A year has passed since the Doctor Who season finale ‘The Timeless Children’ was first broadcast. The episode changed Doctor Who history forever with a new explanation (and some new mysteries) about the Doctor’s origins. One year on, how has your opinion of this episode fared?
Please note – this article contains spoilers for Doctor Who series 12.
In ‘The Timeless Children,’ the Doctor finds herself in the ruins of Gallifrey, her home planet. Her arch enemy the Master destroyed it after he learned a terrible truth about his origins – a truth so devastating that it caused him to decimate the entire capitol, along with his people the Time Lords.
Taking the Doctor inside the Matrix (the Time Lords’ repository of all knowledge) the Master shares this terrible truth with his old enemy.
In ‘The Timeless Children,’ we learn about a scientist and traveller named Tecteun – a Shobogan, native to the planet that would eventually become Gallifrey. She journeyed to a distant world and found a young girl, seemingly abandoned, standing at the gateway to another dimension. Tecteun adopted this child as her own and, together, they went off to explore the cosmos as mother and daughter.
However, when the pair returned to Gallifrey, the girl got into a fight with another child and was thrown off a cliff. She died upon landing, but started to regenerate. Tecteun looked on in awe as the mysterious girl morphed into a new body, healed and restored.
This fascinated Tecteun. As ‘The Timeless Children’ progresses, we see her experiment on the strange child, desperate to understand the secret of regeneration. Tecteun eventually extracts the relevant DNA and injects it into herself, triggering a regeneration that turns her into a man. From there, the one-time traveller goes on to become one of the founding fathers of Gallifreyan society, and limits the Time Lords’ regeneration limit to 12.
Towards the end of ‘The Timeless Children,’ we also learn that the original young child’s memories were erased – but Tecteun leaves a disguised remnant of the truth buried deep within the Matrix, which the Master later uncovers.
Furthermore, we learn that the Doctor has lived a number of other lives that she has forgotten about. In one of these, she was working for a Gallifreyan sect known as The Division – an organisation that secretly interfered with the affairs of other planets. And although this incarnation of the Doctor had a police box TARDIS, ‘The Timeless Children’ suggests that she was in The Division before William Hartnell’s Doctor who, historically, has been regarded as the original since 1963.
The existence of this Doctor, therefore – and indeed the many other incarnations depicted in ‘The Timeless Children’ – changes the course of Doctor Who history. Prior to 2020, it was believed that there were no other Doctors before Hartnell, and that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was the thirteenth (or fourteenth, if you take the War Doctor into consideration.) This new information means that it is now possible that the Doctor has an infinite number of regenerations, and may have lived an infinite number of lives.
‘The Timeless Children’ also rewrites the established origins of the character. Prior to 2020, it was believed that the Doctor originated on Gallifrey, and that they were a Time Lord. During the Seventh Doctor era, hints were dropped that he may have been involved in the formation of Gallifreyan society, and that he may have been one of a triumvirate of founding fathers – the others being Omega and Rassilon.
However, ‘The Timeless Children’ still allows for this possibility, loosely. In Chris Chibnall’s script, the writer describes one scene thus: “TECTEUN walking down a corridor – at the far end, two Gallifreyan figures (with the collars up) in silhouette. We can assume these might be Rassilon and Omega.” In this scenario, Tecteun would be the third member of the triumvirate – albeit one who was assisted by the Doctor, or the Timeless Child.
Of course, after transmission, opinions were divided on the new origin story for the Doctor. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes says: “Its relentless plotting and exposition teeter on overwhelming, but a bold daringness to reinvent Whovian lore coupled with Jodie Whittaker’s dynamic performance make ‘The Timeless Children’ a successful season finale.”
Conversely, Doctor Who‘s former script editor Andrew Cartmel said that ‘The Timeless Children’ depleted the mystery of the programme. “There’s a lot of detail in specifics, which is the last thing you want,” he said. “So when you get too hooked on detailing the mythology the snake is kind of swallowing its tail…” See the full interview here.
But what do you think? Did you enjoy ‘The Timeless Children’ and its plot revelations? Or not? And has your opinion of the episode changed now that a year has passed? Let me know in the comments below.
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