Well, this series is certainly keeping up with good storylines.
The Doctor has been trying to take Graham, Ryan and Yasmin home to 2018 Sheffield, but the TARDIS is not having it, and on the ninth attempt (‘Fourteenth,’ corrects Graham, who’s definitely my favourite of the new companions), it lands them in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, where the Rosa Parks bus incident is about to go down. The Doctor notices that the TARDIS is detecting artron energy, which means they won’t be leaving any time soon, as she needs to investigate.
Again, the actual alien menace plot of this episode is fairly straightforward. Krasko is an escaped criminal from Stormcage (the prison where River Song was incarcerated during the Matt Smith era), who has decided that everything started going wrong when people started fighting for all that pesky ‘racial equality’ stuff, and has come to 1955 to make sure that the Rosa Parks incident doesn’t happen. Due to a Spike-from-Buffy-esque antiviolence block having been implanted in his brain, he can’t kill Rosa or anyone else, so he’s interfering with events to try and make sure that the circumstances don’t occur that led Rosa to make her bus protest in the first place, kind of like a less competent version of the Meddling Monk. Krasko’s fairly easily beaten, because the Doctor tricks him into destroying his own tools and then Ryan later sends him back into the distant past using Krasko’s own matter disperser, but in all honesty, he’s not the real villain in this episode.
The villainy, instead, is ably provided by the real-life ugly racism of the 1950s Deep South, with plenty of people around town who treat Ryan and Yasmin like scum. It’s well done and is, as intended, an uncomfortable watch. There’s also moments of joy, though – Ryan’s delight at getting to meet Martin Luther King is lovely, and Rosa Parks is characterised and played with a real fire and determination.
With Krasko dispatched, the real challenge for the Doctor and companions is mitigating all his interference, and so it’s that challenge that makes up the tense final sequence of the episode. It’s well plotted and very satisfyingly resolved.
Characterisation-wise, I’m still waiting for more from Yasmin, but Ryan was really well used this episode, and the relationship between him and Graham is developing really nicely. I’m also amazed by how quickly Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has become part of the furniture in my brain – she’s warm and funny and may in the long run become one of my favourites.
Looks like they finally get back to Sheffield next week, so that’ll be interesting!