Reviews, TV Reviews

TV Review: Doctor Who – Series 12 and the Timeless Child arc

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Doctor Who Series 12 has come to an end after an all-too-brief 10 episodes and it’s been a mixed bag. I was super-underwhelmed by the opening two-parter, Spyfall, which had 45 minutes’ worth of story drawn out into two 60-minute episodes. And new aliens the Kasaavin (which, uninterestingly, just looked like shining humanoids with mushroom-shaped hats) weren’t even properly revealed or explained over the course of the bumper runtime.

However, Spyfall properly began the Timeless Child arc, which had previously been teased in The Ghost Monument last season. The Master revealed to the Doctor that everything they knew about Time Lord history was a lie based on the Timeless Child. As a result, the Master destroyed Gallifrey in revenge.

Okay, so I really could’ve done without the destruction of Gallifrey. We’ve been there, done that, got the Time War t-shirt. Fortunately, the focus wasn’t on Gallifrey’s destruction. We knew the Master had done that. The question was why. Who was the Timeless Child and what was this lie?

For me, this series was great one week, a bit pants the next. Spyfall was weak, Orphan 55 was brilliant (although the ending did seem to change Doctor Who’s time travel rules). Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror was probably the series low point, with an overly simply story and aliens that were literally just giant scorpions (albeit with a queen who was confusingly humanoid and a total ripoff of the Racnoss queen from The Runaway Bride). Fugitive of the Judoon was the series’ best episode, with a twisty story, surprise new doctor and punch-the-air return of Captain Jack.

Fugitive of the Judoon was great because it advanced the Timeless Child arc by asking intriguing questions about the Doctor’s past, whilst setting up the Lone Cyberman story that capped off the season. It also had a neat story of its own and I did really enjoy the return of the Judoon. (There aren’t enough recurring New-Who aliens, which I’ll come onto in a moment.)

Praxeus the following week was a disappointment. Just too thin a story. Can You Hear Me? was an improvement. I thought the story of the two gods was quite inventive. The Haunting of Villa Diodati was great, particularly as it starts off as one story (reality-bending events and spider-hand-creatures in a haunted house) and turns into another (the Lone Cyberman looking for the Cyberium).

Ascension of the Cybermen was, again, a bit meh by comparison to the previous two. Not a lot really happened. But to be honest part of the problem is the Cybermen themselves. They’re really not very interesting. I don’t know why the producers insist on bringing them back all the time. The Lone Cyberman and the Cyberium are slightly interesting new elements, but it’s a bit like polishing a turd. 

However, The Timeless Children was a serious turn up for the books. Excellent episode. Yeah, okay, the Cybermen still aren’t interesting and the Master, who’s also been done to death, is back again. But the resolution to the Timeless Child arc is both thrilling and fascinating, and the idea of Cybermen with regenerative abilities is a decent story turn. The episode also acted as a strong setup for exciting things to come. 

There will be people complaining that showrunner Chris Chibnall has taken a dump on Doctor Who lore. But has he? Has he really? The origins of the Time Lords have never been explained and only bits and pieces of their history have ever been established on screen. What Chibnall has done is go back to the beginning and show us how the Time Lords came to be. I loved the revelation that their regenerative abilities aren’t actually natural, that they got them from another being, the Timeless Child. I also loved that the Doctor herself was the Timeless Child, that she had a whole other life before the First Doctor, but her memories of it were erased. Equally clever was how her adopted mother covered up the memories of the Timeless Child with a ‘filter’, which turned out to be the scenes of the immortal police officer in Ireland from the previous episode.

There is so much that Chibnall leaves hanging. Where did the Timeless Child come from and what is the Doctor’s original species? How much of the Doctor’s life was ‘redacted’? How many lives has the Doctor actually lived? What was the Doctor’s role within the Division, a faction of Time Lords that chose to go against Time Lord policy of non-interference?

I’m fascinated to see where this goes. My hope is that we will get more insight into the Doctor’s life before the First Doctor. No one’s ever really gone there. We know that she had a family and was a parent, because Susan was her granddaughter. We know she and the Master were at the academy together. In Listen, we see her childhood home and two people who may have been her guardians.

In essence, Chibnall is filling in the blanks. He’s just making the infill a lot more compelling that we assumed. The Doctor’s now going to want to piece together her real backstory and I for one am looking forward to joining her.

For me, there are two main problems with the Chibnall era so far. Some of the stories are overly simple, to the point where I’m sometimes craving Stephen Moffat levels of complication. And the companions are underdeveloped. To be honest, that’s partly Chibnall’s fault (there’s too many of them) and partly the BBC’s (only giving Chibnall 10 episodes to develop four characters when we used to get 13 episodes to develop two).

And I have to say, the biggest failing of all of New-Who since 2005 is that no writer has yet invented a recurring menace with as much staying power as the Daleks, the Cybermen or the Master — all Old-Who villains that New-Who keeps falling back on. Moffat came close with the Weeping Angels, but where are they now? As much as I love the Daleks, I sighed with exasperation when I saw that the post-series 12 special was called Revolution of the Daleks. We desperately need some imagination in the villains’ department.

All that being said, The Timeless Children really has shaken up Doctor Who for the better, and it’s made me more excited for the future of the show than I have been for years.

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