The Truth About The Doctor
Tripwire’s man in Los Angeles Robert Cave takes a look at the tenth episode of Doctor Who, which was on BBC1 last Sunday, the end of the season. Warning: spoilers ahead…
Doctor Who season 12
The Timeless Children
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Well, that certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. The finale for series 12 gave us some big revelations that upended a lot of what we all thought they knew about the series, as well as a whole lot of new questions. What it didn’t really give us was a satisfying conclusion to a purportedly two-part story.
In retrospect, referring to a group of characters as “the humans” was a bit of a mistake. I never felt we got to know any of them, so when more of their number died, it didn’t feel like a tragedy as much as a cynically efficient means of trimming down the guest cast to make more room for Sacha Dhawan’s scenery-chewing Master.
Dhawan’s great in every scene he’s in, but his cyber-pals were substantially less so. Maybe it is nostalgia on my part, but the Cybermen’s intensely choreographed stompy, clomping about quickly got very tiresome and lacked the menace of the slow deliberate gait they exhibited back in the classic series. They shot their arm cannons more easily than previous cyber-iterations, but seemed to rival the Storm Troopers of Star Wars for their poor marksmanship.
The Cybermen’s big plan, to destroy all organic life so they can become pure robots was, well, a bit boring, and was rightly criticised as such by the Master, who wanted the Cybermen to convert a load of Time Lords instead. Too bad this cyber-army seemed completely unaware of the Master’s terrible track record as an ally, particularly to the Cybermen. Obviously they haven’t watched The Five Doctors as many times as I have.
The Lone Cyberman were shrunk down to the size of a small collectable, handing the Master his Cyber-Time Lords. Sadly, they looked, well, not exactly scary with their steel version of that over-size collar thing, which already looked pretty ridiculous on the Time Lords themselves. But costumes aside, the Cyber-Time Lords biggest problem was that they were apparently completely subservient to the Master, now in the Cyberiad, the Cybermen’s hive-mind. Removed of all agency, the Cybermen became an irrelevance in what was supposed to be their own story.
Which brings us to the Master’s big reveal that the Doctor wasn’t actually a native Gallifeyian at all, instead being a foundling from some other place. Oh, and the Time Lord ability to regenerate was apparently derived from the Doctor, who had regenerated many times before the incarnation fans still quaintly refer to as the First Doctor. Ordinarily this would be considered a lot for fans to digest on its own, but there was more: The Doctor was apparently once an agent for a mysterious secret organization within Time Lord Society called “The Division” apparently an entirely different secret Time Lord organization from the Celestial Intervention Agency/Celestis… Oh, and that whole Irish Garda business last week apparently had nothing to do with the Cybermen at all. It was just an allegorical reference to the Doctor’s hidden, suppressed and otherwise secret origin story.
As my Nan used to say about Crossroads, her favorite soap opera back in the day, “It’s all got silly now.” Not that I’m opposed to silliness. In many ways, camp silliness has long been core to Doctor Who’s appeal, but by the end of the episode I was just left wondering… why?
I can appreciate the desire to shake the show up, to pull the narrative rug from under the viewers’ collective feet, and some of the revelations we witnessed have some really interesting potential. Back in 1989 Andrew Cartmel, the last script-editor of Doctor Who’s classic era, toyed with the notion that the Doctor was more than an ordinary Time Lord. That could be interesting to explore. But the details as presented here – giving the Doctor what appears to be the same origin as Odo from Deep Space Nine – seemed a little slapdash and mundane. As mundane and dull the Cybermen’s aspiration to be mere robot.
Maybe the Master was lying. Not about everything maybe, but about the details. It certainly seems suspect that the Master is supposed to have defeated the whole Time Lord civilization on his own. We shall find out next series, I guess, or perhaps even sooner. There is a one-off special in the works featuring the Daleks, after all. And the Doctor is still has to get out of that space prison the Judoon chucked her in at the episode’s end. And then there’s team TARDIS, back in Sheffield with a few extra humans in tow and with their own time and space machine at their disposal. Despite it all, I am still looking forward to the next adventure. Let’s see what we get next time.