The latest episode of Doctor Who changed up things in the Doctor’s life in a particularly dramatic way.
After laying hints in season 11 of some mystery surrounding a ‘Timeless Child’, season 12 followed up with the Master returning to announce that the secret behind said child was so mind-blowing that it caused him to massacre all the people on his home planet, Gallifrey.
Finally, in the finale, The Timeless Children, the Doctor (and thus, the audience) learn that secret.
Millennia ago, the first space-faring native of the planet Gallifrey found a child stranded on a planet underneath a portal, having seemingly fallen through from another universe. They took this child home, where they discovered the child could regenerate and spent the next few years, and several of the child’s regenerations, experimenting on it to learn its secrets.
Once this experimentation was complete, the scientist gifted those regeneration abilities to her (then his) people, creating the Time-Lords. With a limit of twelve regenerations each, the Time-Lords grew into a vast empire and discovered time-travel, while also secretly creating an organisation called ‘The Division’ to manipulate other races, of which the ‘Timeless Child’ was a part. After the ‘Child’ (now an adult) finally finished their service to the Division, they wiped his memory, before regressing them back into a child, so they could start a new life, ignorant of what came before as…
…you guessed it…
Now, there is precedent for this. Some decades ago, when Doctor Who‘s popularity was waning, the producers decided to try and find a way to recapture some of the spark of the show in its earlier years.
To this end, they created what is known as the Cartmel Masterplan, which would slowly reveal, piece by piece, that the Doctor was once a Time-Lord called the Other, who served as part of a triumvirate of Time-Lords along with the Time-Lord President Rassilon, and the Time-Lord hero (later villain) Omega. The three of them were responsible for the many advancements to Gallifreyan life that led to them becoming one of the dominant races in the universe.
They started the set-up for this in the Seventh Doctor’s era, but obviously, the show was then cancelled. (more developments to this came in various novels and such, such as Lungbarrow, I believe, but I’ve only read a couple of Doctor Who novels so let’s just stick to the TV side of things for now).
The idea that there was more to the Doctor had also been put forward at an earlier period, during the Tom Baker story The Brain of Morbius, wherein the Doctor has a battle of the minds with another Time-Lord (Morbius). The pair advance through the battle by pushing their minds further down their time-streams, and as a result, we see what appear to be several pre-Hartnell faces of the Doctor, although that’s never confirmed.
Of course, this was confirmed not to be the case come Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. Under the pen of Steven Moffat, the TV series refocused on the aforementioned twelve regeneration rule, and seeing as nothing had ever been officially set in stone in regards to these pre-Hartnell regenerations, Moffat tidied things up, filling up any holes in unseen regenerations, and creating a series that starts with Hartnell and ends with Smith (before obviously).
This Timeless Child reveal undoes all of that.
It means that the stakes presented at the end of Matt Smith’s tenure, even though we knew they would get out of it eventually, are removed.
Initially, I tried to look at the positives. Now that the Doctor is no longer a Time-Lord, it means that some of her mystery is restored. She is once again the unknown, alien traveller. It makes her more enigmatic, but also means that she has another end-goal; find out where she’s from.
It’s an goal that could take her a month, or could take her a decade.
On the other hand, though, it also takes away a lot of the Doctor’s relatability. Yes, she’s still had the same amount of character development she’s had since she was William Hartnell, but at the same time, she becomes this mythic chosen one-type. She’s not necessarily just travelling because she’s a reject or a loser, someone who just cares in spite of their station, she’s someone who is perhaps destined to be the saviour of the universe.
I get, for that reason, why some people are annoyed with this. I’m not overly keen on it, but that’s not the main reason I think I’m not a big fan of the Timeless Child reveal.
No, the reason I’m against it is a mixture of that and the fact that this new reveal doesn’t really add all that much to the series. It adds some mystery, yes, but we still don’t know all that much about the Doctor’s life, and learning new bits of the history we were getting to learn was always exciting. The Time-Lords popping up at random intervals made for something to look forward to.
Now the Time-Lords are once again gone, and so too is the importance of the story from the Moffat era stories. The achievements of the Tenth, Eleventh and War Doctor’s undone so that the current producers could mix things up. A lot of stories from my personal favourite Doctors now have a lot less meaning, all so the status quo could be reset to essentially, the same place it already was, but with the context for said status quo radically altered.
The most annoying thing is that the story could have been told without tampering with the history of the Doctor. Namely, by giving the Timeless Child reveal to the Master.
If the Master was the Timeless Child, that would be an actual justifiable reason for him to indiscriminately slaughter all the Timelords. Because they’d be tampering with him and using his powers to heighten themselves. But as it stands, it’s really just more the case that the Time-Lords, after finally just coming back properly, are gone again because the Master’s crazy.
Still, in the right hands, anything could become a good story. This could open us up for a new era of Doctor Who better than anything we’ve seen before.
But going off season eleven and some episodes of season twelve, I have my doubts.