Last Sunday night, the nation settled in to watch Doctor Who. Instead of the show’s usual family-friendly tone, we were shown the true colours of racism.
Within the first ten minutes of the show, we’re hit with the N bomb, after Northern lad, and black man, Ryan gets slapped in the face by a racist white man, for trying to give back a glove which had been dropped. This is Ryan’s first but not last taste of life in the 1950s.
That slap was not just for him, but for us at home. It set the tone of this week’s episode, telling us to pay attention as this wasn’t going to be a comfortable ride. It was the start of a story that was going to hurt quite a few of us.
The whole episode is based on Rosa Parks, and the journey before she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. But in true Doctor Who-style, the story isn’t completely factually accurate, as there are, of course, some Sci-Fi twists and turns.
As the show progressed, and the vulgar language continued, it clearly showed the ignorance of white people towards people of colour. Terms such as ‘mongrel’ were used to dehumanise Ryan, and Yasmin, who was referred to as Mexican throughout, even though she is Pakistani. This continual error perfectly highlighted the attitudes of the time. It didn’t matter what race you were if you weren’t white.
The show took a different direction, showing us the experiences of two protagonists of colour, and how they must forget life in the 21st century and carefully tread through an era that many had to endure.
The moment Parks is confronted is a scene filled with such tension and emotion. As the audience, we understand the significance of this moment, even though she, in that point in time, does not.
The BBC have taken a big step with this episode. It’s not often black history is portrayed so raw pre-watershed. And particularly in a mainstream hit TV show such as Doctor Who. In this episode, the monsters were human.
Hopefully this is just the start of a long line of fun but important episodes to come. Life right now, although not perfect, is significantly better than it was. Children need to understand history and understand how today came to be.
“She changed the world. In fact, she changed the universe”.
Text: Afua Aidoo