Doctor Who: An overwhelming end to season 12 rewrites the Doctor’s story

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, Sacha Dhawan as The Master - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America
Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, Sacha Dhawan as The Master - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America /

The Doctor Who season 12 finale is an overwhelming hour that upends everything we know about the Doctor, the Time Lords and the history of the show itself.

It’s okay if you watched the finale of Doctor Who season 12 and feel as though you have no idea what you just saw. Trust me when I tell you that you’re not alone.

The final hour of season 12, entitled “The Timeless Children,” attempts to answer many of the larger thematic questions posed by the Chris Chibnall era, and essentially rewrites our understanding of the Doctor as a character – and Doctor Who as a franchise – in the process.

By revealing the Doctor herself to be the Timeless Child, the show has not only recast the Doctor as a functionally immortal being with virtually endless regenerations, it’s rewritten the history of the Time Lords into one of colonization and theft and turned them into a group of beings who literally steal the genetic material that makes them special from a being they don’t understand.

To put it another way: Thanks to this episode, the Doctor is no longer a Time Lord. The character isn’t even from Gallifrey any more. She’s from…somewhere else, another dimension full of immortal creatures we’ve never seen before, and she’s been forced to…relive new chunks of her own life over and over, somehow, as a part of some secret Gallifreyan security division, which then mindwiped her and camouflaged her memories to look like the ordinary undying life of a kid in Ireland. (Sure, I guess?)

Don’t ask me how the Time Lords managed to force the Doctor to become a child again in time to go to the Academy with the Master, because the show doesn’t bother to explain it, and I suspect it’s probably just easier to go with the idea that, for whatever reason the Time Lords decided simply to return her to her factory settings….before gifting her with an entirely new set of regenerations back when she was Matt Smith?

Like so much of the Chris Chibnall era, “The Timeless Children” is a wild, exciting ride that rapidly begins to come apart if you look at its individual parts too closely. Why did Jack Harkness warn the Doctor about the Lone Cyberman? How did the Ruth Doctor have a TARDIS that also appears to be stuck as a 1960s police box, if she existed before William Hartnell’s First Doctor? (Who, after all, is the one who stole the TARDIS we know in the first place.) How come the Master, who was willing to fight and die next to her friend just two seasons back when she was Missy, is once again torturing the Doctor and aiming to conquer the world with a regenerating Cyberman army? And what happened to Rassalion, anyway?

Honestly, I have no idea. And I am fairly convinced that Chibnall doesn’t have a lot of interest in telling me. Which is kind of frustrating, to say the least.

Many of season 12’s episodes have been fairly overstuffed with content, which have resulted in far too many overly convenient solutions and generally dropped plot threads. “The Timeless Children” is no different – Ashad is generally irrelevant to this story, and the Cybermen as a whole become little more than accessories sporting newly designed Time Lord headgear in the service of the Master’s larger plot. If there wasn’t so much other stuff happening in this episode, we’d probably all remember to be really disappointed with how this Cyberman arc as a whole has gone this year.

In the end, it feels almost as though both everything and nothing about Doctor Who has changed at the same time. It’s unclear how this sudden declaration of a hidden past will really affect Thirteen – after all, the truest line in the hour is the one in which she realizes that this new, expanded history doesn’t change anything about the person she is today. Sure, the Ruth Doctor exists, and there very well could be other random, earlier versions of the Doctors out there. But there still past regenerations and unlikely to really impact the future of the character’s story in terribly significant ways. The history of Gallifrey and the Time Lords is different now. But it’s also not like that isn’t a story we’ve seen before, too. (Looking at you, 50th anniversary special.)

Truthfully, the sudden decision to make the Master a full-out murderous enemy again is honestly a more upsetting choice – particularly since the show seems extremely uninterested in even acknowledging any part of Missy’s season 10 journey. (Jodie Whittaker and Sacha Dhawan’s crackling chemistry can only cover up so many ills, is what I’m saying.)

The show will return for a holiday installment entitled the “Revolution of the Daleks”, so I guess we’ve got a few months to speculate about what this change in the Doctor’s history might mean for the future of the character and the show. But at the moment, it kind of feels like a lot of sound and fury that didn’t exactly signify much.

Next. Doctor Who review: Ascension of the Cybermen. dark

Doctor Who will return this Christmas, in holiday installment “Revolution of the Daleks”