This Doctor Who article contains spoilers.
For those viewers still reeling from the barrage of canon-bending ‘what the what?!’ developments in Doctor Who’s series 12 finale “The Timeless Children,” we’re here to help. Major spoilers ahead as we answer your lingering questions and figure out just what, if anything, it all means.
Who is The Timeless Child? Who is Tecteun?
Yes, good. This is the question we’ve been arguing about since “The Ghost Monument” in 2018. Theories have ranged from Susan, the Romana, to some new threat. But as with most of these sorts of mysteries, in the end, it all comes back down to the Doctor.
It turns out the Time Lords didn’t always have the ability to regenerate. One of their earliest space explorers went out into the universe and found a child lying underneath some great big hole into another dimension. She brought the child home, raised her, but then something happened and the child died, only to undergo the first-ever regeneration on Gallifrey.
This early Gallifreyan (or Shobogan, to use the correct name, which we first heard in the 1976 story “The Deadly Assassin”) decided she’d have that, and so experimented on the child for years, killing her, or him, over and over again, until she found a way to replicate the gift of regeneration for all Shobogans, who now took to calling themselves “Time Lords.”
That child, meanwhile, went on to work for the secret Time Lord organisation “The Division,” which sought to interfere in other-worldly affairs. Presumably, this is different from the Celestial Intervention Agency, a Time Lord organisation which seeks to secretly interfere in other-worldly affairs.
Eventually, for reasons we can guess at (the Ruth Doctor mentioned “Trying to quit her job” in “Fugitive of the Judoon”), she had her memory forcible wiped, and was regenerated back into childhood. That child, presumably, grew up to be the First Doctor we know and love, played by William Hartnell.
How Many Incarnations Has The Doctor Had?
We don’t know! At a quick count, this episode introduces seven “Timeless Children” incarnations, plus the Ruth Doctor, plus eight others (we’ll get to them). So that’s 16 Doctors introduced definitively into the canon – more than half of the Doctor’s incarnations that we know about. However, the Master tells us there’s a huge expanse of time following the Doctor/Timeless Child joining “The Division,” so there could be any number of Doctors in there.
But during “The Ultimate Foe,” the Sixth Doctor says the Time Lords have ruled with “absolute power” for “ten million years.” Still more alarmingly, “The End of Time” repeats the “ten million years” figure, but says that is only how long they have been time traveling. Rassilon says Time Lords have “a billion years of history riding on our backs.” Does that include the Shobogans?
Needless to say, the Doctor has probably had enough regenerations to let Big Finish cast every actor they’ve ever wanted as the Doctor in prequel series.
How Many Regenerations Does The Doctor Have Left?
Again, we don’t know, but it’s said in this episode that the limit of twelve regenerations was an artificial one imposed on the Time Lords. So, in theory, the Doctor could keep going forever “barring accidents” as her second incarnation might say.
This also has another fascinating implication. At the end of “The Time of the Doctor,” Clara begs the Time Lords to help, there are some bright flashes of light and then the Doctor gets his new regeneration. But did the Time Lords actually, y’know, do anything? Or were they just hanging about to get the credit?
Of course, then we get into other questions, such as “How did the Doctor screw up badly enough to die at Trenzalore in the original timeline?” and “Why did Clara only see the twelve incarnations we knew about when she stepped into his time stream?” We’ll leave you to argue about that one in the comments.
Okay, but what did that have to do with all the stuff about the Irish policeman? That was an illusion, copy and pasted over the Doctor’s actual memories to give her a clue about what had happened in her past. The Master implies this was done for her by her adoptive mother so that she wouldn’t lose all the truth of her identity.
Who Were the Morbius Doctors in the Season 12 Finale Montage?
The big victory montage, which you spent either punching the air, cringing, or somehow both simultaneously, was the climax of the episode. The Doctor overloaded the Matrix (Cloud Computing for Time Lords) with all her memories and experiences, giving us a handy chance to flashback through all her incarnations while listening to the Doctor Who theme tune. But during this flashback we see eight orange looking faces that you might not have seen before.
They are (deep breath): Robert Holmes (the legendary script editor of Doctor Who from 1975 to 1977 and the author of more scripts for the classic series than any other writer), Graeme Harper (who directed several Doctor Who television stories, and is the first and only director of stories in both the classic revived series), Douglas Camfield (a production assistant on several early Doctor Who stories, including “An Unearthly Child” and “Marco Polo,” and also a director of many more), Philip Hinchcliffe (producer of Doctor Who from 1974 to 1977), Robert Banks Stewart (who wrote “Terror of the Zygons” and “The Seeds of Doom”), George Gallaccio (production unit manager for several Doctor Who stories) and Christopher Barry (who directed several Doctor Who stories, beginning with several episodes of the first Dalek story).
The other thing all these people have in common is that during the story “The Brain of Morbius,” when the Fourth Doctor is in a telepathic battle, we see images of the Fourth, Third, Second, and First Doctors flash up on the screen, followed by pictures of each of these people. At the time it was intended these were the faces of the Doctor’s previous, secret incarnations, before later stories established that the First Doctor was the “First.” But now it looks like all eight of them are firmly back in the canon!
Is the Ruth Doctor Pre-William Hartnell?
Recently a very handsome Den of Geek writer pointed out that the Ruth Doctor is riding around in a TARDIS shaped like a police box, and the TARDIS doesn’t get stuck like that until “An Unearthly Child.”
Yes, he did say that, didn’t he?
Well, before we start mocking this innocent, and extremely handsome writer for jumping the gun with his fan theories, it’s worth pointing out that the Ruth Doctor doesn’t explicitly say she predates Hartnell. In fact when asked “Where do you fit into all this?” she responds with “I don’t have those answers.
So the Season 6b theory is still in play.
However, there are some other clues that might explain how a pre-Unearthly Child Doctor has a Police Box-shaped TARDIS.
We know that in the fake memories the Doctor was given, her part was played by a policeman. During that fake flashback, we see some familiar-looking doors.
Now I’m reaching a bit here, but what if, after the Doctor has her mind wiped, her TARDIS is decommissioned?
What if, when the mindwiped Doctor is fleeing Gallifrey, he’s drawn to one old TARDIS in particular (with a bit of help from Clara Oswald, of course)?
Then, as they travel, what if the Doctor lands in a place and time where there is a shape the TARDIS recognises. The TARDIS is a bit non-linear, as we know from “The Doctor’s Wife,” so maybe the TARDIS knows that its old pilot is about to run into the Daleks, the evilest creatures in the universe, for the first time. So the Old Girl decides to give the Doctor a reminder. By sabotaging its Chameleon Circuit.
Okay, that theory’s a bit of a reach, and I’ve been wrong before. But there are ways and means for these things to happen, and as we now know, many more mysteries to solve.
Is The Master Dead After the Doctor Who Season 12 Finale?
Okay. One last question: The Master was wiped out with his Cyber Time Lord army when that death particle bomb was set off. Does that mean he’s dead for real now?