Doctor Who: What is the lie of the Timeless Child, and what does it have to do with Gallifrey?

The Master reveals a terrible secret about the Time Lords – but what does it all mean?

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After a 2018 series that largely ignored overarching plots, the new episodes of Doctor Who have established a major new mystery at the heart(s) of the BBC sci-fi series – and from the sounds of it, the truth could change everything we think we know about The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker).

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But what is the great lie of Gallifrey? How does it relate to the Doctor and the Master? And what does any of this have to do with the Timeless Child? Look away now if you haven’t seen Spyfall part 2, because from hereon out we’ll be dealing with some pretty major spoilers.

At the end of Spyfall part 2, The Master (Sacha Dhawan) reveals that his and the Doctor’s home planet has been “razed to the ground” – by him. Apparently, on his last visit he discovered a truth so terrible he lashed out at Gallifrey, killing everybody and pulverising the Time Lord civilisation last seen on-screen in 2015 episode Hell Bent.

“I had to make them pay for what I discovered,” a hologram of Dhawan’s evil Time Lord tells the Doctor shortly after she sees the devastation he has wrought.

“They lied to us. The founding fathers of Gallifrey…everything we were told was a lie. We’re not who we think, you or I.”

And then, the Master ties the whole thing back to an arc that was hinted at in the second episode of series 11, then never picked up again – until now.

“The whole existence of our species, built on the lie of the Timeless Child,” he says.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Timeless Child was first mentioned to Whittaker’s Doctor in 2018 episode The Ghost Monument, when slightly-psychic monsters the Remnants noted the secret was buried deep in the Doctor’s mind.

“We see deeper though, further back,” they said at the time. “The Timeless Child… we see what’s hidden, even from yourself. The outcast, abandoned and unknown…”

Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument (BBC, HF)
Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument (BBC, HF)

There’s a brief flashback to this in Spyfall part 2, before for a split second the Doctor appears to see the child herself, wearing strange robes and standing ahead of a towering alien structure beneath a roiling purple sky.

“Do you see it? It’s buried deep in all our memories. In our identity,” The Master adds.

So yes, there’s a lot to unpack here. Just what could this secret be at the heart of Gallifrey? And who is the Timeless Child anyway? The Master notes that the founding fathers of Gallifrey were a “lie” – but considering they included homicidal maniacs like Omega and Rassilon, what worse truth was this legend concealing?

Meanwhile, the Master’s comment that he and the Doctor are “not who we think” is equally perplexing considering how different they are as people. Is he suggesting that as a species, Gallifreyans were once something else? Before they became the mighty, time-controlling race seen in Doctor Who were they something less noble and heroic (and again, considering how poorly Gallifrey and the Time Lords have been painted on this show, that might be saying something)?

And if this is the case, what exactly is the Timeless Child? Previously, we speculated that she could be the Doctor or the Master in a younger form – the Remnants’ description of her as an “outcast, abandoned and unknown” would fit both characters – but here she seems to be a separate character, unless the series is planning to reveal that the Doctor had earlier female incarnations we’re not aware of.

Doctor Who - the Master (Sacha Dhawan)
Doctor Who – the Master (Sacha Dhawan)

Was the Timeless Child the true founder of Gallifrey, only for unscrupulous individuals to steal her new world and cast her out? Did these villains later become the Time Lords? And if so, why is this such a terrible secret, and why is it a sort of genetic memory for the species?

Or was this something the Doctor and the Master once knew, but was removed from their memories just as the Doctor removed her presence from the minds of Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan (notably, not something the Doctor usually does to historical figures, so showrunner Chris Chibnall may have included this Time Lord ability for a reason)?

Clearly, there’s a lot to think about here – and sadly for both the viewers and the Doctor, the Master isn’t telling us exactly what the mystery’s all about.

“I’d tell you more – but why would I make it easy for you? It wasn’t for me,” he says.

Still, as the Doctor hides her fears from her friends and heads off on new adventures, we’ll definitely be keeping our eyes peeled and our ears pricked for more references to Gallifrey, lies or the Timeless Child. Hopefully, it won’t be another 15 months before this arc is referenced again…

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Doctor Who continues on BBC One on Sundays