Doctor Who tore up a fairly substantial piece of established mythology with its series 12 finale The Timeless Children, revealing that lead character the Doctor did not in fact originate on the planet Gallifrey, but somewhere else entirely.
Though still a Time Lord – she was, in fact, one of the first, having founded the elite sect alongside her adopted parent Tecteun – the Doctor was originally discovered as a (timeless) child alone on a remote planet. But even this was not her true home, the child having arrived from somewhere else via the Boundary, a gateway to other parts of the universe.
So if not Gallifrey, where is the Doctor really from?
Our best guess? She’s from nowhere.
Stick with us on this. On top of rewriting our hero’s roots, The Timeless Children also reveals that Gallifreyans acquired the power of regeneration from the young Doctor, extracting her natural ability to heal by changing her form and splicing it into their own genetic make-up.
But besides the Doctor and Gallifreyans, who else have we seen regenerate across the show’s history? River Song (Alex Kingston).
A “child of the TARDIS”, River was born aboard the Doctor’s time-ship while it was traversing the Space/Time Vortex, the dimensional plane through which time-ships travel, and these unique circumstances somehow imbued her with regenerative powers.
River’s arrival wasn’t the first time in Doctor Who that TARDISes were implied to somehow be infused with regenerative energy – way back in 1966’s The Power of the Daleks, the Doctor suggested that his first regeneration was “part of the TARDIS” and he/she has often been seen to be keen to return to their ship whenever the process looms.
Now, it’s possible that, for some unknown reason, the Time Lords imbued all TARDISes with a fraction of regeneration energy when they built them. But from everything we know, it’s also conceivable that regeneration energy is a naturally occurring force that originated from the Vortex, with TARDISes absorbing it (much as they absorb Vortex energy) as they travel through time and space.
It’s been established that travelling unprotected in the Vortex can prove lethal to humans and Gallifreyans alike – it cost Captain Jack Harkness one of his lives when he hung onto the outside of the TARDIS all the way to the year 100 trillion in Utopia – so any race born in these hostile climes would have to be extremely durable, perhaps in possession of sort of healing power…?
Did regeneration energy develop as an equal and opposite force to harmful Vortex energy? What if the Doctor is a being of the Vortex, one who developed a natural ability to repair their body?
It’s perhaps telling that the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) was able to survive absorbing Vortex energy from the heart of the TARDIS by regenerating in 2005’s The Parting of the Ways, and that in that very same episode, the golden glow of the Vortex energy absorbed by Rose (Billie Piper) and later the Doctor appears almost identical to regeneration energy.
Even the idea of beings being born and/or living within the Vortex is not new to Doctor Who – the Chronovores (from 1972 story The Time Monster) and the Reapers (2005’s Father’s Day) both originated there.
Anything residing in the Vortex has been described as being “outside” of time (again in The Time Monster) with the Vortex itself existing “outside the time-space continuum” or “nowhere” (1971’s Colony in Space).
So if our theory is correct, the Doctor is, in fact, from nowhere. And with the next episode of Doctor Who still months way, there’s a little while yet before anyone can definitively tell us we’re wrong…
Doctor Who will return to BBC One in late 2020/early 2021 for a festive special