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Here’s What the Doctor Who Companion Thought of The Timeless Children: Part One

There’s a problem with the database and old events come flashing back to you! It’s giving you a headache as you’re bombarded with images from the past. It’s a nightmare! You grab at your temples, begging for things to slow down, to make sense, to please just settle…

But enough about the Doctor Who Companion migrating host and relaunching. You want to hear about what the DWC thought about The Timeless Children, the controversial finale to Series 12, which saw the Master trapping the Doctor in convoluted memories in the Matrix Databank.

In his review, Peter Shaw grappled with his own headache:

The Timeless Children was high on spectacle and exposition. But low on plot and character. The new Master is fab and expertly played. But he seems more like a Ringmaster here. What’s he trying to do? Humiliate the Doctor by telling her she’s the most important Time Lord in history? I know that he’s mega miffed the Doctor has given him the special part of his DNA. So why does he tell her that? Watching again, I was trying to hunt out the Master’s motivation for telling the Doctor all this. Wouldn’t an evil megalomaniac want to keep that to himself, or at least find a way to use it for his own ends? I suppose he does with his Cyber/Time Lord hybrids. But he didn’t need to tell the Doctor her history to achieve that.”

As you can imagine, everyone at DWC Towers had at least one opinion. Some of them had two. Many had choice words. So we’ve split those opinions across two bumper installments. To quote This River is Wild: Now go and show ’em that the world stayed round; But it’s a long, long, long way down…

Bar Nash-Williams

I wasn’t going to bother, but my loyalty to DWC won, and TheLazyWomble shaming me into rewatching as he did. Sadly it had the opposite effect on me! I liked The Timeless Children less the second time around.

If you want to read positive stuff, skip to the end.

The Doctor.

Launching herself at the Master, hurling him to the ground and screaming ‘Show me the rest!!’ was a hint of what she could be. I cheered. Sadly for the rest of the programme, she did nothing. Swore she’d never take the Master’s hand then went with him. Made a big speech about wiping out him and his CyberLords, willing to die with them – then handing over to Ko Sharma. And in between, what was the point of the paralysis field? She’d been standing there doing nothing for ages before he thought of imposing it. He needn’t have bothered. Contrast Romana in City of Death assessing and using everything around her to later further the plot, as the Doctor talks in the foreground. I had hoped she’d dosed the Cyberium when it was in her, but no. She’s the opposite of a catalyst – she is changed, but changes nothing around her. Where’s the driving force of the show, the oncoming storm? She’s not the hero or even the protagonist; just the passive recipient of exposition until that last abortive self-sacrifice.

The Master.

Just take a moment to remember Capaldi and Gomez. She wanted her friend back, he wanted her to stand with him. Sacha Dhawan’s mad dog just wants her to be as broken as he is, to get one over on her because he feels inferior. Unlike so many here, I really do not like SD’s mad dog Master. I found his endless talking boring, as the Doctor did nothing in the background. Yes, he had some good moments – dispatching Ashad with so little warning was nicely done, as was his admission that he thought nothing would make him happy. Whittaker (via the Old General) was putting him out of his misery, when Capaldi was trying to bring her back into the fold. Their relationship is the only bit of Lore Chibs really broke here, and that’s sad.

Companions.

Graham’s plan was totally Doctor style: dangerous, mad and might not work, but the best we’ve got. As ever, he’s the one most worth watching. Yaz was stronger too, stepping through the Boundary first, living out his faith in her. But it’s too late to make me care whether or not we see them again, or that Ryan got his hoop. If the point was meant to be, when the Doctor isn’t around, we have to be her, okay, but did that come across? Again, what came across to me was the total lack of connection; no physical show of their relationships at all. No hug as they are reunited in the camp, no touch when they find sleeping Doctor in the Citadel. It doesn’t feel real. Their goodbye was biblical – Doctor as Jesus saying he had to die for humanity, Yaz as Peter saying ‘no, this must not happen to you!’ and Jesus saying ‘get thee behind me’ – don’t tempt me to wuss out. But the Doctor does give in, letting the Master live on to his own and others’ misery, until Ko Sharma takes the baton from her. Contrast Harry and Sarah in Genesis of the Daleks, or Donna in The Fires of Pompeii. Contrast the responsibility the Doctor of War was willing to take.

Ko Sharma, the old General, was a better actor than the caricature merited. I can imagine a season of him travelling in a TARDIS with some companions. His encouraging of the young ensigns, his joy at a successful campaign, his calm grace at taking the task from the Doctor at the end. All worthy of more than he was given. And why didn’t the Master just tell his dogs to shoot him?

Ashad, too, was wasted after two stories where he looked interesting; a potential cult leader does a bit of menacing stalking of the hidden humans, then is demoted to lapdog and reduced to non-action figure in an instant. Like a lot of potentially interesting things, he goes nowhere.

Plot.

Sorry, but I just cannot be bothered to list all the plot holes. Setting up bits of plot and knocking them over is just too easy and dispiriting. As to the whole idea of the Master being able to destroy Gallifrey, one mad dog against an empire of battle-hardened power and at least two Secret Services we know of? No. Just no.

There was an interesting subplot set up last week that turned out to be just a cipher, a way of hiding clues as to the Doctor’s history. There was absolutely no more to it than we saw last time. An excellent-looking surface for a story, but with no depth or future. A diverting plot device or a metaphor for the current era?

Ideas.

I hate leaving a season as low as this, but there’s something positive to take out. Many commenters have appreciated the Ruth Doctor’s line ‘Have you ever been limited by who you were before?’ – a line worth taking onboard or sticking on a T shirt. The one place I think this story did better than the episode of Buffy it reminds me of is the one understated idea. In the Series 7 finale, Buffy and friends take the whole superbeing myth and share it out with all the Potentials. There’s this long speech about ‘anyone who can stand up, will stand up.’ It works, but is a bit sledgehammer emotional. I like The Timeless Children playing it more softly. Yaz and Graham both had their ‘be the Doctor you want to see’ moments, but somewhere in between the lines, there’s that lovely idea that any of us could be the Doctor, and not know it. She doesn’t know who else she’s been, how many of her there are.

Stand up next Doctor, but hurry.

Now can I go back to Big Finish please?’

Frank Danes

Blang bling bang! It’s the Cybermen! Stomp stomp! Bing! It’s the Master! “This is really going to hurt, Doctor,” says the Master/Sacha, all breathy like Jodie and intense and giving a performance instead of convincing us this is a character. Ooh look, it’s Gallifrey! All destroyed again, like it was in the Time War by the Daleks, but now the Cybermen are going to destroy it too! And the Cyberbloke has a death particle that will destroy all the life in the Universe! Ping pang pong! The Master has miniaturised him! Now Ryan is fighting the Cybermen with that bloke who looks like Obi Wan Kenobi. Flash! We’re in the Matrix, because we must have our quotient of rip-offs from earlier episodes! There was a traveller called Something Something and she found an orphan who could regenerate and she studied her and then injected herself and then she could regenerate too. “That child was you!” hisses the Master. “No!” says Jodie. “Yes!” says the Master. And then there’s Doctor Jo, and the Fam love each other and Graham tells Yaz she is so brave, the bravest woman there ever could be, in spite of not having a character, and you’re not so bad yourself, Graham, says Yaz who is from Yorkshire ho ho and they don’t do emotions there. Then the Fam are on Gallifrey and save the Doctor. Then they produce bombs from nowhere and destroy the Cybership. Then a TARDIS takes them home. Then the Doctor is taken somewhere in another TARDIS. Then she finds her own TARDIS. This is a shame because we are back in the rubbish TARDIS set rather than the good one based on Hartnell’s TARDIS. Then the TARDIS is entered by the Judoon who put the Doctor in prison and will she ever see her Fam again?

Then Chibs puts his feet up on the desk and his hands behind his head. “Another triumph,” says Chibs.

Tony Jones

Curiously, I quite enjoyed this, yet also felt the storytelling was very disjointed. I also don’t understand why Chris Chibnall felt it necessary to do such a Rassilon-avoiding rewrite of the show’s mythology. Maybe it’s a big plan for the 60th and, yes, there was plenty of room for a tidy-up; still, this seems extreme.

If you pretend the whole Brendan / Matrix / Timeless Child from another dimension bit doesn’t happen, you have a well delivered, if average, Doctor Who story. The Master has a plan to get universal domination through Cybermen but is defeated through the use of spare bombs Ko Sharmus happened to have, as well as the noble sacrifice of said Ko Sharmus. He also sent the Cyberium back in time, though never explained why he didn’t just drop it into a star.

I can imagine a Jeremy Clarkson introduction to this episode (if you haven’t seen Top Gear this won’t work for you)…

The Doctor stands and delivers a monologue to camera.

DOCTOR: In this week’s show, Ryan throws an exploding basketball. Yaz walks through a barrier before her friends, and Ravio knows something random about the Ashad Cyberman. Graham has a cunning plan and I have a strange dream.

FADE TO MUSIC

——————————————————————————————

A little bit more happened and it looked good. Lots of questions, lots of why and what now, and in the end an okay story with some enormous myth-twisting ideas bolted on. Fan fiction at its most rampant in some ways! Who’d have thought he’d retcon decades of the show just to make sense of The Brain of Morbius.

There’s also a surprisingly spacious three bedroom house for sale somewhere!

James Baldock

Questions after this week’s Doctor Who:

  • Has anyone location-spotted that TARDIS house yet? Can we have a deleted scene where it suddenly dematerialises, and across the road Craig Owens rubs his eyes and then mutters “Not again….”?
  • If Brendan really was a projection of the Doctor’s origins, is Gallifrey in Ireland, or is Ireland in Gallifrey?
  • Assuming the rumours about Graham and Ryan are true, what are the odds of their last scene being shot in the cemetery where Grace is buried? And what are the odds Graham’ll say “We move on, but we never forget, and I think she’d be proud of both of us”, while looking forlornly at the headstone?
  • Did Ashad really greenlight that Cyber Lord plumage? Has he not stopped to consider the practicalities? How do they compensate for the extra weight? What happens if three of them are trying to squeeze into a Debenhams lift?
  • On a scale of 1 to 50, what’s the likelihood of Whittaker beginning her next conversation with Dhawan with the words “So, you escaped from Gallifrey then…?”
  • We’ve had Remembrance, Revelation, Resurrection, and now Revolution of the Daleks; can we have Remuneration of the Daleks next? With a behind-the-scenes look at Dalek accountants and payroll, like The Sunmakers but all about zero hours contracts? How about Renaissance, where they’ve all got artist’s berets and are elevating themselves up to the ceiling of the Sistine?
  • Coronavirus. Plot predictions. Please give reasons for your answers. __________
  • If the Master’s so good a hacker, how come he can unearth Gallifrey’s secret past and grisly backstory but he can’t recover Fury From The Deep?

Seriously; I think we should be told…

David Traynier

You’d have thought there would have been somebody at the BBC, on some higher floor of existence, who would have said, ‘The Master and the Cyberman for the finale? Didn’t we do that in Series 10? And Series 8? Oh, this time the Cybermen become Cyber Time Lords? Let me just put you on hold, Chris…. Stella, do you still have that number for Neil Gaiman?’

After Ascension of the Cybermen’s 50 minutes of set-up, the Master and the Radio Times promised a blazing, ‘game changing’ finale, which some took as an implicit threat that Chris Chibnall was about to sprawl over the canon with a loucheness that would make even Steven Moffat blush. But instead of remodelling Whostory like Zod, Non, and Ursa vandalising Mount Rushmore in Superman II, Chibnall contented himself with some light find and replace. So Rassilon became Tecteun and the Doctor, after spending 57 years as a wise and benevolent refugee from a mysterious race of super aliens, is now reborn as a wise and benevolent refugee from a different race of mysterious super aliens.

It’s this rather pointless tinkering with continuity that I find least bothersome about The Timeless Children. It’s another riff on the Chosen One – ‘you’re very special, Harry’ – trope that has afflicted the series ever since the Cartmel Masterplan. Davies and Moffat – writing poetry to their childhood love affair with the Doctor – both dressed the character in Spandex tights and cape. If anything, Chibnall had, so far, done it much less. Nevertheless, the ‘Oncoming Storm’ has come on a very long way from the wandering, anarchistic-yet-patrician scientist who gets caught up in other people’s stories. In The Timeless Children , as with so many of the series arcs, it’s all about the Doctor – she becomes the story – and the Whoniverse is again made a little smaller. But it’s striking how little The Timeless Children really changes the Doctor because she has never been defined by her origins: ‘This is who I am, right here, right now, all right? All that counts is here and now, and this is me.’ So fine, have her as he mysterious scion of an unseen alien race (again) – she’s still the Doctor.

The great revelation aside, both episodes of the finale contain a string of annoyances that aggravate my inner Doctor Who nerd. There’s the reduction of the Cybermen from fearsome cybernetic creatures to mere suits that can be donned for a caper, even to the point of Graham and Yaz being able to fire their weapons. Yes, we’ve seen similar before (and Ian inside a Dalek), but it still diminishes the monsters by admitting the reality – that they’re blokes in suits – into the fiction.

Speaking of men in suits, pity poor Ashad. A one-dimensional villain eventually reduced to walking rucksack for Ko Shamus’s climactic suicide bombing. And the ‘Death Particle’ -about which there just happens to be a very exposition-friendly ‘legend’ — is pure fan fiction.

Then there’s Tecteun, Gallifrey’s pioneer of ‘primitive’ space travel who, in a single lifetime, traverses galaxies. This early pioneer of interstellar travel also apparently spent time trying to identify the Timeless Child’s race. To see what nonsense this is, imagine a modern-day Earth astronaut finding an alien baby on the moon and then trying to ‘identify’ its species. It shows how little Chris Chibnall thinks about the words as he types them — or how little he thinks we’re going to think about them as we hear them. Tecteun then spends years performing experiments on her adopted child, several of which prove fatal enough to force multiple regenerations. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

There’s more idiocy with the Matrix. The Master gains access to the greatest repository of knowledge in the universe, discovers the secret of the Timeless Child (otherwise known only to some no-mark whispering bandages from Series 11), somehow connects her to the Doctor, but then discovers that it’s not this epochal, founding lie of Time Lord civilisation, but the details of the Doctor’s other lives, that have been redacted ‘beyond even his brilliance’. We also find that it’s he who has been beaming the Ireland sequences into the Doctor’s head – but at least she had the grace never to react to them at any point. It’s these types of insulting contrivance that any self-respecting script editor would have scratched out before adding ‘write it better’ in the margin.

And while I’m talking about the Matrix and contrivance, this is a database that holds the entire lived experiences of however many thousands of Time Lords – and previously held all the Doctor’s other lives. Even assuming the Doctor’s infodump included every single day of her 4 billion years in the confession dial, perfect recall of every Stephen King novel, and the entirety of Dimensions in Time, how can it crash because of all memories stored in the Doctor’s brain?

Speaking of the Doctor’s escape, the Master of course imprisons the Doctor in a forcefield. It’s cylindrical, it’s glowy, Whittaker is obviously trapped and cannot move. But then Chibnall has the Master say ‘paralysis field’ — just in case we’ve missed it. Has anyone told him he’s writing for television?

Finally, as if to reinforce the notion that Chibnall’s pen has run as dry as the wastelands of Gallifrey, the Cyber Lords turn up with their silly headpieces and robes to do nothing but stand around waiting to be blown up while Ko Shamus makes his final speech.

But I could live with all this sandpaper fanw*nk if it were not for the damage Chibnall has done to the Doctor herself. He ensures that our hero spends most of the episode imprisoned through the Master’s extended PowerPoint while he gets most of the action and gets to do clever things like split his consciousness in two. And let’s praise Sacha Dahwan’s brittle and frenetic Master, here. The legacy of John Simm is undeniable, but he really has made the part his own. Only towards the end did he stray a little too heavily under Heath Ledger’s shadow for me.

So, the Doctor spends most of this story being told things rather than finding them out in a way that might have risked creating some drama. And when she finally is released, rather than figuring out a resolution to the crisis, she’s given it by the Ruth Doctor – to commit genocide – and then trots off to do this without even trying to find ‘another way’. But then she loses her nerve and Ko Shamus must do it for her. It’s the season finale and the Doctor does nothing except get things told to her and prevaricate.

More insidiously, thanks to Tecteun’s experiments, the Doctor has now become the victim of child abuse. This is another trope of men (badly) writing women. It might be acceptable, if Chibnall had not also made the Thirteenth Doctor generally limper and more useless than a week-old stick of lapel celery.

So, there we have it. In Chris Chibnall’s first story as showrunner, he had the lady driver crashing the car and now he’s rounded off his second series in charge by turning the Doctor into an ineffectual, passive survivor of child abuse who needs a man to step in and do the dirty work she hasn’t got the nerve to do. And this is the show some pillory for being ‘too woke’.

Rick Lundeen

I’m a man of my word. He answered some questions. Good for Chibs and good for us. I must say, even though Nutty McMaster is a fruit loop and a psychotic anarchist, he does think on his feet. Grabbing the Cyberium and building a Cyberman army that can regenerate using Gallifreyan corpses, basically immortal Cybermen… As far as power crazed, frothing mad dog plans go, it was fairly solid. And leaving the death particle for the Doctor to find was a win-win for him. Either the Doctor would kill them all and in his mind, he wins, or she wimps out and he still wins.

Ooop – strike that “fairly solid plan” of the Master’s; the first time each Cyberman regenerates, he’s healed. And a healthy Time Lord is now in possession of a Cyberman shell. The army would cave in on itself. Silly Nutty McMaster.

However, while I applaud us getting answers, and the majority of the episoide chugged along fairly well… it had about as weak an ending as we’ve seen.

The Doctor getting saved by another age old cliche was ridiculous. “You go, Doctor; the bomb simply can’t be armed by remote control! I will sacrifice my self for you!” That was incredibly weak and we’ve seen it a million times. Surely there was a better, more original way for them to pull that off. Limitations of the Chib.

As far as the Doctor wimping out and not even pulling the trigger: Here, it would have been a clean action. No one would have suffered except all the bad guys and her. The thing that stopped her was the Master saying she’d be like him? Come on. Was she willing to sacrifice herself for the universe or not? Sorry, that was very lame.

Regarding the reveal of the Timeless Child. At first, all these revelations basically amounted to a “so what?” So the Doctor’s got a secret past history. So what? I mean, why did this cause the Master to destroy Gallifrey? 

But then it comes out that Gallifrey, all Time Lords, owing their existence to the Doctor, he just couldn’t cope with that “indignity”, and we come back to Nutty McMaster. He’s an unstable goober in the cereal bowl. I guess that stays true to this version of the Master. He gets upset; he just kills everyone. Not many ways to go with this character. He’s limited by his mania. 

I still didn’t care about the Cybermen, but they served their purpose.

The excess humans are the same. I just was curious about the Gaillfrey revelation and the whole Timeless Child thing. 

My wife and I were actively either telling Ryan to shut up or stay out in the open where the Cybermen could kill him. Graham was wonderful as always, and Yaz is from Yorkshire, so that must explain her many limitations?

So on balance, I think there were more positives than negatives here. They didn’t even really leave us hanging. Hopefully the “fam” is gone for good. That’d be a huge victory. And the Doctor being thrown in prison — that was rather slap dash and unlikely but whatever — I’m perfectly happy with her locked up. You know she’ll get out; you know Nutty’s still alive. All in all, a decent enough ending. Certainly not magnificent or amazing (I wasn’t wrung out by any means or even emotional) but I think it was at least an acceptable finale over all. Definitely better than last series’.

But what is the aftermath for the rest of fandom? Has the Doctor’s secret past history set the internet on fire? Or does it matter? Did this finale salvage the Chibnall era, or at least validate this season? Or, has Chibnall just finally blown it – you considered this as absolutely the last straw and you’re walking away? How find ye, Doctor Who Companions?

Come back tomorrow for lots, lots more!

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.

Here’s What the Doctor Who Companion Thought of The Timeless Children: Part One

by Philip Bates time to read: 17 min
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