Trapping this child in her lab and splicing their genes into her own, Tecteun becomes the first Time Lord as we would know them, offering the ability to regenerate to her fellow elevated Shabogan, born from years of experimentation—even torture, considering the child dies and is reborn multiple times in this process—of this Timeless Child. Ultimately, Tectuen’s work leads to the Time Lords’ regenerative abilities simply becoming part of their natural biology, but she and her fellow new Time Lords decide that the Child’s secret should never emerge. The Child is forcibly regenerated, recollections of the Shabogans and what Tecteun did over countless lives wiped from their memory, and left to be rebirthed as just one Time Lord among many.

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That’s already a lot. And that’s even before we get to the twofold reveal of all of this: The Timeless Child and the Doctor are one and the same.

The Doctor has so much of her true past lost to time—blocked off by the Matrix’s security systems, corrupted by the damage the Master wrought after learning of this truth himself in his massacre of Gallifrey—but now she knows she is the mystery at the heart of her own people’s very existence. Though they’re seemingly gone for good (again), burned to ash and their remnants used by the Master to prop up an intended new race of Cybermen with himself as their leader.

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The Master and Ashad watch as a dreaming Doctor has the truth revealed to her by Gallifrey’s Matrix.
The Master and Ashad watch as a dreaming Doctor has the truth revealed to her by Gallifrey’s Matrix.
Image: BBC

All this is as potentially fascinating as it is just overwhelming to learn in one go. The episode’s marathon-length info dump comes at the cost of sacrificing its storyline with the Cybermen, but with it brings this unparalleled reunification of so many bits of peculiar Doctor Who history. Mysterious incarnations like Ruth, or those odd faces glimpsed in “The Brains of Morbius.” Those scant mentions of unknown Doctors in stories like Russell T. Davies’ novelization of “Rose”? They all suddenly have a place in proper Doctor Who history, enriching its past by offering a convenient, if audacious, way to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable pieces of canon.

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But outside of what this means for Doctor Who metatextually, within the narrative this reveal is intended by the Master to be entirely devastating to his nemesis—the overwhelming headiness becoming less about fans trying to interpret the sheer amount of new history they just learned, and more about a direct attack by the Master on the Doctor’s very psyche, intending to break her with this knowledge as he was.

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But it doesn’t. Because really, this is where the Doctor and the Master differ the most. The Master has always been fascinated with, and burdened by, the past—lingering enmity over his relationship with the Doctor as children, schoolmates, and eventually rivals, his ever-present desire to break the rules of regeneration and continue to linger beyond the incarnations granted to him, his rightful anger at being turned into a weapon during the Time War. The Master has always wanted to simultaneously be the outcast and yet also be someone special, his intellect and capacity for cruelty driven by some latent destiny that no one else can see. Of course, when confronted with the revelation from that past that he isn’t—and that the person he simultaneously respects and despises the most is—it would break him. In his head, the Doctor and he are so alike that he feels the same revelation should likewise break her.

The Master finds his frenemy a lot less fazed by his secrets than he was.
The Master finds his frenemy a lot less fazed by his secrets than he was.
Image: BBC
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But the Master, so wrapped up in his own irreconcilable burdens, forgets that the Doctor runs from the past not out of a fear of it—but because she, unlike him, is truly unbeholden to it. It’s not that the Doctor doesn’t care—all that lingering guilt over the Time War is more than enough evidence—but rather that the Doctor is not as chained to that past as her archrival is. As she tells him, the revelation that there is so much more to her life (lives, rather) beyond that charming old man who stole a TARDIS and ran away from it all with his granddaughter so long ago is an idea so wholly liberating that it empowers the Doctor more than it could ever disgust or break her.

She does not know the totality of who she is, and therefore is free to be whoever she wants to be—to hold the ideals she chooses to hold, to champion the causes she chooses to champion, to see the sights and go on the adventures she chooses to go on to. None of that is defined by the Doctor being the origin point of Time Lord society. None of that is changed by her inheriting this “Timeless Child” title, as much as the Master would want it to be. She is, and always be the person she chooses to be regardless of what she knows about herself: the Doctor, and all the ideals that choice represents.

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The Timeless Child lives.
The Timeless Child lives.
Image: BBC

It is fitting that an episode which, on the surface, uncovers so much secret history that we hadn’t previously known about the Doctor chooses this as its ultimate thesis. Paradoxically, by telling us so much more about the Doctor’s past, it opens doors to mysteries beyond what we have learned—and instead asks us to imagine the potential of those mysteries far more than it does the ramifications of what was actually unfurled here. It’s not what we learn that really matters, but what is left unlearned—who are the Doctor’s real people? Where are they from? Why was the Doctor left abandoned by the Boundary? What even is the Boundary?—simultaneously peeling back layers of mystery only to lay down the potential for even more.

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In the end, it asks us, as many people have attempted to ask before: Doctor who? But having asked it, this particular era of Doctor Who is quite all right with leaving the answer to that up to our hero than it is some lofty canon. And it’s quite right to.

The Master’s regenerating Cybermen are, ironically, a short lived legion.
The Master’s regenerating Cybermen are, ironically, a short lived legion.
Image: BBC
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Assorted Musings

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