Last week, we were promised that everything in Doctor Who was about to change. That was a bold declaration. While I can’t say that everything changed, I can say that this was the most impactful episode on the larger universe of the show since “The Day of the Doctor.” Let’s talk about this week’s season finale, “The Timeless Children.”
I don’t feel that we necessarily need to go over a blow-by-blow of the episode. But there were many big moments, characters, and reveals to discuss. As I mentioned already, not quite everything has changed. None of our main cast died. None of the companions left. The Doctor did not regenerate. It looks like we’ll still have our main cast going forward (for at least one more episode). The companions had a good showing this week. They took the fight to the Cybermen. They didn’t wait for instruction. They took what the Doctor had already taught them and put it to use. Yaz, in particular, was quite bold. She’s grown a lot over the last 2 seasons. Graham has noticed this. His conversation with her was my favorite part of the entire episode. He pours his heart out and heaps praise upon her. She tells me he’s not so bad himself. It was a great conversation. Well written and beautifully acted.
The Lone Cyberman, Ashad, was a colossal disappointment this week. He’s had so much build-up, and all for nothing. He comes face to face with the Master. The Master just shrinks him. Then he’s gone. He is out of commission. It was a waste of an interesting villain. I didn’t care for his fate one bit.
Directly related to this is the Death Particle. Ashad had indicated that the death of all things was within him. Turns out, that was only the death of all things on just one planet. So he totally oversold it. It was also very convenient that the remaining humans knew of a myth which described the Death Particle in his chest with perfect accuracy. That felt a bit contrived.
The Cyberium is very strange. It seems sentient. It makes choices. It also seems very fickle. One moment it hides from the Cybermen. Next, it leads them. Then it abandons them. Finally, it decides to join forces with the Master, of all people. I can’t know what it’s like to be a metallic goo that is the sum total of all knowledge of an entire race of cyberbeings. But I really don’t understand what the Cyberium even wants, let alone how it chooses its path to get there.
I was wrong last week when I thought the Cybermen would look for TARDISs to conquer the universe with. I thought too small. Turns out that the Master wanted to create Time Lord/Cybermen hybrids. And if I heard him correctly, he called them Cybermasters. That’s a very stupid name. Why not Cyberlords? At any rate, it’s a frightening idea. Take Cybermen but enable them to regenerate when they die. They truly would be unstoppable. In the end, the Cyberlords do nothing. They stand in a circle (looking much more fabulous than the average Cyberman). And that’s about it. This could have been a cool idea, but the writers did absolutely nothing with it.
Of course, I’ve been ignoring the two-hearted elephant in the room. The Master traps the Doctor in a computer and reveals her secret past to her. Of course, we can trust literally nothing the Master says. But the show presents all of this as fact. I’d be surprised if the writers walk back on these reveals (at least these writers, who knows what future showrunners may do). It seems that the Bernard flashbacks from last week weren’t quite flashbacks. They were encrypted memories, full of symbols. They weren’t literal things that happened but were instead an amalgamation of events from the Doctor’s life.
It turns out that the Doctor is not a Time Lord, nor a Gallifreyan. An explorer from a race of Gallifreyan beings known as the Shabogans traversed the galaxy. Her name was Tecteun. One day, she found a planet with a mysterious portal (not unlike the Boundary the lead us all to Gallifrey). Underneath it was a child, presumably from a totally different universe. Tecteun took the child in and discovered that she had the ability to regenerate when she died. She immediately begins several lifetimes of mad scientist experiments on the kid. It’s depicted as quite torturous, in my opinion. The goal was to steal the child’s powers and use them for personal gain. All the while, the kid is strapped to a table being poked and prodded. This occurs over several regenerations. It’s unclear if Tecteun is repeatedly killing the child, or if these deaths occurred naturally. If the former is the case, Tecteun is a really bad person. If the latter, I have to ask how long these Shabogans live. And if they live that long, why do they want immortality so badly?
Ultimately, Tecteun succeeds. She unlocks the powers of regeneration and grants them to fellow Shabogans. They crown themselves the Time Lords. They also incidentally unlock the mysteries of Time Travel at some point. The kid grows up to be a part of the Division, which seems to be some kind of Time Lord Intelligence Agency (and has a most uninspired name). Their memory is erased. Eventually, that child becomes the being we know as the Doctor.
This was a wild ride. I haven’t looked around the internet too much, but I expect that this was a divisive episode. This fundamentally changes the Doctor. She isn’t a Time Lord. She’s not Gallifreyan. She isn’t limited in regenerations. Everything we know about her history is a lie. It leaves us with a mountain of questions. Do Time Lords also have two hearts, or is it just the Doctor? If both species have two hearts, that’s an interesting coincidence. How many times has the Doctor regenerated? How many times was her memory erased? What did she do for the Division? What species is she? Where did she come from? Where will she go? Where did she come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?
Why is the episode called “The Timeless Children?” Was the Doctor not the only kid from the mystery portal? Was the Master from that place as well? Has anyone gone through that portal? Does it still exist? Where would it lead? Is the Master dead dead this time, or will he return in some form? Are all of the Time Lords dead now, or are there still some out there? How many TARDISs are still hanging out in the universe? Where does Ruth-Doctor fit into all this? Will we see her again?
I could go on, even with all of these questions. I can say that the episode was intriguing. It did make me want answers to these questions. But it was also frustrating in its writing and presentation. It was built entirely around these big reveals. The plot of this three-episode story arc was completely lost in the shuffle. I can’t say this was a great episode. It was interesting, to be sure. But not great. It won’t be re-watched over and over in the decades to come. It won’t be a classic. But I will give the writers points for boldness.