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Doctor Who: 13 huge questions after finale The Timeless Children

Where is the Doctor really from? How many lives has she led? And what else is there to learn about the Timeless Child? We delve into the biggest mysteries of series 12...

Published: Sunday, 1st March 2020 at 8:00 pm

After 10 weeks of twists and turns, Doctor Who series 12 ended with all sorts of revelations about Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, rewriting decades of storytelling and creating intriguing new possibilities for the sci-fi drama's future.


Now, as the dust settles, fans will have a lot to process - and to help with that, we've tried to drill down into some of the most momentous, ambiguous or downright confusing parts of the finale.

Still got questions about The Timeless Children? We may have the answers. Starting with...

How does the Timeless Child fit in with Doctor Who canon?

William Hartnell as the First Doctor

In one of the episode’s most shocking revelations (unless you’ve been reading our predictions) we learned this week that the mysterious Timeless Child referenced throughout the series was in fact the Doctor herself, once a being from another dimension with a unique ability to regenerate that the Time Lords spliced into their own genetic code.

This in of itself changes a lot of accepted Doctor Who canon about the founding of Gallifrey (though the origins of regeneration as a concept has always been a bit hazy) – but when it comes to the Doctor’s history, it changes even more.

William Hartnell’s First Doctor, as it turns out, was not the first, or even the second, third or fourth version of the Time Lord. Long before his time, a version of the being that would become the Doctor lived multiple lifetimes, joined the Time Lord secret police (called The Division) and apparently carried out secret missions for them, only being “rebooted” to a child and having his/her memories wiped after years of “service”.

In other words, the Whovians are going to have a lot to process after this episode. Huw Fullerton

Just who was Brendan anyway?

Ascension of the Cybermen’s biggest mystery was mostly resolved in the finale, with the odd sub-plot of an orphan becoming a policeman in rural Ireland (then becoming immortal and being tortured) revealed to be a “filtered” version of the Timeless Child story, specifically the Doctor’s own lost memories.

Essentially, everything that happened to Brendan sort of happened to the Doctor in her earliest lives, including the memory wiping, and it may be that there’s still more to decode from these visions.

We have a fuller explanation of the whole thing here. HF

Who redacted the Matrix, and why not just redact the whole thing?

After the Master uncovers the shocking truth of the Timeless Child mystery, the lie at the heart(s) of Gallifrey and the Doctor’s true past by hacking into the Matrix (the full record of Time Lord memories) something strange happens – the images cut out to grey.

The Master goes on to explain that the rest of the memories have been redacted, with only the Brendan clues (above) remaining to hint at what else was there. But who actually redacted them? And considering how explosive the Timeless Child information was, why wasn’t that redacted too?

In the episode, we get no definitive answers, though it’s suggested that the young Doctor/Timeless Child’s adoptive parent Tecteun left the Brendan clues for the Doctor, hinting that she was involved in the redaction as well.

Alternatively, depending on what he/she got up to on these shady missions, is it possible that it was the Doctor who actually deleted this period, shortly before having his/her memories wiped? That could explain why the Timeless Child information was still there when less politically sensitive memories were not – the Doctor didn’t want any record of the shameful actions he or she had got up to.

Alternatively, it could be that any and all mentions of the secretive Division were redacted as par for the course. Either way, it seems likely we haven’t heard the last of this gap in the Doctor’s life… HF

Where is the Doctor actually from?

Besides revealing that there were versions of the character pre-William Hartnell, the episode’s other big reveal concerning the Doctor is that they did not, in fact, originate on the Time Lords’ home planet of Gallifrey.

This has been accepted as fact by fans ever since it was first established in 1969, in the story The War Games, but here we learn that the ‘ Timeless Child’ was found on a remote planet and adopted by Gallifreyan scientist Tecteun.

This planet isn’t the Doctor’s home either though, with The Timeless Children revealing that the child had travelled there through the Boundary, a pathway between galaxies, and had actually originated at some other unknown point.

But where? What is the Doctor if not Gallifreyan? And are there others of her species out there, with the natural ability to regenerate? Morgan Jeffery

How many lives has the Doctor had?

“How many lives have you had?” the Master asks the Doctor – and the answer to that is seriously complicated.

It’s established here that The Child or ‘Foundling’ – the first being to ever regenerate, whose power was pilfered by Tecteun – had many different incarnations, many of which were wiped from their mind.

This means that there were in fact an unknown number of incarnations of the being we now know as the Doctor before the ‘first’ (as played by William Hartnell from 1963-66).

Exactly how many is unclear. But with the 12-regeneration limit now confirmed to be an arbitrary rule established by the Time Lords, the story potential here is practically limitless... MJ

What is the Division?

One thing we do know about the Doctor's newly-mysterious past is that, having grown to adulthood, 'the Child' signed up with Gallifreyan secret police The Division, only to have their memory of their service erased (these events being disguised in the Matrix as the life of Brendan, a police officer from Ireland).

Exactly why they did this, or how many times, is unclear – but given their covert nature, it's possible that The Division didn't want anyone, even their own operatives, retaining knowledge of whatever top-secret missions they'd carried out.

We know for sure that one of the Doctor/Child’s incarnations - as played by Jo Martin - attempted to flee the Time Lords by disguising herself as a human, as seen earlier this series in Fugitive of the Judoon.

And given the similarities between the two, it's also eminently possible that The Division later evolved into the Celestial Intervention Agency, a Time Lord sect first mentioned in 1976 story The Deadly Assassin and later established in Doctor Who spin-off media (books, audio plays, etc.) to be a covert organisation who, like The Division, often violated the Time Lords' policy of non-interference, operating in secret so as to give plausible deniability to the High Council. MJ

Who is Jo Martin’s Doctor, and how does she have a police box TARDIS?

The Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin) in Doctor Who

It's now pretty clear that Jo Martin's Doctor was, as many fans suspected an early incarnation of the character who existed before William Hartnell's 'first' incarnation, and we now know that all memory of her existence (and potentially that of many like her) was erased by The Division.

But in that case, why was her TARDIS disguised as a police box? Didn't the Doctor's ship first take that form when it arrived in 1960s London, as established in the very first Doctor Who story An Unearthly Child?

The existence of Martin's Doctor seems to imply that's not the case and its police box form was inspired by something else. But don't forget, we previously saw the first Doctor steal his TARDIS - still in its basic, un-camouflaged form - in 2013 story The Name of the Doctor...

Did the TARDIS disguise itself as a police box, then revert back to its old form while returned to Gallifrey, then turn into a police box again when it landed in 1963? Or perhaps Martin's TARDIS is a different model to Hartnell's TARDIS, and they both separately took the police box shape on different occasions?

More unlikely things have happened in Doctor Who... MJ

What are the 'Morbius Doctors'?

Not confused enough yet? Because we ain't done...

The Timeless Children also implies that, besides the Jo Martin version and the various incarnations of the Child/Foundling that are briefly glimpsed, there were at least eight other early incarnations of the Doctor – as first suggested by the 1976 Doctor Who story The Brain of Morbius.

That story saw Tom Baker's fourth Doctor engage in a “mind-bending contest” with the Time Lord criminal Morbius, using an advanced apparatus to engage in a literal battle of wits. As he struggles against the powerful Morbius, the machine displays the Doctor’s face, then that of his previous incarnation (as played by Jon Pertwee), followed by glimpses of the Second (Patrick Troughton) and First (William Hartnell) Doctors.

But it doesn’t stop there: the machine then displays eight more faces.

Doctor Who - Morbius Doctors
Doctor Who - the Morbius Doctors BBC

Though some fans have argued that these eight faces depicted past incarnations of Morbius, the intention of the Doctor Who production team at the time was absolutely that these were pre-Hartnell incarnations of the Doctor.

The Timeless Children finally confirms the ‘Morbius Doctors’ as canonical by establishing them as incarnations of the Timeless Child – in fact, we even get another brief glimpse of those eight faces in the episode, when the Doctor overloads the Matrix using the vast power of her many past lives.

A mystery solved and a fan theory finally confirmed... after 44 years! MJ

Did the Master and the Time Lord Cybermen die?

At the end of the episode Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney) appeared to destroy the Master and his new Time Lord/Cyberman fusion army with the Death Particle weapon – but if you listen closely, there’s evidence the Master escaped once again.

"All of you, through here, now!" Dhawan’s evil Time Lord shouts in the background as the Death Particle is released, hinting that he (and possibly his army) managed to flee into a nearby TARDIS and escape the ruins of Gallifrey, ahead of a future return.

After all, he wasn’t the first to make a hasty exit that way… HF

Where did everyone keep getting TARDISes from?

If you were confused as to how the Doctor’s pals and the surviving humans found themselves inside a spare TARDIS, don’t worry – we were a bit perplexed as well. However, it seems that the Doctor just remembered that the Time Lord Panopticon had a handy stash of TARDISes for quick transport around the area, with the Doctor grabbing a separate one for herself later on.

Notably, the interior design was identical to the TARDIS used by Jo Martin’s new Doctor earlier in the series, suggesting that this was a form of default setting. HF

Who are the Shabogans?

As the mystery of the Timeless Child is unravelled, the Master recalls how the pre-Time Lord version of Gallifreyans, known as "Shabogans", first ventured out into the galaxy.

The Shabogans – a race of which the Doctor's adoptive mother and torturer Tecteun is a member –were first mentioned, again, in The Deadly Assassin, being dismissed as 'hooligans' by a high-ranking Time Lord.

It seems then, that while certain Gallifreyans were exalted to the level of Time Lords (courtesy of Tecteun), others remained as Shabogans and were shamed by their former brothers and sisters. Class snobbery at its worst. MJ

How will the Doctor escape prison?

The Timeless Children ends on a bit of a shock cliffhanger, with the Doctor suddenly arrested by the Judoon and teleported to an outer-space jail.

As the episode concludes we leave the Doctor trapped, confused and alone once more – but we already know she must escape to take on the Daleks in the upcoming festive special. So how will she get out?

Well, to be honest, we doubt escaping a Judoon prison will be too much work for her, given that she does carry a device specifically designed for unlocking doors and the Doctor spent a fair amount of the classic series escaping from various cells. We’re sure she’ll be back in Sheffield in no time.

When will Doctor Who be back?

While the next series of Doctor Who hasn’t been filmed yet and probably won’t come to TV until late 2021, fans won’t have to wait quite that long to see what happens next to the Doctor.

You see, the BBC have confirmed that Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole will be back for a festive special either at the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021, where the TARDIS team will take on the Daleks.

The special will be called Revolution of the Daleks, and you can find out more about it here. We’re sure the nine months or so until it’s on air will just fly by…


Doctor Who returns to BBC One in late 2020/early 2021


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