We are still waiting to find out the truth behind the Timeless Child, whoever this mysterious figure is, or was. As a fan of serialised storytelling (i.e. story arcs), I am very pleased that Chris Chibnall has finally brought the show back on track for Series 12. Just like how he plotted the whole of Broadchurch.
Everyone is entitled to come up with their own theories, even if they might turn out to be actual spoilers in the end and not red herrings. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s just speculation.
On the arc itself, I believe there may be some aspects that were neither pointed out in some Radio Times and Digital Spy articles I’ve read, as well as various rumours posted on social media. I know there has been a lot of speculation over “Ruth” and Brendan lately, but what I am going to do is focus on some possible origins – which I don’t believe have been suggested thus far.
In Twice Upon a Time, as the first female Doctor examines her new body after a delayed regeneration inside the TARDIS, she presses a random button on the console which suddenly causes the entire ship to erupt like a volcano and forcefully remove her altogether. Considering that the TARDIS also has its own conscience, maybe it was quick to discover the Doctor’s memories of the Timeless Child; buried deep beneath her subconscious, triggering an explosive reaction of such.
“No, but I always took you where you needed to go.”
As Idris said so in The Doctor’s Wife, that might as well be the case.
Jodie Whittaker’s debut in the 2017 Christmas special was written by Chibnall, then-incoming showrunner, just as how Steven Moffat wrote Matt Smith’s first scene in The End of Time. Since Series 11 had already begun filming in late 2017, could it be that he managed to slip in some foreshadowing – on purpose? I certainly wouldn’t rule out this possibility as regeneration, in general, has also been regarded a contending factor.
It didn’t end there: the Doctor became separated from her TARDIS during The Woman Who Fell to Earth, with Tim Shaw (Tzim-Sha) of the Stenza making his debut. The Series 11 premiere leads directly into The Ghost Monument, where she and her three new companions together end up on Desolation.
But they soon encounter the Remnants, cloth-like creatures engineered by scientists who were taken hostage by the Stenza. More questions are raised when the Remnants successfully dig deep into the Doctor’s subconscious, the very moment where they mention the Timeless Child for the very first time.
“What did you just say?”
At first, I thought it was another alias of the Doctor; a secret one never used on screen, audio, print, or elsewhere. “Maybe it’s some sort of callback or homage to the pilot episode An Unearthly Child,” I also wondered. But sadly, we were all left to speculate for over a year, thanks to the lack of a proper story arc in Series 11.
I highly doubt that the TARDIS ended up on Desolation by mistake, whilst going haywire. Perhaps the regeneration energy enabled some connection between the Remnants, based on their psychic abilities to extract secrets from the back of the mind. Aside from Tim Shaw himself, who had never heard of the Time Lords, did the Stenza have anything to do with the Timeless Child and/or the Founding Fathers of Gallifrey? Well, they are a warmongering species of proclaimed warriors who cleanse planets, but never say never.
On a side note, it’s quite intriguing to learn that the Remnants were voiced by Ian Gelder, who would later reappear as the immortal god Zellin. Here’s what I pointed out in my collective review for Can You Hear Me?:
Both episodes specifically reference the Timeless Child arc, and we also get to see another shocking glimpse of the mysterious figure itself (albeit in the Doctor’s nightmare, with flashbacks of the Master’s voice). Despite Zellin being a separate character, could it be that he has some sort of connection with the Stenza’s creation, or is it all just an intentional coincidence? We may never know, unless something pops up in the two-part finale.
Here’s where the story arc becomes prominent in Series 12. During the closing minutes of Spyfall, Part 2, the Doctor visits her home planet, only to find it in complete ruins from a devastating attack – caused by none other than the Master (Sacha Dhawan). There are seemingly no survivors – the Time Lords all wiped out. He reveals his ultimate wrongdoing via a hologram message, therefore causing the Doctor to have disturbing flashbacks of The Ghost Monument, along with the first ever glimpse of the titular figure itself.
“They lied to us, the Founding Fathers of Gallifrey. Everything we were told was a lie. We are not who we think, you or I. The whole existence of our species built on the lie of the Timeless Child.
“Do you see it? It’s buried deep in all our memories. In our identity. I’d tell you more, but… but why would I make it easy for you? It wasn’t for me.”
Another shocking plot twist indeed, after Dhawan’s dramatic reveal as the Doctor’s arch nemesis in Part 1. Who would have thought the Master would dare to commit genocide, therefore making the Doctor and himself the last of their own kind once again – just because of a devastating truth?
It’s not a thing Missy would be capable of doing, despite her apparent ‘death’ in The Doctor Falls, after being literally backstabbed by “Harold Saxon” who was also on the brink of regeneration for the exact same thing. Since New Year’s Day, I’ve been wondering whether the “Spy Master” comes before Missy. If you look at how Sacha Dhawan portrays the character, he’s more in line with John Simm than Michelle Gomez. It may be confirmed, or just a red herring.
Could it also be the case that the Untempered Schism, first seen in The Sound of Drums, motivated the Master into destroying his home planet? He was only a child when he looked into the Time Vortex, before becoming the psychopath we are all familiar with today; not to mention having the drumming noises implanted into his head.
The word “child” doesn’t just refer to an individual under 18; it could also be an adult who’s the son or daughter of a middle-aged or elderly person. That’s the case for the “Children of Time”, a name Dalek Caan gave to the Tenth Doctor and his companions in The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End. It may not have any link with the Timeless Child, but at least they do acknowledge some Gallifreyan mythology which has a certain Lord President involved with the last days of the Time War.
Gallifrey has been playing a significant role in nearly all of the New Series story arcs, from Bad Wolf and the Time War to “Silence will fall” and “a question that must never ever be answered.” After getting relocated to a pocket universe in The Day of the Doctor, the Hybrid prophecy became a prominent focus throughout Series 9. Yes, I know it’s a considerably divisive arc, but my take has nothing to do with being biased.
As one of the Founding Fathers of Gallifrey, there is surely no doubt that Rassilon was a key architect of the lie which, therefore, established the Time Lord society. During the climax of Series 9, we finally learn that Rassilon himself was behind the Doctor’s interrogation (via his Confession Dial).
Using destructive methods to make the Doctor confess his fears and knowledge of the Hybrid, before getting ousted, he could have been compromised by the Timeless Child or other associates beforehand. Considering that Rassilon was already exiled when the Master destroyed their home planet, maybe they both met off-screen and clashed before the latter was able to extract information from him.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hybrid turns out to be a retroactive cover for the Timeless Child, since Moffat left it open for interpretation (and, perhaps, planted some seeds). There have already been a good few in-universe theories of who or what exactly the Hybrid could be.
Take what the Doctor said when he arrived back on Gallifrey, for example, after breaking through the wall in Heaven Sent; not “half-Dalek” which the Time Lords wouldn’t allow, it’s “Me” – potentially referring to the name which Ashildr gave herself, after being resurrected with a Mire repair kit. During the exchange between the Doctor and Ashildr/Me in Hell Bent, the two speculate that the Hybrid not only refers to multiple species pairing up but also individuals bonding together to form a relationship.
So maybe the Timeless Child is the Hybrid after all? Half-human, half-Time Lord which partially originated from Earth? Perhaps Chibnall decided to rewatch these episodes, whilst writing Series 12. Continuity always matters.
What’s also interesting is that Davros was the first character to mention the Hybrid, in The Witch’s Familiar, whilst asking the Doctor about why he (and his granddaughter Susan) left Gallifrey. Even though this was way before their first visit to Skaro, there’s always the possibility that their buried memories somehow got to them before stealing a TARDIS. Maybe it all began in Listen when he hid himself in the barn to cry, centuries before returning in his “War” incarnation with the Moment?
No doubt this could also be related to…
The “Ruth” Doctor, who we know as the titular fugitive. On the run from the Judoon and Gat, another Gallifreyan, she and her companion “Lee Clayton” fled to Gloucester before using a Chameleon Arch to create a human identity.
When Team TARDIS arrived on Earth, we all thought “Lee” was the fugitive until Gat murdered him to prove the Judoon wrong. But the situation became more complicated when the Thirteenth Doctor couldn’t register them both on her sonic screwdriver. And there are several reasons which I have accounted in my collective review for Fugitive of the Judoon:
What I found to be the most shocking of all was Ruth revealing her true identity: “the Doctor.” I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. Her very own TARDIS, in the form of a police box, buried underneath a gravestone. How did I not realise that she was using a Chameleon Arch all along? It’s no surprise that Jodie Whittaker didn’t recognise “Ruth” one bit; she was just as puzzled as we were. (I’m calling her “Ruth” from now on because I’d rather not confuse her with Thirteen.) Same with the ‘default-style’ TARDIS console room, and its bluish lighting, I love how it raised more questions than answers. But who is this mysterious ‘incarnation’?
I certainly wouldn’t rule out the idea of her being from another universe or dimension, akin to the Unbound audios. Or could it be that she’s not “the Doctor” and is, instead, the Timeless Child? If you look closely at Gat’s outfit, it appears vastly different in design than what we’re more familiar with; not to mention how she reacts when the Doctor shows her a vision of Gallifrey in ruins. Maybe it’s the former, but we don’t know for sure.
If “Ruth” and “Lee”, along with Gat, do come from another universe, I bet they slipped through the Kasaavin realm while the Master plotted his scheme in Spyfall.
With The Timeless Children airing tomorrow night, we should expect a number of questions answered after the cliffhanger in Ascension of the Cybermen. And if I had missed anything above, feel free to comment.
Meanwhile, you can check out the TV trailer: