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Loafers (@LoafersWrites on Twitter) is a film and TV critic who has been published in the Sundae and the Mary Sue. Loafers is 24, lives in Waterford, and believes that the best Doctor is Clara Oswald. To find out more, check out the website.
Hello and welcome to the final Dash of Outrage on Series 12. This week, we’re doing something a little different. The final instalment will be broken up into a series of one-on-one chats that look closely at different aspects of the episode.
Jacob Black (@jblacksomething) is a writer and preschool and after-school teacher in Seattle. He has written two stories for Obverse Books’ Faction Paradox series and has dabbled in submissions and editing of charity anthologies. His favourite Doctors are Paul McGann (the novels’ iteration, especially as written by Lance Parkin, Kate Orman, and Jon Blum), Patrick Troughton, Peter Capaldi, and William Hartnell. Jo Martin has already made quite the lovely and excitable impression.
Loafers: We have Jake Black here to talk to us about timey-wimey canon malarkey. Jake, what did you think of the episode?
Jake: Well, right off the bat, I really liked it. I really, really liked it. I think it’s one of the most solid and believably tense episodes Chibnall’s curated, and even while I have hang-ups and disagreements with what he’s trying to do with the character of the Doctor (which I’m sure I’ll touch on later), I can’t help but be completely and utterly in love with the energy and the confidence. Comparing this to last season’s finale is also worth a good laugh. I joked the night of that it was “the most Me™ episode” ever broadcast, and while that doesn’t give me credit for the elements of the story I’d like to pick apart and disagree with, a few days to sit on it and simmer have confirmed that’s still pretty accurate.
Loafers: I also enjoyed it a great deal. Although parts of it were sloppy on a nuts-and-bolts level, this is the most excited I’ve been about the show since… well, since Clara left, to be honest.
Jake: Completely agreed. Clara’s era and series 10 are still firmly holding onto my definitive “Best TV Who” award, and while I have been actively enjoying much that the Chibnall era has to offer, it was a struggle through series 11 to maintain the same passion and love. Series 12 has been consistently impressing me and giving me more and more hope, and now “The Timeless Children” has honestly made every creative decision of this series fit into place. I’m feeling very good about the show right now. It’s no peak-Capaldi, but I’m happily taking it.
Loafers: Nothing is peak Capaldi except peak Capaldi! I’ve spent four years watching other shows and thinking “It’s not Capaldi but I guess it’s okay.” It’s time to move on. What are the implications of this for the shape of Doctor Who? And I don’t just mean the show.
Jake: You could make the argument that this retcon is going to be forgotten and moved past within two years, as is the nature of the beast, frankly. Our good friend Sam said something recently that has been rolling around in my head every day since… that the idea Doctor Who HAS to change every era, every Doctor, can be as much a detriment and liability as a narrative boon. Retcons don’t last, revelations don’t hold out… individual Doctors become defined by the changes and lore shakeups isolated to their three or four years of tenure. The Eleventh Doctor, for example, is an era all about deconstructing what the Doctor is in the face of the Silence, a horrible evil force that has Been There the Whole Time…. and then, of course, there hasn’t been a peep of them, their world, and what they brought to the series since Matt waved us goodbye.
The Twelfth Doctor set in stone the idea of the Doctor being a bad person living up to the ideal, trying hard every day to be kind and be the Doctor, while he redeemed his best friend and mortal enemy the Master, while his reasons for leaving Gallifrey were explained TWICE… and we have left all those revelations with him in his dust while the Thirteenth Doctor rushed headlong without them.
So whether or not the Timeless Children, and the rest of Chibnall’s “five-year plan” with the Timeless Child arc, have any effect on the show past his tenure, I think it’s best to view what all of this does for Doctor Who in the here and now… what this does for Thirteen. Retcons and revelations become the set dressing for individual eras in NuWho’s format, and currently, we are having the Doctor massively redefined before our eyes. When Thirteen started, we were adjusting to the character of a privileged aristocrat trying to be good and kind now taking the face of a much more zany, whimsical, arguably political centrist woman. Now, we are watching this Doctor realize she was never connected to the Time Lords’ entitlement or privilege… now, the ideal and name of the Doctor has to evolve around the Doctor being a refugee, a victim of the Time Lord society so formerly tied to the character’s logic and actions.
The rules of who the Doctor is and what the Doctor does are going to change, I think. And if that stays just with Thirteen or other possible Chibnall Doctors, I don’t find that a failure or a reason for cursing the idea. I find it the inevitable effect of NuWho’s style. Also, having random Doctors appear with no chronological explanation could be an era quirk, so that’s a rather hysterical possibility for future seasons.
Loafers: In her review of the episode, Elizabeth Sandifer put forward that Chibnall has deliberately set this up as a reveal that must be reckoned with by future writers, that Chibnall has deliberately opened up a space too large to fill all by himself, and that, in doing so, the episode does permanent damage to Doctor Who. I’m getting the impression that you would disagree with this.
Jake: I do disagree if only because of the cycle of “new ideas, new directions! Oh, wait, no, new Doctor, new aesthetic, new showrunner, never mind, let’s put that on the backburner” that I genuinely can’t believe anyone could do anything to kill the show. Seven years ago, Matt Smith was bouncing around time and space trying to hold onto his parents-in-law while “Doctor Who” was being blasted on loudspeakers and questioned by mortal enemies. Three years ago, the Twelfth Doctor carried his philosophy and ideals of the Doctor, with the Hybrid’s revelations close behind, butted heads with a First Doctor telling companions that weren’t his to dust his TARDIS. These narrative changes and Big Showy Exciting alterations to the show are becoming facets of the era and the Doctor ONLY, so I don’t think the revelation of “The Timeless Children” is going to survive 13, much less Chibnall.
And I do have complaints about it, mind you. As someone who predicted that the Timeless Child was the source of regenerations experimented on and tortured, revealing “‘TWAS THE DOCTOR ALL ALONG” is a safer and less interesting route, and retconning the Doctor into a refugee victim of the Time Lords’ hypocritical and temporally colonizing ways, as opposed to an aristocrat formerly complacent in the system and now actively trying to rebel against it, clashes with my perception of the Doctor something fierce. But I can’t complain because I’ve gotten my perception of the Doctor. Capaldi’s era, the Twelfth Doctor, the arcs he experienced and the character work he shouldered with Clara and Bill.
I’ve also been so neck-deep in deep lore and EU ideas like The Timeless Children for a very long time. I discovered Cold Fusion and The Infinity Doctors (not to mention Lungbarrow, of course) before I had even watched the likes of, I dunno, “The Rescue”, “The Time Meddler.” Once you’ve read Kate Orman and Jon Blum’s sublime Unnatural History, where the Eighth Doctor looks at the assortment of his conflicting past and origins, all the impossible Others and looms and human mothers, and merely swats it all away with a “Doesn’t matter, I’m still the Doctor, that’s what matters right now,” scolds the villains, and wraps himself in those contradictions because he thinks it’s funny not to make sense, stuff like The Timeless Children sort of rolls off!
Loafers: I still find it funny that the Doctor is canonically a member of An Garda Síochána.
Jake: I think what endears me to this finale so much is how it is an attempt to engage with the idea of “the Doctor being special, the Doctor being MORE than what we saw on TV” that dominated the Cartmel era and the VNAs, but in the way only a fan building on nostalgic memories of the 1970s could. Lance Parkin turned the Morbius Faces, the very concept of the Doctor existing before Hartnell, into ambiguous baggage of a romance story (very much in line with Moffat’s approaches to the Doctor and sexuality) that became centred and directly focused on the mysterious Patience rather than the pre-Hartnell Doctors. Marc Platt turned the Other and the “Cartmel Masterplan” (such as it was and wasn’t) into a blatant rejection from the Doctor himself that I can only compare to Steven Universe screaming “SHE’S GONE” to White Diamond and reclaiming himself.
Now, we have Chibnall trying to actively make a story engaging with that energy, engaging with the reputations of these stories, trying to tell a story about why the Doctor shouldn’t be special, trying to push her in directions out of the Time Lords’ shadow. I genuinely think Chibnall’s point of the script, illustrated by Whittaker and Jo Martin’s Matrix discussion, of Thirteen declaring herself strengthened and still “the Doctor” through the new baggage, is an attempt to say why the Doctor doesn’t need to be special. Whether or not it works is in the eye of the beholder, naturally, but that’s what “The Timeless Children” is trying to do. We finally have an answer for what the Thirteenth Doctor is, we have understanding and ideas for what the Doctor is supposed to be, what the ideal stands for under Chibnall’s pen. Whether or not it meshes or shares ideas with mine, I feel the rest of the era (five-year plan, remember) is going to move forward with the confidence and self-assertion we’ve been missing.
Miranda Bonilla (@CarouselUnique) is an artist and is studying illustration and graphic design at university, you may know her as that one person using the moral high ground as a point to jump off of and fight people on Twitter over their opinions on this sci-fi show we all dedicate our lives to for some reason. If you watch My Little Pony though, you may also know her as a fan artist. Her favourite Doctor is Sylvester McCoy, or as she otherwise puts it ‘If Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi fused, so basically: Sylvester McCoy.’
Loafers: Next up, we have Miranda Bonilla here to talk about the Chibnall Era’s knack for unfortunate implications. Chris should change his name to J Alfred Prufrock because that is NOT what he meant to say, that is not what he meant to say AT ALL! Miranda, how did you find the episode?
Miranda: Upon a rewatch, I was able to acknowledge that it’s not the death knell a lot of us felt it was. That’s the power of popular opinion for you. But it remains the biggest disappointment of the season for me. However, it was a disappointment I could see coming from a ways away. See, I’ve complained about the previous series and several times on this very segment, about the biggest issue being how the show wasn’t thinking things through and bringing down some genuinely promising content as a result. This may not be the biggest example, but it feels like exactly where that sort of mistake leads.
Loafers: Could you elaborate on what you mean concerning “The Timeless Child” in particular?
Miranda: Well, I think it’s easiest to start with everyone’s favourite, the maiden, the myth, the legend: Ruthless Doctor herself. Great choice and amazing casting and a breath of fresh air do we agree?
Loafers: We sure do!
Miranda: Heck yeah! Anyway, the problem starts with her, unfortunately: you see, the Chibnall Era struggles with a serious issue of diversity for seemingly diversity’s sake – and this isn’t me coming in at Eleven o’Clock to suddenly become a ‘Not My Doctor’ team player. What I mean by that is, the appearance of the show has largely changed under Chris Chibnall’s watch. It’s, on the whole, the most diverse the look of the show has been, but with a lot of these unfortunate implications, it becomes muddled. For starters, Ruth has been Dumbledore’d into the story with other diverse incarnations – she, of course, shows up more, thank God, but her story very much belongs to the past and a past we never saw.
Now, we might see more of her in the future of course, and by God, I hope we do, but her being a pre-franchise incarnation, at least for now (and we have a long time to wait so this is what we get, I’ll happily eat my words later if this changes) means that, yes, the Doctor’s past is filled with diversity. But it’s lore, it’s a footnote, it’s Big Finish fodder (no offence) – and all in the service of developing her current white counterpart.
Loafers: I’m obliged to interject here and say that it hasn’t been spelt out precisely where Ruthless Doctor fits into the timeline. She could turn out to be a future Doctor yet. But I agree that it’s much more likely that she’s a pre-Hartnell Doctor.
Miranda: Oh yeah, hence me happily eating my words if that changes. But every indication to me as a viewer places her as pre-Hartnell and until we’re confirmed that, it’s part of where my issues specifically lie. If she’s Fourteen, I’m buying my cosplay now.
Loafers: Are there other problems like this in the episode? How’s our first non-white Master holding up?
Miranda: … I’m assuming ‘Oof…’ isn’t a suitable enough answer? Right, right, save the quips for Twitter. Okay, so, I had a lot to say about him during “Spyfall – Part 2” as that played a lot more toward the realistic race tension of having our first Master of Colour masquerading as a Nazi in WWII for… it’s been months and I can’t find an answer other than: “WWII aesthetic sexy, what implications?”
Loafers: That was the low point of the season for me. As far as I can tell, nothing quite that bad was in “Timeless Child.”
Miranda: Here, it’s perhaps less noticeable than that. However, as is the big issue with a continuing story, things tend to colour each other. The last story, we’re left off with her leaving him in the clutches of the SS with his disguise off, showing his racial identity off to the worst possible people. This story has her “realize her genetic superiority” over the Master – once again leaving us with this genuinely uncomfortable imagery of her, this white woman, telling this man of colour that she’s “more” than him. Like, I genuinely am not trying to make some secret eugenic racist agenda here. I know they didn’t mean it that way, but that doesn’t fix it? It just makes it harder to argue against things that make me, and others I’m assuming, feel shitty.
The world around us doesn’t just stop having meaning because the show we like didn’t mean to put out some bad ideas – and the biggest issue I had watching “The Timeless Child” and the past two series was that it just wouldn’t stop making me have to think about just how bad some of this stuff comes across, ya know? Not to be cynical here but I don’t want to have to keep doing that when I have to do that all the time in the world as a rule of survival.
Loafers: Of course. It must be exhausting and a show that touts diversity the way the Chibnall Era does ought to do better.
Miranda: It leaves me wondering what am I supposed to do with this, it’s frustrating – on a fundamental moral level because I want the things I love to be better and on a cynical level because if you’re going to push the idea in my face that you’re diverse it shouldn’t be so… surface. It should mean something.
There’s one more point I feel should be brought up: the origin story. It doesn’t sit right with me – and not because of something-something-continuity either. The Doctor’s new origin story turns her into a refugee child of colour. On some level, I get this, I do; it’s quite a radical take for this era that Gallifrey’s genetic superiority was built off the back of a refugee child of colour and I can see how this could be effective in the future. Right now, with the show’s history still being so white, with regards to our lead, this story, again to shock and give a story to our white lead, leaves me so cold. It feels particularly exploitive to me. Like, we know exactly what will illicit the most sympathetic response, so we went with that – again, without thinking about what that means to have it attributed to white pain. All our memories of this character and the stories that make the idea of them being so used are with a white face attached. It feels like the entire legacy of the show we love is built on the pain of this young woman of colour.
I also don’t love that this was our first big Jodie story, something about the abuse and use and discard angle doesn’t sit right with me that this was her first big story arc. That, with the kind of passive and withdrawn personality this Doctor has more often than I’d like, forces me into wondering if we’d be getting this same story with, say, David Tennant. I do enjoy more aspects of Whittaker Doctor this season, a far cry from where I was in “Spyfall” saying she was beyond redemption.
But I do think she and her team have been used in some ways that I question if this is supposed to be a “Space for All” – is it a “Space for All” if that ‘all’ calls so much into question, if that ‘all’ writes diversity into the Doctor so it makes the Doctor question herself, if we (until proven otherwise) have this amazing new Doctor of colour and other potentially cool diverse incarnations buried in the lore, if our first Master of colour is put into weirdly racially based situations where he’s framed as lesser than our white hero, if our now two season companions, two of whom are part of an unfortunately low statistic, still don’t have enough development, to the point of wanting at least one of them to leave in the special and if I have to now remember in the back of my mind that until the casting of a person of colour as the Doctor (and I mean as Fourteen or Onward) that this exploitation was for the development of another white character? … I can’t say. Well, I can for me at least.
This was an improved season of television. I mean that. There was a lot to enjoy about it and I think a lot of it is close to coming into its own. Certainly, you can no longer claim a lack of creativity or willingness to take the show out of the box. But this will not be a great show and live up to its claims of being a space for all until it gets some sensitivity training and critical thinking to maybe not make these mistakes. It is good to try to be diverse and inclusive. But it is not good enough if it doesn’t think about what that means to people enough to avoid these mistakes. Just because some people in the fandom claim the show has gone off the “SJW deep end of the PC pool” because it looks a bit more real life, doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to overlook when it screws up at being a “Space for All”.
If I’m being honest, the revelation was like if “Heaven Sent” was the series 9 finale rather than “Hell Bent”, if Clara remained gone and if instead the weight was put on Twelve and his pain over losing her rather than her right to be who she wanted. “Heaven Sent” without “Hell Bent” could have been fine, just as I’m sure “The Timeless Children” was fine to others. However, Clara Oswald would have been a vessel to give Twelve manpain for development purposes, just as that child was used for Thirteen to have a bit of, well, whitepain for development purposes. It wouldn’t have been right to do that to Clara there and it isn’t right here. It’s, how you say, hella skeevy.
Loafers: Someone write “Hell Bent: Timeless Child Edition.” Anything else to add before we finish?
Miranda: … That one scene between Graham and Yaz was so good, it makes me wish they had a relationship among the team; Ruthless Doctor has the best costume among the whole regeneration lineage; and, if this is the kind of finale that marketing was leading up to, we were better off highlighting the individual episodes instead. Perhaps eighteen months, rather than simply a year, will be enough time to wrangle together a panel of people who can veto certain writing decisions that come off uncomfortably. My resume (which is mostly my Twitter) will be on Chibnall’s desk by Monday.
Loafers: Speaking of writing decisions that come off uncomfortably: the fun doesn’t stop there!
Messianic Racial Superiority
S.A.H. is mostly known for doing some good tweets over at @Wackd and possibly for writing a handful of articles on Eruditorum Press forever ago. They’re also currently doing guest art for the seminal superhero comic Just a Sidekick and their strips will start running this September. Their favourite Doctor is Jenna Coleman, with Sylvester McCoy and Peter Capaldi as close seconds.
Loafers: Before we dig into your topic, what did you make of the episode overall?
S.A.H.: I think in terms of presentation, tone, whathaveyou, it’s firmly upper-middle-tier Chibnall. As a piece of television, it’s biggest functional flaw is being a bit narration-heavy, and I’m sure if you ran the numbers the men get more dialogue this episode than the ladies. But I was surprised watching it how quickly it zips by, and it has rare moments where the quips work. The Master’s speech about how becoming a robot isn’t very ambitious was fun.
Loafers: I might be guilty of pigeonholing you as I expected you to be more down on it! I don’t like talking about Twitter arguments because they’re stupid, but there’s been a lot of negative buzz around the episode in our circles. I agree that it’s narration-heavy but find it no more poorly constructed than, say, “Arachnids in the UK”.
S.A.H.: I mean, I’m fairly down on it! But not because it’s, on a surface-level, particularly messy. I mentioned way back in “Spyfall – Part 2” that I enjoyed it more than “Part 1” because, despite hating its politics, it felt more like a coherent piece of television. And “Timeless Children” definitely has that up on “Ascension of the Cybermen”.
Loafers: It sure does! But, of course, you pitched me this topic.
S.A.H.: Let’s start simply: I’m not fond of chosen-one narratives. They put me off shows I otherwise enjoy, like Farscape and Deep Space Nine. I’m simply not compelled by characters with external, forced motivations. But this go-around really got my ire, and it took me a while to figure it out, but ultimately the episode kind of reminded me of Christianity’s treatment of Judaism! It is, like most subtext in the Chibnall era, kind of muddled, incoherent, and probably accidental, but it’s there, and it’s got me deeply put off. I’m not bothered by retcons in and of themselves, but you have a deeply weird combination of factors here. The use of prior bits of canonical text to imply things they previously didn’t mean. The torment of a saviour figure by folks we thought were chosen but weren’t. The eradication of non-believers by a zealot, who, in the episode’s most deeply confused bit, also loathes this new text for removing his supposed privilege–the Master as both apostle and heretic.
Loafers: That’s fascinating. So you’re reading the Time Lords as analogous to pre-Christ Judaism and the Timeless Child ‘retcon’ as analogous to Christianity’s ‘retcon’ of Judaism?
S.A.H.: Basically. Whether that’s what Chibnall wrote is, to be clear, another matter. I think these things kind of seep into the cultural waters, you know, and no one pays them much mind.
Loafers: Absolutely. Tropes all come from somewhere and we shouldn’t pretend they don’t have baggage. This wouldn’t be the Doctor’s first spin as a Christ figure – the ending of “Voyage of the Damned” still haunts me. In a way, it’s a better fit for an unusually faith-driven Doctor. But I’m uneasy about the show, uh, not thinking through its optics regarding genetics and how the Doctor and Master interact.
S.A.H.: I think part of what bothers people – or me at least – is that even when the Doctor declared themself a god, that was an internal determination: a combination of acquired power and a shortage of other beings of equal influence. This is the universe validating that: only through the Doctor can you, for instance, gain eternal life.
Loafers: And yet, at the same time, there’s the ‘catharsis’ (such as it is) where the Doctor stops freaking out about her identity and realises that, whatever her past, she’s the same person. Based on this, I don’t think that the show believes the Doctor to be special only by the circumstances of their birth. And yet, this particular episode places a great deal more weight on the circumstances of her birth in a way that will rub any Chosen-One-sceptic the wrong way.
S.A.H.: In a sense, the Doctor’s feelings on it are immaterial. Jesus, if he existed, probably didn’t call himself the Son of God. And even if we take the Doctor’s feelings into account, we then need to seriously grapple with the previously mentioned messianic narratives that incarnations like Tennant and Smith perpetuated. This recontextualizes those as well. Capaldi was the first Doctor in a long time to declare himself not a saviour but an idiot, and even he had a nasty habit of distributing forgiveness and immortality like these meant something coming from him. If the Doctor is the same person she’s always been, then she is still a Christ allegory – just now with the facts on her side, and a conspicuous shortage of good people telling her it’s a bit fucked to perceive herself that way.
Loafers: Ever since Moffat left his post, a running joke among his fans has been to look at some sketchy nonsense that Thirteen pulls and ask how Clara Oswald would respond if she found out. I think this applies here more than ever! I don’t think that “The Timeless Children” is the opposite of “Hell Bent” because I think that the latter only rejected ‘gun’ stories for the sake of its larger project of rejecting the Doctor’s masculine bluster and entitlement. But I do think that we’re now seeing that entitlement oddly validated. This semi-literally turns the Doctor into the central puzzle piece around which the entire universe revolves, much more so than anything Moffat wrote.
S.A.H.: People have complained about Whittaker’s arbitrary morality. It’s not a new problem, but it’s one that’s exacerbated if there’s not even a cursory implication that the Doctor might be a bit shit. Something that occurred to me, pouring over this topic, is how deeply Jewish previous Doctors-as-God have been–the job of the companion stopping this all-powerful knob from getting too vengeful. If we want to talk about the Doctor’s masculine bluster and entitlement than there’s certainly a “half of all CEOs should be women” factor at play here–can’t subject our first female Doctor to the same scrutiny and judgement we did the male ones. (But we can, curiously, subject our first black Doctor to that. Hrg.)
If this is the path we’re going down, I think I’m done with new Doctor Who for the foreseeable future. Intentional or not, the things at play here are too uncomfortable for me to deal with, and it seems unlikely the show’s quality ceiling is going to get high enough for me to look past this nonsense. If this is the last time we talk here, and even if it’s not, thank thank you so much for having me, it’s been an honour and a privilege.
Loafers: The privilege is all mine! I hope the site can have you back again next year but I completely understand if that’s not the case.
Kevin Burnard (@scribblesscript) is a writer and filmmaker. He most recently wrote episode 3 of podcast series Verity Weaver, available now on iTunes, and helped form this site. His favourite Doctors are the scary ones.
Loafers: We’ve heard some criticisms of the episode regarding its unfortunate implications and how it positions the Doctor as a messianic Chosen One. Now, we have another voice in its defence. Kevin, what did you think of the episode?
Kevin: Well, I genuinely loved it. And I’d strongly dispute that there’s much of a messianic chosen one vibe to the Doctor’s arc here. For me, it was something far more resonant, both in terms of global politics and, crucially, my own life. I don’t think that at any point in the episode, the Doctor is treated as special for her past. If anything, to me, this is a trauma narrative. On the macro scale, we have a kid exploited by a white explorer to build an empire. I find it impossible to read that as anything other than horrifying, and pointedly so. The Time Lords have long been a subject of reflexive critique in Doctor Who; there are loads of stories from the Wilderness Years about how corrupt and imperialistic Rassilon was, for example. But I think repositioning the Doctor’s relationship to that privilege of empire is very worth doing.
Not only does this episode engage in what I think is a pretty solid critique of empire, set amongst its decay, it also repositions the Doctor’s role. Because Doctor Who has always been a narrative of empire. There have been engagements with that, most notably in the Capaldi era, which frequently called it out and showed a Doctor trying to escape that baggage and become a good man. But while that’s a beautiful and necessary story, it’s been told, and it doesn’t work as well once we want to start moving the Doctor away from being a British white man, which I think we can all agree we need to. Does changing the Doctor into a victim of imperial violence with a more complex relationship to privilege change the show’s past of being a tool of empire? No, of course not. “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” isn’t going anywhere. But I think a big sticking point for this finale is people fixating on what it means for the stories that exist, rather than what it means for what Doctor Who can be next.
For the first time in a long time, we have a genuinely new direction the character of the Doctor can go in, and one with very different but equally meaningful emotions and politics. I came out of this finale tremendously excited to find out what stories can come next, not just in Chris Chibnall’s tenure, but beyond.
Also, crucially, on the Chosen One note, I think it’s important to stress that the Timeless Child isn’t the founder of Time Lord society. Hell, she has nothing to do with the Time part of Time Lords, which is a lot more important to them than the regeneration! While the Doctor has been given a more prominent role in the mythology of the series, it’s not in the same way as something like the Other. The Doctor isn’t the foundational piece of this mythos. Not even of this story. They’re an exploited pawn finding their identity. And that is vastly more interesting to me than a Chosen One story.
There’s been a lot of takes, going off that, that the Doctor is too passive in “The Timeless Children.” I agree to some degree, but it’s also part of why this story landed for me. A fair few years ago now, some people close to me revealed a trauma I have no memory of from my past. I don’t know the details. I don’t know how far things went, or how much they’re impacting me now. I had no clue this hole even existed before. But the thing is, those are very internal challenges. The person responsible for my trauma, much like the Time Lords, is way out of my reach now, and what would I even do if I could reach them? What’s important is a story about the Doctor demanding her right to know about her traumas and realising that the horrors of her past don’t detract from the certainty she’s found within herself.
Loafers: I’ve been letting you talk uninterrupted up to this point, but I have to interject to say: thank you for sharing that for the column. I’m glad you trust me and the community that much.
Kevin: I’m glad it’s appreciated. It’s a very personal thing, but I think as this episode shows, people have a right to be in touch with their pasts and to assert their identities. One thing that happened to me as a child doesn’t determine who I am, but it’s part of my story, and I’m trying to be more open with that, even if I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. I think “The Timeless Children” captures that confused search for self-expression beautifully.
I love how this episode expresses the Doctor’s struggle to come to terms with it. The Thirteenth Doctor, for numerous reasons, is not an incarnation I’ve particularly connected with before. But here, she falls into place. Even her inaction at the climax, letting Ko Sharmus save the day, is meaningful to me. It’s a choice to restate her values and herself, which, given how much Ko Sharmus’ service was thematically contrasted with Brendan’s plot in “Ascension,” is very loaded. But more than that, it’s an assertion where she comes back into herself after genuine uncertainty. This is an episode where she pretty violently leaps onto the Master demanding to know about her past! In general, I think the pacifism works here in a way it hasn’t before because it’s challenged, both through her and Ko Sharmus’ battles with the Cybermen, and because it’s reinforced not because of what’s right or wrong but because of what makes her the Doctor.
Loafers: This man just typed all that in about 20 minutes flat. The Devil works fast but Kevin works faster.
Kevin: Hah! Wish I could say that about my writing more often. I just have one more moment I want to discuss. The part that connected with me most of all in this was the sequence from her pep talk with Jo Martin’s Doctor to her escape from the Matrix. It’s a sort of meta-fictional emotional storytelling I’m used to associating with Moffat, not Chibnall, and I think it’s gorgeous.
THIRTEEN: All this, it means I’m not who I thought I was.
RUTH: Because your memories aren’t compatible with what you learnt today?
RUTH: Have you ever been limited by who you were before?
That’s an exchange I desperately would have benefited from in my emotional health several years ago. I hope it helps people now.
And on a purely aesthetic level, I love the inclusion of the Doctor Who theme as the way the Doctor expresses her identity in blowing the Matrix. I’m always a sucker for meta-fictional use of a series’ iconography, but recontextualizing that theme into an expression of who the Doctor is, in the face of and despite the trauma that has been repressed and stripped from her, makes the piece that much more iconic and beautiful to me.
Which I guess sums up my feelings on “The Timeless Children”: it shows how we can create new meanings to this old, wonderful show. Different ones, ones that might not match up with what’s come before, but vital and worth doing. I think that’s beautiful, and I’m extremely excited to see what stories remain to be told.
Loafers here. Thank you so much for reading this year’s run of Dash of Outrage right to the very end. If you’d like to get me a coffee as thanks, you can do so on Ko-Fi. Other than that, one last time: you can support me on Patreon over here, or look at my site over there!