Doctor Who - Season 12, Episode 10: The Timeless Children - Reviewed

Throughout season 12, The Master has repeatedly warned The Doctor that everything she knows is a lie, and everything is about to change. The season has been an accumulation of paradoxes, mysteries, and unexpected revelations, and they have all built towards a single episode that shoulders the large task of sorting out its many questions. This has been a very good season of Doctor Who: a strong mix of good stand-alone episodes and a very intriguing, mysterious overarching story. There have been hints of ties back into the mythology of the entire series, old and new, and there have been threats to turn that mythology on its head. After a first season that suffered from having almost no overarching plot, Chris Chibnall has used his second season to spin a very impressive, grand-scale mystery. But as I wrote in my recent look back at one of the original series' most famously ill-fated seasons, a season-long story arc is only as good its finale. So the question is, is The Timeless Children up to the task of resolving all of this in a satisfying way?

To me, the answer is a firm, enthusiastic yes: in my book, this is a spectacularly good season finale. But this is sure to be an extremely divisive, controversial episode, because The Master really didn't lie: The Timeless Children unleashes some major revelations that genuinely do alter the show as we know it, and probably not everyone will like that. However, as a lifelong fan of the series who is pretty well-versed in its convoluted, retcon-filled mythology, I saw it less as just another big twist that further changes the mythology, and more as an admirably bold and clever effort to reconcile some long-dangling plot threads from the original series, and upend the current iteration of the show in a way that nonetheless makes sense and is plausible based on years of hinted-at stories. The episode certainly doesn't require knowledge of the classic series and its messy twists and turns, and it works very well as a game-changing season finale regardless, but the more you delve into the series' past, the more layers reveal themselves in this episode.

The Timeless Children finds Graham, Yaz, and Ryan desperately trying to fight off an impending army of Cybermen, while meanwhile on Gallifrey, The Master walks The Doctor through the destruction he has wrought, and then takes her into the Matrix – the sentient computer that is the receptacle of all Time Lord knowledge – to show her why he did it. This triggers a series of revelations as the storylines converge, and The Doctor must not only deal with Cybermen, but with the existential crisis of what she learns. This is a lot for the show to cover in just one episode: the Cyberman threat built up across the past two weeks is a believably heavy and intimidating one, and the season has raised a lot of mysterious questions that viewers will expect The Doctor's trip inside the Matrix to answer. Going into this week I was honestly concerned that this was too much ground for a single episode to cover without feeling rushed.

But rushed it is not: with a deftly-written script that is one of Chibnall's best, The Timeless Children crams in a whole lot of information in a way that nonetheless feels satisfying, well-told, and like it all has room to breathe. And crucially, while it does change a lot, these changes feel earned and organic because of how much they embrace and work with the show's mythos and history. The episode picks up on plot threads from as far back as the Tom Baker era in the late-1970s, and the Sylvester McCoy era in the late-1980s, and works with them in such a way that those past plot points not only lend the new twists credibility, but end up feeling better fleshed-out and explained as well. This isn't just fan-service nonsense; the episode actually left me feeling like long-dangling mysteries from decades ago had been addressed and dealt with in a satisfying way, and built on in a way that respects the show's past even as it changes some things about it. This is clearly an episode written by a classic Doctor Who nerd who intimately knows the show's convoluted mythos and wants to do it justice, and that makes all the difference. I think it is entirely possible that the more well-versed you are in the mythology of the classic series, the better this episode is.

All of that is of course quite vague; it is nearly impossible to say much about this episode without spoilers. In fact, in the coming days I will make an exception to our usual strict spoiler-free rules and write a deep-dive piece looking into all the ways in which this episode engages with the show's mythology, and which classic-series episodes that mythology can be found in; once you see this episode and want to know more, check back for it. In the mean time, in the spoiler-free version, suffice to say that I was very impressed with how the episode worked with the series' larger continuity, and with maybe just a couple minor exceptions, I think that how it does what it does makes a lot of sense. For a classic-Who nerd with a knowledge of the show's history, this season finale offers a lot to consider.

With just a couple missteps here and there, Doctor Who season 12 was very good – at its best, excellent. Its standalone episodes were mostly quite strong, and its season-long story arc was both compelling and richly engaged with the show's history. In short, it took heed of, and corrected for, all of season 11's flaws, and successfully solidified the Jodie Whittaker era as an excellent one. And The Timeless Children is the icing on the cake: a wonderfully audacious finale that lives up to the hype of The Master's words, and does it in a way that works and feels earned. This is the best season of Doctor Who since season 9, and the best finale since the same year. The biggest problem with it is that it only aired on March 1st, so we have a very long wait until we can see how the show deals with its aftermath in the next holiday special.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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