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Recap / Doctor Who S38E10 "The Timeless Children"

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"Any idiot can make themselves into a robot. It's not special. But if you want to be the dominant force in the universe, I can facilitate that."

The one where the fandom collectively owes Philip Hinchcliffe an apology and canon is changed drastically.

Written by Chris Chibnall. This episode first aired March 1, 2020.

At the Boundary, the Master makes the Doctor come to ruined Gallifrey with him by threatening the lives of the humans with her. Onboard the Cyber Carrier, Yaz and Graham's group manages to escape the control room, losing someone in the process, but they're still trapped with the Cybermen. Ryan, Ethan and Ko Sharmus have to fight squads of Cybermen sent by their fanatical leader who have come to kill them.

And on ruined Gallifrey, the Master has a truth for the Doctor about the nature of the Timeless Child...


The Timeless Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Tecteun became one to the Timeless Child after she saw the first regeneration. The poor kid seems to spend several lifetimes in a lab being experimented on. Made even worse is that it's not outright stated whether the Child lived each life fully or if Tecteun deliberately invoked multiple regenerations, but considering each incarnation we see is still in the form of a child...
  • After the End: Not only is the episode set after most of humanity and Cybermen have been wiped out, it's after Gallifrey's fall as well on the other end of the Boundary!
  • Air-Vent Passageway: How Yaz, Graham, Ravio and Yedlarmi escape the control room as the Cybermen storm it.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: Inverted when the Master tells the Doctor that she is the Timeless Child from his story.
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  • Armour-Piercing Question: The Doctor asks the Master if destroying Gallifrey made him happy. He says it did. She then asks if it satisfied his rage. He looks put out for a moment before saying it didn't, and doubts anything ever will.
  • Back for the Finale: Ruth, or the Doctor's memory of her at least, shows up in the Matrix to give the Doctor a pep talk.
  • Badass Boast: One that crosses with a "Reason You Suck" Speech.
    The Doctor: You think that makes me lesser? It makes me more. I contain multitudes more than I ever thought, or knew. You want me to be scared of it because you’re scared of everything.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: The Cybermen threaten to execute Ethan unless Ryan surrenders to them. As Ryan goes to surrender, he hears gunshots, but finds the Cybermen were shot by Yaz and Graham, standing behind them and disguised in Cyber-armour.
  • Batman Gambit: The Master tries this, trying to manipulate the Doctor into choosing to kill him and all that remains of the Time Lords, as well as herself. In the end, she can't or won't do it, but she does allow Ko Sharmus to step in and do the job for her.
  • Big "WHAT?!": The Doctor ends the episode giving a Tenth Doctor-style triple "WHAT?!" after abruptly being arrested by a Judoon cold case squad and teleported to an asteroid prison.
  • Call-Back:
    • The episode closes with a "cold case" division of the Judoon arresting the Doctor, calling back to "Fugitive of the Judoon".
    • The Doctor mentions that she's denied the reality of the Matrix before.
    • When the Doctor is overloading the Matrix with her memories, after her memories go beyond the First Doctor we see the faces last seen in "The Brain of Morbius", officially establishing them as prior incarnations of the Timeless Child before their memories were erased.
    • The Gallifreyan TARDISes all have the original 60s-70s desktop themes, as well as working chameleon circuits.
    • The Shabogans were first mentioned in "The Deadly Assassin".
  • Cliffhanger: The companions, Ravio, Ethan and Yedlarmi arrive back on Earth safe and sound, but the fam doesn't know if they'll ever see the Doctor again. The Doctor, meanwhile, recovers her own TARDIS but is almost immediately arrested by a "cold case" squad of Judoon and teleported to an asteroid prison.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: The montage includes shots of Missy, Saxon's reveal in "World Enough and Time", every Doctor including Ten crying over the Master and Twelve in "Hell Bent".
  • Comeback Tomorrow: The Master doesn't get the idea to say "Time to cut you down to size!" until after he's killed Ashad with the Tissue Compression Eliminator.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The Doctor once asked Davros what he would do if given a vial capable of destroying all life. Turns out Davros is not the only Omnicidal Maniac—the Master and Ashad are willing to do the same.
    • The Master attempts to goad the Doctor into detonating a genocidal super-weapon by telling her "Become me". A very similar conversation took place between the Dalek Emperor and the Ninth Doctor in "The Parting of the Ways".
    • The Master mentions having assassinated chancellors before.
    • The Master gives an adapted version of Rassilon's cliffhanger line from "The End of Time, Part 1".
    • Yet again, the Doctor is pushed by a villain to the brink of mass murder, and balks at the last second.
    • This is not the first time the Master created an army of Cybermen using the corpses of the dead. Like in the prior episodes, the Cybermen he makes possess abilities that have never been seen before in prior members of the species.
    • A Doctor who has been having an identity crisis all season (12 over being a good man or not, 13 having to come to terms with her dark side), manages to heal a little with a finale including a Master more messed up than they are.
    • The episode closes with the Doctor asking "What? What!? WHAT!?", much like David Tennant's first two series as the Doctor.
    • When the Master points out the ruins of the Panopticon, we see a hint of the metallic green décor it sported in "The Deadly Assassin". From the same episode, the Doctor references the "I reject your reality" line from her previous dealing with the Matrix.
    • The Doctor using all her memories, including previous incarnation angst and every Master appearance, to break out of the Matrix nods back to her speech of "honouring who [she's] been".
    • The "Division" is almost certainly another name for the Celestial Intervention Authority, who first appeared in The Deadly Assassin and have had countless further appearances in EU works.
    • The Doctor states that she had fought the Matrix before and denied its reality. The Fourth Doctor previously entered the Matrix to locate the Master after the Time Lord President was assassinated, and was forced to fight against the Matrix, which was manipulated by Chancellor Goth, in "The Deadly Assassin". The Sixth Doctor had also entered the Matrix after following the Valeyard and had to deal with the Matrix and its reality, in "The Ultimate Foe".
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Like the Doctor didn't already have enough to cope with, this episode introduces that they were the Timeless Child, found abandoned beneath a large vortex, giving a reason as to why (aside from just being lonely as a child) a crying child could stop them rampaging if they ever turned evil.
  • Dark Reprise: Try a Dark Reprise of four themes at the same time. When the Master reveals his army of Time Lord/Cyberman hybrids, the music used is a combination of the Cybermen's theme, the Master's theme, the theme for the Time Lords, and the theme used for Tecteun and the first regeneration.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: As Ko Sharmus collapses after taking multiple shots from the Master's elite Cybermen, his last act is to detonate the explosive that triggers the Death Particle.
  • Death Seeker:
    • After he kills the Lone Cyberman, the Master openly admits disappointment that the Death Particle in his chest didn't activate and kill everything organic on the planet, himself included.
    • Thirteen admits she's exhausted, and is totally okay performing a Heroic Sacrifice. Ultimately, however, she can't bring herself to take the Master's life, even knowing what he'll do.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When the cameras go offline, Ashad thinks the humans are hiding in the storage vaults, but fails to realise they are actually hiding within the Cybermen inside. He probably would have worked it out eventually, but he's distracted by the news that they are landing on Gallifrey.
  • Disappointed by the Motive: The Master finds Ashad's plan for the Cybermen to become robots and to wipe out all organic life to be uninspiring, pointing out that robots are too common.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Master mock protests "At least buy me dinner!" after the Cyberium enters his body.
  • Downer Ending: The Doctor's race (or at least, those she thought were her race) are still dead, all other organic life on the ruins of her home planet's been wiped out, the madman responsible has almost certainly got away again, the Doctor's been thrown into prison, and her companions are left on Earth not knowing whether she survived.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Doctor hasn't let herself rest and process for almost two seasons now. As soon as she does, she gets arrested.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Graham suggests stripping the organic components from inactive Cybermen, and wearing their armoured shells as a disguise.
  • Driving Question: So what are the Timeless Children, and how do they relate to Time Lord history, the human/Cyberman conflict, and an early-20th-century Irish policeman?
  • Elite Mooks: By combining the Cybermen's conversion technology with Gallifreyan corpses, the Master creates a new kind of Cyberman that can harness regeneration energy, allowing them to regenerate endlessly from fatal damage. He turns out a dozen or so before the Cyber Carrier is destroyed.
  • Emperor Scientist: After discovering the genes that gave the Timeless Child the ability to regenerate and splicing them into herself, Tecteun shared the secret with a few of her closest friends and used it to elevate them to the ruling elite of their species, creating the first Time Lords.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Master reveals that, among his many, many other crimes, he apparently used to throw rocks at robots for fun.
  • Extra-Long Episode: 65 minutes, up from the Chibnall-era standard of 50.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When the Doctor intends to make a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the Master and his new Cybermen, she says she has to because she started this by giving Ashad the Cyberium. This is followed by a shot of Ko Sharmus, who is later revealed to be responsible for sending the Cyberium back in time (and thus feels greater responsibility for how bad things have gotten).
    • The Doctor using her mind-wiping in the premiere, and more telepathy in general throughout the season, have set her up for how this was done to her by the Division.
  • Forced to Watch: The Master insists he won't kill the Doctor, because he wants her to see the destruction he will bring with his new race of CyberLords. Alternatively, he's perfectly fine with getting her to detonate the death particle and kill them both, as it would make her no better than him.
  • Gambit Roulette: So many times!
    • First, the dramatic entrance. The Master evidently waited around for someone to show up at the barrier so that he could make a dramatic entrance. And it turns out that, instead of being a bored Ko Sharmus out for a stroll or some other humans, it just so happens to be the Doctor. And why is she here? Because it just so happens the Cybermen left alive a human who knew where Ko Sharmus was and could pilot a hotwired ship to get there.
    • The whole idea of making Cyber Time Lords. First, the Master contacts a group of Cybermen to come with their cyber carrier, despite a few hours ago they didn't even know about the carrier or the Barrier, and it just so happens they are already on their way! Next, he invites the Lone Cyberman to Gallifrey and expects that he won't shoot him on the spot, send an emissary, search him, bring backup troops, plan for a trap, or even query the Cyberium to see if the Master can be trusted. Once the Master manages to get in a one-on-one conversation with the Lone Cyberman without any other Cybermen around, he gets him to tell where both the Death Particle and Cyberium are and it just so happens they are within easy access. At an instant, the Master shrinks him down without having a clue if the Death Particle will detonate, or if the Cyberium would escape in time instead of being shrunken too. And wouldn't you know it, the Cyberium is compatible with the Master and he can control it, meaning he can now make Cyber Time Lords!
    • The final plan to defeat the Doctor. Place the shrunken Lone Cyberman on the ground of one of hundreds of floors of cyber carrier and hope it doesn't get jostled around on the ship. Expect the Doctor to somehow escape from your prison, return to the carrier, and notice the Lone Cyberman on the ground. Expect the Doctor will decide to use the Death Particle and have to hand-deliver it because there won't be any explosives left with remote timers or anything that could be rigged up. Taunt the Doctor to use it and expect that she won't. And presumably, have a plan to get away just in case she or a random human show up and do decide to detonate it.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: It's a good thing the Timeless Child can regenerate endlessly, because they go through multiple lives before reaching adulthood, and before their adopted parent dies of old age. The first regeneration, at least, was an accident; it's unclear whether the subsequent ones were deliberate experimentation or just the result of extreme bad luck and clumsiness.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Bescot stays behind to try and fight the Cybermen off while the others escape into a vent, and is killed.
    • Ko Sharmus leaves the TARDIS the Doctor programmed to take the others to Earth, and insists on detonating the Death Particle because he was part of the group that sent the Cyberium back in time in the first place.
  • High Collar of Doom: Justified with the Master's Cyber-Time Lords!
  • Hijacked by Ganon: The Master is initially happy to let Ashad and his Cybermen have Gallifrey while he deals with the Doctor, but after being Disappointed by the Motive he kills Ashad and takes control of the Cybermen for his own ends.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: The Master tries to goad the Doctor into triggering the Death Particle because then he'll have brought her down to his level.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: The Master is infuriated because the Doctor really is special.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The Cybermen have absolutely terrible aim.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • To "The Doctor Falls", with the Master this time asking for the Doctor's hand, but she's too angry and says "never". She even says it with a sneer/snarl too, like she wants to kick him in a weak spot.
    • The Master echoes the Lord President's words from "The End of Time": "For Gallifrey! For the Time Lords! For the end of the Universe itself!"note 
  • It's All About Me: The Master
  • Joker Immunity: They're already setting up the Master to survive, as we can hear him calling out, "All of you, through here, now!" just before the explosion. Whether any of his CyberLords made it with him, or he alone escaped, we won't know until a future episode.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The Master lets Ashad know about the humans he and the Doctor left behind, and tells him to send down an execution squad for them.
    • The Master orders one of his Cybermen to shoot and kill another, solely to demonstrate that they are capable of regenerating. Even the Cyberman momentarily balks at the order before the Master reiterates it.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Almost as if Chibnall expects the fandom to be divided, Ruth's Doctor appears to the distraught Thirteen and says to her that this doesn't change who she is. She is still the Doctor, no matter what her past says.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Doctor's lives before becoming the First Doctor have all been erased so that they wouldn't know they weren't an ordinary Time Lord, implicitly because the Time Lords both wanted to keep around the original source of regeneration and didn't know if they're even capable of actually dying.
  • Monster Progenitor: The Doctor is revealed to be this, by virtue of the fact that as the Timeless Child, their capability to infinitely regenerate is the source of regeneration for all Time Lords. By extension, the Master claims that the Doctor is also this to the regenerating Cybermen he created, under the notion that it was the Timeless Child as the source of regeneration that enabled their creation.
  • Mythology Gag: The filtered history of the Timeless Child as Brendan in Ireland touches on two old gags from the franchise: Brendan is a representation of the Child, and is ginger, but no depicted incarnations of the Child or the Doctor have ever been ginger, which multiple incarnations have complained about. Ireland is a representation of Gallifrey, calling back to the many times in the show's history where it would be mentioned and someone would ask if it was in Ireland.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: Besides the Boundary, there's the mysterious portal that Tecteun found the Timeless Child next to.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: The Master creates an army of Cybermen using the corpses of the Time Lords he slaughtered during his destruction of Gallifrey. The kicker? These Cybermen can regenerate.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: The Master creates Cyber-Time Lords with the bodies of the deceased on Gallifrey, in an attempt to combine the relative invulnerability and ruthless efficiency of Cybermen with the Time Lord ability to regenerate.
  • No Such Agency: "The Division", a Time Lord organization which is authorized to violate the Time Lords' "no intervention" policy, is referred to in such terms.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: It turns out that the Doctor is, and always has been, the Timeless Child, meaning that all of the Time Lords that ever were are technically created from her. That's because she is also an immortal being from another universe — possibly the only one of her kind — with a countless number of previous lives whom she's been mind-wiped of, rather than being a simple Time Lord who defected from her people. Gallifrey is now a completely lifeless world as well, and since no-one has any idea where she originally came from, she has no "home" at all (unless one counts Earth or maybe the TARDIS) and no peers aside from the Master — at least for the time being.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: When the four humans who disguise themselves as Cybermen reveal themselves, only Yaz is shown taking the helmet off. This was presumably done in order to put only Mandip Gill in a Cyber-suit (an arguably lengthy and uncomfortable process), while the other three still fully-suited humans could be played by creature performers (and a separately recorded line of audio by Bradley Walsh).
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When the Doctor shouts at the Master and knocks him down, even the Master looks startled for a moment, though he quickly goes back to being a Smug Snake at having rattled his arch nemesis.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Ashad has decided that, instead of the Cybermen's traditional goal of assimilating organic life, it needs to be destroyed. He himself intends to become fully robotic as well. The Master derides this as boring, then kills him and takes the resources of the Cyber Carrier to carry out his own plan.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The flashbacks to Brendan, particularly the shot of the clock engraved with a thank-you note from the Division, identify his story as a variation of the Timeless Child's.
  • Perception Filter: Brendan turns out to be a tampered memory obscuring the Timeless Child and the Division.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: In a fit of emotion, after realizing the Doctor will be going to her death by going back to face the Master and the Cybermen and detonating the Death Particle, Yaz grabs her by the arm and attempts to pull her back into the TARDIS.
    Yaz: We're not letting you go! You're not doing this!
  • The Power of Friendship: Deconstructed, as the Master/Doctor's friendship, especially with Missy/Twelve and when they were kids, is what's part of his rage.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Subverted. When Ashad brags that the Cyberium will never leave him as long as he lives, the Master simply kills him by shrinking him. When he picks Ashad's body up, though, the Master laments that he should have said "Somebody should cut you down to size!" before pulling the trigger.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Tecteun gene-spliced the Timeless Child's ability to regenerate into herself, then killed herself to test it.
  • Psychological Projection: The Doctor outright tells the Master that his assumption that he's broken her by revealing her true past is wrong because unlike him, she's not "afraid of everything".
  • Retcon: This episode includes a retcon of a retcon. Back in "The Brain of Morbius", there was a sequence of faces shown in a mental battle between the Doctor and Morbius implied (but not outright stated) to be incarnations of the Doctor before Hartnell. Following the establishment of the 12 regeneration limit, this was changed so that they now represented past incarnations of Morbius. Here, these same faces are shown in a montage regarding the Timeless Child, reversing the previous retcon and confirming who these faces actually belonged to.
  • The Reveal: The Doctor is the Timeless Child, an infinitely regenerating humanoid from whom the Time Lords gained the ability. The Time Lords wiped her memories of her past to keep this secret from her, and everyone else.
  • Saying Too Much: While the Master is grilling Ashad about the Cyberium, desperate to see it for himself, the Cyberman makes the mistake of pointing out that it will not leave him while he lives... so the Master immediately shrinks him.
  • Season Finale: The title alone signposts that this episode resolves the season's Story Arc of the Doctor trying to figure out the Dark Secret of Time Lord civilization that drove the Master to destroy Gallifrey, rooted in "the lie of the Timeless Child".
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: A variant of this, as individuals are killed to showcase the regeneration process.
    • After Tecteun spliced genes from the Timeless Child into her DNA to gain the ability to regenerate, she then kills herself to test this.
    • The Master orders one of the Cybermen he produced to shoot and kill another, just so he can demonstrate its ability to regenerate.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • The Doctor manages to survive the whole episode, despite the high tensions and twists along the way... until a bunch of Judoon teleport her from the TARDIS and send her to their jail for a life sentence. One Big "WHAT?!" from the Doctor later, and we cut to credits.
    • The "Will Return" Caption teases "Revolution of the Daleks".
    • Also, her companions survived but don't know where she is as they are returned to Earth — but they have their own TARDIS now...
    • The Reveal introduces a lot of hooks for future stories to pick up on for the Doctor: She could encounter Ruth again or other forgotten incarnations, could learn more about her actual origins, could restore Gallifrey, could find out that previous companions — in particular, Captain Jack Harkness, River Song, and Clara Oswald — were/are affected by these other lives, etc.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Master saying "Look upon my works, Doctor, and despair" is one to Percy Shelley's Ozymandias.
    • "Are you suffering comfortably? Then I'll begin..." is the Master riffing the BBC radio show Listen With Mother. The actual line is "Are you sitting comfortably?"
    • The Master asks the Cyberium to choose him as its business partner because he has performed well in all the tasks, mimicking an Apprentice candidate.
    • Cybermen go from being "merely" silver-armored cyborg soldiers to being able to resurrect.
    • The Master taunts the Doctor to "become Death."
    • A possible version, but the Master offering an artificial intelligence the vision and imagination it lacks to help it conquer the universe is similar to what Lex Luthor did with Brainiac (though in this case the merging takes place after the offer).
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Tecteun does not say one word in the episode but she was the first Gallifreyan to leave the planet, the one who discovered the Timeless Child and her experiments provided the whole basis for Time Lord society.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Cyber-Warriors have small spikes on their shoulders for no apparent reason.
  • Take My Hand!: Subverted; it's the Master offering his hand to the Doctor, and he makes it clear that his companions will die if he refuses.
  • Talking Is a Free Action:
    • The Master and his Cybermen make no attempt to intervene while the Doctor and Ko Sharmus are arguing about whether the latter should detonate the bomb. In fact, the only reason why our heroes manage to prevail is because the Master decided to stand in the background for a minute and do nothing to stop Ko Sharmus from ruining his plans until it was too late.
    • Justified earlier when the Master says he can talk to Ashad while simultaneously talking to the Doctor in the Matrix.
  • Talking to Themself: The Doctor takes this as a good sign.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Ashad tells the Master that the Cyberium will only leave him if he's dead, so the Master shrinks him.
    • After using his bomb successfully, Ryan brags about having defeated the Cybermen, while more can be seen marching over the hill behind him.
  • Theme Song Power Up: When the Doctor overloads the Matrix with her memories, a pitched up version of the show’s theme song plays.
  • Threat Backfire: "It will not leave me while I live." The Master, being the deranged sociopath that he is, is perfectly fine with that.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: The Doctor is not a Gallifreyan native, but was a refugee known as "The Timeless Child" who was adopted by an explorer called Tecteun and brought to the planet. Tecteun discovered she had the ability to regenerate and spliced it into other Gallifreyans, allowing them to become the Time Lords, and the Doctor is implied to have vast swathes of past lives that have been blocked from her memory.
  • Took a Level in Badass: If the leaps and bounds in power the Cybermen have been making over their last few appearances aren't enough, the new Cybermen produced by the Master have Resurrective Immortality via the ability to continually regenerate, making them almost impossible to put down permanently.
  • Too Powerful to Live: The Cybermen the Master creates from Time Lord corpses have the ability to regenerate from death endlessly, making them effectively unstoppable. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that they don't make it to the end credits before being wiped out of existence.
  • Unplanned Manual Detonation: Ko Sharmus has one last bomb for "emergencies", but it doesn't have a timer. The Doctor accepts it with weary resignation.
  • Villains Never Lie: The Doctor believes every word of the Master's account of her backstory, even though for large parts of it she's only got his word and Matrix records that he's previously had the opportunity to tamper with. This is in fact lampshaded by the Master.
    • Although, as the Master points out this revelation means the Doctor is in fact special - in fact, the very template of the Time Lord race. And someone like the Master doesn't admit the superiority of anyone else lightly.
  • We Can Rule Together: The Master invites the Cyberium to merge with him instead. It doesn't take long to accept the offer.
  • Wham Episode: The Timeless Child is actually the Doctor, who's not technically Gallifreyan but from some unknown other place, and it's from her that every other Time Lord that has ever existed gets the ability to regenerate. She's indicated to have lived countless lives that have been wiped from her memory before becoming the First Doctor that we know.
  • Wham Line: "The child is you. You are the Timeless Child."
  • "Will Return" Caption:
    The Doctor will return in "Revolution of the Daleks".