Doctor Who: “The Timeless Children”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! SERIOUSLY!***

Holy smokes, there’s a lot to unpack in this episode! Let’s get right to it, because this is going to be a long one!

One of the things I grew to dislike about the Steven Moffat era was his seemingly constant need to make pointless additions to the Doctor Who canon, perhaps the most egregious of which was having one of Clara’s splinter selves tell the First Doctor which TARDIS to steal when he and Susan fled Gallifrey. In “The Timeless Children,” Chris Chibnall makes an addition to the canon as well, one that is maybe not pointless, but isn’t entirely necessary, either. Do I hate it the way I hate Clara telling the First Doctor which TARDIS to steal? No, and the reason why is that ultimately this addition doesn’t actually change anything. Everything we know about the Doctor from Hartnell onward remains unaffected, and so there’s a lot less for me to push back against. Plus, I’m far more intrigued by this idea than by all that nonsense with Clara’s splinter selves.

It is, however, a fucking huge addition to the canon! It also answers a lot of lingering, if minor, questions about Doctor Who. The Timeless Child, as we discover from both the Master and the Matrix on Gallifrey, is a being from another universe with the ability, previously unknown in our own universe, to regenerate instead of die. The Timeless Child was discovered long, long ago by Tecteun, an astronaut and scientist of the Shobogans, Gallifrey’s indigenous species, near a gateway to the Boundary, and Tecteun decided to experiment on the child until the mysteries of regeneration were unlocked and could be added to Shobogan DNA. Mixed with the civilization’s discovery of time travel, thus were the Time Lords born. So what became of the Timeless Child? They were recruited by the Division to run special, secret missions that the Time Lords wouldn’t openly authorize because of their policy of non-intervention.

The Master’s biggest reveal, though, is that the Timeless Child is actually the Doctor, and that she has had numerous pre-Hartnell lives (such Doctor Ruth from “Fugitive of the Judoon”) that were erased from her memory. Unfortunately, at this point the fact that the Doctor is the Timeless Child likely comes as a surprise to no one, because it’s always the Doctor. The most dangerous creature in the universe is locked inside the Pandorica? Surprise, it’s the Doctor! The Hybrid is supposed to be a deadly crossbreed of two warrior races? Surprise, it’s the Doctor…and Clara! (We’re going to come back to the Hybrid a little later, by the way. Stick around!) Personally, I thought it would be a better revelation, and possibly make more sense, if the Timeless Child turned out to be the Master. It would better explain why he destroyed Gallifrey if he discovered he had been ruthlessly experimented on as a child, had his memory erased, and been lied to all his lives by the Time Lords about how important his role in their society really was. Instead, he’s angry because…there’s a piece of the Doctor’s DNA inside him? Because the Time Lord’s pomposity was unearned? The Master has always thought their pomposity was unearned! (On the other hand, if the Master is the Timeless Child, we lose Doctor Ruth, and a cosmos without Doctor Ruth scarcely bears thinking about.)

Still, this new information does answer some questions that have been around for a very long time. We finally learn, for instance, that a Time Lord’s twelve-regeneration limit is imposed by Tecteun at the start, rather than a natural limitation. (The Timeless Child could apparently continually regenerate, well past thirteen incarnations.) This also explains how the Time Lords are able to grant one of their own a whole new life cycle, as they offer to do for the Master in 1983’s “The Five Doctors,” and actually do for the Doctor in the 2013 Eleventh Doctor episode “The Time of the Doctor.” Perhaps most remarkably, this revelation also finally explains all the pre-Hartnell faces that appear on the screen during the psychic mindbending battle between Morbius and the Fourth Doctor in the 1976 serial “The Brain of Morbius”! Those faces were always intended to be Doctors before Hartnell, but later that same season the twelve-regeneration limit was mentioned for the first time in 1976’s “The Deadly Assassin,” so the faces were retconned to actually be Morbius’s previous incarnations. Now, at last, we can retcon them back to being the Doctor’s. It only took 44 years, but we got there!

Everything about the Timeless Child is a bold idea, but there are problems with it, some of which are pretty big. The Time Lords’ ability to regenerate being the result of genetic manipulation with the DNA of the Timeless Child directly contradicts the bit about River Song being able to regenerate simply because she was conceived in the TARDIS as it traveled through the time vortex. Granted, I always thought that was stupid anyway, but it’s hard to reconcile the two. If Doctor Ruth is one of those previous, forgotten incarnation, why does she call herself the Doctor? What reason does she have to operate under that name even while she’s working for the Division? It was always assumed to be the name the Doctor chose for themself when they left Gallifrey, “the [person] who makes people better.” If that’s no longer the case, could “the Doctor” actually be a codename assigned by the Division, one that the Doctor kept without fully knowing why? Another issue: Why was Doctor Ruth’s TARDIS already in the shape of a police box? The lore was always that the First Doctor stole a faulty TARDIS from Gallifrey, one with a broken chameleon circuit that left it stuck in the shape it had assumed when he and Susan landed on Earth in the early 1960s: a British police box. There could be a couple of possible explanations for this one, at least. One is that Ruth’s TARDIS’s telepathic circuits read the Thirteenth Doctor’s mind and transformed itself into a police box specifically for her. Another possibility is that Doctor Ruth’s TARDIS got stuck in the shape of a police box and, after her memory was wiped and she became the Hartnell Doctor, he wound up stealing that same TARDIS before it was repaired. (I think we can safely assume Doctor Ruth was the final secret incarnation before Hartnell, since she’d already left the Division by the time of “Fugitive of the Judoon.” It’s likely she was recaptured, memory-wiped, and turned into a child that grew up to be the First Doctor as we know him.)

“The Timeless Children” also explains that the young Irish police officer Brendan, whom we saw flashes of in “Ascension of the Cybermen,” was a Matrix construct designed to disguise the story of the Timeless Child under a visual filter. When the older, retired Brendan gets his memory erased, that’s the Timeless Child getting their memory wiped by the Division, either before a new mission or before becoming the First Doctor. Which makes me wonder: If the life of Brendan is a Matrix construct designed to hide the truth, then who’s to say the 1965 and 1966 Peter Cushing Doctor Who movies can’t be also? Perhaps now they, too, can be canon! (Okay, that might be pushing it.)

Whew! I told you there was a lot to unpack, and I’ve only covered half the episode! The other half, involving Ashad and the Cybermen fighting the human survivors, including Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, and invading the ruins of Gallifrey, is pretty good, but obviously less interesting. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about a “death particle” embedded inside Ashad that turns out to be pretty important and probably should have been brought up a lot sooner than just this episode, and a nice moment between Graham and Yaz when they think they might be about to die, and a neat plan to sneak past the Cybermen inside Cyber armor. The death particle is employed at the end of the episode, presumably killing the Master, killing his dumb-looking Cybermen/Time Lord hybrids called CyberMasters, and preventing any life from ever existing on Gallifrey again. Not to be too cynical about it, but you can expect two of those three things not to be true in the long run.

(The CyberMasters aren’t just dumb looking, they also don’t make sense. First, you don’t need organic material to make Cybermen. In fact, Ashad’s plan was to remove the organic material from the remaining Cybermen and make them entirely robotic, so there isn’t any need for the Master to use Time Lord corpses to make himself a Cyber army, even one that self-replicates. Second, how the hell did he create and redesign them so quickly? Third, and perhaps most confusing, if Time Lord corpses can regenerate, then they’re not corpses, they’re alive. The Master specifically said they were dead, so how can they still regenerate? My heads hurts.)

Ultimately, “The Timeless Children” is an exciting episode that turns Doctor Who lore on its head in an intriguing way, but I have so many questions. Also, I wish Captain Jack had come back for the finale, but at least we got another nice scene with Doctor Ruth. Also, I wish we had been given some further information on when exactly this Master comes from in their timeline. If he’s post-Missy, I want to know how that’s possible. If he’s between the John Simm Master and Missy, then I want to know that, too, just so I can understand.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! On Gallifrey, the Master reminds the Doctor about how they used to have fun running from Borusa after skipping his classes at the Academy. Borusa was first introduced in the aforementioned 1976 Fourth Doctor serial “The Deadly Assassin” as an old teacher of the Doctor’s who has become a cardinal of the High Council. (He would reappear twice more on the show, the final time as Lord President of the High Council in 1983’s “The Five Doctors.”) The Master also mentions what fun they had in the panopticon, where the High Council gathers, including assassinating presidents. This is also a reference to the plot of “The Deadly Assassin,” in which the Master frames the Doctor for the Lord President’s assassination. The term Shobogans also comes from “The Deadly Assassin,” although in that serial it is meant as an insult meaning hooligans. It makes sense that the Time Lords might turn the name of the race they evolved from into an insult, much like an Earthling calling someone a cave man is an insult. When the Doctor sees her companions and the remaining human survivors have come to rescue her on Gallifrey, she says, “No humans on Gallifrey,” a rule that also first came up just before “The Deadly Assassin” as the reason why Sarah Jane Smith couldn’t come to Gallifrey with him. That rule was either scuttled later or ignored when Leela, a human, was allowed to stay on Gallifrey at the end of the  1978 Fourth Doctor serial “The Invasion of Time.” (Clara was also allowed on Gallifrey, sort of, in the 2015 Twelfth Doctor episode “Hell Bent.” So were the Sisterhood of Karn who, while not humans, are also not Gallifreyan.) The Doctor mentions she fought the Matrix before and denied its reality, something they did in “The Deadly Assassin” and also in the 1986 Sixth Doctor serial “The Ultimate Foe.”  The Division sounds a lot like the Celestial Intervention Agency, a secret Time Lord organization that often used the Doctor for special missions, such as sending him to Skaro to prevent the creation of the Daleks in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “Genesis of the Daleks.” However, the organization wasn’t given a name until, you guessed it, “The Deadly Assassin.” Really, I’m shocked at how much of “The Timeless Children” calls back to “The Deadly Assassin”!

And finally, as promised, a little more about the Hybrid. There’s a theory going around that “The Timeless Child” actually fulfills the Hybrid prophecy from season 9. The prophecy says that a hybrid creature would stand over the ruins of Gallifrey and unravel the Web of Time, breaking a billion billion hearts to heal its own. At the end of season 9, it was hypothesized that the Hybrid was actually the Doctor and Clara traveling together, but this new theory states that the Master merged with the Cyberium is the true Hybrid. After all, he stood over the ruins of Gallifrey; hacked into the Matrix to discover its biggest secret, thus unraveling the Web of Time; and broke a billion billion hearts to heal his own by murdering the Time Lords. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it’s an interesting take!

Next up is this year’s Christmas Special (or next year’s New Year’s Day Special) “Revolution of the Daleks,” which we’ve just learned will also be Graham and Ryan’s final episode. Nooooooo, Graham, come back!

Doctor Who: “Ascension of the Cybermen”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

This episode is a very exciting first part of the two-part season finale, but it’s also something of a mixed bag. I liked it, but there are a few things that didn’t work for me. Let’s start with the things I liked.

The Cybermen are back! It’s always fun to see one of Doctor Who‘s greatest and longest-running foes (the first Cyberman episode aired back in 1966!) show up again, but what makes “Ascension of the Cybermen” so much fun is that it’s not your run-of-the-mill Cybermen story. The action takes us to the end of the Cyber Wars, when there are very few Cybermen left (and very few humans, too). What we get are Ashad, the half-converted Cyber zealot who was introduced in the last episode with a total allegiance to the idea of rebuilding the Cyber empire, and two beat up old Cyberguards, and they’re still enough to pose an enormous threat to the human survivors!

In fact, everything having to do with the Cyber Wars is what lifts this episode above others of its kind. There’s a great scene of what is essentially a space graveyard, with hundreds of dead Cybermen (and loose parts) floating in space near the wreckage of one of their biggest battles. It’s a striking image, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I was also very pleased to see classic series-style Cybermen among the revival-style Cybermen on the troop carrier. The scene toward the end with all the Cybermen awakened from their “tombs” and marching through the corridors of the ship strongly reminded me of a similar scene in  the 1982 Fifth Doctor serial “Earthshock” in which awakened Cybermen march out of the hold of a space freighter toward the bridge.

One interesting bit of information we learn is that human survivors have been escaping through the Boundary, a wormhole to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, or perhaps beyond, where the Cybermen can’t follow them. I have to admit, for most of the episode I assumed it was going to be a Logan’s Run situation where the Boundary is actually a trap and everyone who goes there winds up dead! The Boundary is guarded by a lone, older, wizard-looking human named Ko Sharmus, who keeps telling the Doctor to walk closer to the water’s edge to activate the Boundary. I thought for sure Ko Sharmus was going to spring a trap and possibly reveal that he has survived all this time through cannibalism. It didn’t happen that way, and I’m glad because the actual reveal — and the episode’s excellent cliffhanger that made me want to watch the next episode immediately — is that the Boundary appears to lead to Gallifrey!

And of course, out pops the Master, who has obviously escaped from the Kasaavin in the way the Master always escapes his fate. So what does all this have to do with the Timeless Child and the Master’s destruction of Gallifrey (and maybe even Doctor Ruth)? We’re about to find out. Next episode now, please!

I mentioned “Ascension of the Cybermen” is a mixed bag, and indeed there are a few things I didn’t like. The Cyber Drones, which are basically just flying Cyberman heads that can shoot lasers, are the stupidest-looking things I’ve seen on Doctor Who since the Dalek agents that suddenly sprouted Dalek eyestalks out of their foreheads. The idea of Cyber Drones is a good one, and could have been a chance to show how Cybermats — small, rodent-like machines the Cybermen use to infiltrate their targets, which first appeared in the 1967 Second Doctor serial “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and later as the updated Cybermites in the 2013 Eleventh Doctor episode “Nightmare in Silver” — have evolved into something new and more destructive. Instead we just get flying heads, which made me groan rather than worry.

When the survivors’ dying gravraft (great name!) makes one last thruster push in order to make it to another ship in the space graveyard, they don’t appear to have much control over where they’re going, but instead of crashing haphazardly into the side of the ship the gravraft flies right into its perfectly-sized docking bay with the ease of a puck sliding into the goal in air hockey. It was lazy writing and could easily have been fixed with a two-second scene showing one of them desperately trying to pilot the gravraft into the dock instead of crashing it. (And it came as zero surprise to me that the ship was actually a fully-stocked Cyber troop carrier, but that’s probably because I’m a jaded lifelong Doctor Who viewer.)

I wondered what Ashad was doing when he and his two Cyberguards go after the sleeping Cybermen in the troop carrier with what appear to be buzz saws. Afterward I figured this is how he reprogrammed them to follow his orders, but it struck me as a strange way to go about it. Wasn’t there some computer he could tinker with instead? How does cutting into them like that help reprogram them, unless he just needed to switch some wires around? (One theory is that he isn’t reprogramming them, he’s cutting out their emotional inhibitors, but there’s no evidence of this, at least not in this episode.)

What was up with Brendan, the abandoned baby who grows up in 1950s Ireland to become a policeman? Why doesn’t that robber’s bullet kill him? I had several theories as I watched the episode: Brendan is the Master reborn after Missy’s death. Brendan is Ashad. Brendan is the Timeless Child. None of them seem to be accurate, especially in light of that final scene with an older Brendan retiring from the force and being greeted by his somehow unaged father and boss who proceed to forcibly mind-wipe him with a device that looked sort of like a Chameleon Arch, but maybe isn’t? (Alexa’s theory is that Brendan is actually a Cyberman, that 1950s Ireland is his dream while he’s in stasis, and that the mind-wipe is Ashad reprogramming him before waking him. It’s as good a theory as any!)

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! At the refugee outpost, Yaz sets up a particle projector to spray gold dust at the Cybermen, claiming that they’re allergic to it. This is a reference to something that was first mentioned in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “Revenge of the Cybermen,” in which we learn Voga, the Planet of Gold, was instrumental in winning the Cyber Wars by discovering gold dust choked Cybermen’s respiratory systems. Gold is used as the Cybermen’s weakness in every classic-series appearance after that. The Doctor offers Ryan a humbug out of a paper bag for his motion sickness. While certainly reminiscent of the Doctor offering people jelly babies out of a similar paper bag throughout the classic series, mostly during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, it should be noted that the Fourth Doctor did once offer a humbug to someone instead of a jelly baby in the 1977 serial “The Sun Makers.” (I had to look that one up. I’m nerdy, but not that nerdy!)

Really looking forward to the next episode, promisingly titled “The Timeless Children”!

Doctor Who: “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

Boy did I love this episode! Not just for the obvious reasons — a haunted house, Mary Shelley, and the birth of Frankenstein is so tailor-made for me I’m surprised I don’t already subscribe to its newsletter — but also because its production values, especially the design, make it one of the most convincingly atmospheric episodes in years. There’s tons of great character work on display, from Lord Byron attempting to seduce the Doctor, to Claire Claremont’s reaction to those attempts, to Fletcher, the butler who steals every scene with his endless sighing and eye-rolling at Byron and his friends’ antics. Lili Miller as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, worried she’ll never be as good a writer as her parents, carries a lot of the episode on her shoulders and does a fine job of it. (Kudos to screenwriter Maxine Alderton for really nailing how insecure writers are about the one thing they know how to do.)  And of course I love, love, love a good haunted house setup, even if I know that stories like this in Doctor Who always end with the haunting being alien rather than supernatural. (Although maybe there was a real haunting, too? Never answer that question, Doctor Who!)

The excellent character work extends to the Doctor as well, particularly in the climactic scene where she’s faced with the impossible choice of either letting Percy Shelley die prematurely, thereby altering history, or saving Shelley’s life and unleashing an army of Cybermen in the future. Ryan posits that it might be worth letting Shelley die if it saves thousands of lives in the future, and the Doctor lets loose on him in a way we haven’t seen before. Shades of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor break through as she rages at him — at everyone, really — about the choices that only she can make, that she’s forced to make, and that no one else can make for her. “Sometimes even I can’t win,” she says, and in that moment everything shows in her face, from her trauma about Gallifrey being destroyed again to the same frustration Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor felt in the 1989 serial “Ghost Light” when he realizes even he can’t handle all the small, secret manipulations he’s put in motion. This is the scene that solidifies the current TARDIS crew as never before, finally seeing the Doctor for who she really is, the angry and angst-ridden Time Lord under the friendly mask, and I suspect it is also the scene that gets the ball rolling on at least one companion leaving at season’s end.

Graham remains a joy. His search of the villa for a lavatory, only to realize they’re a few years too early for indoor toilets, is hilarious, but even more hilarious is his line at the beginning, when he’s standing in the rain at the door, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” (To which the Doctor whispers, “Wrong writer.”) Of the companions, it better not be Graham who leaves first!

Because any story taking place at the Villa Diodati during that fateful summer is going to offer an explanation for why Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (my favorite iteration of this idea is Ken Russell’s completely insane 1987 film Gothic), I was fully expecting the Lone Cyberman to inspire Mary’s story, and indeed it does, as she refers to him at one point as a man made from many parts. However, her line about the Cyberman’s connection to future tech making him a “modern Prometheus” is just eye-rollingly bad. It tries way too hard to shoehorn Frankenstein‘s subtitle into the dialogue, and as a result it’s cringeworthy. (I also cringed when the Doctor says something like “we’re all in the same boat” to Mary Shelley. Knowing what’s coming in her and Percy’s life, it seems a little cruel to talk to her about boats!)

Speaking of the Lone Cyberman, I like his inclusion as a way to link the forthcoming finale with Captain Jack Harkness’s warning from a few episodes back, but I also felt that the episode became a little sloppy once he arrives. In trying to juggle the needs of the Mary Shelley plot with the needs of the Lone Cyberman plot, the episode trips over its own feet a little. Not terribly, mind you, but part of the problem is that after such a compelling setup, a Cyberman is so immediately recognizable that to make it a part of the “haunting” feels almost anti-climactic. For a moment, though, I thought the Cyberman was going to be revealed as the missing Percy Shelley, somehow dragged to the future, transformed, and sent back. That would have been an interesting twist!

One thing didn’t make sense to me. I get how the Cyberium could make Shelley briefly invisible and use a perception filter to turn the house into a maze all in order to protect itself, but what was the point of reanimating the skeleton hand? What was it trying to do? Certainly it wasn’t trying to scare everybody out of the house, considering it wouldn’t let them leave. It just seemed to exist for added creepiness.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! The Doctor mentions to Byron that she knows his daughter, Ada. This is a reference to the earlier episode this season, “Spyfall, Part Two,” in which she meets computer pioneer Ada Lovelace (nee Byron) in 1834. Later, the Doctor explains to her companions that the reason they can’t follow her into danger is because she refuses to lose anyone else to Cyber-conversion. This struck me as a direct reference to what happened to Bill in the 2017 Twelfth Doctor two-parter “World Enough and Time”/”The Doctor Falls.” However, the Doctor has seen other people get turned into Cybermen as well over the years, including Danny Pink in the 2014 Twelfth Doctor episode “Death in Heaven.” (Ostensibly, the Brigadier was also turned into a Cyberman in that same episode!) Lastly, the future Cyber-War the Doctor mentions might be the same one referenced in the 1974-5 Fourth Doctor serial “Revenge of the Cybermen,” in which we learn the planet Voga helped defeat the Cybermen by identifying gold dust as their weakness and developing gold dust particle-shooting weapons with the unfortunate name of….glitterguns.

Doctor Who: “Can You Hear Me?”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

I was surprised by how much I liked this episode! I really, really liked it! It takes the time to explore the companions as characters, which is something the show has desperately needed for a season and a half, while also delivering a thrilling, scary adventure. It’s also very sneaky! Much like “Fugitive of the Judoon,” this episode starts out apparently being one thing — monsters attack a hospital in 1380 Aleppo — and quickly pivots to become something much more interesting. And, in my opinion, much more frightening.

Not that the creatures attacking the hospital aren’t scary, but the episode’s real threat, Zellin, is nightmare fuel (and brilliantly played by Ian Gelder). The way his fingers detach from his hand and fly out to bury themselves in his victim’s ears in order to harvest their nightmares is creepy in the extreme. As for the companions, I enjoyed getting glimpses into their lives on Earth as well as their deepest fears: Graham’s concern that his cancer will come back (and that his wife Grace blames him for not being able to save her); Ryan’s worry that one day he’ll return home and his friends will have moved on without him; and Yaz’s…um, something to do with running away and no one caring, I think? Her fear was less clear to me than the others. We also get a reminder about the Timeless Child in the Doctor’s nightmare, which makes a hell of a lot more sense as something that would frighten the Doctor than the manifestation of the Doctor’s fear behind the door in the 2011 Eleventh Doctor episode “The God Complex,” which turned out to be…the crack in time. Yawnsville. Should have been the War Doctor sitting in that room, but whatever, it’s been nine years, I’m over it. Mostly.

Zellin’s trap of getting the Doctor to free his partner Rakaya is well executed and surprised me. I loved that the two of them are Immortals, cosmic beings whose lifetime spans eternity, and who look down on the Doctor as something tiny and insignificant. (I’m reminded of a wonderful moment in the 1983 Fifth Doctor serial “Enlightenment,” in which an Eternal discovers the Doctor is a Time Lord and says with some amusement, “A lord of time? Are there lords in such a small domain?”) It’s true that the manner by which the Doctor triumphs over these all-powerful Immortals is a extremely hand-wavey, but for better or worse I’m used to that from Doctor Who.

I thought Tahira was a good character — charismatic, strong, and able to adapt to her surroundings. (Actress Aruhan Galieva did a great job.) She would fit right in as a regular character, and indeed her presence reminded me how desperate I am for Doctor Who to feature a companion from another time period (or planet), rather than always being from contemporary Earth.

Quibbles? I have a few. I was worried Graham was going to leave the TARDIS when he has his heart to heart(s) with the Doctor about his fear of the cancer coming back. Instead, the scene ends with a joke about the Doctor being too socially awkward to have this conversation, which is disappointing. I’m glad he’s staying — I love Graham — but I think a deeper conversation in that moment would have really cemented the relationship between Doctor and Companion in a way that hasn’t really happened for any of the current cast. (There were some hints that Ryan might leave. I don’t feel as much of a connection to him, so if he did go I don’t think I’d miss him all that much.) I liked the ending a lot. Unfortunately, it was immediately followed by three more endings. All those extra endings actually contain good character work, especially with Yaz going to see the police officer who inspired her when she was younger, but I think those moments might have worked better had they been weaved more skillfully into the narrative rather than tacked on at the end. It reminded me of the movie The Return of the King, where I kept thinking the story was over but there were twenty more minutes of endings to sit through. But these are just quibbles. I really did like the episode!

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! Ian Gelder, who plays Zellin, previously appeared as Dekker in Torchwood: Children of Earth, and also provided the voice of the Remnants in last season’s “The Ghost Monument” which is when we first heard about the Timeless Child. Ryan sees the Dregs from this season’s earlier episode “Orphan 55” in one of his nightmares. The episode bears a slight resemblance to the disastrous 2012 Eleventh Doctor episode “The Power of Three” (also written by Chris Chibnall), in which the Doctor is at first reluctant to believe the villain is a Shakri because they are “myths in Time Lord history,” an almost identical reaction to the Thirteenth Doctor learning her foe’s name is Zellin. And that’s it for the neepery!

No, I’m just kidding! There is a major moment in the episode when Zellin references, all in the same speech, the Eternals, the Guardians, and the Toymaker! The Eternals are elemental beings of enormous power but zero imagination, who are forced to use other sentient life forms, like humans, for their emotions and creativity. They only appeared on Doctor Who once, in the aforementioned Fifth Doctor serial “Enlightenment,” having stolen various ships and their crews from Earth to have a boat race through space. The Guardians are the closest thing the Doctor Who universe has to a theology. Basically, the White Guardian represents all things good and the Black Guardian represents all things bad — God and the Devil, if you will. Like the Eternals and the Immortals, they pre-date the known universe. The Guardians first appeared in the 1978 Fourth Doctor serial “The Ribos Operation,” in which the White Guardian tasks the Doctor to find the hidden segments of the Key to Time with a warning that the Black Guardian will try to stop him and take the Key for himself. Later, during the Fifth Doctor’s era, the Black Guardian manipulates companion Turlough into trying to kill the Doctor. It doesn’t work out. The Toymaker is a reference to the 1966 First Doctor serial “The Celestial Toymaker,” in which a powerful cosmic being traps the Doctor and his companions in his domain and forces them to play games for their survival. There are lots of theories about what the Toymaker is — an Eternal, a lesser Guardian — but after “Can You Hear Me?” I’m tempted to say the Toymaker is an Immortal like Zellin and Rakaya. (By the way, the Toymaker was played by Michael Gough, best known as Alfred in the 1980s-90s Batman movie series, but he also appeared on Doctor Who again as Hedin, a Time Lord, in the 1983 Fifth Doctor serial “Arc of Infinity.” Even more interesting, Gough was married to Anneke Willis, who played companion Polly Wright in the last season of the First Doctor’s tenure and the first season of the Second’s.)

I’m really enjoying how Doctor Who is embracing the show’s long history and mythology this season. I definitely felt its absence last season. Next up, a visit with Mary Shelley at the famed Villa Diodati!

 

 

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