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Doctor Who review, The Timeless Children: There’s so much going on it becomes overwhelming

Coherence, emotional truth and aerodynamic plotting go out the window with this busy finale

Ed Power
Sunday 01 March 2020 20:59 GMT
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Doctor Who: The Timeless Children - trailer

Chris Chibnall’s second series overseeing Doctor Who has ended with a crash, bang, wallop, thud, scratch of the head and cry into the void. “The Timeless Children” attempts to squeeze in multitudes, regardless of whether there’s any space. There’s a new origin story for Jodie Whittaker’s likeable Tardis tenant – she had her mind wiped! – and a mini-Doctor reunion, as she summons the memories of past incarnations of the character to break out of a cosmic holding cell. It is so very, very busy. At one point the Doctor bends over and holds her temple, as if her frontal lobe is about to detonate. It isn’t just you, Doc.

But is “The Timeless Children” any good? It depends on what you want from a family friendly 21st century time-travel sci-fi romp. If coherence, emotional truth and aerodynamic plotting are your bag, you’re bang out of luck. Were the episode any shaggier you could lay it in your hallway and call it a carpet.

However, if you are open to Sacha Dhawan reprising his Master-does-pantomime routine from the series’s opening two-parter, then this is the finale you’ve been looking for. You can also add in that weird birth-of-the-Doctor yarn he spins and some honestly quite impressive pitched battles between the Cybermen and Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and the gang. Sounds like your idea of peak Who? Then all your Gallifreyan New Years have come at once.

On the subject of the Doctor’s doomed home-world, “The Timeless Children” makes a point of bringing her back to the now devastated planet. As we already knew, the Master has wiped out their fellow Time Lords. For his next trick, he merges with the Cyberium, that amorphous cosmic evil which has taken the form of a slightly menacing blob of silver putty. And for his trick after that, he is going to resurrect the dead Gallifreyans and turn them into Cybermen. At least that’s what I think. I was taking notes, but perhaps not quickly enough.

Anyway, his treat for the Doctor is to reveal to her where she comes from. She is, by his telling, the original “Timeless Child”. She was discovered by a Gallifreyan astronaut many lifetimes previously. The deep space explorer was surprised when her young ward – yes, the Doctor – regenerated after a seemingly fatal slip. The kid goes on to assume form after form, in the process helping Gallifrey unlock the secret to regeneration.

This is all explained by the Master as if it were a jaw-dropper for the ages. The real bombshell here, though, is that the Father Ted-adjacent storyline from the previous episode, in which a young Irish policeman falls to his death only to survive, was a scrambled version of the Doctor’s life story. This was then implanted in the Doctor’s mind, which is why she glitches back to memories of herself as a Time Lord in Templemore. Wait, what? Could someone please explain again? Only really, really slowly.

Actually no, we’re out of time. The Cyberman star destroyer has landed and the Master has become one with the Cyberium. That crashing sound is the Cyberman ship bashing into the great Citadel of Gallifrey. Or maybe it’s Chibnall ripping out the kitchen sink and chucking it into the script.

Either way, there’s so much going on it is easy to be overwhelmed. “The Timeless Children” is therefore perhaps best enjoyed simply as a spectacle. The Cyberman troop carrier is a wonderful gothic creation, half Star Wars, half Warhammer 40K Space Hulk. And it’s good to see Jo Martin’s alternate timeline Doctor briefly return to give a pep talk, though I have no idea how she got there.

Chibnall pulls off a zippy resolution, too. To foil the Master, the Doctor resolves to destroy all organic matter on Gallifrey using a devastating explosive concealed within the miniaturised Lone Cyberman. But then charges Ian McElhinney’s Ko Shamus – surely an anagram – to do the blowing up instead.

So the Doctor flees. The rest of the “fam” have already beamed down to Earth, so they’re fine too. On the other hand, it may be some time before they are reunited with their mentor. No sooner has she escaped in a Tardis disguised as a tree (this is a sentence I have been paid to write), she is arrested by the Judoon military police and it’s off to space jail. And then credits roll (fans will be intrigued to discover that the Doctor returns at Christmas to battle the Daleks). It’s a rollercoaster ending, no question. What a shame the build-up is such a muddle.

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