Doctor Who: 12.10 The Timeless Children
A warning of spoilers as I delve into the Doctor Who series 12 finale...
The sheer ambition of the series 12 finale is a far cry from the lacklustre ending to season 11 and one that is sure to be met with a mix of ruffled feathers and thrills. Building on last week's bleak episode, we learned that the 'ascension'of the Cybermen was little more than the enemy ridding themselves of their organic parts and becoming robots. While there was plenty of hokum in that idea, the Master's plan to use the Cyberium for his own nefarious scheme resulting in a far bleaker ascension; one with dead Time Lords as its centre.
Chris Chibnall has certainly made his mark on Doctor Who this series. He has wiped out the Time Lords again (seemingly for good - the Master included) and the timeless child mystery puts the Doctor at the centre of the universe again. Establishing a new mythos into the Doctor Who universe is not something new, though changing the very DNA of the Doctor is an exciting, if somewhat challenging, deviation from everything that has come before. But then so was the Doctor's regeneration into Patrick Trougton in 1966, so there is precedent. And William Hartnell might be the first Doctor to leave Gallifrey, but The Timeless Children established Jo Martin's Doctor and all those faces that popped up in 1976 story The Brain of Morbius as yet more incarnations before that.
They are certainly a whole host of questions raised by this, not least why Martin's Doctor is travelling in a police box TARDIS. But the memory wipe on the matrix nicely covers up any potential continuity issues, so we might be able to forgive this one. As to what race the Doctor actually stems from, well that's worthy of a series-long arc next year...once she gets out of that Judoon prison that is.
The one issue I have with the episode, is the Doctor's lack of agency. She is forced to go with the Master to save Ryan and then ends up trapped in the Matrix, having (admittedly rather juicy) exposition for the bulk of the running time. Even her eventual take down of the Master and his new army is throated by her unwillingness to commit genocide. Instead it is Ko Shamrus who detonated the organic-eradicating bomb. I'm sure there was plenty more to his story - at the end I even wondered if he was another pre-Hartnell Doctor. Instead, brief hint of a time trap aside, the mystery remains just that. A mystery. I also felt that the Brendan side story from last week, while resolved, felt a little brushed under the carpet, given its prominence last week.
Of course, all that exposition can be forgiven when you have Sacha Dhawan's Master bouncing off Jodie Whittaker's Doctor. He is a brilliant incarnation of the long-running Time Lord Lord villain and if this really is the end of him (though you never know with the Master), he certainly made his mark on the show. Again, there were some flaws in his characterisation. I never fully bought why he destroys Gallifrey - the rage at the Doctor being better didn't quite ring true and the revelations weren't so big as to result in their home planet being burned to the ground.
However, turning the Time Lords into a regenerating Cycber army was a deliciously dark touch and I loved the Cyber Masters, with their Gallifeyan designs and head pieces. It's just a shame they didn't amount to much. In many ways, it is a tragic waste of an entire people, particularly after Moffat worked so hard to bring them back. It makes The Day of the Doctor into a tragedy after all. One, that still doesn't sit right. Though as chage is a regular part of Doctor Who, perhaps there are others who love this latest development.
There was a lovely moment between Graham and Yaz this week, calling to light the distinct lack of connection between these two out of the group since series they joined the Doctor on her travels. Perhaps most surprising about the finale was the fact that all three companions survived - Graham calling out Yaz as the best person he had never known and Yaz returning the compliment in her gruff, Yorkshire way felt like a big sign posting for a companion death that never happened. Not that they got a huge amount to do again, the tense sense while they hid in the Cybermen suits as the Lone Cybermen inspected them aside. Ryan was surely a likely contender to go out in a blaze of glory, saved by his friends in disguise at the last minute. Graham once again got a funny one liner as he struggled to remove his helmet.
Escaping back to Earth with the last two survivors could have felt like an ending for this trio - after all, they believed the Doctor to be dead - but would have been something of a flat ending for them. I wonder if perhaps a swansong or two might be reserved for the Daleky festive special to come. If they continue into series 13, something needs to be done to address the lack of focus that comes with three companions (something Doctor Who has fallen foul of in the past).
The Timeless Children left the series in a strong place. Plenty of revelations, a terrific encore performance from the Master and the best Cybermen villain in a long time in Patrick O'Kanes Ashad. The new Cyber Masters looked stunning too, even if they didn't amount to much. Like the rest of series 12, it was more confident and bombastic than its predecessor, but bit without its faults. There are still too many companions and the exposition-heavy storyline robbed the Doctor of most of her agency. But it was undeniably big, fun and thrilling and I am genuinely looking forward to what Chris Chibnall gives us in Revolution of the Daleks and beyond...