Doctor Who The Timeless Children
Review by Paul Bowler.
The Cyber-Army is on the march in the emotional and epic Doctor Who series finale, The Timeless Children. With the last few survivors of the human race being mercilessly hunted down by the Cybermen, Graham, Yaz and Ryan must fight to survive the horror and carnage unfolding around them. Some civilisations will fall, while other with rise, new and reborn! Secrets, lies and unexpected truths will be revealed as battles rage. Even the Master has returned to wreak chaos! The Doctor is trapped, alone, and in the aftermath of the trials still to come nothing will ever be quite the same again for the Time Lord and her companions…
The Timeless Children, written by Doctor Who show runner Chris Chibnall and directed by James Magnus Stone, provides a stellar conclusion to this two-part series finale as events in Series 12 are brought full circle.
Following an upbeat, if somewhat underwhelming first series in 2018, Jodie Whittaker’s era of Doctor Who has really come into its own during Series 12, brining a wealth of exciting adventures and unexpected plot twists – with the brilliant reveal of Sacha Dhawan as the Master, a surprise return for fan-favourite Captain Jack Harkness (John Barroman), the resurgence of the Cybermen, and even a new incarnation of the Doctor played by Jo Martin. Some episodes have still been a bit preachy on occasion, but overall Series 12 has seen a big improvement in the quality of the stories and characterisation – with emphasis on a more mysterious, darker tone.
Ascension of the Cybermen saw the Cybermen back in force and hell bent on wiping out the last remnants of humanity. Now in the Timeless Children the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) must confront the Master (Sacha Dhawan) in the ruins of Gallifrey, while Ryan (Tosin Coyle) and Ethan (Steve Toussaint) form a strategy with Ko Shamus (Ian McElhinney) to fight the Cyber-Death-Squads sent to hunt them down on the planet where the threshold of the boundary leading to Gallifrey resides, as Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ravio (Julie Graham) and the surviving human refugees face the Lone Cyberman’s, Ashad (Patrick O’Kane), newly awakened army of unstoppable Cyber Warriors back on board the Cyber-War Carrier.
The Timeless Children is an epic and emotional 65 minute finale that draws together several key narrative threads, most notably the mystery of the Timeless Child – first mentioned way back in The Ghost Monument (2018) – which is finally revealed, the significance of the flashbacks to 20th century Ireland involving the seemingly immortal Brendan (Evan McCabe) also gradually becomes clear, and even Jo Martin’s role as the hitherto previously unknown version of the Doctor provides yet more mystery waiting in the wings to be revealed over the course of this episode.
One of the biggest highlights in The Timeless Children through is the powerful confrontations between the Doctor and her arch nemesis, The Master. Jodie Whittaker and Sacha Dhawan are magnificent in these scenes, especially once the Master sets about challenging the Doctor while she’s simultaneously trapped inside a paralysing field in the Citadel of Gallifrey and the Matrix, where the shocking reality that everything the Doctor has ever believe in gets torn down before her eyes and exposed as a lie – and the shocking truth the Doctor is forced to acknowledge will shake the legacy of Time Lords to the core! It seems the Master is also set on forming an alliance – albeit an uneasy one – with the Lone Cyberman as well, inviting them to land on Gallifrey, leading to some fantastic moments featuring this seasons two most maniacal villains.
So, who, or what exactly is the Timeless Child? Well, as the Master gleefully reveals long ago, a scientist and explorer called Tecteun (Seylon Baxter) from Gallifrey’s indigenous race, the Shobrgans, found a child from beyond a gateway to another universe on a distant planet. She brought this child to Gallifrey, where in a fatal accident the child miraculously regenerated. Tecteun dedicated herself to studying the child to discover its secret of seemingly unlimited regeneration, until it could be bestowed in a limited capacity of twelve regenerations to the elite of the society that became the Time Lords who would also go on to discover the secret of time travel – the foundling child ultimately becoming the founder of Gallifreyian civilisation itself.
Yes, the Doctor is indeed the Timeless Child! Incarnations before the 1st Doctor (William Hartnell) or any of the Time Lords later incarnations, including the unknown Doctor’s briefly glimpsed in The Brain of Morbius (1976), are, it seems, most definitely a thing now! Needless to say, this is something of a continuity busting revelation. It recons virtually everything that has ever been established throughout the long history of Doctor Who and turns it on its head. There’s also insight into the origins of the Time Lords non intervention policy in The Timeless Children, but intriguingly some details are missing from the Matrix. Even the Master hasn’t been able to reconstruct them, only lost memories remain, some link to events in 20th century Ireland, while others seem to proffer a clue, possibly from a parent, and the burning question concerning how many lives the Doctor has actually lived has now become an insurmountable fact that’s potentially ad infinitum in scale to a degree that’s almost mind blowing to contemplate.
We have seen the Doctor’s companions struggling at times to balance their lives on Earth and their adventures with the Doctor over the course this series. Now in The Timeless Children the full impact of these events on their personal lives and their friendships with each other are brought into even sharper focus. Ryan must find his own path after he is separated from the Doctor on the planet, ever resourceful, he ends up fighting the Cybermen alongside Ethan and Ko Shamus, while Yaz and Graham have a moving heart to heart, and together with the human refugees they adopt an ingenuous disguise to escape the Cybermen on the Cyber War Carrier.
Tosin Coyle, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh all give emotionally charged performances in their roles as the Time Lords companions, events challenge the Doctor’s friends and reinforce their faith in the Doctor like never before, and Yaz leads the way as they cross the boundary with Ko Shamus and the refugees to reach Gallifrey and rescue the Doctor.
The Cybermen begin their reign of terror in earnest in this episode. With the Lone Cybermen unleashing his new look legions of Cyber-Warriors to wreak havoc, prospects certainly looks bleak for the Doctor, her friends and the human refugees. The Cyber-Warriors are a ruthless, unstoppable war machine, and are a worthy addition to the pantheon of the Cyber-Race. Their leader, the deranged Lone Cyberman, Ashad, is as malevolent as ever. Welder of the Cyberium, possessing the entire knowledge of the Cyber-Race, and the feared Death Particle capable of destroying all organic life on a world, Ashad’s character plays a pivotal role in the action. He is unwavering in his quest, and we also gain more insight into this ghoulish creature’s motivations. He’s especially menacing in the scenes where he searches for Graham and Yaz on the Cyber-War Carrier – leading to some genuinely nerve jangling moments – although his ultimate goal to purge the entire Cyber-Race of all organic components does seems like a rather narrow-minded quest for perfection to me…
However, the Lone Cyberman’s alliance with the Master is short lived as the renegade Time Lord uses his favourite weapon – the tissue compression eliminator – to turn the tables on Ashad and seize the power of the Cyberium for himself. The Master hasn’t just destroyed the Time Lords, he kept the bodies as well, and now with the power of the Cyberium and the technology of the Cyber-Race at his command the Master creates a new race of Cybermen, the Cyber-Masters, invincible new Cybermen that also have the ability to regenerate!
To say that Chris Chibnall’s ambitious script has a heavy amount of plot and exposition to convey during this episode is something of an understatement, however, Chibnall just about manages to keep everything on track, and the resolution is handled satisfyingly enough. It was intriguing to see the Doctor having another meeting with Jo Martin’s incarnation of the Doctor, this time inside the Matrix. The role of Joe Martin’s Doctor still remains somewhat vague, but she’s instrumental in helping the Doctor escape the Matrix and embrace the new status-quo established by the revelations about her origins. The scene where the 13th Doctor gathers her memories is a cinematic masterpiece in itself, featuring a glorious montage from every aspect of the series’ history, and with the inclusion of the ‘Morbius Doctors’ Chris Chibnall effectively blows the bloody doors off decades of hotly debated continuity as well!
The final showdown between the Doctor, the Master and the Cyber-Masters positively crackles with tension and suspense, before Ko Shamus (the man responsible for sending the Cyberium back through time where it became entangled in the events of The Haunting of Villa Diodati) intervenes when the Doctor cannot bring herself to sink to the Master‘s level, and unleashes the Death Particle to defeat the Master and the Cybermen. Its in the aftermath where the plot contrivances get a bit tangled and strain credibility to the limit, as Chibnal throws in a TARDIS here and there to get the Doctor’s companions and the human refugees safely returned to present day Earth, while the Doctor takes a similar journey to reunite with her own TARDIS, where she suddenly gets arrested by the Judoon and sentenced to life imprisonment somewhere in deep space!
The Timeless Children is a superb showcase for the regular cast, with Jodie Whittaker giving a magnificent performance as the Doctor, the action sequences with the Cybermen are superb, and everything is all impressively directed by James Magnus Stone. It was thrilling to see the Cybermen invade Gallifrey and become the Cyber-Masters in this episode, and Sacha Dhawan totally knocked it out the park with another scenery chewing turn as the Master. This episode certainly gives us lots to process. The Timeless Children was an exciting finale for sure, game changing even, and that cliffhanger ending is sure to keep us all guessing until Doctor Who returns for the upcoming festive season in the episode entitled: “Revolution of the Daleks”. But, are the major retcons of the Doctor’s origins and the legacy of the Time Lords a stroke of genius, or a step too far by show runner Chris Chibnall?
Well, I for one don’t think it really changes all that much to be honest. I’m sure many will disagree with me. I’m no big fan of Chibnall as show runner, Series 11 wasn’t that good at all, but I do feel he’s learned from that and gone some way to restructuring the show significantly for the better in Series 12. Jodie Whittaker and the regular cast have all been great this season too. As for the potentially limitless number of incarnations the Doctor now apparently has available given the revelations of The Timeless Children… well, so what eh? As far as I see it makes very little or no difference, whether we acknowledge it or not, everything we knew is still there, and these developments just bring a new perspective to what we already have. Doctor Who has always been about change, and it always will. If the changes made during this episode doesn’t bring some much needed mystery back into modern Doctor Who and a wealth of exciting possibilities to explore then I don’t know what will, do you? I like “new Who”, I have since it returned in 2005, but for me “Classic Doctor Who” will always be my favourite version of the show. The Timeless Children won’t change anything for me one way or the other in that respect, although I’m sure some will hail this tampering with the history of Doctor Who as the beginning of the end and that Chris Chibnall has killed Doctor Who.
Well, time will tell won’t it? Viewing figures for Series 12 haven‘t exactly been out of this world, so maybe somewhere the tea really is getting cold again? Who knows? Personally I’ve quite enjoyed Series 12, and thought Ascension of the Cybermen and the Timeless Children brought this season of Doctor Who to a really exciting close. I must admit I did have some trepidation towards Series 12, as after Series 11 it did feel like modern Who had runs its course to me, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well this new series actually turned out to be. Just think, for the first time in ages we don’t quite know who the Doctor is anymore, there’s scope for a wealth of new adventures on an unimaginable scale still waiting to be discovered. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty exciting place for Doctor Who to be in to me…
Images Belong BBC.
About The Author
Hi, I’m Paul Bowler, blogger and reviewer of films, TV shows, and comic books. I’m a Sci-Fi geek, a big fan of Doctor Who, Star Trek, movies, Sci-Fi, Horror, Comic Books, and all things PS4.You can follow me on Twitter @paul_bowler,or at my website, Sci-Fi Jubilee, and on YouTube and Facebook