When the Doctor (Jody Whittaker) tries to return her friends Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yasmin (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) to Sheffield in the present time, they end up in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. The Doctor finds Artron energy in the area, which means that another time machine is there. They find that they have arrived the day before Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) refused to give up her seat as demanded by bus driver James F. Blake (Trevor White) on 1 December, which touched off the American civil rights movement. They find the source of the time-travel energy in a suitcase full of devices from the future, but the owner, Krasko (Joshua Bowman), attacks them with a time-displacement device and they run. The Doctor thinks he is there to change history.
The Doctor’s friends do research and the Doctor goes back to the suitcase, which she uses to protect herself when Krasko, who is a rehabilitated mass murderer, attacks her. He has neural implants from prison and cannot kill Rosa Parks, but he wants to stop the Montgomery Boycott from happening. The Doctor takes his time-displacement device and destroys his vortex manipulator, but she cannot convince him to stand down. He arranges for Blake, the bus driver, to take the day off and the Doctor and her friends try to stop him.
Ryan finds Krasko blocking the bus routes with a car and succeeding in keeping the bus from boarding a sufficient number of white passengers to inspire the incident. Ryan sees that Krasko is deeply racist and uses the displacement device on him, sending him into the past. The Doctor and her friends board the bus and are forced to become involved in the incident. When they return to the TARDIS, the Doctor shows them how the future developed, including an asteroid named Rosa Parks.
The episode was written by Marjorie Blackman and producer Chris Chibnall and was directed by Mark Tonderai. The episode received very positive reviews from critics. I think it was brilliant. Krasko had been held in Stormcage Prison, which had been mentioned during the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes as holding River Song, the Doctor’s wife. Interestingly, the episode was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. In the early days of the Doctor Who series, simple historical episodes alternated with the more exotic science-fiction episodes but became less common after a while.
Real film of President Bill Clinton appeared, as did real film of Rosa Parks. The bus was a detailed replica of the real bus involved and much of the incidents and conversations in the story were factually accurate. Josh Bowman (Krasko) played the time-travelling Jack the Ripper in the 2017 remake of Time After Time. Rosa Parks was not actually the first woman arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. Nine months before, a girl named Claudette Colvin was as well, but rumours that she was pregnant by an older married man (not true) caused her to be rejected as the representative of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
I was impressed by the way the writers negotiated the minefield that the story presented. Whatever they did, somebody would be offended. But Vinette Robinson was great as Rosa Parks, the research was flawless, the caper properly desperate, and the racist language and incidents were not toned down for TV. Racism was shown to be not only unnecessarily cruel but ridiculously stupid. There was in fact a lot of humour. Throughout the entire story, Yasmin was called Mexican. The villain was not the usual apocalyptic Doctor Who villain, but he was a real piece of work and properly hateful. A nice touch is that Ryan was the one who sent him back in time, saving the day. One wonders where he went. I’m hoping for the Late Cretaceous myself.