Doctor Who: A Timeless Episode?

It’s another season finale for Doctor Who, and the fans are up in arms again.

*** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD ***

Most fans appear to be upset at the fact that the season finale this year rewrites Timelord history. It’s not Bobby Ewing waking up in the shower bad, but for many it’s bad enough. Turns out the Doctor isn’t actually a Timelord. Or if she is, she’s actually the First Timelord. Or maybe the Timelords are actually only really half Timelords. Look, Doctor Who at the best of times can be a confusing mess, it’s what happens when you have stories that can result in history being changed. To butcher a Terry Pratchett quote, it doesn’t just take you up the other trouser leg in time, it’s often a completely different pair of trousers. Gallifrey has been lost, found, destroyed, found, and lost again more often than my glasses. The season finale doesn’t just destroy them, it runs over them with a steam roller and buries them in the foundations of your local football stadium.

First, and I’ll get this out of the way now, I enjoyed the final episode. It was glorious fun and adds a lot to the Doctor Who universe. It’s getting the fandom excited and talking about Doctor Who, which is good. You knew there was going to be a “but” here didn’t you? But…

The episode, and you could argue the entire series, is not without it’s issues. It’s the issues that the fandom are being so vocal about, but for me most of what the fandom dislike about this season I don’t mind. At least not to the point that I would stop watching. Yes, the season retcons the entire history of Gallifrey. The Master is reduced to the most petty minded villain in Doctor Who’s history, his motivation reduced to jealousy. I mean who hasn’t wanted to destroy their entire species out of jealousy? But these are just plot points to get the season moving, an excuse for the big finale on Gallifrey.

The main issues for myself seem to be born of what I can only assume to be lazy writing. And by that I mean someone has got it into their heads that every season must be BIGGER than the last. And what better way to be bigger than ever before than to make The Doctor the Timelord equivalent of the messiah? It solves so many problems, no longer is The Doctor constrained by the 12 regenerations of the mere Timelords, she can regenerate as many times as she likes. She is effectively immortal and can be played by anyone for an eternity. The Master’s jealousy now makes sense, The Doctor isn’t just another rival Timelord, she’s the original Timelord. To hell with canon, regenerations are no longer linked to the Tardis, they’re gene spliced from the saviour, the very source of the Timelord’s power.

There are obvious problems with this, not least of all the whole “begging the Timelords for more regenerations as the Doctor lays dying” at the end of Matt Smith’s reign. There’s also the whole Timelord Cybermen issue. If the Timelords were all dead, no regenerations left, then how was the Cyberman that The Master ordered shot able to regenerate? Are we led to believe that the Timelords were suspended in stasis mid regeneration? And if they were, then The Master took a risk, what if the Cyberman that was shot had already used their twelfth regeneration? There’s also the whole Timelord trait of having two hearts. Did the Timelords originally have one heart? Is the Timelord’s second heart a result of the gene splicing with The Timeless Child? Is the reason for this sudden change the fact that it allows them to play with regeneration in future episodes? Will we see a dozen Doctors in the next season? One for each episode?

The retcon of Timelord history also creates another problem. From previous canon we know that Rassilon, Omega, and The Other created Timelord society and the Tardises. These are Timelords that The Doctor knows the names of, and have even been linked to The Doctor in some media. Given Timelord history is well known, and given the Matrix contains the sum total of Timelord History it seems inconceivable that not only did they manage to hide the truth for so long, but that The Master was able to just stumble upon it.

Another issue is the Division. The idea of a special ops team of Timelords able to do what other Timelords cannot isn’t that farfetched. In fact it would be more surprising if it didn’t exist. What is surprising is that it would appear that there was a team of one, and that one was The Doctor. It again raises the issue of The Doctor being something more than just a Timelord with wanderlust. Now The Doctor is some sort of secret agent with thousands of lifetimes of experience. The scenes of Ireland become a metaphor for The Doctor’s transit from the Division into normal Timelord life. It’s not real. From The Master’s comments about the areas of The Doctor’s history missing from the Matrix though it could be argued that The Doctor’s time as an agent of the Division measures in the thousands of years. The Doctor’s age is indeterminant. How old was The Doctor when first discovered? How did the Timelords not only wipe The Doctor’s memory, but also regenerate as a child again, having to learn everything as if it was the very first time. As paradoxes go within Doctor Who this is, as they say, a doozy. Not least given the addition of a previously unknown Doctor that doesn’t fit into any of the timelines we’re aware of. If she’s Division era Doctor Who then why does she have a classic blue box Tardis? We know the Tardis got stuck in this shape when William Hartnell’s Doctor broke the chameleon circuit. As with so much it makes no sense. In fact she only seems to exist to play a final practical joke on The Doctor by landing her in prison for all eternity at the end of the episode. Now where have we seen that before? Maybe they’ll spin-off a series of Division specials, much like later Torchwood episodes.

My final issue with the season finale is probably my biggest issue with Doctor Who ever since the reboot with Christopher Ecclestone. As someone who grew up with Tom Baker I’m used to story arcs that don’t involve “the entire universe is at stake”. The season finale has become boring. It’s an endless stream of “The Doctor must save the last of humanity from utter destruction. Again.” For just once I’d like something different, no Cybermen, no Daleks, no Master. Just a regular “The Doctor must save themselves, maybe a few companions”, and at most a planet that isn’t Earth. I want something new that isn’t “BIGGER AND BETTER THAN BEFORE”. I just want Doctor Who written by someone who isn’t trying to stamp their mark on it by making it something it’s never been before.