‘Doctor Who’: 10 Things You May Not Know About ‘Rosa’

“Rosa” is a story that aims to fulfill one of Doctor Who’s earliest mission statements; namely to provide historical information to younger viewers in a way that goes beyond simple re-enactment.

It is also a groundbreaking story for the show, putting a fresh moral spin on the Doctor’s involvement in historical events and breaking new ground for the Doctor Who production team.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out for, the next time you watch:

1. The script was co-written by Malorie Blackman, the great British author who held the position of Children’s Laureate from 2013 to 2015. Among her most notable works is the Noughts and Crosses series, a highly regarded work that uses dystopian fiction to tackles racism, in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale.

In a 2003 BBC survey to find the best-loved book in the UK, Noughts and Crosses was voted No.61, beating A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

2. Blackman is not only supremely qualified to tell this tale, she’s the first person of color to write completed scripts for Doctor Who, although this is a milestone that could have been reached 29 years earlier, with a story called “Alixion.”

Written by Robin Mukherjee, it was a tale in which the Seventh Doctor was lured into landing on a planet on which beetles fed on intelligent life forms in order to create an elixir of intellect. Naturally, he was considered a high prize. Sadly this story was never filmed.

3. Vinette Robinson, who plays Rosa Parks, should be well-known to fans of British TV in general and Doctor Who in particular. She played Sgt. Sally Donovan in four episodes of Sherlock, and Christopher Eccleston’s daughter-in-law Nicola in the acclaimed autism drama The A Word.

She also played Abi Lerner in the Tenth Doctor story “42,” which was written by (drumroll)… Chris Chibnall.

4. This story is ripe with Graham’s cockneyisms, from the tetchy imperative “pack it in,” to greeting James Blake with a cheery “oi oi!” and then calling him “cockle.” That last one has a complicated etymology, born partly out of cockney rhyming slang where “cockerel and hen” means ten, so a cockle is a ten-pound note, or a tenner. Then there’s “me old cock-sparrow,” which is a term of endearment familiar to Londoners of a certain age. The implication being that you’re a lithe little ducker and diver, like a male sparrow would be.

Cockle seems to be an affectionate mixup of those sort of slang terms, to be used in the same way that you might say dear or love or petal or mate to someone you don’t know that well.

5. Fans of classic Who may recognize Morgan Deare, who plays Arthur. He had previously played Hawk in the Seventh Doctor adventure “Delta and the Bannermen” back in 1987.

6. The Doctor claims that she may or may not be Banksy, the most famous graffiti artist in the world. Whether it's true or not, this is not the first Banksy reference in the Whoniverse, if you don’t count the affectionate tribute to graffiti artists within the Twelfth Doctor’s dimensional crossover adventure “Flatline.” During “The Power of Three” both Damien Hirst and Banksy are said to have issued statements that they had not created the Shakri cubes that had appeared all over the world. So far the Doctor has not made any claims to be Damien Hirst, or not.

7. There’s a lovely double-yolked Easter egg in this story, in that the Krasko, the villain of the piece, turns out to have been incarcerated in an intergalactic prison called Stormcage – as pointed out by the Doctor. The other notable inmate of Stormcage is a certain River Song. And to make matters more beguiling, Krasko says he picked up his vortex manipulator by bartering with other prisoners. Is it too fanciful to assume one of them may have been River herself?

8. On meeting Martin Luther King, Ryan exclaims “oh my days!” which is a relatively recent nugget of British youth slang. Although there are citations lasting back to 1907 showing the phrase being used – in a novel called The Wingless Victory by Mary Patricia Willcocks – it’s an exclamation that really achieved popular usage by young people during the early 2000s.

9. He also describes how his grandmother would be “chuffed” to know he had met the great Dr. King. This is another northern English slang term, thought to derive from the 1950s (so it’s historically apt, if not geographically). Chuff is a uniquely flexible term, but in the derivation of chuffed it comes from a term meaning “puffed with fat,” like someone who has just finished a rich meal.

10. The show ends on a rare musical note (no pun intended) with the inspirational song “Rise Up” performed by Andra Day. A modern inspirational standard, the song was performed at the White House in 2015, the same year it was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance, and the year before it won the Ashford & Simpson Songwriter’s Award at the 2016 Soul Train awards. Day also performed the song live this week as part of President Biden’s virtual inauguration parade.

To round things off on a suitably biographical note, Day can also be seen this year playing jazz star Billie Holiday in the biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

What's your favorite scene in "Rosa"?