Doctor Who and the Season Finale
Repercussions of The Timeless Children
Many fans called it – the first Black female Doctor (Jo Martin) came from a time before the William Hartnell 1963 Doctor. Time to think things over: It is quite surprising that in so many lifetimes the Doctor has never run into one of the past selves before now…perhaps there was a protective timelock or filter to block their meeting? Another actor ascended to the Dpctpr canon (sort of) is apparently the young police officer from earth and perhaps even the faces from Brain of Morbius.
A few quibbles: Obviously, all of the novel canon about loom-born Gallifreyens is kaput (or at least demoted in favor of this new reality). It seems Clara in “The Name of the Doctor” had access to all of the Doctor’s memories…but not ones from before that. More problematically, why does Martin’s Doctor’s TARDIS resemble a police box? Bits of canon including “The Name of the Doctor” have the William Hartnell one stealing it and then having it disguise as the police box in his first episode. This season, discovering the police box TARDIS was dramatic and iconic but not especially logical. (Yes, the Doctor could have disguised it permanently as a police box, had years of adventures, been stuck with it on Gallifrey during a childhood and adulthood, vaguely recalled all this, and stolen it again, but that’s pushing things.) This also abandons a completely different plot thread, addressed in the Eighth Doctor film and “Hell-Bent,” that explored that the Doctor is half human (again, this could be compensated for with that policeman being raised on earth, one supposes, but this really does seem to be a different backstory). Instead the Doctor, framed as a rebellious child rising up against the patriarchs is both that and the ultimate patriarch, the first regenerator, whose DNA has formed them all. That plot thread does explain why Rassilon so fears the Doctor, and even could still leave him/her the Hybrid, if the experiments grafted on Time Lord DNA. This dichotomy does actually work, shaping the character as wiser than all of them and also younger and more foolhardy.
So much for canon and on to symbolism. The further difficulty with the Doctor having countless past lives is that she is deprived of agency. She has done great deeds and terrible ones, shaped the entire history of her planet, and yet is unaware of it all. In a sweet moment, Martin’s Doctor says, "Have you ever been limited by who you were before?" (something that works as a fourth-wall break as well as a characteristic), but that’s a lot to lose in oneself.
At the same time, the metaphor of Rassilon claiming her deeds, insisting he invented regeneration and is his people’s salvation, rings painfully true as the hollow leader claiming credit for the actions of an exploited child. It’s rather like “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” where the torture of a child has founded all the luxuries of their civilization. As far as diversity, the string of white male upper-class British Doctors and their white teeny-bopper screaming companions has been retconned – before they happened, the Doctor has been male, female, dark-skinned, and anything else one might imagine and hasn’t seen. In fact, as a mystery foundling rather than a high-born Gallifreyan, the Doctor was always an outsider, even before becoming a perpetual experiment.
The Doctor is now the Chosen One, not because of the odd prophecy of the Hybrid, but because of the precious regenerative DNA. The Master, as Sacha Dhawan’s laughing, suffering tortured Master reveal, hates the Doctor because she truly is different. He’s repelled and even suicidal at the concept that the Doctor’s DNA exists in him and all of them – this makes sense as the motivation behind his destroying of his entire race, a moment that shocks the Doctor in its scope and hatred.
The Doctor comes from another universe (though not a parallel one to sort out conflicting timelines, but merely another place). The Doctor has now destroyed Gallifrey at least twice and defied them many times, not as one of them disgusted with their out-of-touch policies, but as the outsider who represents their doom. Some fans liked the Doctor better as an ordinary (privileged) figure choosing to make amends for his people and help out, not as the chosen one rebelling against his/her captors.
The puzzling backstory from the previous episode, in which a foundling baby grows up (with two parents, not just the one the Master describes), chooses a life of service as a policeman, and falls to his death only to survive, was a scrambled version of the Doctor’s life story. Since it was not clear that the Doctor was remembering this, it appeared more like the odd happenstances in small villages often prompting the Doctor’s appearance – it wasn’t well integrated. Or, arguably, necessary for anything. Since this implanted memory is all a metaphor, it felt like the girl on the plane in Sherlock’s season four –so devoted to misdirection that it’s just annoying.
The second reveal from this thread is that during her lost past, the Doctor joined up with a Time Lord agency known as “The Division” that violated their world’s normal rules of non-interference. The Doctor’s current self-appointed saving of people in danger is thus recast as a vague recollection of that training that presumably shaped the Doctor’s character. (This also makes the forced regeneration of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor crueler, when learns he’s more disavowed spy than rebel, trained to break his people’s noninterference laws, with the memory erased, and then exiled and “killed” for continuing to break them.) Indeed, “Fugitive of the Judoon” had Gat describe herself as Ruth’s commanding officer. However, Gallifrey already has its Celestial Intervention Agency and its inventor of Regeneration, Rassilon. Replacing both with similar concepts, rewriting instead of integrating canon feels unnecessary too. The Judoon now appear to be hunting her because of her acts at the time, though this retcon into the Doctor-Judoon relationship feels like bits of the Impossible Astronaut plot where River is a criminal and then freed and then the Daleks forget the Doctor as the universe is retconned around them all.
The episode ends with the Doctor resolving to sacrifice herself to reluctantly destroy the abomination of Cyberman-Time Lords (all quite rushed before fans had much time to let that sink in, but a logical heroic choice). She sends the companions home, prepares the bomb…and doesn’t have the will to do it. The tougher soldier Ko Sharmus returns and takes on the sacrifice in her place. This seems unDoctorlike, as the Doctor generally does not let others save her and die in her place and likewise does not lack this sort of resolve against galactic threats. Having the man choose to save her thus removes some agency from our Doctor and leaves her safe and blameless. True, she also spends much of the episode frozen while the Master info-dumps on her, but at least she escapes this through her own determination. And not for suffering for billions of years as Capaldi’s Doctor did. Still, after this identity crisis, it would have been nice to see the Doctor establish her old identity by saving everyone through a life-preserving trick as in “The Christmas Invasion” or “The Eleventh Hour” instead of letting a new character save them all in violence.
This episode also results in destroying everyone on Gallifrey down to the last cell. While the Time War involves a massive episode of soul-searching before the Doctor destroys his home, this Doctor has no time to reflect – she prepares to blow up everything, and only fails when a warrior takes her place. Now the Master and all the Gallifreyans have been wiped out…though we can assume they’ll be back somehow. As it happens, the Hell-Bent prophecy has occurred: The Hybrid, the Doctor, has in fact destroyed Gallifrey, though not yet all of time and space. Now locked up by the Judoon, the Doctor will have a chance to share in River Song’s unhappy existence as she comes to terms with who she’s been. We’ll wait.