Timey Wimey

Doctor Who just changed the show’s time travel rules forever

The planet Time in “War of the Sontarans” is a big Gallifreyan game-changer.

The Time Lords are obsolete. In the newest episode of Doctor Who: Flux — the sci-fi series’ interconnected Season 13 storyline — it appears that the way in which the flow of time is regulated in the Whoniverse has been totally retconned.

In “War of the Sontarans,” everything we thought we knew about time travel in Doctor Who has been not-so-subtly turned on its head. Let’s unpack the latest twist in Flux and why it rewrites Doctor Who history — again. Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who: Flux Chapter 2, “War of the Sontarans.”

Vinder on the planet called “Time.”BBC America

What is Doctor Who’s planet Time?

The biggest reveal in this week’s episode was a mysterious planet called Time, which is apparently run by semi-religious figures known as the Mouri. If you’re a longtime Doctor Who fan, you'll know that this is an entirely new creation within the show’s universe. The Doctor herself has no familiarity with this location, and one assertion by new skeleton-faced baddies the Swarm indicates that the planet (and the Mouri) exist outside of normal space and time.

As if to prove the weight of the Mouri’s responsibility in preventing time from running wild, the Swarm hijack the TARDIS and briefly convert Yaz and newcomer Vinder into members of the Mouri, keeping time in balance for just long enough to summon the Doctor. The episode ends on a cliffhanger as the Swarm threatens to kill Yaz, thus unbalancing time again.

The Time Lord President Rassilon in “The End of Time”BBC America

Who regulates Doctor Who’s timeline?

Prior to this episode, most Who canon asserts that the “proper” flow of time is regulated by a few different groups. At the height of their powers, the Doctor’s own people — the Time Lords — were the most obvious and influential masters of time and space. In the classic Doctor Who era (pre-2005) the Time Lords mostly didn’t interfere with the affairs of other planets, a viewpoint the Doctor often opposed. However, as Who went on, the Time Lords became more interventionist in terms of waging paradoxical time wars, most notably sending the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) to destroy the Daleks before they were created in the episode “Genesis of the Daleks.”

From that point on, Doctor Who has been a bit of a free-for-all when it comes to who or what keeps the “correct” timeline flowing. After the events of the Time War (post-2005), the Doctor frequently set themselves up as the sole defender and steward of the timeline. This often led to the Doctor taking things too far, such as in “The Water of Mars,” when the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) attempted to rewrite a “fixed point in time,” resulting in a near-catastrophe.

“Fixed points in time” were always a little murky in contemporary Who canon. Aside from Time Lords, a few other groups seemed to have control over time and space, including the Sisterhood of Karn, the Reapers, and the governing body known as the Shadow Proclamation.

A mysterious member of the Mouri.BBC America

How the Mouri and the planet Time change Doctor Who canon

All the previous rules of the various Who timelines appear superseded by the introduction of the Mouri. While some vague physical forces have previously pushed back against the Doctor altering “fixed points,” the existence of the Mouri and planet Time seems to suggest there’s a baseline governing body for the timeline beneath all that.

This changes the rules of time travel in Doctor Who. The Time Lords, the Reapers, and others may have tried to police alterations to the timeline, but the actual flow of time has been quietly regulated and was perhaps even created by the Mouri. Because Season 12 retroactively established that the Doctor was not a Time Lord, but rather a “timeless child” from an unknown species that gave rise to the Time Lords, it seems reasonable that the Mouri are part of that puzzle. In other words, it’s not nuts to think that Flux will reveal at some point that the Doctor herself was once a member of the Mouri. (Maybe.)

Obviously, this is all very wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, in the tradition of Doctor Who. But it does add a brand-new wrinkle in the Who mythos. The introduction of the Mouri in “War of the Sontarans” alters the notion of time in the Whoniverse to mean something different than it had previously. We’ve always vaguely assumed time was simply the fourth dimension and inextricably linked to space via basic theories of relativity. The TARDIS after all — the pinnacle in Time Lord tech — stands for “time and relative dimensions in space.”

But what Flux is casually asserting, at least for now, is that time itself might be more like an unwieldy natural resource, one that if left unchecked will warp in ways that wouldn’t seem possible under normal laws of physics.

A quote attributed to Albert Einstein (though possibly not ever uttered by him) reads: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” With the introduction of the Mouri and the Swarm in Flux, it appears Doctor Who is taking that quote not only seriously but literally.

Doctor Who: Flux airs new episodes on Sundays on BBC America, which you can watch streaming on the AMC+ app.

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