WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
Never let it be said that Doctor Who gets stuck in a rut. For as long as the series keeps finding new ways to surprise viewers, shake things up and build on established continuity, it will always be unmissable appointment television. The Timeless Children, Chris Chibnall‘s audacious Series 12 finale, is just such a tale.
Picking up on this year’s arc plot threads, the concluding episode of this two-parter boasts huge revelations for the ongoing timeless child story arc, not to mention the show as a whole! The Master (Sacha Dhawan) is back and in the ruins of Gallifrey, the Doctor discovers a dark secret about her past…that she is in fact not a Time-Lord at all. Instead, she’s a homeless child being adopted by the original inhabitants of Gallifrey, who became the source for the Time-Lord’s powers of regeneration after they discovered she had the ability to do so…
It’s extremely bold – for the first time since 1969, we have no idea who the Doctor is. Figuratively speaking, The Timeless Children puts the Who back in Doctor Who! The Doctor is not from Gallifrey originally. She’s not even really Gallifreyan. She’s lived entire regeneration cycles that she cannot remember and has been involved in a mysterious endeavour called ‘the Division’ (which doesn’t sound like a nice thing at all). To put it bluntly, everything we thought we knew is a lie.
And yet, as the episode wisely makes clear, it doesn’t matter. The Doctor is the Doctor, regardless of how many lives she’s lived. It’s probably the neatest bit of character work Chris Chibnall has put into his scripts thus far, ensuring us that whilst continuity and backstory has been given a sizeable shake-up, the central premise of the show and the main character remain intact. It will be nice to see the revelations have some effect on the Doctor’s emotional state and actions in future episodes, but for now, this is exactly the kind of assurance concerned fans will need…
After all, the revelations here are sure to divide the dedicated fans – but it’s worth keeping in mind that we still don’t know everything – huge mysteries are left hanging by the end of the episode. Who is the Ruth Doctor (Jo Martin) and how does she fit in? What were the Division up to? And was the Master even telling the whole truth? The episode continually reminds us that there’s more to this still to be solved… ensuring we’ll be glued to our screens when Series 13 finally airs next year.
Beyond the revelations though, the episode is hardly perfect – Yasmin, Ryan and Graham are utilised in the B-Plot but barely register within the crux of the drama. As with much of this series, they’re separated form the Doctor for a good chunk of the story, and therefore do nothing to enhance the Doctor’s story. Which is kind of rubbish when the drama revolves entirely around the Doctor. The episode ends with them back on Earth, seemingly for good. Whether this is the case remains to be seen at this point, but if so, it’s a rather appropriate ending for three of the show’s blandest, most underdeveloped characters.
The ongoing Cybermen story also reaches whole new levels of silly, as once again they are relegated to second-stringers in their own story. The whole Cybermen/Time-Lord hybrids idea is just so damn stupid and visually weird-looking though, it’s probably for the best to limit their importance in the story (though to be fair, the Master is the sort of psychopath who would dress them up in robes and silly head adornments isn’t he?).
Regardless of these issues though, the episode is as entertaining and involving as all good episodes of Who should be. Whilst much of the episode hinges on long talky exposition scenes peppered by only occasional big reveals and an action sequence or two, it’s superbly edited and well-paced, with the aforementioned exposition enlivened by excellent visuals on the part of director Jamie Magnus Stone. In lesser hands, the events contained herewith could have been pretty dull, but Stone manages to make even the most mundane moments sing!
Ultimately though, it’s the performances that hold the most sway here. And of them all, Jodie Whittaker rightly steals the show! Here, Whittaker delivers a devastating, barn-storming, scene-stealing performance, in a story practically designed to showcase her range and talent! Say what you will about Series 12 and its ongoing story threads, but there’s no denying that Whittaker has been the show’s MVP all season! If there are even more electrifying scenes like those between her and the equally superb Sacha Dhawan here next series, then we’re already onto a winner.
An assured, daring production bought to life with excellent performances, visuals and music, The Timeless Children has certainly done what it set out to do, and does so with a confident relish. The possibilities here on in are endless, the potential for solid sci-fi drama next series even more so. Whilst the episode itself is flawed in places, it largely pulls off the revelations contained herein well and delivers a shocking, emotionally charged finale that contains plenty of promise for this Doctor’s ongoing adventures. Doctor Who‘s past may be changed forever, but its future looks brighter then ever…
Good summary Matt! Although I disagree on one thing, Graham is sublime and I’m as surprised as any. He’s the Rory.
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