It’s fair to say The Timeless Children, the Doctor Who Series 12 finale, went out of its way to ruffle feathers. Some may say it takes ruffled feathers to fly. Others will say it doesn’t do the ostrich much good.
Either way, everyone at the DWC had thoughts, many of which didn’t even include swearing. We asked them to write them down without breaking stationery. We hope you checked out the first part of this bumper edition; because Part 2 is here to kick continuity in the ribs…
“I’m the Doctor; I’m a Time Lord; I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous; I’m 903 years old and…”
“Er, can I just stop you there…?”
The day after I saw The Timeless Children, I was up a ladder trimming a Wisteria off of a customer’s roof. All I could think of was what the events of this episode meant to me. It was like chewing a large toffee, which wasn’t particularly a good idea as I’d only had a crown fitted the previous week.
The thoughts went a bit like this:
(1) Has the retcon/revelation changed my perception of Doctor Who?
(2) And will I continue to watch?
What did I decide?
(1) Yes. Rick Lundeen made an excellent point: every time we watch an old episode, listen to some Big Finish, or read a novel and the Doctor talks about how old he/she is, where he/she comes from, how the Time Lords originated or anything to do with established folklore, The Timeless Children will come crashing through into our memory (or “ear-worm” as Rick called it) and apply a small piece of ruin: and that’s from someone who isn’t particularly worried about canon as long as the stories are good. It’s just that this is so far reaching. It’s already happened this week, while listening to Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor story, The Planet of Witches.
Also, the Doctor has now become, in effect, an immortal. The Doctor is now an ancient entity as old as much of the universe; almost God-like. I want that “madman in a box” concept back, but it’s gone now. In its place is practically a god in a box; far too powerful so that the Doctor can never be killed (Captain Jack in a box? I couldn’t resist) and potentially with tens of thousands of previous incarnations.
But most importantly, is this going to have an effect on my beloved Eighth Doctor? After all, the Eighth Doctor’s incarnation is half human on his mother’s side (Moffat even confirmed that, recently). It will be a test when Stranded appears later this year, but I suspect that the ear-worm will rear its ugly little head.
(2) Still mulling over that one: I’ve been lax in my watching before now; recent episodes have been languishing on the TiVo for a few days before I’ve watched them (a lot of Series 10 fell foul of this), but I’ve never actually considered abandoning the programme before.
It’s not that the episode was particularly bad; just very disruptive, but the subsequent social media conversation has made it very clear that old-school fans, like me, are just not welcome should we raise any concern for what has happened; we just have to accept things and be quiet. But taking that a step further, for a while now, even to simply admit that the TV show is no longer for fans like me is often greeted in a similar way. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
I have to wonder why this is so important to me or why this produced such a reaction. I’m not treating the show as some quasi-religion. However, it has been my favourite programme for decades; I’ve invested a lot of time (and money; let’s be honest) watching the show: collecting the DVDs; reading the books; listening to the audiobooks and plays; and more latterly writing for the DWC.
Ultimately, I have to conclude that it’s the ear-worm; the far-reaching spoil; the potential to disrupt every story. It’s unsettling for us oldies: the dogs to whom you can’t teach new tricks. Of course, this doesn’t mean that time can’t still be a great healer. This may be just a knee-jerk reaction and it won’t soon matter. We can but hope.
I must also say that if you, dear reader, enjoyed the spectacle then I’m genuinely pleased for you. As for the episode itself: it looked good, Sacha Dhawan completely stole the show (and would have made a far superior Doctor than Whittaker), but it was nowhere as good as last week. After last week’s build up, the Cybermen became unimportant, while the episode had the (current) Doctor stuck within light rings. Had the designer seen Metropolis recently, perchance?
Just one critique. It would have made far more sense had the Timeless Child been the Master. It would explain why he has become the way he is; far more of a reason to have destroyed Galifrey (how did he do that anyway?) and more of a weapon to use against the Doctor: “You owe your whole existence to ME! Bwahahahaha!”
Will I be back at Christmas? As I said, I’m still mulling that one over.
Okay, let’s start with the Master’s latest plan for domination of the Universe. The cybernised Time Lords were hilarious. He clearly came up with this plan while taking apart and reassembling his collection of Character Options figures, inspired by Sid in the first Toy Story movie. After the grim and gritty action sequences leading up to this scene, it was a welcome relief. A shame, then, that this storyline felt in the way of the main attraction of the episode (which I’ll get to shortly). A shame because the ideas were interesting and deserved greater exploration. I almost missed the reveal that the whole story was triggered by Ko Shamus in a Day of the Daleks/Terminator-style temporal paradox, so caught up was I in the big reveal of the Doctor’s secret origin. In a funny way though, when I think back, that storyline felt like an aside to the Cybermen story. The Timeless Children had no core to hold the disparate storylines together. It didn’t quite know what it wanted to be.
So, that other storyline. The answer to those questions that have been plaguing Who fandom for decades. Namely, what was the Master going on about at the end of last week’s episode, what was the secret Lady Peinforte was going to reveal in Silver Nemesis. and who were those faces in Brain of Morbius supposed to belong to?
“Nothing will ever be the same again!” is a line that will make most fans of DC and Marvel comics’ eyes roll. Retroactive continuity, the retcon, where new light is shone on a past event to change the nature of a character, push the plot forward or simply sell some more comics, has been a staple of the superhero genre since the early 1980s. First coined in the letter pages of DC’s All-Star Squadron, it can be a great way of opening up new storytelling possibilities or breathing life into staid, not particularly popular characters. One of the earliest and most successful retcons was at the start of Alan Moore’s legendary run on Saga of the Swamp Thing. Moore took what was essentially a run of the mill monster comic and turned it into something much more. Swamp Thing was revealed to be the latest of the Earth elementals, the protector of all plant life on the Earth. It gave the character new powers and allowed Moore to explore ecological themes. So successful was this reinvention and the sophistication Moore and his artists imbued into each issue, it inspired many other works and many other retcons. (And arguably it led to the big Marvel blockbusters that routinely hit cinemas these days.)
So here we get the big Doctor Who retcon, where, it is suggested, the whole nature of the character changed. But did it? After the whole revelation of the Doctor’s until-now-hidden history, I was feeling nonplussed. ‘Is that it?’ I thought. Seriously, does this revelation really change anything about the character? Does this open up any new stories about the character that couldn’t have been told before? This was little more than a casual aside. Similar to the line in The Deadly Assassin revealing Time Lords only had 12 regenerations. Maybe the next series will be a 10-part story involving the Doctor’s mission to locate her other selves and what they got up to between mind-wipes – Quest for the Infinite Doctors if you will. But beyond that? A significant change to the character? Nah, I’m not buying it. All this retcon really did was make every iteration of Doctor Who canon, from Big Finish’s Unbound series to the Peter Cushing films.
I was left with the sense that this series’ arc had been too inward-looking in its attempt to surprise. Moving forward, the show needs to escape the shackles of its own history. It’s time for a showrunner that is less steeped in the lore of the programme, someone that hasn’t written for it before in any capacity. The final series of Line of Duty is currently in production. I wonder what Jed Mercurio is up to in 2022?
There are two words to describe my initial reaction to the second half of the two-part finale: overwhelmingly fantastic.
Now, before I resume, I would just like to say that while I acknowledge that the story arc’s outcome has had a divisive reception amongst fans, I fully respect that some would (strongly) disagree with me overall. Because they are always entitled to do so – constructively.
65 minutes, an extended running time not seen since The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Definitely the best way to bring Series 12 to an epic conclusion, in contrast to The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos which (completely) lacked the essence of a finale. So much to digest, all the way through.
This time incorporating a “Previously” caption instead of a voiceover (as heard in Spyfall, Part 2), I didn’t mind how the recap turned out. Kind of what I half-expected when the episode titles were first announced months ago; no voiceover, just a caption. Either way, a recap is always crucial for two-parters and serialised storytelling.
Continuing directly from where we left off, the Master immediately drags the Doctor through the Boundary, into the ruins of their home planet Gallifrey where they head for the Citadel. When he brought up their childhood, as well as mentioning Borusa by name, I was fascinated. But the anticipation, on the other hand, kept making my heart beat for the remaining duration as the Doctor became his prisoner.
Graham and Yaz, with the other human survivors (but not poor Bescot), meanwhile flee from the Cyber Warriors as the Cybercarrier arrives above the planet. Only to come up with one the most considerably dangerous ideas yet: disguising themselves as Cybermen to avoid being detected, harder than putting on a Stormtrooper’s outfit in the Death Star. I felt quite emotional when Graham and Yaz had that conversation while Ravio and Yedlarmi worked on the disguises.
At the same time, Ko Sharmus forms a defence line with help from Ryan and Ethan. If firing lasers wasn’t exciting enough, Ryan successfully throwing a bomb at the Cybermen (like playing basketball), before blowing them up, was amazingly performed despite the recurring lack of references to his dyspraxia. Might as well be a callback of sorts to the hilarious scene from The Ghost Monument, where he took down the SniperBots, Call of Duty style, before screaming “Where’s the reload?!” It also became so intense when the Cybermen were about to execute Ethan, only to be destroyed by those in disguise before removing their helmets; couldn’t stop laughing when Graham struggled with his, which reminded me of the anachronistic KKK scene from Django Unchained.
Every time the Master came face-to-face with the Lone Cyberman (Ashad), I had chills down my spine. I loved how they kept us anticipating while they both communicated via hologram, with the former offering to form an alliance. Especially when the latter briefly visited the Citadel, I found it to be way, way more menacing than Missy’s agenda in Series 8 and Mr Razor’s in Series 10. Who would’ve thought that the Master would use his Tissue Compression Eliminator against the Lone Cyberman, before absorbing the Cyberium like Heath Ledger’s Joker? Incredible twist, though.
Inside the Matrix, the Doctor learns more about the backstory of Tecteun, a Shobogan (Gallifrey’s native species) who found and raised an abandoned Child. On that note, the Master’s narrating couldn’t impress me enough. When Tecteun found the Timeless Child lying dead, after dramatically falling off a cliff (just like Brendan), the first ever regeneration on Gallifrey, with its fiery effects, wasn’t only heartbreaking to watch; Tecteun injecting the Child’s DNA into her body, before regenerating, kept me shocked all the way through. But on a more heartwarming note, I absolutely loved the evolving time lapse of the Citadel’s construction.
Yep, this is it. The ultimate plot twist in the whole of Series 12, retconning the true origins of the Time Lords. The Timeless Child is revealed to be none other than… the Doctor.
“What? (long pause) What? (long pause) What?” I whispered aloud, at that very moment.
Half of me was shocked, the other half wasn’t. Because it harks back to the very first mention in The Ghost Monument. I initially thought the Timeless Child was somehow another alias; turns out I was right all along. Filled with pain, disbelief and confusion, Jodie Whittaker brilliantly nailed it with her incarnation’s emotions when she pushed the Master to the ground with rage. Seeing how Brendan’s life was just the truth being filtered by Tecteun, along with the Division and the clock – that was terrifying indeed.
Nevertheless, it does answer almost all the questions raised throughout.
What I also found to be surprising was the unexpected return of the “Ruth” Doctor, this time serving as Thirteen’s conscience of sorts, within the Matrix. Jo Martin was simply phenomenal, just like her debut as the titular fugitive; no doubt she’ll make another guest appearance in Series 13 or so. I want more “Ruth” (and Lee) adventures! To be honest, I still wonder when exactly her incarnation came about before the First Doctor left Gallifrey.
And then came the ultimate highlight: the montage of the Doctor. Archived footages of incarnations (with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton in colour), companions, enemies, and also the Morbius Doctors – spliced together with a remix of the theme! (Had to keep pausing numerous times afterwards, on BBC iPlayer, to take screenshots of each frame.)
I know it may sound weird, but I actually like the CyberMasters in terms of their appearance – despite their sudden introduction half way through. I wouldn’t rule out the idea of the Master fulfilling the Hybrid prophecy; has to be before Missy came along, since neither he or the Doctor has ever mentioned her in dialogue. And speaking of which, I absolutely loved it when the Master and his new army dramatically paraphrased Rassilon’s closing speech from The End of Time, Part 1; a brilliant tribute to David Tennant’s tearjerking swansong.
As the Doctor reunites with everyone else before finding an unused ‘default’ TARDIS (with all the “round things”), I nearly cried when she chose to face the Master alone, leaving her friends to return to Earth without her. Poor Yaz, unwilling to say a possible farewell for good, she’s had such a long journey away from home; same with Graham and Ryan. I didn’t think the Doctor would really detonate the explosive, with the death particle still contained in the shrunken Lone Cyberman’s chest. Blow up her childhood friend, after forgiving him multiple times? That would be cruel and cowardly. But when Ko Sharmus suddenly appeared, willing to finish what he started after sending the Cyberium back in time, that was hastily heroic. Boom. Gallifrey is no more, once again. From the looks of it, I think the Master probably escaped and survived with (some of) his new army.
Thanks to the ‘default’ TARDIS taking the form of a detached house, in the present day, everything appears to end well for Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, along with the remaining human survivors. (Quite fitting after a battle.) But the Doctor, meanwhile, returns to her TARDIS as she leaves the ‘tree’ behind; only to receive an unexpected visit, another plot twist we didn’t see coming… from the Judoon. Life imprisonment in a maximum security facility, as she quotes one of her predecessor’s catchphrases (like I did earlier on) with the exact same reaction of horror. Oh. My. God.
And there we have it, an extended conclusion to Series 12. Not perfect, of course, but ten times a better successor to Jodie Whittaker’s first full series (excluding Resolution, which I loved). The format which should’ve been used last time, instead of doing a complete run of standalones, Chris Chibnall has finally gone back to the storytelling roots of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat – whom he both wrote for under their tenures. Now that we have many months to wait until Revolution of the Daleks airs around Christmas or New Year’s, I am already looking forward to another special return of the deadliest pepper pots in the universe.
Let’s start with the episode itself… For me, it was too much at once. Ascension of the Cybermen should have been reduced to 10 minutes, and this episode expanded into two hours. Others will have mentioned the ridiculous parts of the story like how the diminutive Yaz fitted into a much taller Cybersuit or how the Cybership blowing apart did not destroy the Citadel or even, if the Time Lord bodies in the Cybermasters can still regenerate, how the Master killed them in the first place? For the cast, there were no winners in the acting stakes – although I am getting to like the Eighth Master. That could be a lie as well. Overall the Cybermen were merely a distraction to justify three companions and the story did not give enough time to the Great Reveal and no understandable reason why the Master would destroy Gallifrey because of it.
So, we come to the Great Reveal – am I shocked that the Doctor was the Timeless Child? No. As the Seventh Doctor once said to Davros, “I am far more than just another Time Lord” and the Validium said in Silver Nemesis, “Doctor who? Have you never wondered where he came from, who he is?”.
Am I shocked that someone used genetic engineering to create the Time Lord race? No, that had always been in the history books. Obviously at some point, the Timeless Child’s constant regenerating into another child was tampered with, hence the Brandon experiment. This gives lots of possibilities of 12-body cycles (each having their memories then wiped) prior to the First Doctor and goes a long way to explaining how the Time Lord Council could offer the Master a complete new regeneration cycle in The Five Doctors, and how they did it for the Eleventh Doctor.
So, did I like it? Also no. It was unnecessary and simply showed that the script team have no ‘new’ exciting ideas other than to tamper with the past show and possibly demonstrating contempt for past writers. There have been plot giveaways in Doctor Who which become big things many series later, like the first simple sonic screwdriver introduced in Fury from the Deep or the Doctor having two hearts from Spearhead in Space. There are also other small moments that we hastily ignore like “we can live forever, barring accidents” in The War Games, and even being human on one’s mother’s side.
We have even had complete rewrites of history before: Genesis of the Daleks against The Dead Planet (aka The Daleks) and Rise of the Cybermen as opposed to The Tenth Planet but we have adapted our histories to make everything (sort of) make sense. Even the UNIT dating controversy and the Doctor’s age – we make them fit!
However, what we have been presented in this story is something bigger, bolder, and, whilst not negating all of the past 57 years, it will take time (and possibly Series 13) to understand it and mentally correct the ‘continuity problems’ caused by bad scripting.
Final Verdict – The Timeless Children – Could have done it so much better.
Holy mother of God that was awesome. I really loved this. Having said that, I can see why some won’t, but then in my opinion, they’re shortsighted. (Kidding!) Doctor Who has always been about reinventing itself, and while I admit this is a big one, I can see how it can all still be made into a cohesive whole.
I don’t see this as rewriting anything, except possibly the involvement of Omega and Rassilon and the creation of time travel, but that could probably still be massaged with established mythos. All of this “new stuff” we got in this episode can be blown off as another regeneration cycle prior to Hartnell. I mean, they even showed the Morbius Doctors in the reverse Doctor countdown. I actually said out loud “They went there”.
If you really want to stretch it, it could tie into the Cartmel Masterplan somewhat. Although I’d have to give it some thought as to how to make that work well. If the Cartmel plan was “Omega/Rassilon/Other (The Doctor)”, then this could work.
We always assumed Hartnell was the First Doctor, and within the new continuity that can still be the case, but the first Doctor of that regeneration cycle. Given that Capaldi and Whittaker are the first and second of the “second” lifecycle, who is to say that the cycle that started with Hartnell was the first life cycle? I mean hell, the Valeyard could be the last one in that first regeneration cycle. Obviously, some event happened at the end of that cycle to make Hartnell not remember who he was.
The only thing I can’t figure out is why Dr Ruth’s TARDIS was a Police Box, if she was from a regeneration cycle before Hartnell.
I’m gonna be really annoyed if that’s not Shada in the absolute last moment of the episode there. It really looked like it.
The good thing about The Timeless Children is that I know I won’t give up on Doctor Who – not forever, not my hopes for the future, and not its past. But that’s all that’s left for me right now: the past.
I should’ve trusted my instincts, but I wanted to give this new era a chance. And I kept giving it a chance. Every time, it would let me down. Still, I have twelve Doctors to entertain me. And they’re wonderful.
Doctor Who, I let you go.
That’s what we thought of the Series 12 finale. What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.