Doctor Who has been getting some negative press recently, to the point where BBC chief Piers Wenger came out vehemently in its defense. But there’s nothing to fear, not based on the Doctor Who season 12 finale that blew everyone’s minds — including The Doctor’s.
“The Timeless Children” was appropriately huge for a Doctor Who finale, featuring both The Master (Sacha Dhawan) and the Cybermen, and with showrunner Chris Chibnall briefly creating a freakish army of Cyberman and Time Lord hybrids. Every finale in this series has a massive scope, and so many episodes circle the story back to The Doctor’s iconic foes. This was everything fans could ask for from an entertainment standpoint, served up on a silver platter.
It even proved the value of having three companions as Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) had their own adventures, both together and apart, pointing out what each one contributes to Team TARDIS. Doctor Who works at its best when the companion is as strong a character as The Doctor, not just a starry-eyed bystander, and these three characters are strong – not to mention they have their own unique arc with how connected they are. “The Timeless Children” proved that they’re not reliant on The Doctor, and that Doctor Who doesn’t always need the three of them to follow The Doctor around.
But its real worth was in explaining what Chibnall had been laying pipe for since the Doctor Who season 12 premiere “Spyfall.” What he doubled down on in “Fugitive of the Judoon.” This was Chris Chibnall paving the way for Doctor Who‘s future, by rewriting its past.
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) was horrified to discover that she was not from Gallifrey and that the Gallifreyans were not originally Time Lords. Her real origin is now unknown, because she was found alone on the other side of a portal to a distant realm, and adopted by a Gallifreyan explorer. When her regenerative powers revealed themselves, her adopted parent spent the next several years using her as a lab rat – eventually discovering the secret to her abilities and taking it to gene-spliced into the rest of their society.
She is patient zero for the Time Lords as we know them. And there’s more: because the limit of 12 regenerations didn’t exist until her adoptive parent engineered it, that means The Doctor isn’t limited in her regenerations – and Doctor Who can safely continue as long as it wants. Crafty, isn’t it? And also a remarkable way of expanding the series’ mythology.
Because The Doctor now has no knowledge of what happened to her before her adoption, or where she really comes from, that’s a whole new chapter that Chibnall and future showrunners can explore. Certainly, some of the character remains influenced by her upbringing on Gallifrey and all of that rich Time Lord history, but we now also have to question how much is just her? How much of who we know and love is owed to this other place we’ve never known before?
“The Timeless Children” frees The Doctor from the pomposity that often came with stories about the Time Lords (remember Timothy Dalton vamping it up as Rassilon?) while also not chucking decades of canon out the window. All of that still exists, but by shifting The Doctor’s perspective as well as the audience’s, the show is no longer beholden to it. It can play in that sandbox but it can also go elsewhere, and that’s not including all of the fun and the angst that will undoubtedly come out of The Doctor continuing to question her history and the parts people have played in it.
Plus, there’s that inevitable cliffhanger ending to tide us over until the next holiday special: Where did the space rhinos, er, Judoon come from and how will The Doctor free herself from their life sentence?
This was a Doctor Who episode that delivered the emotional highs and big moments that audiences were looking for. But we’ll also look back on it as the one that changed the way we look at the series. Chris Chibnall has now left a massive fingerprint on Doctor Who by taking this risk, and he should be applauded for it. After all, the whole point of this show is adventure into the unknown…