Doctor Who‘s Timeless Child reveal means future villains won’t be quite so threatening. The season 12 finale of Doctor Who changed the entire standing of the franchise with a series of huge revelations. Essentially, The Doctor fell from another universe into our own and was adopted by a scientist from the planet Gallifrey. The Doctor showed a natural ability to regenerate upon death, and the Time Lords coveted this power for themselves, finally managing to splice it into their own genetic makeup.
The regeneration gimmick in Doctor Who is a genius one that has allowed the series to survive for over 50 years, replacing the lead actor time and time again to reach brand new generations of fans. However, it does come with a major drawback – the threat of The Doctor being killed is greatly diminished. Usually in adventure, fantasy or science fiction, the stakes are high because the lead character is often at risk of imminent death, whether because of a perilous journey or a dastardly villain. Being able to regenerate has meant Doctor Who‘s leading man or lady rarely seems in serious danger, but this has historically been remedied by establishing a 12 regeneration limit. Consequently, The Doctor could die should all of their forms be spent.
The Timeless Child has changed all of that. Since The Doctor isn’t from Gallifrey, she cannot be subject to the 12 regeneration ceiling the Time Lords themselves imposed. Given what is now known, The Doctor may have an infinite amount of regenerations, and the many previous lives glimpsed so far certainly indicates as much. Moving forward, the audience will be fully aware that not only can The Doctor regenerate, but she could do it ad nauseam, until the enemy gives up and goes home. Previously, with the limit in place, any threat to The Doctor at least carried some weight, similar to losing a life in a video game; at some point, it’s goodbye for good. But now, any villain or emergency that threatens The Doctor is laughable, since the hero can likely come back from any and all injuries.
This would be a major pitfall for future seasons of Doctor Who, but there are a few potential workarounds. Firstly, the Time Lords could’ve artificially imposed their own limit onto The Doctor, although this would need some explanation and clarification sooner rather than later. Secondly, David Tennant’s Doctor once tried to make regeneration out to be akin to a death, with each outgoing version of The Doctor feeling like they’re dying, rather than renewing, but this is a mere technicality, and isn’t necessarily a view shared by the audience. Finally, The Doctor has stated previously that if the regeneration process is halted for whatever reason, a Time Lord can still die midway through. This isn’t something Doctor Who has followed up on much, so it’s authenticity could be questioned, especially now The Doctor has been outed as a non-Time Lord. Alternatively, Time Lords have a number of different Kryptonites, such as the sap of a Judas Tree, which Doctor Who could make more use of.
One frequent method Doctor Who has used to navigate around the regeneration issue is to keep companions and innocent civilians in villains’ cross hairs, rather than The Doctor, taking advantage of their fragile mortality. While this can certainly be effective, The Doctor herself needs to come into peril now and again, and viewers might also expect the protagonist to constantly sacrifice herself in future adventures, now there’s seemingly no limit to her regenerations. No sense letting Rory die all the time when The Doctor can’t be killed. This is just another example of how game-changing the Timeless Child is. Although the storyline has the potential to open brand new doors for Doctor Who, there are a lot of lingering plot points that need addressing before the show moves forward with its next season.
More: Doctor Who’s Timeless Child Twist Resolves Two Major Tom Baker Plot Holes
Doctor Who continues with “Revolution of the Daleks” this holiday season on BBC and BBC America.