We’ve arrived in an unlikely place and the universe is still breaking. It’s time to learn about Division.
The Doctor is transported by the Weeping Angels to a station of sorts where there is an Ood taking orders from the same woman she briefly met in “Once, Upon Time.” That woman explains that this station is an HQ for Division, and exists in the realm between universes—the current universe is dying, due to the effects of the Flux, and she is porting over seed samples to transplant to the universe next-door. This station is responsible for causing the Flux event, and is about to send out another wave, obliterating our current universe entirely.
Meanwhile in 1904, Yaz, Dan, and Jericho travel the world searching for clues to its ending, something that Yaz was instructed to do via a private video message left in her pocket by the Doctor before they were separated. The trio get a message from a hermit (Kammy Darweish) who tells them “Fetch your dog,” so they write a gigantic message to Karvanista around the Great Wall of China, telling him to come “fetch your human” and advising when in time they’re stuck—but Karvanista doesn’t have time travel tech and is currently busy trying to fix a hole in the Lupari shield around Earth. One of their ships got damaged so he’s recalling the only one that didn’t make it to the planet… which unfortunately happens to be the ship Bel nabbed to go looking for her partner. Vinder just misses her arrival at an ominous spacecraft where Swarm and Azure are gathering more survivors onto Passengers. He gets himself captured in hopes of finding her, and meets Diane on the Passenger that absorbs him.
In the 20th century through to the present day, the Grand Serpent is on Earth infiltrating the foundation and development of UNIT, murdering several prominent officials within the organization. This all works easily until 2017, when Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) tells him that she knows he’s up to something and won’t let him have the organization so much of her family history is tied up in. In retaliation, he has her home bombed, and Kate calls Osgood to tell her she’s going dark, running just as a Sontaran invasion force appears over Earth.
Another chance run-in with Joseph Williamson gets Yaz and co. to realize that he might be the key to everything they’re looking for, and Dan knows all about the tunnels he created that were being unearthed in present day, so the trio head to Liverpool. Once they arrive, they find Williamson again and he is beyond relieved to find out that there are other people who know that time and space are collapsing and twisting about. He shows them his tunnels, and where they’ve led, but admits that they’ve all recently changed. (One door is marked for never entry because “death” is on the other side of it.) As they’re talking, the ground begins to shake and Sontarans enter in through the tunnels.
The Doctor learns that Division was started on Gallifrey, then expanded to the whole universe, including all species, and that it worked to keep ordering things and planning out the moves of the universe. The Doctor eventually decided that she wasn’t happy with the way things were running, and so her memories were removed by this woman in charge… who turns out to be Tecteun, the Gallifreyan who found the Doctor as a child. According to Tecteun, the Flux is ending the universe because the Doctor’s influence is too strong to be countered any longer—she inspires people, and that inspiration has made it too difficult for Division to do its work. They will end the current universe and start over elsewhere.
The Doctor promises to stop her, but hears whispers nearby; a chameleon arch pocket watch containing all her former memories. Tecteun promises to give her the watch in exchange for her cooperation, but the Doctor won’t stand for it. She plans to defend this universe to the end and stop her mother’s plan, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, her connection to Swarm leads the Ravagers right to them, and he dissolves Tecteun in front of her, planning to do the same to the Doctor and then hop to a brand new universe…
Well, I did say that woman seemed like that Doctor’s mom.
The threads are starting to intertwine a little more clearly, which makes sense, as this is our lead-up to the finale. The purpose of Division is revealed, and the Doctor’s role within and then without it. What we’re missing currently is a little more context that I’m worried we might not get.
The conversation between the Doctor and Tecteun is a handy sort of microcosm of everything that New Who has been discussing about the Doctor’s character and purpose since the show’s restart in 2005. On the one hand, Tecteun notes that the Doctor inspires people to rise up against preordained narratives about their futures, to take action and be better than they were yesterday. It’s relevant that the Doctor hasn’t even done this knowingly since having her memories of Division erased. She does it simply by virtue of being who she is.
But when the Doctor tries to take Tecteun to task for stealing her, experimenting on her, and robbing her of the life she might have had, the woman responds that this is exactly what the Doctor does to her own companions. We’ve heard similar versions of this argument from the Doctor’s enemies before, particularly from Davros, in his insistence to Ten: “You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.”
These are big ideas that the series has been grappling with for some time. The Doctor is a meddler and a hero and an inspiration, but she can also be a harbinger and a storm and a forger of sentient weapons. She isn’t always fair to people—something that is beautifully highlighted in her mission to Yaz, a mission that she entrusts to her alone and forces her to carry, just like Martha Jones walking the Earth, or Rory waiting for Amy for millennia, or Bill Potts living on a Monk-invaded world and waiting for aid in defeating them.
The Doctor is kind and full of love, which makes her different from Tecteun no matter what the woman says. But that doesn’t mean that the Doctor is unassailable, and this moment with the woman who claimed ownership over her as a child is powerful in its understatement. It’s beautifully acted from both Flynn and Whittaker, and painful to witness. And then it’s over, and Tecteun is dead before the Doctor can get any proper closure.
I’m fascinated by the prospect that creating this whole unknown background with Division might actually make sense of some Steven Moffat’s goofier story conceits, particularly this idea that the Doctor is a feared figure in some cultures across the universe, that their name comes to mean “warrior” and the like. We now know that the Doctor probably has done some horrifying things on behalf of the Division, and it would make more sense if that’s where those labels originated. What if River Song actually came close to uncovering that in all her research, and was just missing the relevant information to put it all together?
But we’re missing all the big pieces, and I fear we may never get them before the season’s end. Specifically, why did Gallifrey create Division and to what purpose? Did they ever regret its creation or try to stop it? Did Division engineer the Time War, perhaps? Maybe those are questions best answered at another time.
I’ve got no idea where the stuff with the Grand Serpent is going (aside from giving us weird Alien/Goa’uld vibes), but it was fun watching Kate Stewart sit toe-to-toe with that guy and tell him that he would wrest control of the House the Brigadier Built over her dead body. Also, I missed Kate and UNIT, so I’m glad to see her back again.
Yaz, Dan, and Jericho are a fun team (but also who’s taking care of poor Peggy, there was no one left in that town), and it’s great watching them Indiana Jones their way around the world. My only question is, would the amount of travel we see them do actually have been possible in 1904? They genuinely pop all over the world, mostly by boat and foot, which takes a while and wasn’t quite as frequent over a century ago in terms of passenger liner schedules.
But it all comes back to Joseph Williamson and Dan’s obsession with Liverpool history, which is adorable. Williamson was a real life historical figure and those tunnels have seemingly never been explained to anyone’s satisfaction, which makes them great fodder for a story like this. Using fun historical mysteries for storytelling inspiration is something that Who does better than most, so it’s always fun to see where that goes.
Unfortunately, where it goes is potentially getting murdered by Sontarans, and we won’t know how that turns out until next week.
Stuff and Things
- I really do love that Yaz makes the point that it’s not okay to steal cultural artifacts from places, and that she intends to put them back.
- The Doctor’s habit of leaving video messages where she talks back to people who aren’t there is a long-standing tradition (one that Ten participated in semi-frequently), and one that we’ve already seen from Thirteen in particular in last season’s premiere with the plane video she set up for Ryan.
- Kumar’s performance from Kammy Darweish was delightful, and he deserved his newspaper. Dan’s right, it was rude of them not to bring him anything.
- As far as I understand, the whole “you can see the Great Wall from space” thing is essentially a myth? (I think the point is that you can see it from very far away, but not from orbit without aid.) They maybe needed to come up with a slightly more creative way of getting that message to Karvanista, though I’m not sure how that message is appearing across time anyway, since you know that wouldn’t get left there once it was discovered.
- We’ve got this space between universes, which are presumably not parallel ones, but actually whole different ones. So this space that the Division HQ resides in is probably not the Void that the Daleks hid in? But then again, it could be; they also required a special ship and tech to keep them safe while hiding out there in not-space/not-time.
- Thirteen may be the Doctor who has most frequently called back to the Third Doctor’s fondness for saying “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow,” and in this season in particular. It’s very cute, as technobabble nonsense goes.
See you next Monday to talk about the season finale!