Review: Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai

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The average movie and genre fan may be familiar with Hayao Miyazaki and the films of Studio Ghibli, which is a good thing. But Hayao Miyazaki will be retiring (again) after one final film and the fate of Studio Ghibli is uncertain. But for the last few years as other anime creators are stepping up with quality anime that tell compelling stories for diverse ages using the medium of animation. The recent phenomenal success of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name shows that there is massive talent out there that can break into the consciousness of Western movie audiences. I’ve already lauded heaps of praise for Mari Okada’s debut film Maquia, and although it still has yet to receive a North American disc release, A Silent Voice is one of the finest and most moving anime, let alone films, to come along in years. But it was totally snubbed by the Academy for Best Animated Feature that year. So f*ck you, Oscars and your Ferdinand and Boss Baby! More on that later.

One director who has been consistent in quality storytelling and quality animation has been Mamoro Hosoda. From his debut, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time he has shown not only a knack for creating believable characters but situations that blend the fantastic into mundane lives. Family bonds were explored as major themes during Summer Wars and the tear-jerking Wolf Children.

Mamoro Hosoda’s latest film, Mirai (not to be confused with the new Toyota hydrogen fuel car), starts of simply as a four-year old boy, Kun, has so far enjoyed his life as a single child, meets his new baby sister. She is named Mirai, which means (in a little bit of foreshadowing) “future.” What follows is what seems like the standard trope of the brother being jealous of the new little sister that has intruded on a world where he had always been the center of attention. Hosoda injects his unique brand of fantasy into the narrative.

It seems every time that he lashes out or throws a tantrum, and happens to go out into the house’s yard, a world opens up to him where time and space, and the laws of reality bend to create a surreal experience for Kun. Each of these experience seem to be lesson to him much like the visitations Scrooge experiences from the ghosts. And Kun is going to need a lot of lessons along the way.

Some of these appearances are incredibly surreal such as the anthropomorphism of the family dog, who complains he was the prince of the house and everyone’s favorite, until Kun came along. Sound familiar? Well that does give a little perspective to Kun.

He does also get to meet a future version of his sister. She admonishes him by telling him to be nicer to her when she is a baby. But also serves as the main guide for Kun. Along the way we also get introduced to his great-grandfather who serves as an inspiration for the most simplest of tasks of childhood development, the removal of training wheels.

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But at the heart of all the fancy and the whimsy is a family dynamic that is truly built on love for one another. There is light banter, reminiscences, and casual conversations that ring authentic and is like a window into a real family. Except for the time and space bending.

The dynamic between Kun’s mother and father is charming and comes across as genuine. But since this is mostly a film from Kun’s point of view, Hosoda has made sure that the character is not overly annoying as so often little children can be in anime. Yes, Kun throws tantrums, acts out and cries. But it comes across as natural and not mawkish. And although Hosoda is an only child, he is a father of two.

I think what I experience with my family, such as the joys and troubles in our everyday life, is something other families in other parts of the world would experience as well. Three years ago, we welcomed a new baby [girl], and my three-year-old son just couldn’t accept the fact that he was now an older brother. He threw tantrums because he didn’t want to share his parents’ love. When I saw that, I thought I saw the raw and bare soul of a human being. Humans can’t survive without love. Life is all about longing to be loved, wandering around to find love, and accepting others to gain love. That’s what I learned from my three-year-old son.

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What we are left with in the end is a film that is personal, charming, and funny. But it is not Studio Ghibli, and Hosoda is not Hiyao Miyazaki. Where Miyazaki goes for grand pieces of animation and themes, Hosoda really excels at bringing out humanity and personality out of his characters. Despite all the fantastical settings, the focus is on family. Their styles are different but they are similar in that they know how to tell a good story using animation. There may never be a director like Hiyao Miyazaki, but there is no director like Mamoru Hosoda either. And that is what makes him so unique in that he is so accomplished, so talented that his movies garner attention on their own.

Mamoru Hosoda has been invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences. So perhaps he can have some sort of influence on the joke of the category that is Best Animated feature. For now, though, Mirai is in limited distribution and just received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Highly Recommended.

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Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

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I was born in 1964, so video games like Pac-Man and Frogger were not retro games for me – they were new and big deals. Now, I wasn’t one of those kids who spend endless hours and weekends in the arcade, but I did enjoy what time I had between school and my teenage jobs. So when Wreck it Ralph came along it was a delightful slice of nostalgia mixing real game characters from golden age of arcades it was a fun ride through memory lane. Ralph, not a real game character of our world, was an interesting bad guy who was basically tired of being the bad guy. And the after hours world of the arcade is evocative of the toys in Toy Story that come to life when the humans are not around. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, we move from arcade game nostalgia to the massive sprawl of the internet.

Six years have passed since Ralph and Vanelope from the game Sugar Rush became friends and things seemed to be going great between them in the arcade. Mr. Litwak, the arcade’s owner installs WiFi, which is declared off-limits to the game characters. The internet is a dangerous place, afterall. So when a kid accidentally breaks Sugar Rush’s steering wheel, the only place to get it is on eBay, but unfortunately the price is a little too high for Mr. Litwak to spend on a vintage game so he plans to unplug the game. This would leave hundreds of game characters without a home, including Vanelope.

So of course Ralph and Vanelope end up going into the WiFi signal and enter the internet in search of eBay and a $200 steering wheel. With no understanding of how eBay works, or even money or credit cards, that $200 steering wheel ends up being over $20,000. What follows is elaborate schemes of trying to make that money before Sugar Rush is put to pasture.

The great appeal to Wreck it Ralph was, of course, the nostalgic appeal to it. With him now in the more contemporary world of the internet, some of that appeal is lost. Of course it is still fun to spot cameos of familiar logos like Google and Amazon. Tweets fly around as their bird icon. Geocities and Myspace are in a sort of Sargasso Sea of dead sites.

The best cameos, since this is a Disney movie, is reserved for when Ralph and Vanelope find themselves at a website called Oh My Disney, which is apparently a real thing. No spoilers since it is in all the trailers and ads, she meets the Disney Princesses. All of them. And almost all voiced by their original voice actress with a very amusing turn from Kelly McDonald reprising her Merida voice from Brave, speaking in such a heavy Scottish accent that no one understands her. Or maybe she’s actually speaking Scottish ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. “She’s from the other studio,” one of them tells Vanelope.

While the main plot is about raising the funds to pay for their eBay purchase, the secondary plot involves Vanelope becoming enamored with the word of Slaughter Race, based off of Twisted Metal. The racing in it is a near polar opposite of the cute Sugar Rush game with a definite grim and dark atmosphere.

There are a some not very subtle messages underlying the movie. Chief of it fcuses on Ralph and his inability to let Vanelope follow her dream and leave her mundane world. Yes, a Disney Princes tires of her mundane world and finds joy somewhere that is totally different from the world she is used to. There is actually a gag about this trope too. The other message is about one of the internet’s darker sides.

One of Ralph’s schemes involve making videos on a social platform called BuzzTube (YouTube exists, so this is apparently a competing platform). Somehow he is able to make money by accumulating likes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I don’t know how monetizing on social media works but this  guess this makes sense. At one point, Ralph enters a secret room and sees comments. Number #1 rule of the internet, “Don’t read the comments” says the BuzzTube algorithm Yesss, as played by Taraj P. Hanson. Of course they are filled with trolling and spiteful comments about Ralph, which disheartens him.

We can look back at the references of the first film with fondness to decades old games that are still in the subconscious of our collective memory. One thing about he internet is that things change quickly and what we may think of as something that will be around will be subject to the trash heap of history, such as MySpace. In fact, the Disney crossover was supposed to take place in the Disney Infinities game, then the game and support for it was abruptly cancelled.

Yet, despite some shortcomings, Ralph Breaks the Internet still charms and entertains Adults will enjoy it as well as the kids. And to me, that is what makes a good family film.

Recommended.

Review: Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

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It is actually quite rare to watch a movie or television show get the portrayal of hackers right. They are often shown typing away in seeming random on a DOS screen and instantly creating worms and viruses with just a few simple keystrokes. Or they are breaking into international banks and government systems with ease. I suppose if they showed that it was actually a tedious task it would not look good on screen .

Chuck Wendig’s Zeroes seems to strike a good middle ground. It approaches hacking more realistically and not just the breaking onto security systems, but stealing credit cards, trolling, and just plain old research.

Zeroes (or Zer0es) is a deceptive novel. It starts off rather innocuous enough. We are introduced chapter by chapter to a cast of misfit hackers, and internet trolls. The opening of the book rounds up our cast of five characters as government forces arrest them one by one.  They are each offered a deal, work for the government or go up the river. To some of them, it would also mean hurting loved ones or putting them in danger as one has been helping with the Arab Spring.

What follows would normally play out as a dirty dozen scenario. Do the job, stay out of jail. We get the interaction and banter between a group of individuals that really have no reason to like each other. There is a rivalry with another cell of hackers (really only one guy) at the same compound that they are held, called the Hunting Lodge. It ends up uniting them, actually.

A good percentage of the book, almost half of it, involves “pen tests,” penetration tests into targets just to see how deep they can go. Their progress is monitored and logged and supposedly they are graded at how well they do at their probes. It will turn out that they were doing more hrm than they thuoght they were doing. I am remonded of Ender’s Game where the simulations were not simulations.

Yet they are still basically in a prison and one that is not covered by any sort of penal regulations. So, of course, we have a motley crew of sadistic guards who are bored watching a bunch of loser nerds typing at computers and just want an excuse to toss someone into sensory deprivation tank for a day.

Halfway through the book, things hit the fan. It begins to occur that theses tests are not merely tests and bad things are beginning to happen around the world. At the core of it is an enigma that keeps popping up. Typhon. Who or what exactly is it? And just like that, what started off as a sort of techno-thriller, becomes a science fiction adventure with elements of  horror to it.

There is enough action sequences for a Hollywood blockbuster and times it feels like this was written originally as a movie or even a big budget HBO or Netflix mini-series.

Wendig writes his does not introduce any particularly new science to the genre, and whatever complicated concepts there are, he explains everything without talking down to the audience or making info dumps.

But what really moves the book is its cast of characters. Each one of them has a personal history and a personality that comes though in the novel and we do root for our main cast even the Reagan, the internet troll. Wendig has a lot of experience with internet trolls if you follow him on Twitter, an he surprisingly, does not fully demonize her.

In the end, these five not particularly talented misfits have to combine their moderate skills to save the world. Really, they have to save the world.

The book does tease at sequel at the end that has yet to appear. Invasive which takes place in the same world is not a direct sequel. But what we get is a fun ride with a fun and motley cast of characters.

Recommended

Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

The dreams of Gods were too huge, too beautiful, simply too much. They were everything that lived and everything that died: a great, weaving circle, the cycles of creation and destruction that molded all things. They were a knife to the hand and a field of metal and blood. They were glass and flame, earth and water, the way birth feels and a blinding tightness akin to dying. They were creation. Creation, in its headiest, purest form. She wasn’t made for this. She was small, far too small to survive.

I am beginning to think that we are at a new golden age of fantasy literature. I grew up on a steady diet of Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, and too many Forgotten Realms novels than were healthy for me. Between Tolkien, the D&D world of Forgotten Realms and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of time, the worlds were imaginative yet had a lot of similarities to each other. These were tropes I grew up on and always went back to because they were familiar territory and easy enough to jump into. They were also influenced by many of the same Euro-Nordic and Celtic myths. As much as I love those, it is incredibly refreshing when something new comes along or in some cases something that is from a perspective based a different on history and myth

Tasha Suri’s debut novel Empire of Sand is a book influenced by the Murghal Empire without being a book about the Mughal Empire. It stands in its own universe of myth and lore. The world that she creates is very well realized, both epic in it’s scope yet is a personal journey. It’s use of magic is believable in not only that world but seems like it would have worked in ours a long time ago. The magic rituals seem to be based on Indian classical dances, mainly the Bharatanatyam.

Mehr is the privileged daughter of the Governor of Jah Irinah who serves under the auspices of not only the Emperor, but of the godlike Maha who is the real power behind the Ambhan Empire. His mystics pray for the fortunes and prosperity of the empire and or misfortunes of their enemies. Yet as privileged and sheltered as she is, she is an outcast in her own palace. her heritage is only half Ambhan as her mother was of a race considered barbarous, the Amrithi. Her mother, rather than let vows bind her to her father, she left to join her people out in the desert not to be seen again. Though Mehr is an outcast, her younger sister Arwa has been taken under the wing of Maryam, their step-mother. Yes, there is a (sort of) wicked step-mother. What mainly alienates her from everyone is that Maha still chooses to follow the ancient rites of her people such as ritual dances and the belief in daivas, djinn like creatures descendant from the gods.

It is not only beliefs but the power that manifests when she performs the ancient dances that draw the attention of the Maha’s mystics. They come to her father with an arranged marriage proposal. By tradition she has the right to turn down the proposal and her father advises so. but it is not a good idea to turn down the mystics, so to save not only her family’s honor but heir lives, she chooses to marry a servant of the Maha.

What will follow is the revelation of the truth behind the Maha’s power and his monstrous personality.  Mehr’s journey becomes our journey as it is her point of view we follow except for a couple of brief chapters. Her journey is a personal one where she discovers the strength of the powers hidden within her rituals and power of vows that are truly binding. With all that going on, the foundation of the story and her motivations is a love story between her and Amun, the Amrithi man whose vows to the Maha and his mystics practically make him their slave.

Ms. Suri’s world building hints at a deeper and richer history than we are presented with. And that is a good thing. The illusionist’s best trick is leaving the audience wanting more. Since this is the beginning of a series (but the book can stand on its own) we can expect more of the mysteries of this world to open up on us. What we do get revealed to us is a world where the dreams and nightmares of sleeping gods can shape the very fate of an empire.

I cared a lot for Mehr’s struggles whether they be mundane ones or life threatening ones and found her to be a strong heroine who has to grow stronger as the world crumbles around her. There are moments of violence and physical abuse in the book that may be unsettling to some but it is never exploitative.

 This is a highly readable book with relatable characters and I can’t wait to get to the next installment.

Current editions of Empire of Sand contain an interview with the author and a preview of the folow-up book Realm of Ash. I originally received an advanced copy through NetGalley but went ahead and purchased the book to suppor the author.

 

Review: Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

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I am not the most hardcore fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books or the movies. I still find them incredibly entertaining and imaginative. And perhaps it’s my age where I’ve seen fandom devolve from healthy debates to full on battles within fandom that keeps me from going overboard with my fandom. I’ve been through it with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. But I’m at an age where as much as I love these properties and their world I don’t want to center my life around it. They are fun and can be enjoyed for what they are or even dived more deeply for some sort of hidden meaning that is or is not apparent.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is going to piss some people off. Some of it will just be fans who just want to recycle the experience and whimsy of the Potter Books or marvel at the fantastic beasts from the previous film. I didn’t want any of that. Your mileage may vary. This is definitely a dark film which means it’s right in my wheelhouse.

The first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, saw a new protagonist in Rowling’s world come to the screen. Newt Scamander, played haltingly by Eddie Redmayne, comes to 1927 New York with his magic suitcase full of magical creatures (It’s bigger on the inside).  Soon enough magical shenanigans and property destruction ensues. Beneath that though is fact that Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard who believes wizards are meant to rule over humans. He is caught in the end.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up a few months after his arrest and the film opens with an elaborate escape as Grindelwald is being transferred by Thestral carriage to the wizarding prison of Nurmengard.

Meanwhile, back in London, Newt Scamander has his travelling privileges revoked because he basically broke New York but also because he refuses to become an Auror like his brother Theseus. The Ministry believes that not only is Credence, the young Obscurial from the previous chapter is alive but is in Paris and wherever he is so will Grindelwald be, because — plot.

After Newt refuses the Ministry’s offer to become a dark wizard hunter, along comes Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) who also tries to convince Newt to go to Paris because Credence is in search of his real family and he may be related to someone they both know. It is also revealed that Dumbledore was behind the machinations of Newt ending up in New York in the first place. Newt again refuses.

Newt does go to Paris, though. He brings along Jacob Kowalski who had obviously recovered his memory from the obliviating rain from the previous film. Jacob and Newt are looking for Queenie who left in a huff because Jacob thinks even though England has no wizarding anti-miscegenation laws, their marriage would be harmful for her. So Queenie leaves to join her sister, who not only is an Auror but is also looking for Credence. So plot devices compel Newt forward and to once again become reluctantly involved in the worldly problems of wizards.

What will follow is basically a laying down of the foundations for the next three films since it is projected to be a 5 film series. Now there is plenty of hijinks involving following Credence around as he follows clue to his real life before being adopted in America. Along the way, someone is also hunting him. The dude is the living McGuffin of this movie.

We are also introduced to a very human Nagini, who is described as a Maledictus. A witch with a blood curse that not only turns them into a beast but will eventually permanently make them so. Somewhere along the way, Grindelwald acquires a handful of disposable and frankly unremarkable minions.  Honestly, I think they are there just for Johnny Depp to have someone to talk to.

For a five movie series, there is a lot of information and plot details that are revealed especially in the third act where there is a long scene where hidden histories of some of the characters are revealed eventually revealing who Credence is (is allegedly is). A lot of it does no add up though because of established lore, so there is going to a lot o debate online about that.

I am not going to spoil that for this review but I may get into it in a deep dive in a later post. But the motivations of Grindelwald becomes more clear and we get more background on why Dumbledore can not go against Grindelwald directly.

Crimes of Grindelwald is far from being a perfect film but it is not a bad film. I truly enjoyed it but there are lots of questions I have as far as established history is concerned. Either Rowling made a mistake in the writing and her timeline or she is retconning he lore. And she has been known to retcon before. Nevertheless it is her world and we are along for the ride.

The movie really could have been three hours long mainly because the last act seemed to throw so much information at the end. The final act is solid once you get past the first act of establishment and meandering plot-points.

The visual effects are as can be expected from the series, well done with some nice scenes of the wizarding world. Now concerning the world, the various Ministries of France, England and the United States do not look like the Dickensian world that we have seen in the Harry Potter.Ministers and Aurors wear modern (1927 modern) suits and not robes. The Parisian alternate world, instead of looking like London’s Diagon Alley, it looks like 1927 Paris.

The cast does well with the material they are given. Frankly the love triangle (quadrangle?) does not really work and it seems to show in their performance. Dan Fogler as Jacob and Allison Sudol as Queenie are an incredibly charming couple and the one we instinctively root for. I hope it works out though as there is some Empire Strikes Back level of stuff that goes on by the end of the film.

I’ve heard the Harry Potter franchise described as this generation’s Star Wars. On that note, I’ve seen all the Wizarding World movies and have enjoyed them all, some more than others. Some Star Wars films I outright hated. And with Crimes of Grindelwald we get an appealing movie that moves the narrative forward rather clumsily at some points. It still remains fun and entertaining. But be aware that it is dark.

Recommended with the caveat that if you are just a casual fan, you may have to catch up and if you are a rabid fan, you may be nitpicking this for days.

Book Review: Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

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I guess cyberpunk never went away. It may have peaked out a bit in the 80s as a science fiction sub-genre but it did not really go away. Hollywood movies and Japanese anime embraced the visual stylings of its noirish futures and kept it alive. I’m no expert on the genre by any means, but I’m old enough to remember the big wave. Roots of the genre could be found in the writings of Philip K. Dick and John Brunner. When William Gibson’s Neuromancer came it seemed to open up a floodgate for writers like Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, and Pat Cadigan. Even veteran writer Norman Spinrad dipped his toes into the genre with Little Heroes. Movies like Blade Runner, the original animated Ghost in the Shell, and of course, Akira would be media influences for decades to come.

Netflix recently adapted the first of Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels Altered Carbon. It was a critical success. With its heavy dose of cyberpunk themes, I would argue that if the live action adaptation Ghost in the Shell looked like Altered Carbon then it would have been a much better movie than the generic action film Hollywood cranked out. That was my first exposure to the name of Richard K. Morgan.

Thin Air, the latest book by Morgan, is my first exposure to his writing. Though it is not set in the same universe as the Takeshi Kovacs books, the noirish tones and styling are still present. And it just makes me think that Netflix did a hell of a job visualizing his world. It is supposed to be a standalone book in the universe of Thirteen, first published in 2007. However I could not help but feel a little lost for much of the book especially in the beginning as I am dropped into a decadence soaked Martian city.

Haken Veil is a hard-boiled muscle for hire. After getting arrested on suspicion of killing  some lowlife, he somehow gets drafted into babysitting a Madison Medekwe, a corporate auditor from Earth. The purpose of her particular audit is to find out what happened to a blue-collar worker who disappeared after winning a lottery that would have paid his way back to Earth. True to tropes, things do hit the fan.

The rest of the book involves Veil snarling, swearing, punching, killing, and screwing his way  through the underbelly of the Martian city of Bradbury to figure out the truth. Mix in an overdose of seedy criminals, corrupt officials, prostitutes, and hackers and you get cyberpunk version of a long island ice-tea — a mix of everything on the shelf. Ultimately that mix leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Thin Air is full of atmosphere and has a strong attempt at world building. But Other than a few side mentions about the gravity and being in domes, the book could really have taken place in any metropolis setting. Sure there are healthy doses of Martian politics but frankly it’s the standard Mars independence from Earth that has become a main trope. The city of Bradbury is full of tough talking f-bomb dropping characters with very little to like about them. The protagonist is not only unlikable but unrelatable. Even after flashbacks, we know little of him and thus have little investment in what happens to his character other than to see the novel to the end. An it does come to an explosive end at that.

Whatever failings that Thin Air has, Morgan does good job of making up for it in nice action set pieces that can be bloody and explosive. As graphic as the action is, the sex is even more so. The first time was jarring but by the third or fourth sex scene it does get ridicules in its graphic depiction of bumping uglies.

The plot does relatively tie up neatly in the end with conspiracies uncovered and mysteries solved. One character twist was pretty easy to spot from the start though. Maybe that was not an important twist as it really did not come as a surprise, only the timing of the reveal.

The world that Morgan created is quite an intriguing one and by the end I had hopes that there was more to the lore than vague references to other events o places like Ganymede. In the end the book was entertaining enough overall but a bit long.

Review copy courtesy of NetGalley

Why “Rosa” is the Best Doctor Who Episode in Years

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December 1, 1955
Our freedom movement came alive
And because of Sister Rosa you know
We don’t ride on the back of the bus no more

— The Neville Brothers, “Sister Rosa”

This post will contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to be spoiled watch the episode first –or, if you don’t mind, proceed.

Let’s get this out of the way. I absolutely love Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor. She brings incredible energy and charm to the show and provides a sense of wonder to even the most mundane aspects of the show that makes it all seem fresh again. That freshness is also helped by having a new cast of companions. I think the presence of new producers and a new composer really add to that freshness as well.

Considering how much Doctor who has traveled through time and space, it is surprising how little the Doctor has to fix a timeline. In the case of season 11’s Doctor, not only must the Doctor and her companions have to protect time, but have to battle one the most worst monster of all, racism.

I grew up watching Twilight Zone and Star Trek: science-fiction message heavy shows. Early Who episodes were time travelling history lessons, such as “The Aztecs.” And sometimes, like in “Pompeii” we are presented with fixed moments in time, where Donna and the Doctor can not interfere with the historical significance that Pompeii’s citizens must die. Martha Jones had a few brushes with racism during the David Tennant run. The Twelfth Doctor touched on racism in “Thin Ice” but it was not the core of the story.

The opening teaser is of an actual incident in 1943 where she was forced off the bus for the first time for refusing to use the back entrance for coloreds and taking a seat. In those days you paid in the front and had to get back off and enter through the back of the bus if you were Black.

The TARDIS is acting up, as it typically does. It does seem to take the Doctor and companions where they are needed, though. In this case, it brings them back to Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. The Doctor discovers a heavy presence of artron energy in the vicinity that should not be there so she decides to investigate.

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“I’m getting pretty sick of seeing that sign.” says companion Ryan Sinclair.

When they disembark, Ryan Sinclair passes by a White couple and the woman drops her glove, doing the polite thing he picks it up and offers it to her while tapping her shoulder. He is rebuked by a slap by her husband. Rosa Parks who is passing by intervenes and diffuses the situation. Note that it is Rosa who is able to diffuse it.

It turns out that the source of the energy is another time traveler named Krasko armed with a vortex manipulator — poor man’s TARDIS, inaccurate at best. He is a former prisoner of Stormcage prison who is embedded with a neural inhibitor that presents him from physically harming, let alone killing, anyone. But he is determined to prevent Rosa Parks from making her historic act of defiance against segregation. According to Krasko her defiance is where it all goes wrong for him.

For years, I had been screaming in frustration and annoyance at my television set because of the Moffet effect of manic running around and staccato dialogues from the Doctor that is often drowned out by Murray Gold’s score. In this episode, we slow down and let the events of history speak for itself. We let storytelling actually take place. And each of the companions are not only there along for the gee whiz ride, they each contribute something and become part of the story. In the final moments of the episode, being part of that history can hurt as it turns out that the Doctor and her companions must stay on the bus so that the bus can be full and that not enough White passengers have seats. The Doctor says here that “We must not help her.” And at this point Rosa Parks, not the Doctor, is the hero of this episode.

Much of this episode is difficult to watch. It’s not the maniacal escapism of previous Doctor Who episodes. It takes on racism head on and in a way that is surprising in its unflinching approach to the subject. The simple act of just gathering at a restaurant to plan what to do is dangerous as they get side-eyes from other people and a waitress tells them, “We don’t serve Negroes.”

We have some notable performances from the entire cast and a bit of character development too. Earlier this season, Graham (Bradley Walsh) is introduced as Ryan’s (Tosin Cole) grandfather, but Ryan just calls him his grandmother’s second husband. But you get the feeling that sharing this adventure together brings them closer. Ryan and Yaz (Mandip Gill) seems to be showing some affection for each other too.

The standout performance goes to Vinette Robinson’s portrayal of Rosa Parks. She is almost regal in her strong and determined performance.

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A character moment between Ryan and Rosa occurs after meeting Martin Luther King Jr. at Rosa Parks’ home. Afterward, she asks if he got what he wanted. “I didn’t know what I wanted, but yeah. Meeting you guys. Listening to you all talk, I can’t believe it. It will get better. Not perfect…but better. It’s worth the fight. Thank you, from me and my nan. ” She responds, “I haven’t done anything.”

Yaz has a moment where Ryan talks about being stopped more by police than his mates. Yaz, who is police herself says not by her. “Tell me, you don’t get hassle,” he says. “Of course I do. “Of course I do, especially on the job. I get called a ‘Paki’ when I’m sorting out a domestic or a terrorist on the way home from the mosque. But they don’t win, those people. I can be a police officer now, because people like Rosa Parks fought those battles for me — for us. And in 53 years they’ll have a Black president as leader. Who knows what will happen 50 years after that? That’s proper change.”

Graham has many little moments and one is when he recounts first meeting Ryan’s grandmother who said, you better not be like James Blake (the bus driver who threw Rosa Parks off the bus 1943 and called the police on her in 1955). “And I had to ask her who she was and she said she gave bus drivers a bad name. She had a t-shirt that said, ‘The Spirit of Rosa,’ I wish she were here.” Towards the end of the episode in feeling that they had accomplished their mission he gets ready to get off the bus, but to his horror he realizes he has to stay and be one of those White people to be on the bus so that there are not enough seats. “Don’t get off, Graham. If we get off there will be enough empty seats for White passengers and Rosa won’t be asked to move.” His simple look and line of “No, no. I don’t want to be part of this story,” conveys a heart about to break.

I must take a moment to really compliment the use of music in this episode. The licensed stuff like the gospel piece in the teaser and the use of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” during Rosa Park’s protest moment may be considered cliché. Yet it’s a trope that works for me. But it is also the subtle fanfare by the new series composer, Segun Akinola that stands out. His Rosa theme is evocative of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” with a touch of James Horner.

The episode is not a perfect episode. Being British production, the actors portraying Southern Whites are probably British themselves as sometimes accents just seem off. Krasko seems like a plot device villain just to set up the episode, but it could also be possible that he may be something more later on in the season as his defeat does allow him to possibly return.

Science-fiction can entertain, make you think, make you uncomfortable, afraid, and sometimes it can tell a message while doing all these things. Doctor Who’s Rosa does that well. And as Ryan said to Rosa Parks, “Thank you.”