Doctor Who: Totally Anarchic Retelling Denotes Irreversible Shift
Well, here we are, at the end of another season of Doctor Who.
And, like I said last week, it’s been a mess. But it all comes down to this: can the show find some way to pull the pieces together into something coherent? The last ten episodes have been a deep-dive into the mythology of the show as we know it, as well as trying to establish some new groundwork for the Chibnall/Whittaker era of Doctor Who as a whole.
And that’s what the finale, The Timeless Children, alleges to pull off. And God almighty, we have a lot to explain here – The Master, the Jo Martin Doctor, the Timeless Child, Gallifrey, the latent homosexual romance between Yas and the Doctor. Even with a specially-extended sixty-five minute runtime, I really wasn’t sure that they could tie everything off in a way that actually worked.
God almighty, where to even start with this hour? Okay, let’s go with our title character – after all, this is a game-changing episode for Jodie’s Doctor, and, indeed, the character as a whole. After all this teasing, it turns out that she is the Timeless Child – that she was the beginning of the Time Lords, and that it was the stealing and adoption of her own genetic material that allowed the Time Lords to build up a perverted creation myth around their own existence. Really, it’s a notion that has a lot to say about the destabilizing nature of repressed memory – how hard it is to discover that you don’t know yourself as you thought you did, and that losing that groundwork feels like a fundamental betrayal of your very personhood. Jo Martin is back to elucidate these themes, and frankly, can she just…can we get the spin-off of her lifetime too, please?
This is one hell of a shift to the canon, but it’s one that I actually really like. Yes, it does centre the Doctor as more than just an incidental character to the mythos once more, but, at this point, twelve seasons in – we need a change. It’s hard to know how this one will play out, how it will affect the character in the future – but damn, Jodie acted the shit out of this, grief and anger and betrayal all at once, and it’s a powerful and canon-expanding adventure for the show to jump into next.
And, of course, more Sacha Dhawan! God, he’s already zooming to the top of my Master list, and this episode is just a fiendishly complex and ridiculously comic-book-villainous scheme that has Dhawan whooping and shrieking and pouting and somehow managing to guide it just the right side of annoying. I said at the start of this season that this version of the Master might be the best thing Chibnall has done so far, and, well – yeah. I was right. Time Lords in Cyberman suits? That’s some outrageously evil shit, and I just adore it with a burning passion. Ugh, and the Cybermen? Never scarier than this week, from stalking hiding-out humans to regenerating in front of our eyes. I love it. I love it!
Of course, like any series finale, there are some goodbyes here – mostly in the assistant stakes, of course. The main goodbye is to my hopes and dreams that the show would follow through on the gorgeous chemistry between Mandip Gill and Jodie Whittaker and actually give us something to confirm a romance – I really think it would have fitted with the high stakes of this episode, especially given Yas’s passionate insistence on finding the Doctor, and her headfirst bravery in her search in doing so.
But, okay, maybe talk about what did happen outside of your fanfiction, huh, Lou? This episode, I thought, was a pretty strong one for the assistants – the scene shared towards the start between Graham and Yas is a gentle, beautiful thing, the two of them sharing their affection and respect for each other in their own idiosyncratic ways. Mandip Gill has been the MVP of this season, in the assistant-pool, and this episode is just a confirmation of that. Toisin Cole is also – also here, I suppose, in yet another plot that just feels a little like something for him to do more than anything else.
Season’s over. I need to say something profound now, I suppose. So, let’s take this back. As I write this, I am in Spain – I am staying with my dad, working on our new book (which is so exciting and I can’t wait to share it with you when the time is right), and I watched my very first episode of Doctor Who with him. It was the Autons Christopher Eccleston opener, and I made him turn it off after five minutes because I was so scared by it. That’s what Doctor Who is for me – something I share with my family, with my boyfriend, with the people I love, because I love it.
And when I watch this show, I look for a little of that love in return. Not just effort with writing, direction, with acting, though that’s part of it. A love for the show that comes from the people behind it, and that shows in the finished product – one of the things I despised the most about those awful Capaldi seasons was how anti-Doctor Who it seemed to be – the Doctor was mean, the show felt smug, and most of the time, more interested in catching the audience out then whirling it along on a mutually orgasmic adventure.
Honestly, that’s the best thing I have to say about this finale. That the show seems to want to return that love. Everything here, everything that we’ve been building up to, isn’t just gimmick – the return of Gallifrey matters this time. The Master is more than just a twist to keep us guessing. We get real revelations about the history of the Doctor, and they actually feel important. This is an episode that, for all it may have faults, feels like it wants to return that love that so many of us have given it for so long. And that, really, is the most I can ask for from any season of Doctor Who.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here and hey, how about checking out my movie blog, No But Listen? If you just stop by for these recaps, then might I draw your attention to the fact that my first book, Rape Jokes,was released in between the last couple of seasons, and, oh, just so happens to have a few five-star reviews, not that I’m counting? As ever, thank you for reading, and drop your take on this episode in the comments below!
(header image via Radio Times)