Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Doctor Who 12x10 Recap: “The Timeless Children” (Who Do You Think You Are?) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

“The Timeless Children”
Original Airdate: March 1, 2020

The Master takes the Doctor through the boundary. Ashad calls him and the Master offers Gallifrey to the Cybermen. While he waits for them to arrive, he traps the Doctor in a paralysis field so he can force her to explore the Time Lords’ Matrix, a database that housed all of the lives, memories, and experiences of every Time Lord.

We learn how the Time Lords came to be. Long ago a woman named Tecteun, who was part of the indigenous race of Gallifrey, discovered space travel. In her exploration, she came across an interdimensional gateway and an abandoned child beneath it. After returning to Gallifrey with her adopted daughter, Tecteun learned the child could regenerate. She studied the child for decades and through several of the child’s regenerations, until she was able to distill a piece of genetic code related to regeneration. Tecteun spliced that code into herself, thereby giving her the power of regeneration too.

As Gallifrey grew, select and high-ranking Gallifreyans were given the ability to regenerate, which could be passed down as a family legacy and symbol of status. They renamed themselves Time Lords because they were pompous jerks. When the Doctor demands to know what happened to the so-called “timeless child,” the Master tells her: she is the Timeless Child. Every Time Lord contains a piece of her genetic code. She’s the reason the Time Lords exist at all.

Obviously, the Doctor doesn’t believe any of this, though the Master swears it’s the truth. He even explains that his anger toward her was always because she acted as though she was special. He’s enraged to find out she really is. The Doctor protests that she remembers her childhood but the Master tells her those memories are real; they just aren’t memories of her very first life. The Matrix shows one of the Doctor’s hidden lives, where she is recruited into “The Division,” which sent her on missions and then wiped her memories at the end. So Branden’s story from the last episode is an amalgamation of the Doctor’s experiences being found as the Timeless Child and having her memories taken when she’d finished a mission.


The Cybermen’s ship arrives above Ko Sharmus’ planet and a few death squads are sent to the surface to kill Ryan, Ethan, and Ko Sharmus. On the ship, the humans, including Graham and Yaz, escape through a vent and then disguise themselves in Cybersuits to avoid detection. They arrive on the planet just in time to save Ethan from being executed. Then the Cybermen’s ship passes through the boundary to Gallifrey.

In between toying with the Doctor, the Master negotiates with Ashad. The latter shows off a “death particle,” which the Cyberium has determined should be used to destroy all organic matter. Even the new Cybermen have been upgraded so they don’t have any organic matter left. But the Master has a better idea for how to create the master race. It starts by shrinking Ashad, who still has the now miniature death particle, and convincing the Cyberium to take him (the Master) as its new host.

With that power, the Master unveils his final plan to the Doctor. He kept the bodies of all of the Time Lords he murdered and has now put them into Cyberman armor. In walk the Cybermasters, who can regenerate immediately after being killed. In the Matrix, the Doctor sees Ruth and wonders if Ruth is a life that was erased from her memory. Ruth doesn’t have those answers but she does encourage the Doctor to embrace all of herself, even the parts she can’t recall. By sending memories of all of her lives into the Matrix, the Doctor is able to free herself. The Fam finds her in the Citadel. They’ve concocted a plan to blow up the Cybermen’s ship. When they tell her about the death particle, the Doctor decides to use it to wipe out the Cybermasters.


The Doctor finds the miniaturized Ashad on the ship. Everyone makes a run for it when the explosives accidentally start counting down. The Doctor herds them into a TARDIS and explains she has to stay behind to use the death particle. The Fam is upset but there is no other choice. “Live great lives,” she tells them in parting. Back in the Matrix chamber, the Doctor and the Master face off. She feels stronger with the knowledge about her past but he’s tricked her again. He led her to the death particle so she’d have to be the one to use it. Despite the Master’s goading, the Doctor lowers the trigger.

Then in walks Ko Sharmus, who has followed the Doctor out of the TARDIS. He was part of the unit that sent the Cyberium back in time to avoid humanity’s extinction, so now he wants to finish what he started. He takes the trigger from the Doctor and tells her to run. Even though he’s shot multiple times, he still manages to activate the death particle and the Doctor escapes in another TARDIS.

The TARDIS with the humans arrives safely on Earth in the 21st century. The TARDIS with the Doctor takes her to her own ship, which welcomes her home. As she sits silently for a moment, taking in all that has happened, three Judoon suddenly appear. They transport the Doctor, who is still a fugitive to them, to a maximum-security prison to serve a life sentence.

Final Thoughts:
  • I’m not sure how to react to the Timeless Child news. It’s a significant re-write to Whovian history and that needs to marinate for a while before I judge it. There’s a lot of potential to do fun, cool storylines with it, like having Ruth or other versions of the Doctor show up. But I’m not sure how confident I am that Chibnall can pull that off long-term. This story arc wasn’t the best of Doctor Who’s run. It didn’t have the suspense or mystery of “Bad Wolf,” “Torchwood,” “River Song,” or even “the hybrid.” But I loved the surprise reveal of Ruth’s identity so maybe there’s hope. 
  • If the Timeless Child thing is true, the Doctor just kept calling herself “the Doctor” throughout her life? That must be the case because Ruth referred to herself as “the Doctor.”
  • Also, are we to suppose that the Doctor didn’t actually need a new regeneration cycle at the end of Eleven’s run? Clearly, they’ve regenerated way more times than 12. Perhaps instead of forcing them to start life again as a child with no memories of their past, the Time Lords were gracious for once and let the Doctor regenerate more without taking their memories. 
  • I very much expect to see several GIF sets paralleling Thirteen’s choice not to use the death particle with Nine’s decision not to wipe out Earth in order to destroy the Daleks. No matter how many lives the Doctor has lived, they’re still the same person inside. 
  • All season I have noted that the companions had very little effect on the plot of each episode. That’s still mostly true in this episode, though they did help blow up the Cybermen’s ship. But their best moment all season is when Graham touchingly tells Yaz he is so impressed with her, calling her the best person he’s ever met. She responds with a Yorkshire “love letter” by telling him he’s not so bad either. 


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