The Third Doctor and the Shadow of the Division: A Timeless Child Reflection

One of the unique things about a show/story/character as long running as Doctor Who is its potential to fold back on itself, to tell a story that opens a new path for future narratives while also inviting you to return to older stories and see them in a new way.  As I explored last week, Chris Chibnall’s addition of the Timeless Child to the world of Doctor Who certainly does that.  This week, as I’ve been filling my time between Doctor Who: Flux “Chapter One: The Halloween Apocalypse” and Doctor Who: Flux “Chapter Two: War of the Sontarans,” I’ve been continuing my journey through all 695 episodes of Classic Doctor Who.  As I’m moving through the Third Doctor’s era (which I ADORE), I’ve been thinking of the Timeless Child.  Specifically I’ve been thinking of how seamlessly it brings together a few plot points which felt a bit disconnected to me.

One of the many shocking things the Thirteenth Doctor learns about her past when the Master takes her into the Matrix on Gallifrey is she’s the Timeless Child, a being of unknown origin from another universe from whom the Time Lords gained their ability to regenerate.  The Doctor also learns, in one of her earlier, forgotten lives, she and Tecteun, the woman who found and adopted her, met with a Time Lord called Solpado.  As the Doctor and the Master watch this scene play out within the Matrix, Solpado tells Tecteun and the Timeless Child, “The policy of the Time Lords is clear, strict non-intervention in other worlds and times.  However, policy and reality sometimes diverge.  There are times when it is necessary to intervene.  That is the purpose of the Division. [to the Timeless Child] The tests we set you, these results are the best I’ve ever seen.  The Division does not exist.  The Division does not have operatives.  We are not even here.  Do you understand?  I propose…”

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Solpado speaks with Tecteun and the Timeless Child. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

There the memory stops.  Frustrated the Doctor asks, “What have you done?”  The Master explains, “Not me.  That was done long before I got here.  Everything from here is redacted, blocked out, all but erased.  There was something here.  A lot of stuff, seemingly, but now it all just looks like this.  I’ve tried everything, everything, to decode it, but it’s…it’s unrecoverable, beyond even my brilliance.  And it’s not often I say that.”[1]  So, like the Doctor herself, we are left wondering, what is the Division and what role did it play in the Doctor’s many forgotten lives?

While I don’t imagine Doctor Who: Flux will give us the whole entire story, the Doctor is clearly seeking answers herself.  It’s the reason she is so single-mindedly tracking the Lupari officer Karvanista.[2]  But from what we do know, it seems safe to infer the Division is a secret group run by select Time Lords (and presumably other races as well if Karvanista was involved) to interfere in other worlds and times when reality diverges with the Time Lords’ policy.  What I found myself pondering this week is how easily the Division can be read back into several key story beats through the Third Doctor’s era.  And honestly?  I kind of love it. 

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The Doctor confronts Karvanista and, yeah, I know he kinda looks like a Wookie but OH MY GOSH once I met him for five minutes I was in love with him. I dig Wookies. I always have. But I really, really, really want to meet my Lupari, too. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Second Doctor’s life, as it were, would come to an end due to the Time Lords.  The Second Doctor calls them when he and his companions Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot discover a mass of people from many different time zones across Earth’s history displaced, too many for them to return on their own.  So the Doctor, reluctantly, calls the Time Lords for help.  They set things right…but they also put the Doctor on trial for his “crimes.”

Time Lord – “You have heard the charge against you, that you have repeatedly broken our most important law of noninterference in the affairs of other planets.  What have you to say?  Do you admit to these actions?”

The Doctor – “I not only admit them, I am proud of them.  While you have been content to merely observe the evil in the galaxy, I have been fighting against it.”

Time Lord 3 – “It is not we who are on trial here, Doctor.  It is you.”

The Doctor – “No, no, of course.  You’re above criticism, aren’t you?”

Time Lord – “Do you admit that these actions were justified?”

The Doctor – “Yes, yes, of course I do!”

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The Second Doctor defends himself to the Time Lords by presenting, among many other foes, an image of the Yetis controlled by the Grand Intelligence. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

After naming the evils he’s faced the Doctor concludes, “All these evils I have fought while you have done nothing but observe.  True, I am guilty of interference, just as you are guilty of not using your great powers to help those in need!”  The Time Lords certainly don’t see it as the Doctor does.  After stripping Jamie and Zoe of their memories of their time with the Doctor and returning them to their proper place in time, they sentence the Doctor to exile on Earth.[3]  They grant there is evil in the galaxy and if the Doctor is so keen on stopping it, he can protect the people of Earth…but he can’t go anywhere else.  They strip him of his knowledge of time travel and take the TARDIS’ dematerialization circuit.  They force a regeneration, essentially “killing” him, and place the Third Doctor and his broken TARDIS on Earth, in England, in 1970. 

The Doctor reconnects with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and (with great reluctance and the grumpiest sass you can imagine) becomes the “chief scientific advisor” to UNIT, the United Nations’ Intelligence Taskforce.[4]  Despite bristling at being stuck on one planet in one year living life one day at a time for the first time in centuries, the Doctor bonds with the Brigadier and those he works with, most notably Liz Shaw, Captain Mike Yates, Sargent Benton, and Jo Grant.  Liz, an accomplished scientist who worked alongside the Doctor since he first arrived at UNIT, left to pursue her studies at Cambridge and, in her absence, Jo, a civilian UNIT operative, was assigned to the Doctor by the Brigadier.[5]

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The Brigadier, the Doctor, Jo Grant, and Sargent Benton. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

All in all, the Doctor would spend three years in exile on Earth before the Time Lords would see fit to return “the secret of the TARDIS” to him.[6]  Yet, while the Time Lords exiled the Doctor for breaking their “most important law of noninterference in the affairs of other planets,” they seem pretty comfortable letting the Doctor do just that when it suits their needs.  At the beginning of his second year in exile, a Time Lord comes to warn the Doctor of the Master’s arrival on Earth:

Time Lord – “I came to warn you.  An old acquaintance has arrived on this planet.”

The Doctor – “Oh?  One of our people?”

Time Lord – “The Master.”

The Doctor – “That jackanapes!  All he ever does is cause trouble.”

Time Lord – “He’ll certainly try to kill you, Doctor.  The Tribunal thought that you ought to be made aware of your danger.”

The Doctor – “I refuse to be worried about a renegade like the Master.  He’s a, he’s an unimaginative plodder.”

Time Lord – “His degree in cosmic science was of a higher class than yours.”

The Doctor – “Yes, well, er, yes, well, I, I was a late developer.”

[….]

The Doctor – “Well, you’d better think of a witty way of dealing with it.”

[dematerialization sound begins]

The Doctor – “Now wait!”

Time Lord – “Oh, good luck!”

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Liz and the Doctor work on the TARDIS in what is easily THE SINGLE GREATEST TARDIS INTERIOR OF ALL TIME OH MY GOSH I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

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This picture is just here because I wanted to look at this swingin’ TARDIS interior again. I love it so, so very much. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Time Lords, for whatever reason, aren’t too keen on dealing with the Master themselves and are all too happy to leave it to the Doctor.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Despite three years of exile, the TARDIS was far from inactive during that time.  While the Doctor and Liz could never get the TARDIS functioning no matter what they tried (a project the Doctor continued after Liz went on to Cambridge), the Time Lords themselves would activate the TARDIS again and again when they needed the Doctor to take care of something.

When the Time Lords discover the Master has stolen a secret file on a Doomsday Weapon, they allow the Doctor and Jo to travel to the planet Uxarieus in the year 2472.  They find themselves embroiled in a dispute over claim to the planet, between the colonists who rightfully have it and the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC) who embody all the ravenous greed of capitalistic corporations.[7]

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Jo and the Doctor meet with 1970’s Star-Lord one of the colonists on Uxarieus. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Next, the Time Lords would allow a test flight of the TARDIS the Doctor and Jo attempt to land them on the planet Peladon in the year 3885.  They are mistaken for the dignitaries from Earth who are part of an intergalactic committee arriving on Peladon to decide whether or not the planet is fit to join the Galactic Federation.  Feelings on this matter are hotly divided amongst Peladon’s elite and, as arguments escalate, people begin dying.  The Doctor asks Jo, “You don’t really think that our appearance on the planet of Peladon at this precise crisis in their history was just a coincidence, do you?”  Jo replies, “Time Lords again.”  The Doctor agrees, “Yes, I think so.”[8]

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Jo and the Doctor speak with Alpha Centauri and two Ice Warriors on Peladon. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Not long after, the Time Lords will send the Doctor and Jo to a Skybase orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th century with the express purpose of delivering a sealed message pod to an unknown recipient.  They encounter the raging exploitation and oppression of blatant imperialism in the form of the Marshall of Solos, the Earth Empire’s military representative running Skybase, who sees the Solonian people as “mutts” to do his bidding or be killed.[9]

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The Doctor and Jo with the Time Lord’s sealed message pod, as the Marshal of Solos and two of his guards come up behind them. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Lastly, the Doctor and Jo are able to tie their TARDIS to the Master’s to follow him to Atlantis in 1500 BCE in an attempt to stop him from releasing a creature called a Chronovore, believed to be Kronos himself by the Atlanteans.  As the Doctor explains it to Jo, “Well, the whole of creation is very delicately balanced in cosmic terms, Jo.  If the Master opens the floodgates of Kronos’ power, all order and all structure will be swept away.  Nothing will be left but chaos.”[10]  Now, this serial doesn’t come out and expressly say the Time Lords allowed the Doctor to follow the Master.  However it seems a safe inference if the Time Lords have been using the Doctor to sort things for them during his exile and if what the Master was doing could sweep away “all order and all structure” in “the whole of creation” and if the Doctor had lost his knowledge of time travel law, dematerialization, and the mechanics of time travel, then his ability to follow the Master was something the Time Lords allowed because it was something they wanted taken care of, too.

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The Doctor and Jo tracking the Master in the new (and less groovy) TARDIS control room. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

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The Master inside his own TARDIS. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Now, I’m sure the reason for this narrative setup – the Time Lords need something done so they send the Doctor – was born of a way to get the Doctor to other planets in other times during his exile.  That all makes sense.  But when we have the Time Lords exiling him for doing this very thing the fact that they have him do it for them again and again can feel a bit odd.  There seems a bit of a disconnect between what the Time Lords say they want and what they have the Doctor do.  But when we read the existence of the Division, this blackest of black ops organizations the Time Lords created to interfere in time and space when needed, and the Doctor’s participation in the Division back over these stories, all the confusion and oddity fades away!

What the Time Lords are doing is only natural!  In fact, what they are doing is what they’ve done for countless lifetimes hidden from the Doctor.  And, perhaps, the Doctor’s comfort with the Time Lords having him do what they exiled him for grows from his unconscious recollection of those times.  He no longer has any memories of his time with the Division but he falls into this familiar pattern, being sent to intervene on some planet on the Time Lords’ behalf, with little to no hesitation or confusion because a buried part remembers he’s done it so many times before.

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One of the few things we know about this “fugitive” Doctor is she worked for the Division. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

I wrote last week that after a fair bit of time struggling with the Timeless Child reveal, I’d found a way to not only appreciate it but to be excited about what it will offer to the future of Doctor Who.  This is just one more piece of how I’ve come to enjoy it.  It fits perfectly or, rather, the shadow of the Division fits perfectly over these Third Doctor stories.  The Time Lords weren’t inexplicably violating their own code to send the Doctor to do random things.  No, they were using one of their oldest and most successful Division operatives to do the work they’ve been doing for them for millennia.  And that, I think, is kinda cool.

On a related note, as Russell T Davies has been very open about his desire to expand the world of Doctor Who to mirror a MCU/Star Wars-esque connected universe and he’s returning to helm Doctor Who after Chris Chibnall leaves, I’m calling it now.  We are at most three years away from Davies announcing a show called Doctor Who: The Division which explores the Doctor’s time working with the Division in the pre-Hartnell/pre-First Doctor era of their lives.  This seems a perfect way to expand the world of the Doctor as Davies wants to do.  It easily exists in-universe and is Doctor-centric while allowing absolutely free creative reign, as all the stories would exist outside of the canon we already have.  And, while I’ve discussed my hesitation about Davies trying to build an MCU-like empire out of Doctor Who, a show about the Doctor’s time with the Division could be really interesting to see.

Ok, with that off my chest, it’s time to go back to thinking about Doctor Who: Flux

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In addition to being curious about the Division, so far Doctor Who: Flux has given me A ZILLION new questions I can’t stop obsessing over! Ahhhhh! Weeks in between episodes have never felt so long! / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who


[1] Jamie Magnus Stone, dir. “The Timeless Children.” Doctor Who, season 12, episode 10, BBC, 2020.

[2] Jamie Magnus Stone, dir. “The Halloween Apocalypse.” Doctor Who, season 13, episode 1, BBC 2021.

[3] David Maloney, dir. “The War Games.” Doctor Who, season 6, episode 44, BBC, 1969.

[4] Derek Martinus, dir. “Spearhead from Space.” Doctor Who, season 7, episode 1-4, BBC, 1970.

[5] Barry Letts, dir. “Terror of the Autons.” Doctor Who, season 8, episode 1, BBC, 1971.

[6] Lennie Maybe, dir. “The Three Doctors.” Doctor Who, season 10, episode 4, BBC, 1973.

[7] Michael Briant, dir. “Colony in Space.” Doctor Who, season 8, episode 15-20, BBC, 1971.

[8] Lennie Maybe, dir. “The Curse of Peladon.” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 5-8, BBC, 1972.

[9] Christopher Barry, dir. “The Mutants.” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 15-20. BBC, 1972.

[10] Paul Bernard, dir. “The Time Monster.” Doctor Who, season 9, episode 21-26, BBC, 1972.

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