Who is the Timeless Child? It’s been the question on every Doctor Who fan’s lips ever since the mystery was introduced in Jodie Whittaker’s first series – and when the unknown figure was referred to again in series 12’s two-part opener Spyfall, fans became convinced that answers were coming soon.
Was the Timeless Child the Doctor? The Master? Something to do with the concept of regeneration, or the Time Lord’s ability to time travel? Or something so weird and wonderful fans would have no chance of guessing?
Over the weeks, the debate has raged on – but after Doctor Who’s latest episode (Charlene James and Chris Chibnall’s Can You Hear Me?), it seems like were getting closer to the truth. And that truth may involve the other big twist of the series, specifically Jo Martin’s previously-unseen incarnation of the Doctor…
But first, let’s recap the latest developments. In Can You Hear Me? the Doctor and company are battling it out with nightmare-powered monsters, who make the entire TARDIS team visualise their worst fear – for Graham that’s his cancer returning, for Ryan it’s seeing his friends' lives collapse without him, for Yaz it’s a reminder of her lowest ebb.
For the Doctor’s nightmare, however, we’re transported to an unusual flashback, which was previously glimpsed in a shorter form in series 12’s second episode Spyfall Part Two.
In that earlier story, Sacha Dhawan’s Master revealed that he had destroyed Gallifrey after learning about “the lie of the Timeless Child,” and in this nightmare the Doctor hears his words again while watching a young girl stand in front of a tall structure, all under a purple sky.
“It’s buried deep in all our memories. In our identity,” the Master’s voice says faintly.
“Built on the lie of the Timeless Child.”
Soon, the Doctor has snapped out of it and is back in action – but this new, longer look at her vision may pique the interest of viewers at home, who might have missed shorter version of it seen in Spyfall.
We have to assume that the young girl we’re seeing in this vision is The Timeless Child – if not, it’s a huge misdirect. And now that we’ve met Martin’s new/Fugitive Doctor it’s easy to see a connection between the two figures.
There’s a slight resemblance between the young girl of the Doctor’s vision and Martin’s older Time Lord (although we only see her from far away, the colourful clothes she’s wearing and her hairstyle resemble Martin’s), and as we get closer to the finale it seems more and more likely that these two apparently unconnected arcs must somehow be tied together.
For our money, then, the Timeless Child is the ‘Ruth’ Doctor. Somehow, this must relate to her removal from the Doctor’s memories (notably, the whole concept of the Timeless Child seems to have been repressed within Whittaker’s Time Lord in a similar way), and perhaps this ‘Timeless’ quality refers to that. Ruth is the Doctor that never was, that was somehow erased from history – whatever is left of her is 'timeless' in that sense.
On the other hand, it could be that the term ‘Timeless Child’ refers to the Doctor in some more sci-fi-y way, and we’ll discover that this version of the Doctor played a key role in the founding of Time Lord society that was later scrubbed from her memories. Really, it’s all up for grabs at this point.
Whatever the truth it seems likely we’ll find out soon, with upcoming series 12 finale The Timeless Children apparently answering plenty of questions about this ongoing mystery. If only we had our own TARDIS to skip ahead and see what the truth really is…
Doctor Who continues on BBC One at 7:10pm on Sundays