This post contains spoilers for The Timeless Children. If you haven’t seen it yet, please turn back now and come back after watching.
Welcome, Doctor. Are you suffering comfortably? Then, I’ll begin. Once upon a time…No. Once upon several times, before the Time Lords, before everything we know, there was an explorer.
The Cybermen are on the march. The last remaining humans are hunted down. Lies are exposed, truths are revealed, and for the Doctor, nothing will be the same again.
Well, that was no Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.
We had the Master, Gallifrey and the Cybermen and some answers, yet more questions to send some of us away scratching our heads. With Sacha Dhawan’s arrival at the end of the previous story, Ashad and the Cybermen take a backseat to a story that delves into Time Lord history and the truth behind the Timeless Child, which is a bit of a shame as they are possibly the most interesting take on the Cybermen we have seen in the revived series, but this new Master certainly feels like enough of a threat to the Doctor and universal survival.
I’ll start with my biggest issue with the story, which is the role of the Cybermen, who do feel underserved here and do ultimately end up as a new army for the Master, which does certainly feel like a waste of this new take on the Cybermen. They ultimately only end up killing one of the human survivors, which feels a bit bizarre considering that the large guest cast here are mainly cannon fodder, with one obvious exception. Ashad does still bring a large amount of threat to the story, with the scene with Yaz and Graham hiding inside Cyber suits – a plot element which the story somehow manages to play straight and avoids lengthy passages of the companions trudging about in Cybersuits, potentially thankfully. Ultimately, the Cybermen’s plan is a bit rubbish, wanting to wipe out all organic life, which the Master is perfectly right in poking holes in and suggesting a new plan for the Cybermen to dominate the galaxy. From the moment that Ashad is taken out of the picture via the Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator, the Cybermen are essentially set dressing, waiting for Ko Sharmus to blow them up in the final moments. I would like to see the Cybermen be a threat on their own, so I was quite pleased to see that they weren’t working with the Master before this story, however, the fact that they end up working together disappointed me. I’m not sure how well it would have worked to have them as entirely separated plot elements though, so maybe this is a no-win scenario.
After playing relatively safe with canon and ‘established’ lore in Series 11, Chris Chibnall has somewhat resolved to tear the rule book up here, most notably in Fugitive of the Judoon introducing us to a mysterious new Doctor played by Jo Martin. The Timeless Children does have to provide us with some answers to questions raised here and shows us the origins of the alien that we know as ‘The Doctor’. This story shows that the Doctor was found at a mysterious boundary to another universe and that this Timeless Child was the base genetic code for the Gallifreyans, permitting them the ability to regenerate, rewriting what we had previously been told about the role of Rassilon, who isn’t mentioned by name here, in the foundation of Time Lord society. Whilst it might not be a shock to discover that the Doctor is the Timeless Child, the child’s treatment at the hands of her adoptive mother Tecteun and the Time Lords more generally is more of a surprise. Previous incarnations of the Doctor prior to Hartnell are revealed to have been working for a mysterious Time Lord secret police – potentially a precursor to the Celestial Intervention Agency – who ultimately wiped the Doctor’s memory. This is also revealed to be what the Ireland scenes with Brendan last week were – a way of covering up previous Time Lord interference in the Doctor’s life. Whilst we get some of the Doctor’s backstory, the central mystery still remains – we still don’t really know more about the Doctor and where she came from.
The Master takes centre stage for a lot of the story, with the Doctor paralysed in the Matrix Chamber on Gallifrey and the companions fleeing the Cybermen, and it cements Dhawan as a great Master. This incarnation is seen to be more vicious than other incarnations, his heel turn on Ashad being a prime example of his aggression. He and Whittaker really spark off each other in their scenes in the Matrix and his fury at his discovery that there has always been a part of the Doctor inside him all along is utterly believable in this particular incarnation. We are still no clearer on where he falls in the line-up – whether he is pre- or post-Michelle Gomez, but I don’t think it really matters. His creation of his ‘perfect army’ of Cybermen with the ability to regenerate also seems a bit bizarre, although the image of Cybermen wearing Time Lord headgear is great despite the concept being ridiculously daft. Despite my reservations about his presence reducing the role played by the Cybermen, I really like this incarnation of the Master and I am certain he will return at some stage.
The Doctor certainly goes through the emotional wringer in this episode, and Whittaker is great here with dealing with the revelations and her determination to sacrifice herself to stop the Master and the Cybermen is fantastic. Her farewell to the companions is so heartfelt and reminiscent of the ending of the first series, with the Doctor packing her companions off to safety on Earth. Obviously, the audience know that she won’t go through with it, but the moment that Ko Sharmus steps into her place to finish off the Cybermen still works well. We also get a welcome but all too brief appearance from Jo Martin, which looks like it might be the last time we see her, but she does deliver some of the most important dialogue to save the Doctor from the Matrix. The companions largely have reduced roles but there are some important character moments, like Ryan being able to accurately throw a bomb to stop the advancing Cybermen and Graham and Yaz’s interaction on the Cyber Carrier, which made me 99% certain that one of them was going to die. Whilst the companions and the Doctor end this story separated, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them crop up in the festive special for a farewell adventure with the Doctor for one or all of them.
Listen, Yaz, um…If we don’t get out of this…
We will get out of this.
Yeah, well…I know, but I’m just saying, if we don’t…I want you to know I…I think you’re such an impressive young woman. Never thrown by anything. Always fighting.
You said to the Doc that you thought she was the best person you’d ever met. You know what, Yaz? I think you are. You ain’t got a time machine or a sonic…but you’re never afraid and you’re never beaten. I’m going to sound like a…like a proper old man, but you’re doing your family proud, Yaz, you really are. In fact, you’re doing the whole human race proud. S-Sorry. I haven’t offended you, have I?
It’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.
You’re not such a bad human yourself, either.
Not su…? Is that it? I’ve just said all them lovely things about you, and all you give me is “You’re not such a bad human”?
Mate, I’m from Yorkshire – that’s a love letter.
Graham O Brien and Yasmin Khan
Finally, that ending – the Doctor imprisoned for the acts of her previous incarnations certainly tees up an interesting premise for the Special – I’m intrigued to see how the Doctor will get out of this one.
Verdict: The Timeless Children certainly provides some answers, and Dhawan and Whittaker are superb. The Cybermen are a bit underused and their plan is a bit daft, but this does close off a strong season well. 8/10.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Julie Graham (Ravio), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Matt Carver (Ethan), Seylan Baxter (Tecteun), Kirsty Besterman (Solpada), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen & Judoon Captain), Matthew Rohman, Simon Carew, Jon Davey, Richard Highgate, Richard Price, Mickey Lewis, Matthew Doman & Paul Bailey (Cybermen) and Jo Martin (The Doctor).
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Behind the Scenes
- There are so many references here – to name a few, we have a brief mention of the Doctor and the Master running away from Borusa through the Citadel of Gallifrey, several references to The Deadly Assassin and a fleeting mention of Kamelion. Most importantly, it states that the mysterious incarnations seen in The Brain of Morbius were previous incarnations of the Doctor.
The Doctor breaking out of the Matrix, showing all of her past incarnations, with the theme underneath – including solving some questions that have bugged people since The Brain of Morbius.
Where do you fit into all of this? Were you me all that time ago? Were all my memories of you erased? Did they force me back into becoming a child? How many more of me are there out there?
I don’t have those answers. But say I did, would they even help?
Of course they would. All this, it means I’m not who I thought I was.
Because your memories aren’t compatible with what you learnt today?
Have you ever been limited by who you were before?
Ah. Now, that does sound like me talking.
The Doctor and The Doctor (Jo Martin)
But, it could have so nearly been this:
So come on, Doc, what are you thinking?
One option left I have to use the Death Particle on Gallifrey. On my home. On the Master and his new breed of Cybermen.
Are you sure you want to do that?
I’m sure I don’t want to do that but there’s not alternative. If the Master and the Cybermen get off this planet, they’ll be unstoppable. I started this with Shelley and the Cyberium, now I have to finish it. Alone.
The TARDIS will take you back to Earth. All of you. You can settle in the 21st Century.
You’re not serious.
What about you? You detonate that thing, you’ll die too.
That’s the way it has to be. And I would do that in a heartbeat for this universe. For you…my fam.
We’re not letting you go! You’re not doing this!
Get off me, Yaz. Please.
Yaz. Come on.
Live great lives.
Graham O’Brien, The Doctor, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Ravio.