Series 12 of Doctor Who is in the books. While I was crushingly bored and displeased by Series 11, this year turned it around in a very big way. Better stories, better plots, more compelling character arcs, and Jodie Whittaker finally getting meaty, Doctory material to play. I know people loved her first series. For me her sophomore year actually attempted toward the promise of such a good actor. There’ll be a much bigger piece later this week about the series as a whole, but for now we have a finale to explain.
The following will spoil the entire episode of “The Timeless Children. Please watch before reading.
As both Riley Silverman and I have said in various pieces this year, there were a whole lot of threads at play in series 12. Chris Chibnall went from having nothing and nobody of interest to maybe too much in the span of just one season. But going into the finale, we had a few big lingering questions to answer:
1. Who is/are the Timeless Child/Children?
2. Why did the Master destroy Gallifrey?
3. How does the Jo Martin Doctor fit into the timeline that we know?
4. Who was Brendan whose strange life we saw in “Ascension of the Cybermen”?
Luckily, the first question is maybe the simplest. Yet its implications bleed over into so much of Doctor Who, past present and future. The Master pulls the Doctor away from her friends—trapped in a life-or-death struggle against the Cybermen—to hook her up to the Matrix. Now, the Matrix, in Doctor Who terms, is the virtual reality-like depository of all Time Lord history and knowledge. We first learned about it in the 1976 story “The Deadly Assassin,” one of the most important stories of all time.
A quick digression about “The Deadly Assassin,” because “The Timeless Children” directly references it a LOT. That episode featured the Doctor’s first on screen jaunt to the Citadel, the Time Lord’s big central city on Gallifrey. There he fought the Master who had attempted to extract info from the Matrix to save himself. The Master was a decaying husk at the time, out of regenerations. “The Deadly Assassin” was also the story that introduced the deep held lore that Time Lords have only 12 regenerations, their lives end after 13 iterations. Obviously, there’s some fudging throughout the series on that front.
“The Deadly Assassin” was also the first mention of the Shobogans. The Shobogans are an indigenous race of Gallifreyans who, apparently, do not have the ability to regenerate and are therefore not Time Lords. And as the Master explains when he and the Doctor enter the Matrix, a Shobogan scientist named Tecteun traversed the stars until she found a mysterious portal on a distant world. At the foot of this portal, Tecteun also found a small child. Tecteun took the child with her and raised the little girl as her own. During a fight with a playmate, the child fell off a cliff and seemingly died. Except, she didn’t. She regenerated.
This child, the Timeless Child, was the first being on Gallifrey to regenerate. Tecteun studied her adopted child and eventually experimented on her. The child regenerated multiple times during this, until finally Tecteun was able to extract the regenerative energy (what we’ll henceforth call “Regenergy”) and gave it to herself. She regenerated and began new life as a younger man. Tecteun then spread this regenergy, taken from the Timeless Child, to a select few other Shobogans. Eventually, they built the massive citadel, conquer space travel and invented time travel. With eons of life at their disposal, they began to call themselves the Time Lords.
But, and this is an important bit, the Time Lords instated the regeneration limit on themselves. Though each Time Lord could seemingly regenerate as many times as they wanted to, via the stolen regenergy, they chose to limit it to 12. That’s, in effect, immortality if they spend those lives properly.
Next, we needed to learn who the Timeless Child actually was. Well…it was the Doctor. Were we ever in any doubt? When that bit of knowledge hit the Doctor, and the audience, a guy a mile away called me and told me he saw it coming. But what does it mean that the Doctor is the Timeless Child? Well, for starters it means the Doctor is much, much older than she, or we, had ever known. The Timeless Child became an agent for “The Division,” the Time Lord C.I.A. basically, and it was during this period of time that the Doctor was Ruth and hid on Earth and all that.
And who was Brendan? Well, that’s a bit more convoluted, but the visions of Brendan’s life were a coded version of the Timeless Child’s life. The Time Lords wiped most of the Doctor’s existence while in the Division, prior to the first life she can remember. Tecteun and the Time Lords wiped the Doctor’s mind every time a mission was over, just as we saw Brendan’s dad and the captain of the Garda do in Ireland. Why it was Ireland and why and when the Doctor sees it as such, we don’t know.
So, okay. The Doctor is the Timeless Child. She was the origin of an entire species, exploited by the person who initially sought to protect her. Every Time Lord from Omega to Rassilon has a little bit of the Doctor’s essence (again, regenergy) inside them. And this is the revelation that caused the Master to destroy Gallifrey and effectively kill everyone on it. Not out of some devotion to his friend, but because he couldn’t stand the thought that the Doctor is literally bigger and more important than he was.
One last bit. While the Doctor floods the Matrix with memories, we see flashes of all the Doctor’s televised iterations. It goes backward through each of the versions we know. Then we see flashes of other faces, including Ruth, but also included several from the 1976 story “ The Brain of Morbius“. In that story, the Fourth Doctor faces off with the brain (in a Frankenstein’s monster-esque of alien parts) of Morbius, a powerful and evil Time Lord. During a battle of wills using a device, we see flashes of the Doctor’s former selves and prior to the three we’d seen, we saw several more faces. These were, in truth, members of the Doctor Who production team wearing costumes. People had always theorized these were Doctors prior to William Hartnell.
And that’s true. Chris Chibnall did many things with this finale. He told us the being known as the Doctor began life as a girl, from another dimension, had been many other ethnicities prior to the string of white dudes we saw on TV. He told us the Doctor began the Time Lords, unwillingly, and was a spy for many, many iterations prior to what she knew. But he also made a whole bunch of 1970s fankwank ephemera absolute, indisputable canon. That, friends, is maybe the greatest feat of all.
Featured Image: BBC America