Doctor Who’s Timeless Child Is Officially Dead

This article contains spoilers for the Doctor Who Centenary Special, The Power of the Doctor.The Timeless Child concept is officially dead after the Doctor Who Centenary Special, The Power of the Doctor. Jodie Whittaker’s time as the Thirteenth Doctor has come to an end, but she isn’t the only one to be leaving after the Doctor Who Centenary Special; that was also the final episode created under controversial showrunner Chris Chibnall. An old-school Doctor Who fan, Chibnall has been heavily criticized for a dependency on nostalgia and a tendency to place lore above character.

The Chibnall era is synonymous with its Timeless Child retcon, which perfectly illustrates the problem. Doctor Who season 12 revealed the Doctor is not a Time Lord at all; rather, she is the Timeless Child, a billion-year-old being who became the base genetic code for the entire Time Lord race. There’s a strange sense in which the Timeless Child changes everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a major adjustment to the lore, but the episode in which the retcon took place went to great lengths to reassure viewers there would be no lasting character impact. « Have you ever been limited by who you were before, » Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor asked in a Matrix vision, reminding viewers the Doctor transcends her past. Now, though, after the Doctor Who Centenary Special, the Timeless Child is officially dead.

The Power of the Doctor is the final episode of the Whittaker era, and as such, it features a lot of characters and ideas from the last few years. Surprisingly, though, it doesn’t make any explicit reference to the Timeless Child. The concept is implicit; the Master is trying to steal the Doctor’s body, likely to gain the Timeless Child’s infinite regenerations, and he makes a throwaway reference to the Doctor’s forgotten history. But these are subtle details, and they’re likely to have slipped past most viewers.

To be fair to Chibnall, he seems to have considered the Timeless Child story to be done with. Chibnall’s goal was to restore a sense of mystery to the Doctor. As he explained in an interview in Doctor Who Magazine #577, « The thing I wanted to dispel was this sense that there was a locked-in, fixed myth, and that the only stuff that counts is what’s been on screen so far. I wanted it to feel like the story could get much bigger than this. » Oddly enough, that means Chibnall likely considers his mission to be accomplished simply from the introduction of the Timeless Child retcon; the last thing he’d want to do is build upon it by providing more concrete answers.

Chibnall expects the Timeless Child twist to be ignored by returning showrunner Russell T. Davies. « It’s one of the few drama series without a written bible, and every era contains a contradiction or left-turn from what has come before, » he explained in one interview. « Any future showrunner will ignore it or run with it… Oh, I fully expect Russell to ignore it! » He’s probably right; Davies is essentially relaunching Doctor Who in 2023, and he won’t want to get bogged down with a continuity-heavy idea like the Timeless Child.

This is particularly true given how divisive the Timeless Child has become. Many viewers rejected the Timeless Child outright, while others were willing to reserve judgment until they waited to see what Chibnall intended to do with the idea. That particular group of fans has shrunk as the years have passed, and it became clear Chibnall didn’t actually intend to do anything with it at all.

Russell T. Davies supports the Timeless Child retcon in the vaguest possible way, simply because it means canon and continuity are no longer binding in the slightest, and past stories of the Doctor from any medium can be folded into the narrative. « But now, the Thirteenth Doctor has shown us Doctors galore, with infinite possibilities, » he wrote in an introduced to an online prologue to the episode Rose, published online. « All Doctors exist. All stories are true. » That statement does not, however, imply he wants to do anything more with the Timeless Child.

All this, unfortunately, means the Timeless Child story is still unfinished and was designed to be unfinished when Chibnall’s time came to an end as showrunner. This is particularly disappointing for Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor, a forgotten past incarnation of the Doctor introduced alongside the Timeless Child retcon. Martin’s Doctor is a historic one – she is the first Black actress to play the Doctor – and her portrayal immediately won viewers over. It sadly looks as though the TV series has no interest in continuing to develop her, with Martin’s story moving on to tie-in comics and an upcoming Big Finish audio-series.

Ironically, it’s likely these other mediums will ultimately do more for the Timeless Child retcon than Chibnall himself. Big Finish, in particular, has a history of building great stories out of controversial and derided ideas from the TV series, and their upcoming Fugitive Doctor series starring Martin will surely only be the beginning. Whittaker herself has expressed her love for Doctor Who, and, hopefully, it won’t be long before she, too, is signed up with Big Finish. The Timeless Child sadly defined the Whittaker era, so it’s reasonable to assume the retcon would be explored there as well.

The Timeless Child retcon cannot be ignored by the TV series forever, though. It introduces too many new concepts and ideas into Doctor Who lore, and sooner or later, writers will step forward who want to go somewhere with them. There’s a sense of irony to the fact Chibnall was inspired by classic ’80s stories that hinted the Doctor was « more than just a Time Lord, » but deliberately avoided locking anything down because they also intended to restore a sense of mystery and intrigue to the character. Spearheaded by script editor Andrew Cartmel, Doctor Who’s so-called « Cartmel Masterplan » became the foundation on which Chibnall’s Timeless Child would be built. Where many viewers have complained the Timeless Child story is unfinished, Cartmel himself is on the record that he considers it too specific, too concrete, and thus impossible to ignore.

Cartmel failed to realize that introducing a new element of mystery to Doctor Who, complete with a whole host of unanswered questions, meant the mysteries would inevitably one day be explored and the answers provided. Fans watching Doctor Who would naturally start imagining the stories they would tell, and sooner or later, some of those fans would wind up involved with the show. In exactly the same way, a generation of viewers have watched Chibnall’s Timeless Child retcon, and they are even now coming up with creative ideas that build upon it. Doctor Who’s Timeless Child concept may be dead, but it is only a matter of time before it returns.

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