Has Chibnall Masterfully Fooled the Fanbase?
Guest article by Gideon Christie.
Amazingly, it’s been a year since Series 12 ended with “The Timeless Children”. A divisive story to say the least! The controversial rewriting of the Time Lords and the Doctor’s origins certainly ruffled the fanbase’s feathers when it aired in March 2020.
Now, I’m not here to give my opinion on the episode and the changes Chibnall has made to Doctor Who’s canon. There’s a whole host of videos and articles across the net that have already covered that to death since the episode originally aired. So, what I’m actually here to ponder is whether Chibnall has quite masterfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the fanbase…
It’s a thought that’s occurred to me since the episode first aired. Then in a December 2020 interview, Chris Chibnall explained that he planned the whole arc since the very start of his tenure as showrunner. His nonchalant tone (especially considering the uproar the episode received) got me thinking about things again.
So what if all of it is a deliberate ploy? What if all the noise the Timeless Child revelation generated is exactly what Chibnall wanted? You may ask why he would want such a hugely polarised response. Especially when a large part of it has been negative. The answer is simple: publicity is still publicity, good or bad.
The thing is, even if the reaction is negative it can still be used and even counted as a success in the social media age. It sounds counterproductive, but analytics groups don’t care if a response to a show is negative or positive. It’s all still counted as an “engaged viewer” these days.
In the immediate aftermath of the offending episode, Doctor Who made headlines again and people haven’t really stopped talking about it since its air date. You’ve had the mainstream media defending the episode, angry Youtubers, Twitter hashtags, pages of forum posts, you name it. Now, imagine the muted response if Chibnall had just put out a run-of-the-mill Cybermen/Master finale with no big twists. Would it still be discussed now? I very much doubt it. It would be like Series 11 all over again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this kind of polarisation is a good thing for the long-term health of the show. But I just think that Chibnall may be playing a bit of a game and harnessing the social media age to generate a lot of talk. I think there’s no way Chibnall, a lifelong fan of the show, didn’t know he would get the kind of reactions he got when he first came up with the idea. He obviously knew such changes would be controversial, but was prepared to take a gamble of the likely blowback.
However, there’s another key component to all this that I don’t think many people are considering. I think there’s far more to the Timeless Child arc than many fans realise anyway. I don’t think this arc is over by a long shot. Chibnall has even hinted that we’ll have to wait to find out more in Series 13.
So, what if everything that transpired was all a lie? After all, who is the one who is telling the Doctor about this? Yes, the Master. And since when have we trusted what the Master says?! Granted the script brings this up with Thirteen questioning how it can’t be real, and the Master says it’s all true. But of course, he would say that, he’s the Master after all!
Chibnall could easily have pulled a fast one here, and many fans will have got suckered right into it. There is nothing to stop Chibnall picking up this story and saying the Master manipulated the Matrix records, etc. It’s the sort of deceptions that Steven Moffat used to excel at, but on an even bigger scale.
So, my concluding thought would be that: maybe fans should wait and see how this develops in Series 13. And even if Chibnall somehow doesn’t touch this controversial arc again, there’s nothing to stop a future showrunner from ignoring it, or even retconing it themselves.