Doctor Who, Season 12 has, overall, been strong. I frequently praised it for feeling like it was getting back to the roots of Doctor Who. Whilst this is still true there was one key reveal in the finale that has really irked me – the reveal that The Doctor is the Timeless Child.
Throughout this season we have been told that The Master has discovered something, something truly abhorrent about the Timelords – who, let’s not forget we already weren’t big fans of. Something so terrible The Master burnt Gallifrey to the ground in response. He teased that it would change everything and that it was earth-shattering news for The Doctor.
Finally, we get the explanation we had been waiting for – the myth of the Timeless Child.
A child found abandoned by an explorer, taken home to Gallifrey to be cared for. It is here that it was discovered that the child had the power of regeneration – something that Timelords have, as yet, never seen before. The child goes from being cared for to being experimented on, used as a commodity to steal this ability for the Timelords. And then, The Master drops his earth-shattering news – that the Timeless Child is The Doctor herself. She is the mysterious being with godlike power, she is the source of all regeneration.
For me, this reveal fell flat.
Now, straight off the bat, this doesn’t really align with anything we know about The Doctor’s regenerations in the past. Yes it ties up the old idea that The Doctor had a very limited amount of regenerations, but it doesn’t explain all the attempts to get around this on the show so far. River Song gave up her regenerations to save Matt Smith’s Doctor, leading to her own death and the Timelords sent more regeneration energy to Matt Smith back at his regeneration into Peter Capaldi. But beyond these continuity errors, this reveal also takes away something from the very heart of the character. Her simplicity and relatability.
The Doctor has always been just a lonely alien, wondering space and time and helping when they can. They stole a TARDIS and ran away, ran from a home they morally disagreed with and gave up their old life for the sake of adventure. The Doctor, whilst an alien with a time machine and two hearts, was just a traveler. A traveler that, after losing everything to war before Christopher Eccelston’s Doctor, carries a great amount of trauma and anger and sorrow – which, with the help of companions, is channeled into helping others.
The Timeless Child seems to overshadow this. The Doctor was no longer just a Timelord who stole a TARDIS and ran away to help people – the helping people is not what made the legend of The Doctor – actually they have been special, legendary and powerful the whole time, from birth. It has cheapened these qualities in The Doctor by making them subject to birth, not action.
I had a similar issue with the plotline of Clara Oswald back in season 8, where her plot revolved around the fact she was ‘born to save The Doctor’. She was not his companion by her qualities as a human as such, she was his companion because she was born to do it, she was chosen by fate. Rose, Martha and Donna – the companions under Eccelston and Tennant, were just ordinary people going about daily lives, caught up in the madness by chance. The Doctor meets Rose in a shop and Donna repeatedly asks the Doctor why he picked her as she is “just a temp from Chiswick!”. A key part of The Doctor’s companions is the reminder that, as The Doctor himself puts it, “900 years of space and time and I have never met anyone who wasn’t important.”
This sentiment has been at the core of Doctor Who for some time now, and yet, just as with Clara, it is left feeling a little flat upon discovering that actually The Doctor was born to be important after all.
What is almost more annoying is that The Timeless Child, in theory, is a good plot point. It could have added a great deal to how we feel about these characters. We already hate the Timelords and their elitist ways – but this, taking an innocent child and imprisoning her, exploiting her for their benefit adds a colonial element, a new, even deeper reason for The Doctor to be appalled by the morals of her people, a new reason for her to want to do better. If she discovered her own regeneration was a power stolen by such evil, morally does that put into question her right to regenerate? And The Master, the fact that he is so outraged is an interesting development to his character; he is not one-dimensional evil, he has a sense of morals. Yet, his idea of justice is more revengeful than the Doctor, burning Gallifrey to the ground. What became of the Timeless Child? This could have opened the plot out further for future seasons as either a villain or an attempt to heal what her people had done.
Even if we have to self insert our characters into the Timeless Child myth, perhaps a more interesting moral issue would have been that the reason The Doctor forgot some of her past selves, the whole reason she ran away from Gallifrey in the first place, was she was privy to the treatment of the child? Ashamed of her role, she suppressed the memory and ran away in a TARDIS, spending her life helping others to atone for her sin?
Or even if The Master were the Timeless Child, it would explain his intense anger towards the Timelords his whole life, and why he was driven to violence and insanity, giving a new element to his relationship to The Doctor.
As it is, any of these seems to be a better fit in terms of plot and character development than The Doctor herself being the Child. I mean, who knows, maybe they have a fantastic plot planned out moving forward for this – but so far it takes away much more from The Doctor as a character than we gain.
The ‘Chosen One’ trope is tired, taking inspirational characters and bottling them down to birthright and fate. When Jodie Whittaker was announced as The Doctor, protesters said that because she was a woman she could not be a role model for boys. This is of course ridiculous, a woman should and can be a role model for boys as well as girls. It is not the gender that makes a role model, it is the qualities of character and their actions. The Chosen One trope harms this, especially in marginalised characters. For example, Rey in Star Wars is revealed to be a Palpatine – not just an orphan who against the odds became a hero – she was actually born to it. This takes away some of the power behind the character, she is no longer a symbol that no matter your start in life you can succeed – no, because her start was always special, she was born for this. It is much the same with The Doctor.
The Chosen One is a lazy, shock factor reveal that undermines much of what we have come to know and love in Doctor Who. I just hope that Season 13 can stir us back on course, back to a universe where you are defined by your character and actions, not your birth.
Doctor Who series 12 can be streamed online on BBC iPlayer.