How the Timeless Child reveal impacts Revolution of the Daleks - and what it means for Doctor Who series 13
Is the Doctor about to embark on a hunt for the truth about her past?
There was a lot going on in Doctor Who's New Year's Day special - and when we say a lot, we mean a lot, from a Dalek civil war to the thrilling return of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) to the departure of companions Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh).
With all that and more to cram in, Revolution of the Daleks didn't spend a huge amount of time dwelling on the paradigm-shifting twists that the show unleashed in series 12's finale The Timeless Children – but it did touch upon it, as writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall had previously hinted at in an interview with RadioTimes.com.
“The Doctor is still dealing with it emotionally,” Chibnall said. “She’s not going to forget about it – it’s important to her and it raises its head in the special… not in a narrative way, but in an emotional way.”
In case you've forgotten, the last time we saw the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), she'd just had her entire existence upended by the revelation that her origins were not what she thought: far from a garden variety Time Lord, she was in fact a much older being whose natural power of regeneration the ancient Gallifreyans had harvested. The Doctor had lived many lives prior to what she, and we, had previously considered their "first" incarnation – how many is unclear, with these memories erased by The Division (a kind of Time Lord secret police) – and she wasn't from Gallifrey at all, with her true birthplace now once again a mystery.
Before she (or, again, us as the audience) even really had time for all this to sink in, the Doctor was captured by a squad of Judoon and locked away in space prison – locked away, as she notes in Revolution of the Daleks, for "being me" just when her sense of identity had been given a thorough going over. Oh, the irony.
Again, the reveal doesn't loom large over Doctor Who's latest outing either, with Chibnall making clear that his aim was for the story to be "much more of a standalone episode, which is what you want in a festive special" and that fans will "have to wait longer to see how it plays out" – but we do possibly get our first clues as to how the Timeless Child of it all will play into the themes of the show's now-filming 13th series.
Midway through the frenetic Revolution of the Daleks, a lengthy heart-to-heart between the Doctor and Ryan not only allows the viewer a brief opportunity to exhale, and helps to foreshadow and flesh out Ryan's later decision to step away from life onboard the TARDIS, but also sees the Doctor really reflect for the first time (at least that we see on-screen) on what her recent discoveries really mean.
"I’m not who I thought I was," she tells Ryan, clearly shaken. "What I always knew to be the story of my life... isn’t true. I wasn’t born on Gallifrey. Where I’m from, all the lives I’ve lived, some of that has been hidden from me and I don’t even know how much."
The Doctor's "angry" at what's been done to her. "While I was locked away," she continues. "all I kept thinking was… if I’m not who I thought I was, then who am I?"
In an effort to comfort his friend – and, one suspects, in an attempt from Chibnall to pacify any fans irked by the discovery that their hero is not who they thought she was – Ryan tells the Doctor, "Things change, all the time. And they should, because they have to. Same with people. [But] sometimes we get a bit scared, 'cos, new can be a bit scary, right?"
Though he's left her behind by episode's end, choosing to return to Sheffield (and possibly hunt trolls in Finland and gravel creatures in Korea) with grandfather Graham, Ryan may have given the Doctor a mission of sorts that we'll see her carry out in the next series.
"When we’re done with this Dalek problem, you find out about your own life," he encourages her. "Confront the new, or the old."
It's hard to imagine a thread this large being left dangling, so will an "angry" Doctor seeking the truth about her past and possibly looking to confront those who've so grievously manipulated her being at least a soft arc played out across series 13? It seems probable. "It would be irresponsible to the complexity of who the Doctor is to not explore what it has opened up for her," Jodie Whittaker told RadioTimes.com ahead of the special's broadcast – and while Revolution of the Daleks might end with the Doctor having already rediscovered some semblance of self ("All that time in a cell, wondering who I am. I’m the Doctor. I’m the one who stops the Daleks.") Chris Chibnall has suggested that the whole reason for his devising the Timeless Child reveal in the first place was to open up new storytelling possibilities.
“The purpose was to bring narrative opportunity and to be able to go to places that were shut off before now," he told us. "That’s the big thing really."
It sounds, then, like we're far from done with the Timeless Child arc, with more dramatic reveals to come. And if all this means we get to see more of Jo Martin's Fugitive Doctor next series, then we are absolutely down.