Doctor Who, Retcons, and Why We All Need To Chill

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Photo by Charlie Seaman on Unsplash

I love the round things. Ahem.

So, the Doctor Who season finale, “Timeless Children” dropped like, well…

…let’s just say it made a splash.

I’ve heard normally quite sensible people exclaim that Chibnall “completely disrespected the show.” That he “turned the Doctor into a Mary Sue.” That he’s a talentless hack who just wanted to change everything.

If you haven’t watched the episode, go watch, I’ll be waiting…

Still there? Okay.

So What Happened in Timeless Children?

Here’s what we seem to know. The Master was so angered by something he found in the Matrix that he destroyed Gallifrey. (How is not explained, and the behavior seems remarkably out of character).

He drags the Doctor to the ruins and shows her what he found.

And what the Master claims to have found is evidence that the Doctor is not, in fact, a Time Lord. Rather, she is an extradimensional alien whom the Time Lords used as the genetic source for the ability to regenerate.

He believes this is going to destroy her mind. Needless to say, because she wasn’t on the ragged edge of insanity in the first place, it doesn’t.

He then proceeds to entrap the Cybermen, use them to convert the dead Time Lords into uber Cybermen. The Doctor is all set to sacrifice herself to stop him, but somebody else steps in.

Oh, and of course this makes canon that Hartnell isn’t the first Doctor, just the first of a cycle. Because the Doctor worked for Time Lord intelligence and then they wiped her mind and gave her a new regeneration cycle.

Well, huh.

Why are People Mad?

There are a few reasons why people are mad:

  1. They never liked the negative regeneration theory in the first place. The idea that there were regenerations before One was introduced in “The Brain of Morbius” (in which various members of the production crew stepped in because they couldn’t afford extras), then retconed.
  2. They think the Doctor should be an “ordinary Time Lord.” The Doctor has never been an “ordinary Time Lord.” In fact, it was widely accepted canon (the BBC practices the canon pyramid model, in which licensed properties are canon until contradicted by the show; in fact, the show is canon until contradicted by the show) for years that the Doctor was a psychogenetic clone of the Other, one of the three founders of Gallifrey. This was mildly contradicted in “Listen,” but never actually declared not canon until now. In “The Tomb of Rassilon” the Doctor is the only one who knows about the booby trap in Rassilon’s (clearly empty) tomb. They have always been part of the true elite. (And the Doctor is not a Mary Sue. She’s not the best at telepathy, that’s the Master. She’s not the smartest Time Lord we see, that’s Romana. And she can’t fly her TARDIS worth beans).
  3. They just plain don’t like massive retcons and reveals.
  4. They don’t like Chibnall and were looking for an excuse to make him look bad.

Now I’m going to explain two reasons why I think fans should chill.

Did It Actually Happen?

Here’s the first point I’d like to make:

Except for the existence of a previously undocumented incarnation of the Doctor (Whom I’m calling Ruth after her human identity because she has no number), the only way we know this is true is because the Master said so.

The Master.

Why the heck are we getting mad about things the Master said?

Let’s go all the way back to 1976, when there was a Doctor Who serial that caused, I’m told (I was still sitting on my dad’s lap to watch) this level of furore. It was titled “The Deadly Assassin.”

In that we discover that the Master is essentially living in the Time Lords’ basement and he’s…

…manipulating the Matrix. He’s using it to send messages to the Doctor, he tries to trap the Doctor in the Matrix. He’s manipulating information in the Matrix.

The Master is brilliant at manipulating the Matrix. He’s pulling the same exact crap here.

The same exact crap he used to try and frame the Doctor for murder. (He’s also, for those who don’t know, re-using a weapon he initially used in 1981 in the serial “Logopolis.” Yes, this is not the first time the Master has turned people into dolls, although the SFX is rather better this time).

So, is this another Deadly Assassin? There’s a few pieces of evidence that it is:

  1. The episode title is Timeless Children. Plural.
  2. Why would the Master be psychologically destroyed by finding out his best frenemy and possible sometime lover (Yes, I ship, deal with it) wasn’t what she seemed?
  3. It would make no sense for the Time Lords to send the repository of genetic material for regeneration, the most important being in their society, out to be a spy!

In fact, the entire scenario makes more sense (and obviously I could be wrong and it could be bad writing) if it’s not the Doctor that’s the Timeless Child at all.

It’s the Master.

The Show is Canon Until Contradicted By The Show

Here’s the other reason to chill.

The Doctor was human. Then he was an unnamed alien. Then he was a Time Lord of Gallifrey. Then he was half human (on the mother’s side). Then he wasn’t again.

Gallifreyans are Gallifreyans or they’re something else. They’re all Time Lords, until they aren’t. You have to graduate from the academy to gain the title or you don’t.

The point is, Doctor Who canon is inconsistent! It always has been. It’s practically part of the show.

It’s part of the fun to see what each new showrunner comes up with to change the entire thing, yet again.

(I’m not saying I like Chibnall’s contribution. I actually kinda don’t, although the episode had a great easter egg for older fans).

And whatever happens?

It’s going to change again.

If the next showrunner hates this, then the Master made the entire thing up. Or it just kind of never happened.

Also, the existence of a Time Lord intelligence service called the Division has to have Big Finish and an entire bevy of fanfic writers frothing at the mouth. I’m tempted to play with that sandbox myself.

Look, I get it. And you have the right to dislike a storyline. You have the right to hate it.

But can we just chill a little bit and not have quite so many fights on Facebook about it?

Written by

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades. https://www.jenniferrpovey.com/

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