“Rosa” – Doctor Who, and Malorie Blackman

I’m still shaking after last night’s Doctor Who episode. Written by the illustrious Malorie Blackman, a legend in the world of children’s and young adult literature – and former Children’s Laureate to boot, Rosa was set in Montgomery, Alabama and concerned the equally illustrious figure of Rosa Parks.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand story when you’re crying on the sofa. When you’re made breathless by it, and you can’t look away. When sentences make you sick and horrified at the world and then, in the next breath, make you laugh out loud. Emotions matter. They’re a total asset. And when a story triggers them, whether that story’s rendered on a television screen, written in a book or stuck onto the back of the HP bottle, you know you’re onto a good thing.

Malorie Blackman is a good thing. Rosa broke me and remade me and it reminded me of the utter power of story. It’s an unrelenting episode, stark and unflinching and with a remarkably final ten minutes or so. It’s perhaps more remarkable in that the agency of Rosa herself is never affected. She changes the world. She changes the universe. And she does it herself. There’s no machinations, no zapping of an alien to make her sit in the seat, it’s just the circumstances of history and the power of an individual voice. Beyond that, yes, there’s a Doctor Who episode but there’s also one of the lead characters being threatened with a lynching. There’s a moment where two of the leads reflect on how they face modern day racism. This is raw, horrific, outstanding storytelling and it felt like a statement of intent, not only for the show but also Malorie Blackman’s work. She is a storyteller of intense power.

If you’d like to discover more about Blackman’s work, I’d suggest starting with the outstanding Noughts and Crosses series. I review the first one here.

 

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6 thoughts on ““Rosa” – Doctor Who, and Malorie Blackman

  1. I regret to say I still haven’t read Blackman, but having also watched this episode I shan’t tiptoe round her work again–this was simply the best Doctor Who episode I’ve seen in fifty years of watching it on and off, and that includes David Tennant’s final outing, which I admit did move me. Everything you write is just so; and I hope this breaks the Whovian white male monopoly way beyond Jodie’s tenure. And she, by the way, is a revelation, along with the re-envisioning of the Doctor’s proactivity.

    And yes, both I and my partner (who isn’t an SF fan) welled up at the end. Superb writing, and some superb acting too.

    • Wasn’t it a wonderful episode? As you, LH, it didn’t pull any punches about historical or modern day racism – the scenes in the 50s where Ryan was repeated seen as a threat, demeaned and his safety threatened were chilling. I watched with my 14 year old son and despite having studied the human rights movement at school (he knew more than I did about the circumstances under which Parks began her protest!) he was shocked at the attitudes and the language used. He thought it was a brilliant episode too. If this is what the Chibnall/ Whittaker tenure is going to be like, then much more please!
      And yes, Chris, do give Malorie Blackman a go – Noughts and Crosses is very good indeed.

      • Haha! Whittaker’s been good so far and she’ll only improve as she settles into the role. Also, I think the Beeb knew they had to do well with stories, give her first series a decent budget. We can’t have the first female doctor failing because she’s not well served with plots.

      • Thanks, Lynn! I was reminded of it by the recent success of The Hate U Give but I’m still trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to reduce my TBR pile. Soon, I hope…

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