Of all the moves made with Doctor Who in recent years, few proved as divisive as “The Timeless Children”—the season 12 finale that saw Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor face the Master on their homeworld, and discover the truth behind the Time Lords’ origins. But as much as new eras of the show like to play with past stories, incoming showrunner Russell T. Davies doesn’t want to mess with this story in particular.
“Let’s stare that question right in the eye. I’m not going to unwrite my good friend Chris Chibnall’s work on ‘The Timeless Children,’” Davies told SFX magazine in a new interview. “I’m not going to deny what he wrote. I’m going with it. It’s absolutely fine.”
“The Timeless Children” revealed that the Doctor was not actually a native of Gallifrey, but a mysterious orphan who found themselves sent through a portal to the world, where they encountered a native scientist named Tecteun. Discovering in a tragic accident that the child had the ability to totally cellularly regenerate their body when facing a mortal injury, Tecteun experimented on the child until they could discover a way to splice the ability into their own body—creating the rise of the society that would become the Time Lords of Gallifrey as we always thought we knew them. And of course, because the Time Lords suck, they wiped these memories from the Child and forced them to re-regenerate to wipe the secret from official record… only for that child to grow into the person we know as the Doctor.
At the time, the story was so divisive the BBC actually released a statement from its complaints department supporting the creative choice. “We wholeheartedly support the creative freedom of the writers and we feel that creating an origin story is a staple of science fiction writing. What was written does not alter the flow of stories from William Hartnell’s brilliant Doctor onwards–it just adds new layers and possibilities to this ongoing saga,” the statement read in part.
“We have also received many positive reactions to the episode’s cliff-hanger. There are still a lot of questions to be answered, and we hope that you will come back to join us and see what happens, but we appreciate that it’s impossible to please all of our viewers all of the time and your feedback has been raised with the program’s Executive Producer.”
Of course, for a TV show that’s been around for 60 years now, Doctor Who has constantly introduced, undone, and redone tons and tons of what could be considered “canon” for a show that is about constantly evolving and changing. Davies’ own decision during his first tenure as showrunner to have the Doctor orphaned by a devastating Time War that wiped out Gallifrey and the Daleks was retconned during the events of “The Day of the Doctor.” If Davies wanted to return to that plotline and do something with it—or change certain elements like the Master’s eradication of the Time Lords (again!)—that wouldn’t be inconsistent with just what Doctor Who has done for decades now.
But would he need to? The whole point of “The Timeless Children,” even with this seemingly earth-shattering revelation, was that the Doctor didn’t care they had this whole background to unknown to them—they were instead freed by the mystery and idea that there was more about themself to discover, and carried on being who they are in the moment. Instead of wondering whether or not a new showrunner will come along and nix a past story, maybe it’d be better for fans to take a similar step and just… not get so wrapped up in what is and isn’t canonised in amber.
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