Chris Chibnall certainly succeeded in writing a memorable finale for Series 12 of Doctor Who. Unfortunately I will not remember it for good reasons. I will remember begging “The Timeless Children” to end, checking the time every couple minutes, and the extreme feeling of exhaustion I had upon finishing it.
Doctor Who (Series 12) “The Timeless Children”
Jamie Magnus Stone (director), Chris Chibnall (writer)
Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill (cast)
March 1, 2020
There is a fun story hidden within this turgid boring mess. Every time the story switched back to the companions (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill) and guest character Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney) fighting the Cybermen, I was so relieved. Graham and Yaz have a nice conversation and Ryan gets a couple cheesy moments fighting back against the Cybermen. Ryan, Graham, and Yaz all hop into Cybermen suits at one point and you can just feel the actors having fun with how silly it is. McElhinney’s Ko Sharmus steals the show a little. He’s the one character with any narrative purpose and he almost made me think this story had a plot at times.
Sadly, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) does nothing throughout this episode. She stands around while the Master (Sacha Dhawan) berates her, and occasionally meekly follows him. All season, The Master has promised that “Everything you know is a lie!” and here he seeks to prove that. He spends the episode telling the Doctor how she is “the timeless child” and filling in all kinds of new backstory about the Doctor’s early life and the origins of Gallifrey. Doctor Who has no canon and often rewrites and makes stuff up on the fly, and there’s no way to logically conceive of all 57 years as one story, and not something that has constantly changed and evolved to fit how stories are told in different media or decades or cultural landscapes. Changing the Doctor’s and Gallifrey’s history doesn’t bother me; likely it will be largely ignored unless a clever creator decides they want to do something with this specific piece of lore, the way continuity has always been treated in Doctor Who, whether that’s the Valeyard or the Doctor being half-human or the “Morbius Doctors”.
What disappoints me is the Doctor’s passivity, and the passivity of the entire story. The Master spends the entire episode unravelling this plot just to ask if it has broken her or upset her, to which she says no, and wanders off. Meanwhile Ko Sharmus gets the one overwrought but heroic moment in the never-ending 65 minute run-time. The Master says at one point that the Time Lords have lied because they just needed a “creation myth” to found their society and ideals on, and that’s true. But then the Master spends the entire time, unravelling his new vision for a creation myth. I appreciate the way this story truly breaks any possible sense of continuity and says fuck it, everything is canon, and it does reflect the Time Lords as the patriarchal bastards they’ve always been. But it feels extremely disingenuous to say the Doctor was originally a woman of color, or many different people of color, and not tell their story.
Fundamentally this is Doctor Who starring Jodie Whittaker, not Doctor Who starring Jo Martin. There’s a good message baked in that the narrative has always been more diverse than we know or was portrayed, but it falls apart when the only speaking lines from racialized Gallifreyans/Time Lords are the Master’s evil ramblings and a two-second internal monologue pep talk from Jo Martin’s Doctor. The reveals here serve nothing more than clickbait headlines and more endless fan theories. Things like the Morbius Doctors, the Shobogans, and the Cyber Time Lords showing up made me laugh and groan in equal measure. They’re all pointless nonsensical concepts, and they continue to have no reason for being here. Doctor Who has been fanfiction for over 50 years, and this was bad fanfic.