Doctor Who and the Timeless Absurdities


(Content Note: I do talk a little bit about the torture and even killing of a child.

Also, you’ll notice that, in referring to the Doctor and Tecteun, I mix gender pro-nouns a lot. Due to the nature of them both, I use the pro-noun appropriate for the specific incarnation of them I’m talking about, and the generic pro-nouns when referring to the beings as a whole. It’s probably confusing… it got confusing for me. But it’s easiest this way.)

So I’ve been chewing on The Timeless Children for a while, now, and I’ve put together a sort of personal canon that I think fits with what we’ve been told. It’s a timeline of the Doctor’s life that also serves to theorize on several mysteries.

Because this will be spoilerific, I’m going to start with a short, generic review of The Timeless Children above the fold.

To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the episode itself in execution. It was basically an exposition dump broken up by rather anti-climactic fights with Cybermen. The acting was good (the only reason I won’t say that Jodie and Sacha both deserve awards for their performances here, even though I think they do, is because Peter Capaldi deserved every possible award in existence for his performance in Heaven Sent, but didn’t get a single one, so…) and I actually really like the concept of the episode and what it endeavored to do, but the execution fell pretty flat, especially for a finale as explosive as this was.

What I will say is that above is not a review of what was revealed about the Doctor in the episode. I’ll get to how I feel about it after the fold.

Finally, I’m going to make a request of commenters. Every single Doctor-Who-related forum has dissolved into cesspools of negativity and toxicity. At least one person has been driven away from Doctor Who fandom due to racism because they dared to actually enjoy this episode and what it revealed about the Doctor. As a result, I’m tired of it.

I’m not asking you to pretend you liked it. You are more than welcome to note that you didn’t like it and even say why. But I will not have negativity and toxicity in these comments. If someone comments who did and does enjoy it, then give them the space to do so. They are no more wrong than you are. That said, what I really want to discuss are the theories. Instead of attacking Chris Chibnall, the actors, fans, etc, and lamenting that “DOCTOR WHO IS DEAD!!!!”, I’d rather us work out and discuss the in-universe implications of what’s been revealed, and theorize about different aspects of it. And if you can’t do that without being an asshole about it and attacking the crew of the show and the fans, then please choose to not comment, instead.

So… let’s get to it…

Before I get to anything, I want to note where I think Sacha Dhawan is on the Master’s timeline. Now, supposedly, Sacha has let slip something that contradicts this, but for several reasons this is my preferred canon.

If y’all remember The Doctor Falls, you’ll recall that it was a multi-Master story, with Missy meeting Simm’s Master. You’ll also recall that, after Missy chose to become “good”, both she and Simm’s Master killed each other. Missy allowed him to regenerate, but he did not give her the same courtesy.

So…

I believe that Missy truly is the end of the Master’s line.

So what does that mean for Sacha Dhawan?

I believe that, originally, Missy was meant to be the regeneration after Simm’s Master. However, after meeting her, he was disgusted with her. He hated that he regenerated into a woman and that she had made the choice to stand with the Doctor. As a result, as he was regenerating, he was resolved to not regenerate into Missy. Unfortunately, the existence of Missy and he and her meeting has to happen. The Master killing himself is a fixed point in time.

As a result of changing his own future, Simm’s Master doomed his next regeneration to even worse insanity. And thus we got Dhawan’s Master. This, BTW, still allows for more Masters. It just means that any future Masters, while being post-Simm, must necessarily be pre-Missy, because Missy and that meeting still has to happen.

That, at the very least, is my head-canon.

So with that out of the way, let’s get to what was revealed about the Doctor…

My last post here was about Fugitive of the Judoon, and the reveal of a new past incarnation of the Doctor that we had never met and that the Doctor herself couldn’t remember. I noted two major theories…

The first was Season 6B, where she fell between Troughton and Pertwee as the real third Doctor, who was then erased from memory.

The other theory was the Cartmel Master Plan. This was a plan to reveal that the Doctor was far more mysterious and simultaneously far more important to the founding of Time Lord society.

The Timeless Children turned out to be heavily inspired by the Cartmel Master Plan. Basically, before Time Lord society existed, a Shobogan (a group of wandering hippies from Gallifrey) named Tecteun discovered space travel and went and explored the galaxy. On a nameless planet, Tecteun discovered a rift in space and time. Beneath that rift, she found a child. She took the Child back to Gallifrey and adopted the Child as her own. One day, the Child was playing with another Gallifreyan when a tragic accident occurred… she fell off a cliff. Tecteun ran to her in grief, but discovered that the Child had the ability to regenerate.

Immediately, Tecteun started experimenting on the Child, through several of the Child’s incarnations (which has its own implications I’ll get to in a bit), to figure out how they were capable of regeneration. Tecteun finally found the genes and injected herself with them. For some reason, that injection automatically caused her to regenerate, after which she took on the physical appearance of a male. He then went and gave these injections to some of his fellow Shobogans, while also limiting the regenerative abilities to 13 incarnations. They went on to develop Time Lord society.

After learning all of this (via an exposition dump in the Matrix), the Doctor yelled at the Master to tell her what happened to the Child, and the Master revealed that the Child was her… the Doctor was the Timeless Child. This means that the Doctor is not from our (in-show) universe, and is technically truly immortal… she has an unlimited number of regenerations.

Of course, for long-time fans of Doctor Who, you’ll automatically notice a number of problems…

1) What about Time of the Doctor? Why was Matt Smith’s Doctor dying until the Time Lords gifted him a whole new set of regenerations?

2) Why does Ruth!Doctor call herself The Doctor?

3) When did the Child start calling themselves The Doctor?

4) Why was Ruth!Doctor’s TARDIS a blue police box?

5) What about Rassilon and Omega?

6) Who’s the Other?

7) Who’s Brendan and what does Ireland have to do with any of it?

8) How does the Master know that the Doctor is the Child?

My goal with this theorizing I’m doing is to attempt to answer those questions. But let’s start by placing Ruth!Doctor. I do believe that Ruth!Doctor is pre-Hartnell. In fact, I believe she is the incarnation that regenerates into the child that would grow up to be Hartnell’s Doctor. Admittedly, there are some holes with this idea that I have trouble filling, but I’m going to try just that. So, with that out of the way, let’s answer those questions…

1) In order to explain why Matt Smith’s Doctor was actually right in Time of the Doctor, and why he did indeed need the Time Lords to intervene, we have to go back to the part where Tecteun worked hard to figure out how the Child could regenerate through several of the Child’s incarnations. The implication there is that, somehow, the child kept somehow dying while Tecteun was experimenting.

How?

Why?

Was Tecteun torturing the Child? Was she deliberately killing the Child to figure regeneration out? Or was the Child just suuuuuuuper unlucky during that time and kept falling off of cliffs? What was going?

Tecteun was presented as caring about the Child, as well, so it was a very strange choice for Chibnall to note that Tecteun experimented through several of the Child’s regenerations.

After several regenerations, the Child chose to join the Division… a secret Time Lord law enforcement and intervention agency that “didn’t exist”. After the Child’s service, their mind would be wiped, and they would be forced to regenerate back into a child. This is the agency Ruth!Doctor was running from in Fugitive of the Judoon. I believe she was running because she discovered the truth of her past.

See here’s the thing… I believe that Tecteun (with or without Rassilon and Omega) was torturing the Child. The regenerations were not accidents… they were on purpose. The Child was being tortured, having their mind wiped, then being forced to regenerate. At some point, Tecteun(, Rassilon, and Omega) realized they could learn nothing else from the Child, so they forced them to regenerate one last time after completely wiping their memory again. The result was the line of Doctors that worked with Division, leading to Ruth!Doctor. She was the first to discover the truth of who she was and what they did to her, so she ran.

I believe that, after meeting Whittaker’s Doctor, Ruth!Doctor, realizing that her future was set in stone, turned herself in to Tecteun(, Rassilon, and Omega), and begged to be let go from the Division. They agreed, but on the conditions that her mind would be wiped, she would be forced to regenerate back into a child, and they would place an artificial inhibitor on her regeneration abilities, limiting her (up to that point immortal) life to 13 incarnations like the rest of the Time Lords.

That child is the same child we met with Clara all the way back in Listen. That is the child who would grow up to be William Hartnell’s Doctor.

This puts a very dark bent on the Doctor’s story. If you recall, in Listen, the child who would grow up to be the Doctor was clearly depressed. He was crying in a barn. The Master constantly complained about how the Doctor constantly kept to himself, as if he didn’t belong. The Doctor was suffering from trauma and PTSD from his experiences both with being experimented on and as part of the Division, but couldn’t remember any of that, which just made the trauma worse. As far as the Doctor knew, he was suffering from PTSD for no reason.

So let’s fast-forward to Time of the Doctor. There, Matt Smith’s Doctor was truly dying. The inhibitor, while artificial, was effective; it really would have killed the Doctor. After Clara pleaded with them, the Time Lords opened up a crack and, through it, gave the Doctor some regeneration energy. However, I do not believe that that regeneration energy was a new cycle. I believe it was the key to deactivating the inhibitor on the Doctor’s regenerative abilities, basically making them effectively immortal.

2) So why does Ruth!Doctor call herself the Doctor? 3) When did that start?

I believe this started with the life-cycle that joined the Division. This Time Lord had the kind of personality that we know the Doctor for… kind hearts, inquisitive, caring, nurturing, and “a mad-man in a box”, travelling around and helping out. So the being would always choose the title of the Doctor. And heck, perhaps their job in the Division was a primarily healing job… we don’t actually know what the Doctor did for the Division, just that they were in it. So after Ruth!Doctor’s mind was wiped and she was forced to regenerate, Hartnell’s Doctor still chose the title because the being always does.

4) So what about the TARDIS? Why was Ruth!Doctor’s TARDIS a blue police box?

Before I get into that, let me give a quick rundown of the TARDIS Chameleon circuit for people who may not be aware…

All TARDISes have a Chameleon circuit equipped in them. The idea is that, when a TARDIS materializes somewhere, it materializes in a form that blends in with its surroundings. So, if a TARDIS materializes in a suburb, it would materialize in an empty lot as just another house in the suburb that’s always been there. If it materializes in a forest, it would materialize as a tree. If it materializes on the ocean, it would materialize as a boat that would be recognized by the people who own that particular sea-space. And so on, and so forth.

The Doctor’s TARDIS, however, is always a blue police box. The reason is because its Chameleon circuit is, at least supposedly, broken. Back in 1963, Hartnell’s Doctor and his granddaughter Susan stole the TARDIS and ran to England, Earth. They materialized in a junkyard on Totter’s Lane, where the TARDIS chose the blue police box to fit in with the rest of the junk in the yard. Later, the Doctor, along with Susan and two humans, traveled to earth’s past (to prove to the humans that the ship could move through time). Much to the Doctor’s chagrin, the TARDIS hadn’t changed shape… it was still a blue police box. This is when it’s believed the Chameleon circuit broke.

I have three theories for why Ruth!Doctor’s TARDIS, if she is pre-Hartnell (which, as I said, is what I think), would be a blue police box.

  • This first theory is my favorite of the three, honestly. The Chameleon circuit wasn’t broken. When Ruth!Doctor ran to earth in 1999, the TARDIS recognized that a future Doctor was there, as well. It chose the blue police box as an alert to the future Doctor that Ruth is, in fact, an incarnation of the Doctor and that something was very wrong. Thus, the TARDIS’s Chameleon circuit broke in Totter’s Lane because it had to… that was its future. It had no choice.
  • My second theory is that the TARDIS is deliberately sabotaging the Chameleon circuit because it likes being a blue police box. This theory hinges on the idea, stated explicitly in the show, that the TARDIS is, in fact, a conscious being. It has a personality and thoughts and feelings. At some point, perhaps during the Doctor’s work with the Division, it took that shape because the Doctor landed on earth when such a police box would have been very ubiquitous and also useful. Perhaps the Doctor really liked that shape, and the TARDIS found it extremely comfortable. At first, it didn’t sabotage the Chameleon circuit, but once the Doctor was let go from Division, grew up, and decided to run, he found his old TARDIS (without knowing it) in the shop, stole it, and ran to Earth. The TARDIS, seeing the opportunity, chose the blue police box shape and sabotaged its Chameleon circuit to stay in that shape forever. Colin Baker’s Doctor did try to “fix” the circuit. The TARDIS let him, but chose increasingly absurd shapes so that the Doctor would give up and just let the TARDIS be a police box indefinitely.
  • My third theory (and my least favorite) is that there’s something about the blue police box pattern that messes with the chameleon circuit, and it’s always fixed when, while working with the Division, the Doctor would bring it in to be worked on. Of course, after Hartnell’s Doctor stole it, there would be no more bringing it back to Gallifrey to fix it. So it became the police box again, got stuck, and has been stuck since.

5) Where were Rassilon and Omega? 6) Who was The Other?

Like I mentioned in my last post, Rassilon, Omega, and the Other are the three most-known Time Lords of the six who supposedly founded Time Lord society. Except the Other is really the least-known, because that title is meant to signify that no one knows who they were.

The episode showed the discovery of regeneration. That was always thought to be Rassilon’s discovery, but it would be entirely believable for power-hungry Rassilon to take credit for someone else’s discovery and work. Omega was off doing their thing discovering how to harness a black hole. Rassilon was probably there… perhaps was even the head of the Division.

So who was the Other? I do not believe that the Child/Doctor was the Other… I believe the Other was Tecteun. Perhaps Tecteun died after using up all their regenerations, and Rassilon, being the power-hungry asshole he was, partly erased Tecteun from Time Lord history. I say partly because… again… there is still The Other.

7) If you see my post on Gallifrey Base and r/DoctorWho trying to work out my theories, then you’ll know that I just assume that Brendan is another incarnation of the Child. However, that’s not actually the case. After reading other posts and watching the episode again, it’s pretty clear that the story of Brendan in Ireland is not real. The Master assumes that it’s the key to deciphering the code that blocks out the redacted portions of the Child’s life, and that the Doctor is the only one who can crack that code.

8) Okay so here’s a major problem… there’s no indication of how the Master knows that the Child and the Doctor are one in the same. It is heavily implied that that’s the case, especially during the scene when the Doctor “blows the Matrix’s mind” by filling it with all of her memories, but it’s never shown how the Master knows.

Sadly, I don’t really have a good theory for this one. All I can think of is that the Master saw something we didn’t get to see; maybe the Child’s name and the Doctor’s real name are the same, and the Master saw that? If the Master did see something we didn’t, hopefully we’ll see it soon. Chibnall does have a 5-year plan…

Okay! With all that out of the way…

That puts the timeline of the Doctor like this…

Millions of years ago, Gallifrey’s first space explorer, Tecteun, found a child on a mysterious planet under a rift in space and time. She adopted the child as her own, and took her back to Gallifrey. One day, the Child was playing with a friend when she fell off a very high cliff and died. Tecteun immediately went to her, only to watch the child regenerate into a new form and live again, fully healed. Intrigued, Tecteun started running experiments on the Child, trying to figure out how such a thing was possible. Perhaps unintentionally, these experiments caused the Child to constantly die and regenerate.

At some point, Tecteun figured it out and injected herself with the genes that caused regeneration. She immediately regenerated into a new form, and then, after somehow adding a 13-incarnation limit, went and gave these genes to his fellow Shobogans, who then went on to form Time Lord society.

Tecteun then realized that he had nothing else to learn from the Child, so [insert weird gap here], and the Child went and joined the Division, a secret organization that interfered in universal affairs when the Time Lords wouldn’t. In the Division, the Child took on the title of The Doctor, and spent an unknown number of regenerations with them. At some point, Ruth!Doctor discovered something (her hidden history?) and ran away from the Division. Eventually she was caught, and as a condition of being allowed to go free, she would be forced to regenerate into a child, have her mind wiped, and have her regenerative abilities limited (if they weren’t already).

That child would grow up to be Hartnell’s Doctor, and the rest… as they say… is history.

This leaves a lot of unanswered questions, however, some with some seriously fucked up implications, including the implication that the Child was being tortured and having their mind wiped more than once.

In the episode, the Child was shown as a very passive figure. Throughout all their regenerations, the Child mostly just laid on an operating table and stared at Tecteun lovingly while she experimented on them. Once Time Lord society had become entrenched in Gallifreyan history, the Child decided to join the Division.

While our Doctor not knowing makes some sense, why doesn’t Ruth!Doctor know? That implies that the Child was wiped from her memory. That’s yet another thing that raises the question of whether or not Tecteun was torturing the Child.

It also raises another question I can’t answer… why was this revelation so horrible that it drove the Master to literally destroy Gallifrey?

Because that’s another thing this episode did… it made the Doctor “The Last of the Time Lords” again. After the Master had them converted into Cyber Lords (their unofficial fan name), they were all wiped out by some death particle thingy.

And let’s talk about those Cyber Lords for a moment… if they could regenerate, doesn’t that mean that they were alive? Why couldn’t they be saved, then? A mass regeneration and they should be able to take those helmets off and turn on the Master.

So let’s get to my thoughts…

As I said… I didn’t completely like the episode. It had a lot of issues in the writing and, at the end of the day, I felt it was trying to do too much in too little time. It made a lot of weird decisions and had several plot holes (how does the Master know? How are the Time Lords dead if they can still regenerate? What was actually happening to the Child?). Honestly, it just wasn’t a well-put-together episode.

However… how I feel about the revelations of the Doctor’s past will very much depend on what Chibnall does with all of this going forward.

So… Moffat did something that always pissed me off. Back in 2005, when RTD revived the show, he introduced the concept of The Last Great Time War, when the Doctor committed serious genocide, wiping out both the Daleks, his own people, and several other species in a last-ditch attempt to end the War.

During the 50th special, Moffat said “fuck that” and retconned it so that the Doctor didn’t commit this massive genocide, but instead saved Gallifrey by freezing it in a pocket universe. The 50th episode then ended with the suggestion that the Doctor’s path going forward was to search for, find, and save Gallifrey by bringing it back to its place in the universe.

Moffat then did… absolutely nothing with it. Until Heaven Sent, where the Doctor was imprisoned and tortured for 4 billion years by the Time Lords because they were desperate to learn about some Hybrid (side note: what the fuck is with the Time Lords and torturing the Doctor? Why do they keep doing this to him?), Gallifrey just… wasn’t part of the equation.

If that’s the route Chibnall intends to take, then all of this was useless bullshit and he shouldn’t have done it. If, however, he plans on exploring it and unraveling at least some of the mysteries (like why doesn’t Ruth!Doctor know, is she really pre-Hartnell, what made her run from Division, is this really what the Master discovered, what did Tecteun actually do to the Child, etc, etc, etc), then this could potentially be an incredibly exciting development for the show and the lore. I am very excited to see what happens going forward, but I’m going be to livid if Chibnall chickens out and decides to ignore it all going forward.

This is the kind of thing you double down on regardless of public perception and explore. It is not the kind of thing you drop and then ignore like it didn’t happen.

I fully expect all of my theories to be proven wrong, but I don’t care. I just want Chibnall to actually do something with all this. I don’t want him to chicken out. I want him to double-down. Because not doubling-down would be a massive mistake.

To end this, I want to show you all this picture that was shared by u/perceptive-earth on r/DoctorWho. It’s an attempt to categorize the Doctor’s lives, and it’s very much incomplete. But I think it’s very well done and pretty important going forward…

Visual guide showing every life and incarnation of the Doctor that we know of right now.

Doctor Who: Guide to the Doctor

Finally… remember my commenting policy mentioned at the beginning. I’d rather just hash out the theories then get into arguments about how it’s bad or good or how Chibnall is the worst or best thing to happen to Doctor Who or whatever. I’d rather all that be skipped, please.

Let’s theorize together.

Comments

  1. newenlightenment says

    My main issue with this episode isn’t that it “broke the cannon” it’s that it explains too much. The timeless child idea would be quite nice as a fan theory, but making it cannon really demystifies the Doctor and the Time Lords, which dents the show’s appeal. (I heard the producers of Classic Who had already dropped the idea of the Cartmell Master plan for that same reason when the show was originally cancelled)

    My other issue with this episode is it makes the Master too nasty. The Master has always been a more relatable villain, is stark contrast to Davros or the Daleks, having him kill the Time Lords simply because he couldn’t bear the fact that all his abilities were ultimately because of the Doctor really undermines this. This is supposed to be a character who was once a friend of the Doctor, the Doctor want’s to reach out and help him/her, while the Master in turn still has a grudging respect for the Doctor. When characterizing the Master there’s a fine line between overemphasizing his evil nature, and overemphasizing his/her former friendship with the Doctor. Missy tipped too far into he later category, Dahwan’s mater tips too far into the former, and came across as a much better acted version of Eric Robert’s Master from the TV movie.

  2. StevoR says

    I was watching Dr Who back when it was Tom Baker as the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith and K9 as companions and I was kid and that was the highlight of day after getting home from school about 5 pm in Oz.

    I saw and loved that old show then up to the post McCoy hiatus and then enjoyed a lot of the new series from Ecclestone onwards too but then, for time and life reasons kinda drifted away during the latter part of the Matt Smith incarnation. I still catch and enjoy the odd episode now and then (& mean to catch up on more if I can find the time to do so) but, well, I’ve missed an awful lot since and gotten kinda lost in the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. The ole Whoverse has expanded a lot outta my sight & ken.

    So, short version; I’m pretty much lost here and it all seems very convoluted and yet pretty cool to me. Dunno enuff rly.

  3. says

    newenlightenment @ #1:

    Eh… I really do think that that’s going to depend on how it’s handled going forward. The Doctor is still a very mysterious figure, in the sense that we really have no clue where she comes from, now. It could potentially deepen the mystery of the Doctor if it’s developed correctly.

    The question, of course, is whether or not Chibnall’s capable of handling this well which… you know… remains to be seen…

  4. says

    As for the Master… that’s why I think he’s pre-Missy. I don’t see how she can have been reformed, only to regenerate into him. That’s why him being Simm’s Master’s rejection of Missy makes more sense to me…

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