By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
‘Be afraid Doctor because everything’s about to change!’
The Master’s chilling warning should really be directed to the audience. These words certainly do not prepare anyone for the revelations to come which would change, no shatter, the Doctor Who landscape forever. The problem is that the choices of writer and head honcho Chris Chibnall made in writing this story, single handedly wiped out the entire history of the show.
Reboots and resets are nothing new for example when the seventh Doctor in the 25th anniversary season declared to Davros in Remembrance of the Daleks that he was more than just a Time Lord. Lady Peinforte knew the Doctor’s secrets; secrets of the Old Time, the Time of Chaos. It thankfully restored the phrase Doctor Who? just as the 50th anniversary did with the Name of the Doctor when faced with the Great Intelligence. Indeed discovering a secret part of the Doctor’s life via the reveal of the War Doctor was nothing short of brilliant. It worked perfectly utilising existing parts of Who history like the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration in Journey’s End into himself. Its logic fitted in seamlessly with the history we knew demonstrating great planned storytelling. However, this doesn’t apply so much for The Timeless Children which only served to undermine everything we ever knew and shoehorning things in.
It also made every single emotional investment we as an audience have made meaningless. The lonely traveller from Gallifrey that ran away, the proverbial mad man in a box was made nothing more than a God. Such a fundamental change in the lead character literally makes no sense along with the overall story itself. The episode reflects the jarring cliché inconsistencies that undermine the character of the Doctor itself. Listen, with a show like Doctor Who that has a huge tapestry of story telling there is of course going to be inconsistencies and contradictions which we as fans love to try and connect to what we know.
I wrote an article once asking why the Doctor began to regenerate at Lake Silencio when he was shot to death by the Impossible Astronaut when he was in fact the last incarnation. In the Time of the Doctor he was only saved from death by another wave of regeneration energy from the Time Lords due to the desperate pleas of Clara Oswald. Now after the Timeless Children we the audience now know that the Doctor was going to survive after all because he is the Timeless Child. The Doctor is now immortal. The danger is gone. We no longer need to root for the Doctor because the Doctor will always survive.
That contradicts the death of the Tenth Doctor in 2008’s classic Donna Noble showcase Turn Left. The agonising of both the Twelfth and First Doctors about not wanting to regenerate in Twice Upon A Time means nothing. Now we as an audience look at it and think what a great story but they’re going to regenerate no matter what so the angst is empty. Add to that the Third Doctor sacrificing himself to stop the giant spiders of Metebelis 3, the Fourth dying to save the universe and the Fifth giving his own life to save Peri from spectrox poisoning are all now empty. The Fifth Doctor believed there was a chance he would not survive this time and that death would take him. Handy salvation thanks to regeneration was not guaranteed but with the Timeless Children it actually is. No matter how the Doctor dies he/she will always come back to life.
All that beautiful build up about being such a lonely child, not fitting in which was highlighted in such episodes such as The Girl in the Fireplace (Madame Pompadour’s touching speech) and Clara being transported to the Doctor’s childhood where she sees first hand his loneliness and how he is treated. Now I know everyone has a story and an unhappy childhood is not a unique thing but it is vital to the overall story of the Doctor and why he/she is the way he/she is. The Doctor never fitted in and is forever always running away from the people he saw as complicit in allowing evil to run wild in the universe. Now however we know he/she spawned the entire Time Lord race and culture. His very DNA runs through every Time Lord that has ever existed.
The Doctor has always been the outsider. Now the reveal of the Timeless Children that the Doctor is not even from Gallifrey and has never been a true Time Lord is too much of a break.
Now we are to believe that the Gallifreyan Shobogan scientist Tecteun discovered this alien child near a mysterious portal whom she subsequently discovered had the power to regenerate their body. After decades of research Tecteun used that ability to create the Time Lord society we know today limiting the number of regenerations to thirteen.
So how does this fit in with the Shobogans from the 1978 Fourth Doctor story the Invasion of Time, Leela and K9 mark one’s swan song. The Shobogans there were Time Lords that rejected the Time Lord society that also included those deliberately exiled by the arrogant Time Lords. It is this method of exile that allows the Fourth Doctor to save companion Leela as he knew she would fit in perfectly with them protecting her from the Sontarans.
Yet when we reach the Timeless Children the Master has murdered every last person on Gallifrey. The dialogue indicates this is only the Citadel. What about the Shobogan tribes in the wastelands? Indeed we saw families living outside the Citadel in the Twelfth Doctor story Hell Bent. What about them? What about other places like Arcadia? Has Gallifrey suddenly been reduced to one Citadel? What about those citizens that do not possess the regeneration gene? Are they dead too?
This lack of attention to detail reflects the shoe horning writing here in open disregard to the show’s history. A hidden unexplored history should be exciting and speculative but sadly the Timeless Children make it a frustration in blatant ignorance of what has gone before.
So what are just some of those things ignored for the sake of making you think the Timeless Children is a good and valid reboot and explanation of the Doctor?
I might note that we don’t really need an explanation at all. Mysterious origins install a character with a drive we as an audience love because we all devour a mystery. We prefer nibbles of a mystery rather than the full plate because very often it leaves us unfulfilled. Part of a writer’s success is leaving things to the audience’s imagination as it sucks them right in to the story. As I say, evil does not need an explanation hence why the Rob Zombie Halloween movies don’t work. Showing us Michael Myers felt the wrath of his mother’s abusive boyfriend and that he killed a school bully serves to dilute Michael Myers just as the Timeless Children dilutes the Doctor. Indeed that is an insult to all other kids who have been in an abusive situation and survived to be strong positive people in the world. Yes there are other factors but why is this part of the psyche of Myers? However that’s studio interference for you; generic stereotype rather than logic and hope. We don’t need to know why Michael kills. He is much scarier as a relentless silent killer who never stops. His presence is enough explanation for us. Similarly the time traveller with no origin is more delicious. We grabbed at the moment the Second Doctor told Victoria about his family. We gasped when questioned about Gallifrey the Ninth Doctor simply turned his head eyes full of tears. No words, just our imaginations doing the job for us.
We have seen how regeneration energy can be powerful enough to destroy a Tardis to the point the ship has to repair itself. Indeed at Trenzalore it was enough to wipe out the Daleks and the entire planet surface. Yet in the Timeless Children a Cyberman can regenerate without so much as a scratch to its armour. Add to that when a Time Lord dies as we saw in Turn Left the body is just decaying flesh. Yet the Master has murdered all Time Lords and used their cold dead bodies for Cyberman parts. Fusing their lifeless flesh into cyber suits apparently allows them to regenerate once again…
.Come on!! Use a bit if sense. This ignoring of established fact reminds me of the short story in the 20th anniversary magazine called Birth of a Renegade.
In that we learned that Susan was not the Doctor’s real granddaughter but a direct descendant of Rassilon. The Master along with the Cybermen wanted her for his own machinations. Part of the alliance was that the Master has promised the Cybermen time travel and become rulers of time. Coincidence?
Where does Rassilon and Omega fit in to Time Lord history now? Together they harnessed the power of a black hole to give Time Lords the power of time travel. Indeed Omega was thought to have died in the attempt but ended up going mad in an antimatter universe returning years later to reclaim his home twice. Was this after Tecteun or a result of her actions? Why is Tecteun not held in the same reverence as Rassilon and Omega?
The Division had an endless resource in the form of a being that could endlessly regenerate and be used for the most dangerous missions as there was no risk. That was until the Doctor rebelled and left hiding herself on Earth in the form of tour guide Ruth. Yet even that dodgy premise, did the Division really fall with the death of Gat? Would they really allow Doctor Ruth to escape so easily? What happened then between that and the First Doctor going on th run with his granddaughter? With the introduction of the CIA, Celestial Intervention Agency they from time to time used the Doctor to sort a few things out for example the second Doctor in the Two Doctors and the Fourth Doctor in the Brain of Morbius.
Speaking of Morbius this is another example of the past being twisted to fit the Timeless Children. In the famous mind battle between Morbius and the Fourth Doctor, we see faces of the first three Doctors and others. For years fans have speculated those other faces may be other incarnations of the Doctor. The reality is it is Morbius’ previous incarnations in the form of production staff dressed up in costumes. Here when the clip is shown in the section where the Thirteenth Doctor floods the Matrix with her memories to escape it, it is clearly a hint that those faces were other Doctors like Ruth. So now we have an endless number of Doctors roaming space and time. Clive in the episode Rose must have missed all those other ones and he seemed a very thorough guy when it came to researching the Doctor and his blue police box.
Just at the mention of the Tardis this in itself is another disregard to the past. Ruth’s Tardis is a police box which shocks the Thirteenth Doctor.
Now a wiped memory would work if it hadn’t been for another character; the character of Susan. It is clearly established in the Dead Planet, the first episode of the initial Dalek story, that the Tardis became a police box because it landed in 1963. A Tardis changes shape to blend in with its surroundings so when it lands on Skaro the Doctor is clearly surprised at this. Problem is, so is Susan who has been with her grandfather for some time and clearly cannot understand why the Tardis won’t blend in any more. Are we to believe that Susan is mistaken? Is it even the same Tardis that Ruth had? Was the First Doctor influenced by a repressed memory to make his Tardis become a police box because something in him missed it?
I don’t think so.
After all the effort of the Time War, bringing back Gallifrey, redeeming the War Doctor only to have it all wiped away by the Master seems to be a smack in the face to everything that has come before. I understand reboots and resets but this one fails spectacularly because it takes only what it wants to make it fit. All the points above are ignored.
Perhaps the biggest one is the death of the Doctor at Trenzalore. In the Name of the Doctor we see his tomb. The Doctor explains all his travels are like a scar across time and space. The problem is if it truly is all the Doctor’s travels then Clara failed in her mission and it didn’t make sense. Both Clara and the Great Intelligence entered the Doctor’s timeline and yet were limited to only the ones we know. Wiped memories or not this tomb is in fact a trail of all the Doctor’s travels which cannot be wiped or premeasured. You cannot erase where you have been especially if you’re a time traveller. We know the other Doctors like Ruth time travelled. Brendan the Irish Garda didn’t but Ruth did so therefore her travels have to be part of the scar. So why aren’t they? The Doctor should not be alive because his/her entire timeline has not been saved. Add to that Clara states she has seen all the Doctor’s faces except for the War Doctor who wasn’t there. Again Ruth should be there in his subconscious. It triggers hidden memories in the Thirteenth Doctor when faced with the Master’s revelations. This is proof positive that Ruth is part of the Doctor’s mind.
The Timeless Children should have been an event as big as the Avenger’s Infinity War for the Doctor. Instead it became a damp squib that trips on its own attempt to reset things. Hopefully someone will come up with a story where these events are reversed and it isn’t the Doctor after all.
But until that happens the acclaimed trumpet that everything is about to change will remain the sad thud of the final nail in Doctor Who’s coffin.