I just finished watching (for the 2nd or 3rd time) the “Rosa” episode of Doctor Who, season 11 (spoilers ahead)…

When the Doctor attempts to return to Sheffield, the TARDIS instead takes her to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. The Doctor finds traces of time travel energy in the area. Investigating, the group learns that they have arrived the day before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat as bus driver James F. Blake demanded, influencing the civil rights movement. Tracing the energy, the group locates a suitcase of equipment from the future but are forced to flee from its owner, a rehabilitated murderer named Krasko, who is attempting to change history by ensuring Parks never had to refuse her seat. Destroying the vortex manipulator he used, the Doctor and her friends focus on thwarting him by ensuring Parks refuses her seat to Blake. While Ryan removes false notices at bus stops, he encounters Krasko blocking the bus route. Ryan uses Krasko’s displacement device to send him into the past. Removing the blockage, he and the others rejoin the Doctor on the bus as passengers. As the moment arrives, the Doctor realises they have become forced to stay aboard the bus. The police arrest Parks for violating segregation laws, and history has been kept intact.


…and something is bugging me.

In more than one instance during the series’s 50-plus-year span, episodes have presented historic events with a twist that hinges on the Doctor having to make a gut-wrenching choice that causes that event to take place (causing Mount Vesuvius to erupt, etc.), thus preserving the timeline and keeping humanity and the universe safe. And in most of those instances I buy into the story without much question.

In the “Rosa” episode, I am struggling, though, with the premise. No matter how much good we know may come out of Rosa Parks’s arrest, I can’t justify them a) causing it to take place, or b) not protesting/standing up for her/putting themselves between her and the danger she faces. I’m bothered that they have to help cause oppression in order to fight against it.

It’s difficult because as we understand “history” this moment has happened and can’t be altered. But I worry about the message that might be internalized by other white folks, that our inaction in the face of suffering and injustice is appropriate because it “allows” pivotal moments to occur.

What I’m questioning, in this instance, is the role of whiteness in anti-racism as its depicted in this episode, and what the show creators’ intentions are/were. And ugh… I can’t help but feel like they got it wrong.

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