Warning: Spoilers for Doctor Who series 12 follow!
Doctor Who‘s series 11 introduced a new Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her “fam” trio of companions. But when it came to plot, the strongest thread was, basically, “Hey, that blue guy likes teeth a lot.” In his sophomore season, however, showrunner Chris Chibnall has gone from being stingy with plot to giving us all the plot, all at once (oh, and here’s some more plot).
While the sheer volume of story threads we’ve gotten in series 11 might feel like it’d be top-heavy, it somehow instead is just, well, awesome. The big question now is: with all of this plot delivered to us just five episodes into a ten-episode season, will we even begin to see resolutions to most of this before season’s end? Or are we strapping ourselves in for Chibnall’s Master Plan? Here’s a quick rundown of all the major plot threads now dangling from the TARDIS.
The Timeless Child
This bit of info was first introduced to us in series 11’s second episode, “The Ghost Monument.” Whispered to the Doctor by the Remnants, it hints at a mysterious past that the Doctor herself doesn’t know about. This term came roaring back to us in “Spyfall Part 2,” when it came angrily out of the Master (Sacha Dhawan) while he tried justifying the destruction of Gallifrey at his hands.
We know nothing yet about who this Timeless Child is, or what it actually means. The Remnants scene makes us think it could be the Doctor herself but there’s just not enough info yet to go off of. Heck, for once, the oft-cited fan theory “Maybe It’s Susan!” could actually be in play. (But probably not, though it would be hilarious if Chibnall did that to us on purpose.)
The Return of the Master
Sacha Dhawan’s “Brief History of the Master” video suggests that his Master is a regeneration following Missy. But why he returned, what all he learned on Gallifrey, and what about it pushed him back to scenery-chewing evil is still without explanation.
The Doctor has been going on secret missions alone to try to find him (most recently in “Fugitive”), not believing that he’s remained forever in the parallel universe of “Spyfall”’s antagonistic aliens, the Kasaavin. The Doctor knows as well as the audience does that the Master is never gone forever. It’s likely we will see him again before this season’s finale.
The Return of Jack Harkness
Fans of the Torchwood series were hoping that John Barrowman’s omnisexual, immortal Captain Jack might make a return, given that Chibnall had worked as showrunner on that series while it ran alongside Doctor Who’s third and fourth seasons. But his instantly recognizable offscreen voice in “Fugitive of the Judoon” was the first anyone knew of it actually happening, pulling off a shocking surprise return for a show known for getting major plot points revealed before a season even airs. What is Jack doing back, why is he so plagued by nanobots, and how much of Torchwood: Miracle Day is still considered canon?
The Lone Cyberman
Harkness’s return came with it a warning from a vague future and an idea about some “alliance” about one of the Doctor’s oldest foes the Cybermen. According to Jack, the nightmares in silver have seen their empire crumble into ruin. Yet one survivor remains out there somewhere, and it is imperative that the Doctor not give it what it wants.
We know from flashes of a decaying Cyberman in the series 12 trailer that we will see it this season, but does it have anything to do with the Timeless Child? Or were parts of two different plots putting down rails in “Fugitive?”
Who is this Cyberman, what does it want? Is it going to be a new character, or is it another jaw-dropping reveal—perhaps the return of one of many characters we’ve seen turned into Cybermen over the years, like Danny Pink, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Bill Potts, or alternate universe Jackie Tyler? Honestly, if Chibnall found a way to bring Camille Coduri back to the show as Jackie, more power to him.
Just what is going on with this new… er, old… er… surprise Doctor?
“Fugitive of the Judoon” managed to dwarf the return of Jack Harkness with the even bigger reveal that Jo Martin’s Ruth was secretly an incarnation of the Doctor hiding under the Chameleon Arch first introduced by Paul Cornell in series three’s “Human Nature.”
This isn’t the first time in Doctor Who’s run that we’ve been surprised by the sudden existence of a Doctor we didn’t know about. (Last time, it brought John Hurt into the canon.) Theories of just who ‘Doctor Ruth’ is and where she falls in our Doctor’s timeline, or even if she falls in the Doctor’s timeline, run rampant right now. But the normally tight-lipped Chris Chibnall himself, in an exclusive to the UK’s Mirror, has stated that there is no alternate universe situation happening. (He also stated that Jack Harkness’s return in “Fugitive” would be his only return during series 12.)
“The important thing to say is – she is definitively the Doctor…There’s not a sort of parallel universe going on, there’s no tricks. “Jo Martin is the Doctor, that’s why we gave her the credit at the end which all new Doctors have the first time you see them. John Hurt got that credit.”
Altering the past of the show, however, is not without precedent. The series has attempted to pull an upheaval on the Doctor’s entire history. The Colin Baker serial Trial of a Time Lord ended with a big reveal that the Valeyard was an evil future amalgamation of the Doctor’s dark side. Producer Philip Hinchliffe once admitted on the Evening with Philip Hinchliffe DVD that the faces that appear in the classic Tom Baker serial Brain of Morbius were his attempt at implying Doctor regenerations prior to William Hartnell’s. And lore-obsessed fans have made much ado over the years of the “Cartmel Masterplan,” which sought to similarly bring some mystery into the history of the Time Lords and the Doctor.
What we do know is that as of “Fugitive,” Chibnall has taken a big flag with his name on it and claimed a huge chunk of the show’s canon for himself. Is he attempting to convert some of the Cartmel Masterplan into a new “Chibnall Masterplan”? Or is he expertly using the info about that thematic shift that the fandom has chewed on for years to misdirect us all again?
Given the slow burn of series 11, we know he has it in him to be patient. So, despite the deluge of new plot, we can’t be certain that he’ll wrap up any of this within the next five episodes. Heck, we don’t even know for sure that we won’t even have yet another set of mysteries to add to the pile by the end of next Sunday’s “Praxeus.”
Just about the only thing we know for sure is that it’s the most interesting time in years to be a Whovian.
Featured Image: BBC