Doctor Who – ‘The Timeless Children’

Series Twelve, Episode Ten

CONTAINS SPOILERS

The Master and the Cybermen’s goals merge in more ways than one, and the Doctor finds out secrets about her past and that of the Timelords.

The Master says to the Doctor to come through the portal with him, or he’ll turn the humans around them into dolls. She goes with him, and they are in the ruins of Gallifrey.

The Doctor asks the Master if he is happy with all the death and destruction he’s inflicted on their home planet. He says he’s “ecstatic!”. The Doctor points out however that it hasn’t
calmed down all the rage he feels, to which the Master says he doesn’t believe anything could do that. They go to what remains of Gallifrey’s capital, and the Master makes a call to the Cybermen. It’s out of the blue as far as the Cybermen are concerned, they aren’t expecting him or even aware of who he is, but he suggests they should team up, as he has “a planet spare”. And he goes on to say “I promise I’ll roll out the red carpet. It’s red because it’s drenched with the blood of our people!”. He then tells the Cybermen to eliminate the remaining humans on Earth, as there are only three left (Ryan, Ethan and Ko Sharmus), so it should be easy for the Cybermen.

Back at the Boundry, Ryan, Ethan and Ko Sharmus are preparing for the Cybermen invading. On the Cybershuttle, Cybermen shoot at the humans who are on board, and Bescot gets killed. The others manage to escape this attack, but are still in danger. Graham suggests they use empty Cybermen armour to disguise themselves.

Graham and Yaz have a “if we don’t get out of this alive” conversation. Graham tells Yaz how much he admires her, and thinks she’s doing her family and the human race proud. Yaz says “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!” and says to Graham “You’re not such a bad human yourself!”. It might not sound much compared to Graham’s compliments, but Yaz tells him “Mate, I’m from Yorkshire. That’s a love letter!”.

The group go ahead with Graham’s plan. Ashad seems suspicious of these “Cybermen” at first, but he is called away when its announced they have arrived at the Boundry.

The Master tells the Doctor he hacked into the Matrix – no, nothing to do with the Wachowski virtual reality franchise films starring Keanu Reeves, in fact the Doctor
Who one predates that by some decades! But in Doctor Who, the Matrix is a database on Gallifrey of all the knowledge the Time Lords have. The Master says he was just looking through it, and found something by accident. He traps the Doctor in a paralysis field, wanting to show her what he found. The Doctor wants him to spare her friends, but he refuses. He allows her to see visions of the truth about the origin of the Timelords. (Well, to quote Professor Farnsworth in Futurama, “If by ‘allow’ you mean ‘force’!”).

The indigenous population of Gallifrey were known as the Shobogans, and the first of them to explore outer space was Tecteun (Seylan Baxter). She found a portal from
another dimension, and a child had fallen out of it. Tecteun adopted the child as her own, and they travelled space together. But one day, the child fell off a cliff and died. However, she regenerated! Tecteun then focused her time on studying the child’s regenerative abilitiy, hoping to crack the genetic code for it. She did, and tested it on herself – and it worked! This was then given to all Shobogans, and with that sort of ability they were able to evolve into a grand society, and discover and perfect the ability to time travel. They eventually renamed themselves as the Timelords. As for what became of the “timeless child”, well – she is the Doctor!

The Master remarks, bitterly, that the Doctor always acted like she was different and special – and it turns out she was right!

The Doctor thinks all this is a lie. She knows her own life. The Master’s answer to that is it wasn’t her first life. This is where the visions end. The Doctor demands that the Master show her the rest, but he can’t. Everything else was redacted, and even he couldn’t decode it. But there are flickers in the Doctor’s memory, of joining a group called “The Division”, which apparently “does not exist – we are not even here!” – and the life of Brendan the policeman in early 20th century Ireland, which seems rather like those those YouTube compilations of the times Disney recycled animation in their cartoons – it’s the exact same animation movements, just traced over with different characters, settings and contexts. Brendan’s life story is the same one as the Timeless Child. It was just a way of covering up the truth. Which suggests the Doctor had her memory erased and was turned back into being a child to start again!

Meanwhile, Ashad comes to the Master, who tells them Gallifrey is all theirs. Ashad says the Cybermen are more concerned with destroying all organic life, and he has something –
the Death Particle – which will be able to do that. The Master points out that Cybermen are part organic – and Ashad is more organic than most. Essentially, they are just converting from cyborgs to robots.

When the Master asks Ashad about the Cyberium, Ashad tells him it won’t leave his body while he is still alive – so the Master kills him! In his usual way of turning him into a miniature doll. However, this also minitaturises the Death Particle, which remains inside Ashad. The Cyberium, on the other hand, does leave Ashad now he’s dead, coming out in the floating metallic liquid form it had before. The Master offers himself as a new host, telling the Cyberium like an Apprentice contestant to Lord Alan Sugar “I deserve to be your business partner!”. The Cyberium seems to agree, and goes into the Master.

On Earth, Ryan, Ethan and Ko Sharmus fight against the Cybermen. The Cybermen fall for a decoy trap, but are able to shoot down defences easily. Ryan throws a bomb which takes a few out, but more come. Luckily most of them are Graham, Yaz, Ravio and Yedlarmi disguised as Cybermen, and they kill the remaining ones. The seven people decide they are going through the portal.

The Master tells her he kept the bodies of the Timelords he killed, and not just to be macabre. He wants to give them to the Cybermen – bodies that can regenerate encased in metal – that makes them virtually invincible!

The Doctor is still in the Matrix, and she meets the mysterious incarnation of her from ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’. The Doctor still wonders where she fits into all this. The “Jo” incarnation responds that she doesn’t have any answers, but doesn’t think they’d help much even if she did, and, besides, she asks the Doctor “Have you ever been limited by who you were before?”. The Doctor decides to overstimulate the Matrix with as many memories of previous incarnations as she can think of, and it gets her out of the Matrix.

The companions and human survivors find the Doctor on lying on the floor. They have a plan to set off explosions on the Cybercarrier, which they carry out destroying the Cybermen. But that doesn’t solve everything. The Master has made more Cybermen with Timelord bodies. There’s the Death Particle too. The survivors also have heard of it incidentally, but they thought it was a myth. The Doctor finds it (inside what’s left of Ashad), and, after she has got her companions and the survivors to safety, she intends to use it on Gallifrey. The Death Particle will kill all oraganic life left on Gallifrey – that is the Master, the Cyber-Timelords… and the Doctor herself. She finds a place with TARDISes, and programs one to take her companions and the survivors away from the danger.

The Doctor goes once again to meet The Master, surrounded by his army of Cyber-Timelords. He dares her to pull the trigger to set off the Death Particle, telling her “Look how I have broken you! I have won! You may have made me, but I have destroyed you!” – The Doctor however can’t go through with it. The Master is disapointed – it’s clear whether it’s disappoinment in the Doctor or disappointment at the fact that he didn’t succeed in damaging her morality, but either way he tells her “The universe will suffer for your weakness, I’ll make sure of that!”.

Just in time though, Ko Sharmus comes in, saying he will set off the Death Particle. It will mean his death too, but he feels he has lived long enough and wants to sacrifice himself for a good cause. The Cyber-Timelords shoot at him, but he manages to set off the Death Particle.

The Doctor runs to a TARDIS.

The humans end up in present day Earth, and the chameleon circuit is an ordinary house! So the human survivors can settle here, and Graham, Ryan and Yaz are back home.

The TARDIS the Doctor took also ends up on Earth, and the chameleon circuit is a tree. She has to leave it behind though, to go back to her own TARDIS. She tells it “I got a lift back another way. Don’t get jealous!”

All’s well that ends well… except that a Judoon arrives, and sentences the Doctor to life imprisonment in a maximum security prison! Quite the cliffhanger!

We’ve had quite a few finales where The Master/Missy teams up with the Cybermen! Well, more accurately, uses the Cybermen for his/her own gain. Missy creating some out of graveyard bodies in ‘Dark Water’/’Death In Heaven’ in series eight, The Master getting Bill Potts to be converted into a Cyberman in ‘World Enough And Time/The Doctor Falls’ in series ten, and now this one.

The Master when telling the Doctor of the secret history of Gallifrey says “Are you suffering comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon several times …”, a parody of BBC Radio programme Listen With Mother, which would tell a story, often a fairytale, and always began it with “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time…”

The Master also notes that the Time Lords gave themselves a creation myth, to create the illusion they were “born to rule”. Another way they are not so different from humans…

I liked the shots of the Cybershuttle, and the electronic blue explosions contrasting with the orange sky and burnt ruins of Gallifrey. Though I found the Timelord/Cybermen hybrid design a bit on the goofy side.

The scene with the Doctor remembering previous incarnations was a montage of clips, and it wasn’t just a bit of fanservice, apparently a particular clip was significant, as it’s a link back to ‘The Brain Of Morbius’ in 1976 from the classic series, which also suggested that the Doctor had other incarnations before The First Doctor, played William Hartnell.

‘The Timeless Children’ out and out stated that was the case, and just like with everything on Doctor Who it has proven to be controversial, with it meaning that the William Hartnell version wasn’t the “original” Doctor. I don’t mind that personally, but full disclosure, I haven’t seen much of the classic series, and I don’t want to get into any fights about that.

The episode showed more examples of how “Timelord” regeneration can change race and gender, which it does several times for both “the timeless child” and Tecteun.

I think a lot us suspected that “the timeless child” was referring to the Doctor, but I wasn’t expecting the Doctor to be basically the origin of the Timelords! Making the special, amazing wonderful Doctor even more special, amazing and wonderful might be a little much, but I guess it’s OK.

Sacha Dhawan’s performance was fantastic in this episode. He is a great Master! He’s so suave and intense, and has a way of making the Master’s hammy lines sound quite natural, and he has a strong chemistry with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. He has definitely been the best thing about series twelve.

But it’s fair to say that, on the whole, series twelve has had a mixed response. The ratings have been lower for this series, though I wonder if that’s partly to do with scheduling – the first quarter of the year is probably not the best time for Doctor Who.

I will say though that I haven’t been as interested in this series as I have in previous ones, and I’m not sure why. The cast is decent, and I don’t have an issue with them doing episodes with political messages (though those could be delivered more subtley). But this series just felt a little bland. The first and the last episodes were great, but most of the others were a bit mediocre, even if some of them had their moments. It’s just not capturing interest. I think bringing back more established monsters and enemies is a step in the right direction, but the Judoon have never really been that big of a deal, and as much as the Cybermen are one of the main villains of the whole Doctor Who franchise, their episodes tend to be a bit hit and miss. The fact that some of theĀ  companions are leaving soon also gives an inevitable “winding down” feel. Hopefully the thirteenth series will be an improvement.

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