7. Begin Again

Thoughts on Doctor Who:
The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Ascension of the Cybermen
The Timeless Children
Revolution of the Daleks


This season is much better than the previous one. The Doctor was almost ignored by the previous season-arc, which was all about Graham & Ryan having an emotional journey. It used very few iconic Doctor Who ingredients – which is not to say that’s a recipe for a boring season, but keeping the Doctor from centre-stage isn’t a great idea. Detractors of this season could argue the recipe has too much of one ingredient – the programme is now too much about the Doctor, and the flavour of the show is absolutely drenched in continuity.

Still, if this is now a sometimes too-much vindaloo rather than some beige food it certainly isn’t boring.

Revolution of the Daleks (the story after the trilogy that forms a long season finale) races to stay relevant however. Theresa May resigned almost six months before the episode was broadcast – the brilliant Harriet Walter plays the role of a female prime minister having to deal with a Trump-esque figure.

The actual Trump lost the real-world election two months before broadcast so the satire, such as it was, was even staler.

The Dalek redesign for the production is elegantly done though.

The Haunting of Villa Diodati like The Witchfinders before it imagines a version of this era that has meaningful screentime for all four of the TARDIS team, and is a very good story.

Ascension of the Cybermen has an audacious start with Brendan of Ireland. It’s quite cheeky from Chibnall to have this parallel cosy rural drama which wouldn’t seem unusual for ITV Sunday evening (as if the viewer has pressed the wrong channel) and it’s a great mystery that’s not resolved until the next episode. Less interesting is the Cybermen element of this episode.

By the episode’s end it’s another Master-and-Cybermen finale, this time with added Gallifrey. From the all-new of 2018 to the continuity-fest of 2020 is quite the change.

The Timeless Children ends the season.

To mix the metaphors, this vindaloo finale is also rock opera.

A rock opera with the volume at eleven (or thirteen). Or with the volume dial turned to fifty or five-hundred and seventeen?

Who could have predicted the Chibnall masterplan would involve resolving the mystery of the visions of the Doctor from The Brain of Morbius?

That he would realise onscreen the Cartmel masterplan of saying yes the Doctor was there at the founding of Gallifrey, a time of a triumvirate of Omega and Rassilon and an other (or Other)? All that had been realised on the page with the New Adventure novels that filled the void after Cartmel’s run of TV episodes ended.

There are some important differences though, not least Tecteun being the other of the three rather than the Doctor. Which makes this masterplan even more radical than Cartmel’s, the Doctor existing and regenerating before the founding of Time Lord society.

It’s impossible to overstate how radical a change this is, how much an upheaval to established Doctor Who lore.

If Moffat’s addition of Hurt’s Doctor to the lineup of past Doctors of Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth was an elegant string quartet, that had you nodding pleasantly along to the harmonious yet unexpected melody then this rock opera is full of shrieking vocals and power chords producing squalls of raw feedback.

If some mysteries have been newly created, others from earlier this season have been resolved: That’s what the Master was going on about during Spyfall; Jo Martin’s Doctor could be of the Doctor’s pre-Hartnell-Doctor time as an agent of the Division; Brendan is a coded version of this time when playback from the Matrix is tried.

However, some questions remain regarding the fugitive Doctor. Is Jo Martin actually between Troughton and Pertwee? That would explain her already having the junkyard police-box TARDIS, which supposedly started with Hartnell’s junkyard. Did the Doctor make a slight return to the Division, a “Season 6B” with more than one incarnation?

The other big question is whether Jo Martin will get a substantial run being the Doctor onscreen. Her appearance during the finale as a “magical guide” for the Thirteenth Doctor leaves her diminished while her toe-to-toe scenes with Jodie during Fugitive certainly didn’t.

It’s possible that Flux may have an answer to both or one or neither of these two questions.

Flux is unlikely however to be Chibnall’s Lungbarrow – that is, a story that wraps up all of the mystery of the Doctor and the earliest days of the Time Lords.

To rewind back to the 2020 two-part finale, is it a good Doctor Who story?

A very difficult question. Doctor Who of 2018 seemed adrift from any plot dynamic that might propel it forward (largely by the Doctor being ignored by the season-arc), so Chibnall has solved that problem he created for himself.

To a very large extent the success or otherwise of 2020 will be determined by 2021’s Flux, the final chapters of the Chibnall masterplan.

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