the premiere have NO intro at all, but "Rosa" ends without the traditional Doctor Who outro music, which is a marked departure from routine.
Instead, Andra Day's "Rise Up" plays in the background as Rosa Parks is arrested and taken from the bus and then plays over the credits as well (after The Doctor's little history lesson).
How is this new style of Doctor Who sitting with you? Are the changes refreshing or annoying?
Are we due for more Stenza shenanigans or do you think Krasko will be re-joining our merry crew soon? And, on a controversial note, did Ryan simply "Weeping Angel" Krasko with that move or what?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.