DOCTOR WHO: Just What the Heck is Going On?

We’ve only got one episode of Doctor Who series 12 left and, well, what? As Riley Silverman wrote in her mid-season breakdown of all the dangling plot threads, showrunner Chris Chibnall has a lot of ground to cover in one episode. From Doctor Ruth (yes, always funny) to why the Master destroyed Gallifrey, to what the Timeless Child really is; we still have many questions. And now we have another: throughout “Ascension of the Cybermen” we followed the strange life of an Irish orphan named Brendan; who was he, and why did we watch all that?

The following are theories and possibilities which MAY end up being what happens. Proceed with caution, though we know nothing.

Okay, so. While we watched the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan help the final seven(!) humans try to escape the remnants of the Cybermen at the end of the universe, we also saw the story of Brendan. Brendan was a foundling in rural Ireland in what appeared to be the early 20th Century. A very nice couple took him in and raised him; eventually he was old enough to want to join the Garda (the Irish police). The chief (who incidentally helped Brendan’s parents when they found him) agrees. Brendan says specifically he wants to join so he can “make a difference,” which the chief likes.

Later in the flashbacks, Brendan is early in his Garda career and chases a thief to a cliff. He asks the man to give up before it gets too far, but the man shoots Brendan square in the chest. Brendan falls off the cliff. When his mentor runs to his body, Brendan wakes up and says he’s okay. Doesn’t have a scratch on him. His mother notes how good he looks in the newspaper picture of him. Brendan tells her to drop it.

Who is Brendan and why does his exceptional life change everything on Doctor Who?

BBC America

The next time we cut back to Ireland, Brendan is an older man, ready to retire from the Garda. However, as he exits the station, he meets his father and his mentor outside waiting for him. They each look exactly the way they did when Brendan was a rookie. They take him to the “back office,” sit him down in a chair, place electrodes on his head, and tell him they have to start over and “he won’t remember anyway.”

So, at first blush, it might seem—amid the life-or-death struggle in the future with our heroes, the survivors, and the Cybermen—the strange saga of Brendan from Ireland is filler. But look at the episode, and the season, around it. The whole series has rested on the mystery of “The Timeless Child,” a legendary truth all Time Lords learn at birth. The Master, evidently, learned it was actually all a lie; it was a revelation so mind-warping that he destroyed Gallifrey in a fit of rage. There’s no way, with the finale’s title of “The Timeless Children,” Brendan’s story doesn’t directly tie to that.

The smoking ruins of Gallifrey's capital city.

BBC America

Basic “truths” we know about Time Lords from Doctor Who‘s long continuity: 1) Time Lords have 12 regenerations, or 13 lives/versions. 2) After the 12th regeneration, a Time Lord is subject to death just like everyone else. This was a sort of arbitrary number writer Robert Holmes assigned for his 1976 story “The Deadly Assassin”. It just explained why the Master (then at the end of his 12 regeneration limit) looked decayed and needed to get access to the Eye of Harmony. (It’s real complicated; click here to read all about it.)

Throughout the show, though, especially the new series, the idea of regeneration, and how and when and how often it can happen, has been at the forefront since the beginning. The Master is usually at the heart of this; his essence took over a new body in the early ’80s. He chose not to regenerate and instead die at the end of “The Last of the Time Lords,” which introduced the idea that, while regeneration appears to be an involuntary biological function, the Time Lord can fight against it. The Twelfth Doctor attempted to do this in his final story, “Twice Upon a Time,” as well. And let us not forget that the Time Lords “gifted” the ancient, dying Eleventh Doctor a brand new cycle of regenerations after he successfully saved them from the Daleks in “The Time of the Doctor.”

Sacha Dhawan's Master grins as he exits a portal in Doctor Who.

BBC America

Now, why am I talking so much about regeneration? I believe Brendan is the “Timeless Child,” that what we’re seeing is different attempts on the part of the Time Lords to perfect regeneration technology. Brendan should have died when he caught a bullet and fell of the cliff; because he didn’t, the Gallifreyan scientists, i.e. his dad and mentor, deemed it a failed experiment. This would also explain why he’d be an infant in a small, rural Irish village with no apparent biological parents around. The Time Lords wipe his memory and try again.

The episode did a clever-clogs thing to try to throw us off. They kept cutting back to Brendan’s story from the Lone Cyberman, or cutting from Brendan to the Lone Cyberman. Clearly they want us to think Ashad was once Brendan, or perhaps that this was the birth of Cybermen as a race. There are little visual cues such as the electrode headset thing they use on old Brendan has earmuffs like rudimentary Cybermen. So, it’s maybe going to tie in to the Lone Cyberman, but I definitely think Brendan is the Timeless Child.

Ruth (Jo Martin) is the Doctor, here in her TARDIS with Jodie Whittaker looking baffled.

BBC America

What’s more, I think it’s entirely possible, even likely, that Brendan, the Timeless Child, is the Doctor. If the Timeless Child is effectively immortal but has no memory of their immortality, that would explain why Thirteen has no memory of Doctor Ruth and vice versa. I also think it’s very telling that Brendan specifically wants to join the Irish police. Because they don’t use the word police, they call it the Garda/Guard. So we never have an audible or visual clue about “Police” leading to “Police Box.”

The Doctor learning a massive truth about themselves, about how Time Lords are the result of immortal beings imposing regeneration and limits to their own species, and about how there are large swaths of their life they don’t know about, would be truly existence shattering. It’s also possible the Master is a Timeless Child also, hence the title “The Timeless Children” and also why he can still exist even though it seemed pretty definite that the John Simm version killed the Michelle Gomez version. Maybe the Master and the Doctor were botched experiments, and why they’d both be renegades later on.

Oh, and also the Time Lords might just be people at the end point of history, if Ko Sharmus’ portal leads everyone to Gallifrey. That one I’m less sure about.

This is all just conjecture of course. But I think this is a pretty good bet for how Doctor Who series 12 will shape up. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Featured Image: BBC America

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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