We are finally here, the Series 12 finale for the 13th Doctor and it has been an interesting journey to reach this point from the New Years opening special of Spyfall Parts 1 and 2. So far this series has been big on teasing massive Doctor Who lore changing events as well as delicately playing with the little things such as the relationship of Team TARDIS to the Doctor. We have seen the return of The Master and the introduction of the “Ruth Doctor” with her very own identical TARDIS. So many things have been thrown up in the air for this final episode which quite frankly has a lot to deliver. I was both nervous and a little uncomfortable heading into ‘The Timeless Children” and now in the minutes after the credits rolled….I am not sure what to think of it.
*Spoiler Warning: There are major spoilers within this review due to there being no other way to discuss this finale episode. You have been warned*
I am genuinely sitting here typing this review just following the end credits to ‘The Timeless Children’ rolling on my TV and I have purposely avoided looking on social media to see the reactions of other fans to the series finale because, I am quite honestly, a little uncomfortable with how Chris Chibnall has wrapped up this series. One of my biggest fears and concerns for Series 12, which I have raised ever since “Fugitive of the Judoon” threw in perhaps, the biggest lore changing moment in the 57 year history of Doctor Who. Now previous show-runners in Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have also made big changes to Doctor Who lore but with Chris Chibnall it felt scary but also a little on the side of him not earning the “right” to make the changes that he has suddenly made in only his second series going by how poor his opening attempt for the 13th Doctor was.
This second part to the series finale following on from “Ascension of the Cybermen” ultimately comes down to two characters, The Doctor and The Master and this was very much The Master’s stage to perform on. Sacha Dhawan is absolutely incredible in this episode, as he has been in each of the episodes that featured The Master. His version of the Master is by far the most unhinged and threatening than previous ones, even the Harold Saxon Master played brilliantly by John Simm pales in comparison to the absolutely villainous persona of Dhawan’s Master. Bringing this character back was a risk considering how The Master had a rather satisfying “ending” with the 12th Doctor. But he is, if you pardon the pun, just masterful here as the episode opens with him threatening to kill all the humans and Ryan unless the Doctor go with him through the Boundary back to the ruins of Gallifrey in order for him to reveal the lie he claims is the reason why he raised the planet to the ground.
Now before we get there, and believe me there is a lot to say about what is revealed to The Doctor by The Master, we do need to look at the other element to the finale, the threat of the Cybermen lead by Ashad the Lone Cyberman. In Ascension of the Cyberman we saw Yaz and Graham left stranded on board the Cyberman Warship along with a group of the last humans in the universe whilst Ryan was left on the planet where the ‘Boundary’ was found, a portal that was leading to none other place than Gallifrey. Much of this story has the group on the Cybership desperately trying to escape and find their way back to the Doctor, lead by Yaz who has the “Doctor level” crazy idea of having the group wear Cyberman Armour, pretend to be them and steal a ship and get to the planet surface. Ashad is still determined to bring the Cybermen to their greatest glory by following the guidance of the Cyberium, the AI construct that if you remember from “The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ , fought so hard to not be captured by Ashad that it took over a human, manipulated the perception filter of the entire house and then even chose the Doctor as a better vessel than Ashad. But now, this AI that contains all the knowledge of the Cybermen is more than happy to do whatever it takes to make that dream a reality which is a little jarring to me.
Ashad is such an incredible character that successfully made the Cybermen a credible threat and a true monster for the Doctor but in typical Chris Chibnall fashion, and he was the sole writer for this final episode, that is almost undone by the fact that a bigger star joined the party, The Master. The Master invites Ashad to bring his Cyberarmy through the Boundary to Gallifrey, and offers him an alliance and when Ashad reveals that his true plan is to remove the organic components of the Cybermen to remove that one weakness and achieve full mechanisation whilst also removing all organic live in the the universe by using the “Death Particle” stored in his chest. This is the moment that Ashad loses what made him a superb enemy for me as The Master, on behalf of the audience, points out that Ashad’s great plan to simply to make the Cybermen nothing more than robots is just…..stupid. Instead he offers a better plan, to team with The Master and instead of using regular organic material, that they should use the remains of the Time Lord bodies that The Master has kept, creating a new race of Cyberman and Time Lord.
Reducing Ashad to nothing more than a cog in the grand scheme of The Master’s grand plan felt to me that he was just discarded far too easily. The Whole ‘Death Particle’ was only introduced to provide a lazy way to defeat the Cybermen considering Ashad never mentioned it during ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’ episode. Even the manner in which The Master invited Ashad to Gallifrey just to steal the Cyberium from him by using his shrink weapon and turning Ashad into a toy figure to me shows just how little time Chibnall has for characters once their story purpose is over. I loved the visuals of the Cybermen Warship landing on the ruins of the Citadel of the Time Lords and watching the execution squads hunt down Ryan and co on the planet surface was classic Cyberman, not to mention the design of the ‘CyberMasters’ combining classic Time Lord Headdress with Cyberman armour. Seeing Gallifrey in ruins is heartbreaking to see but it has an immediate impact when on screen and Jodie Whittaker has done an amazing job in showing The Doctor’s emotional reaction to is all through the season and especially this episode as The Master constantly taunts her about their childhood memories growing up on Gallifrey.
There was an interesting moment which saw Graham talking to Yaz as they sat waiting for their Cybersuits to be made ready with Graham turning to Yaz and doing the “if this goes badly” speech telling her that she is the best human he knows. Now I still feel as though we could see a reduction in the size of Team TARDIS heading into the next series, ever since Series 11 my money has been on Yaz to become the true and only companion for the 13th Doctor. Ryan did very little in this episode other than find his Call of Duty love of weapons again as he happily threw a basketball size bomb destroying two squads of Cybermen and celebrating his “swish” aim. But overall, they had so little impact on this episode that if we still have Team TARDIS as it is currently going into Series 13, I really struggle to see how it can continue because other than Yaz, the rest are dead-weight in nearly every story outside of comedy bits and forgetful character moments.
This naturally brings me to the big story moment of the finale and the one that has been hyped up every since The Master made his return, the lie he discovered that made him destroy Gallifrey and the Time Lords. “Everything changes” were his final words to the Doctor and us the audience at the end of Episode 9 and it left a lot of fans and myself, feeling more than a little anxious as to what he was going to reveal. Taking the Doctor to the heart of the Time Lord Citadel, to the Matrix which is a repository of all Time Lord Knowledge and memories to trap her within a paralysis cage, The Master takes The Doctor’s conscious into the Matrix starting with the wonderful line of dialogue “are you suffering comfortably, then I shall begin”.
This really is the moment Chris Chibnall has been leading us to all of Series 12, to reveal whatever it was that would explain why The Master destroyed the Time Lords and raised Gallifrey to the ground and who the “Ruth Doctor” was. The Master begins to narrate the tale of someone who belonged to a race of people who existed on Gallifrey before the Time Lords, the first of Gallifrey’s people. This woman called Tecteun, was the first to leave the planet to explore other worlds and had discovered a monument on a strange planet that was a gateway to another dimension and universe. Beneath the monument was a child all alone, Tectuen chose to adopt this child as her own and they travelled the stars together before returning to Gallifrey after some years. Tecteun started to perform experiments to find out where the child came from but could find no answers. That was until an accident between the child and another child, which resulted in her falling off a cliff where she was discovered by Tecteun who witness something unbelievable the child….regenerated.
The great lie of the Time Lords is that their ability to regenerate was not something they evolved to do but instead it was something taken from a child from another universe and simply added to their genetic make up following years of experiments performed on the mysterious child to unlock the secret of regeneration. But Chris Chibnall takes this one stage further by tying in the Doctor with The Master revealing that the very child that was found and had the ability to regenerate was actually The Doctor and furthermore, the child had the natural ability to regenerate without limit and that when Tecteun finally discovered the genetic secret to regeneration and tested it on herself and found she also could now regenerate, she made the decision to implant this ability into her own people who would then go on to discover time travel and found the Time Lord civilisation, a decision was then made to force a limit of only 12 regenerations per Time Lord.
Having taking some time to process this revelation, I have to admit I am both relieved and disappointed at the same time. If this is true, and again, this could all simply be put down to a devious lie by The Master to try and break the Doctor should Chibnall or another future show-runner decide to U-Turn on it, then it leaves a lot of annoying questions left instead of fun ones for fans. For me the very fact that the story of the Doctor is about someone who refused to sit back and adhere to the Time Lord policy of non interference and chose to run away from Gallifrey and the Time Lords, taking a TARDIS and exploring all of time and space to battle evil and monsters wherever the Doctor was needed is now almost spoiled for me.
Chibnall in this move has turned ‘The Doctor’ into MARVEL’s Winter Soldier almost, a being that was used by a secret organisation of Time Lord authority known as ‘The Division’ and sent out to actually interfere in other civilisations who would then have all the memories of those missions and entire life spans wiped from memory and The Matrix as well to keep it a secret from Time Lord society itself. So really what is left, is a child who is not from this universe, someone who is older than Time Lord Civilisation whose genetic ability to regeneration was copied and introduced to a race of people who then continued to use the Timeless Child for secret missions, wiping entire lives away until we have The Doctor who we can only surmise was forced to regenerate back into a child who then had the lives that we now know has lead to the 13th Doctor.
But fans are now left to ask questions such as what was given to the 12th Doctor in order to have “a new regeneration cycle” when according to this truth, The Doctor has had many many life cycles and countless regenerations over centuries. This reveal explains why there is a “Ruth Doctor” and why the 13th Doctor has no memory of her but then why does the “Ruth Doctor” have her own Blue Box TARDIS? Does that mean that all these other forgotten “Doctors” had the iconic TARDIS that we know and love and has it always been in the form of a Police box even before the 1st Doctor as we recognise him, stole it from Gallifrey and the Chameleon circuit became stuck with it after arriving on Earth in the 1960s?
Now I will admit that a lot of this may not be any concern to some Doctor Who fans but if like me, the 57 year lore of this show and all the intricacies of the stories told over almost six decades and the 13 versions of The Doctor is something that you do care about, this mess of a lore change and reveal leaves far too many plot holes for me to just comfortably say to myself “oh OK, fair enough if The Doctor is good with it all then fine by me”. There could be an argument that all this has done is add more secrets to the Time Lords who already had plenty of them, but is just niggling away at my fandom heart for the show that we have so many loose ends and very little explanations given how quickly the story just moved passed it and into the closing moments.
The pace at which the story switched from the reveal above to the end sequence of events with the humans and Team TARDIS sent off in a different TARDIS to return to Earth by the Doctor whilst she made the only choice she felt she had, to take the one final bomb which could only be manually detonated, to trigger the Death Particle in the “Toy Lone Cyberman”. Her hope was to sacrifice herself in order to wipe out all organic life left on Gallifrey, which would take out the CyberMaster Race, the remaining Time Lord corpses, The Master and herself. Now of course the Doctor still could not pull the trigger to detonate the bomb when the time came, something The Master both knew and was letdown by, until that is the Guardian of the Boundary appeared, replacing the Doctor which allowed her to grab yet another TARDIS and escape whilst the bomb was detonated and seemingly wiping out all organic life and the bad guys on Gallifrey.
The ending felt so rushed and anticlimactic to me, in no small part to the mess it left the Doctor Who lore in my head. The finale went from undoing decades of show lore to a lame cheesy set up for what will probably be either the 2020 Christmas special but more likely the 2021 New Years day special when Doctor Who returns in “Revolution of the DALEKs” which will begin with the 13th Doctor in prison for life charged by the Judoon for the crime committed by “Ruth Doctor” during ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’.
Ultimately how you feel about this series finale in ‘The Timeless Children’ will come down to how much you care about Doctor Who lore and for me, this failed to live up to the hype of what Chris Chibnall has been teasing throughout Series 12. We are left with a Doctor who is no longer a Time Lord or from Gallifrey, which is now itself is now destroyed and gone, which following the brilliance of the 50th Anniversary Special and the 11th Doctor’s final moments actually feels quite sad. Having to wait until the end of the year or start of 2021 to see what happens next is a long time to sit and stew over what has happened in this finale.
It might take me that long to really decide where I stand with what Chibnall has done with Series 12 which ironically is exactly where I was this time in 2019 at the end of Series 11, worried about where Doctor Who is going under the stewardship of Chris Chibnall.