Bad Wolf. Torchwood. Harold Saxon. “There is something on your back.” “The Pandorica will open.” “Silence will fall.” “Run, you clever boy, and remember.” The Promised Land. The Hybrid. The Vault.
The first ten series of Doctor Who each had a mystery to solve, summed up by a particular phrase or name. And now, in keeping with the tradition, we've got a new one. The Timeless Child.
Except that the tradition was sort of broken, because Series 11 just mentioned the Timeless Child without actually explaining it at all. And no, I'm not going to list Tim Shaw as the mystery name for Series 11, because he doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as all the classics above. Let's just say that the Timeless Child spans Series 11 and 12.
But who is the Timeless Child? None of the episodes of the current era of Doctor Who up to this point have given us any solid clues…or have they?
Well, I do have a theory, and given that it allows for some controversial storytelling decisions–decisions which Chris Chibnall, based on past form, is likely to make–I do think it has a chance of being at least partly correct.
Before we go any further, a spoiler warning. This post is going to divulge spoilers from all Series 12 episodes that have aired thus far, so if you're not caught up, be forewarned. I'm also going to mention a couple of somewhat bizarre rumors about the production of Series 12 which come from sources that I consider to be sketchy. I'm not really sure whether to classify those as spoilers or not, but I figured I should give you a heads-up in case you don't want to read them.
Also, this is going to be an ultra-nerdy deep dive into Doctor Who lore, so if you don't like that sort of thing, turn back now.
First, let's do a quick recap.
The Timeless Child: What We Know
The Timeless Child was first mentioned in Series 11 Episode 2, “The Ghost Monument”, by creatures called the Remnants who were the result of genetic experimentation by the Stenza on the planet Desolation. This planet was where the TARDIS ended up after going bananas following the Twelfth Doctor's regeneration into the Thirteenth. The Remnants delved into the Doctor's mind, and said the following:
“We see deeper, though. Further back. The Timeless Child.”
When the Doctor reacted with confusion–and fear–the Remnants continued:
“She doesn't know! … We see what's hidden, even from yourself. The outcast, abandoned and unknown.”
This conversation ended with the Doctor becoming uncharacteristically angry (for her current incarnation, anyway) and commanding the Remnants, “Get out of my head!”
The Timeless Child wasn't mentioned again until Series 12 Episode 2, “Spyfall Part 2”, when the Master explained why he had razed Gallifrey:
“I had to make them pay for what I discovered. They lied to us. The Founding Fathers of Gallifrey. Everything we were told was a lie. We're not who we think, you or I. The whole existence of our species…built on the lie of the Timeless Child.”
At the mention of this name, the Doctor stumbles as memories of the Remnants flash through her head, as well as the following (blurry) images:
A little girl (apparently), standing in front of a huge tower…
…with some sort of energy blazing at its peak.
The Master continues:
“Do you see it? It's buried deep in all our memories. In our identity. I'd tell you more, but…but why would I make it easy for you? It wasn't for me.”
Again, the Doctor reacts with rage. Here, it's a little more explainable, since she's just seen her home planet destroyed again and is probably furious with the Master, but the anger seems to also be tied to her confusion over the Timeless Child in this particular context.
That's all the information we have directly associated with the Timeless Child so far. But there are some other possible clues.
This isn't frequently addressed in Doctor Who, but the Doctor's TARDIS is a lot older than her. Spinoff media has hinted that this particular Type 40 dates from the age of the early Gallifreyan pioneers (though there's some conflicting information about this in Who canon). We do know that the TARDIS described herself as “a museum piece” in “The Doctor's Wife”. As such, she may have memories of events from deep in Gallifreyan history, including the many events which the Time Lords would prefer to keep secret.
Returning to the more recent past, the TARDIS exhibited somewhat unusual behavior when the Twelfth Doctor regenerated. True, his regeneration damaged the TARDIS to some extent, just as the Tenth Doctor's did. It's not uncommon for the TARDIS to malfunction somewhat after the Doctor has changed bodies…but something a little different happened with the Thirteenth Doctor. When she made even the slightest attempt to pilot the ship, pressing a single button, the TARDIS went bonkers, dumped her out, dematerialized, and took off across the universe. It's almost like the TARDIS deliberately ejected her and fled. True, this could have been a random glitch…but what if it wasn't?
Also, let's consider where the TARDIS went. We've been led to assume that her arrival on Desolation was random, but what if it wasn't? And what if there's more to the Remnants than we know? Interesting thing about the latest “Coming Soon” trailer for the rest of Series 12–Ian Gelder, whose character appears from smoke inside the TARDIS, provided the voice of the Remnants in “The Ghost Monument”. Perhaps the Remnants, the planet Desolation, and this new mystery character are all tied to the ancient mystery of the Timeless Child. Maybe, in the early days of Gallifreyan civilization, the Doctor's TARDIS visited Desolation…and something about the Thirteenth Doctor reminded her of that time, causing her to return to the planet.
The Doctor's Regeneration
Let's set aside gender politics for the moment and address the fact that it is significant that this is the first time the Doctor's been a woman. Even the show itself touches on this. Just before the Remnants brought up the Timeless Child, they said this:
“You lead, but you're scared too, for yourself and for others. … Afraid of your own newness.“
The Doctor has never really been “afraid” of a new body before. It's understandable that this form would make her a little nervous, after having been a man for so many lifetimes…but could there be more to this fear than that? Also, it's worth mentioning here that this little exchange with the Remnants happened right after the Doctor taunted them by mentioning (roughly) how many lives she's lived.
The Founding Fathers of Gallifrey
For this part, we'll have to dig very deep into both Gallifreyan history and the real-world history of the show. Basically, there were six Founding Fathers of Gallifrey, but only three are definitely confirmed across Who canon: Rassilon (who's appeared in both the classic and new eras of Doctor Who), Omega (who clashed with the Doctor on a couple of occasions in the classic era), and a third known only as “the Other.” There are a lot of contradictory statements about this person in Doctor Who canon, but in short, the Other is heavily implied to be a previous incarnation of the Doctor. Not a regeneration as such; this is more according to the Webster's definition of incarnation and reincarnation. Some sources, mainly in the Doctor Who novels from the 90's, say that after helping to found Time Lord society, the Other threw himself into something called “the Prime Distributor” and was “re-loomed” aeons later as the Doctor. Never mind all the gobbledygook, the point is, according to this theory, the Doctor is a literal reincarnation of a Founding Father of Gallifrey.
The real-world explanation for this muddled concept is that showrunner Andrew Cartmel, who helmed the Seventh Doctor's seasons, came up with it and planned to weave it into the TV show. As such, some lines from the Seventh Doctor's episodes back it up. For example, in “Remembrance of the Daleks”, when discussing the ancient Time Lord artifact “the Hand of Omega” with Ace, the Seventh Doctor says “…and didn't we have trouble with the prototype,” before correcting himself and saying “they” instead. When Doctor Who was cancelled, the “Cartmel Masterplan”, as it has since been labeled, was abandoned. Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat both explicitly contradicted some elements of mythology that tied into the Masterplan when they revived Doctor Who–for instance, the idea that Time Lords are created from “looms” instead of being born as infants in the traditional sense. However, the existence of the Other has persisted in Doctor Who canon. One fairly recent comic book hints that the Other was a time-displaced Eleventh Doctor. On the other hand, Big Finish Productions released an audio drama called “Cold Fusion” in 2016 (an adaptation of the 1996 novel of the same name) which both hinted at the Doctor's past identity as the Other and explicitly referenced the events of “The Day of the Doctor”.
In Series 9 Episode 1, “The Magician's Apprentice”, Missy has the following exchange with Clara:
CLARA: “Since when do you care about the Doctor?”
MISSY: “Since always. Since the Cloister Wars. Since the night he stole the moon and the President's wife. Since he was a little girl. One of those was a lie; can you guess which one?”
Naturally, since the First Doctor appears as a little boy in Series 8 Episode 4, “Listen”, Who fans assumed that the last of those three statements was the lie. But then, in Series 9 Episode 12, “Hell Bent”, the subject of the moon and the President's wife comes up again, and the Doctor says:
“Ah, well, that was a lie put about by the Shebogans. It was the President's daughter, and I didn't steal the moon, I lost it…”
Meaning that the second item on the list was the lie. So, if we choose to believe Missy at all–which is a big ask–then it follows that the Doctor was somehow a little girl at some point.
I know what you're thinking, but bear with me. I'm just going by deductive reasoning here.
A number of decidedly weird rumors have been floating around about the production of Series 12 for a while now. One of them said that Chibnall is planning to reveal that the Doctor had a previous regeneration cycle made up entirely of female incarnations. Now, I doubt very much that this will actually be the case, since it would clash with a great deal of Doctor Who canon. However, if there is a grain of truth to the rumor, it could tie into some plan of Chibnall's to incorporate a version of the Other mythology.
Based on all this information, my theory is that the Timeless Child is the Other, and by extension, the Doctor. Or, to put it another way, the Doctor is the reincarnation of the Timeless Child, some powerful entity who was involved in the establishment of Time Lord civilization. Rassilon and Omega somehow used this entity to gain their power and to create the Time Lords. The Doctor's TARDIS encountered the Timeless Child before, and when the Doctor regenerated into a woman for the first time, thus resembling the Child physically more than she ever had before, the TARDIS' memories of the Child were awakened, and in a panic, she fled back to the place where she first met the Child–Desolation.
This theory doesn't answer all the questions about Series 12, of course. For one thing, I'm not sure how the Master fits into all this. I think the Master may be a reincarnation of some ancient entity as well, which would explain his remark, “We're not who we think, you or I.” True, he was saying that all Time Lords had been lied to, but maybe his statements were partly referring to the fact that he and the Doctor had been lied to most of all. He could be one of the other three Founders of Gallifrey, usually believed to be Pandak, Apeiron, and Eutenoyar (my money would be on Pandak, an early Gallifreyan president who was kind of evil and power-hungry). In short, though, if the Doctor and Master had lives and positions of power that were stolen from them by Rassilon and Omega, both of whom were royal creeps, it could explain why the Master was driven to homicidal rage when he discovered the truth.
A couple of other loose ends: I suspect that the Smoke Man in the TARDIS is Omega, and that he's the one who revealed the truth about the Timeless Child to the Master. Omega has been exiled from the prime Whoniverse to an anti-matter world for aeons, and caused havok in the prime reality on more than one occasion by attempting to return. It's possible that Omega either made an alliance with or created the Kasaavin. I also think that the fugitive the Judoon are searching for in next week's episode, “Fugitive of the Judoon”, will prove to be Rassilon (who was exiled from Gallifrey by the Twelfth Doctor), but I could very well be wrong about that. I will be surprised if the fugitive is not a Time Lord of some kind, though.
To be honest, I don't actually like everything about this theory. It would be cool for the Gallifreyan mythos to finally take center stage in the modern era of the show, instead of throwing around names like Rassilon without actually delving into who those major figures in the mythology are. However, the main problem with this possibility for the Timeless Child reveal is that it would establish the Doctor as having originally been female prior to any of her male incarnations. That's what a lot of viewers will focus on, if it turns out to be true, and the result will be yet another big Doctor Who controversy.
For my part, I'm ambivalent about the possibility of the Doctor having been female before. It doesn't change anything for me about established events in the Doctor's life. If it were me writing this version of the story, I'd have the Timeless Child be male just to lessen the controversy. The introduction of a current female Doctor has been moderately successful; no need to push things too far by retconning the past (especially since the Other has always been described as male). As for the rest of it, though, I'd be on board. This answer to the Timeless Child mystery would open up a lot of new potential storylines for the show and redefine established canon in interesting ways. Plus, it would bring back characters like Omega whom fans have been wanting to see in the modern series for a long time.
If you haven't fled in terror or fallen asleep yet, what do you think of my theory? And if you've got one of your own, who or what do you think the Timeless Child is?