In tonight's episode of Doctor Who, "The Ghost Monument," we saw the Doctor and her companions confronted by a peculiarly threatening foe: the Remnants, or a bunch of murderous, sinister-voiced strips of cloth. The Remnants were created by scientists held captive on the planet Desolation, forced by the Stenza to develop instruments of death — but the creatures were equipped with powers of insight beyond that of the lifeless robot guards which also stalked the planet. Peering into the Doctor's mind, the Remnants identified an aspect from her past that visibly disturbed her — so who is the timeless child in Doctor Who, and why did their mention bother the Doctor so much?
First, let's revisit the scene. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, Graham, Angstrom, and Epzo, forced out of the underground tunnels by the machinations of the robot guards, are surrounded by the Remnants, who make their intentions pretty clear. "Finally, a big feast of lives!" the creatures whisper, as they snake towards the group. But it's the Doctor they zero in on, and they get the measure of her pretty quickly. "You lead but you're scared, too — for yourself and for others," the Remnants rasp. "Afraid of your own newness. We see deep though. Further back. The timeless child."
At the mention of the "timeless child," the Doctor freezes. The Remnants continue: "We see what's hidden — even from yourself. The outcast, abandoned and unknown." Growing increasingly distressed, the Doctor demands, "Get out of my head!" before instructing Graham to launch the cigar that will ultimately overcome the creatures.
It seems fair to assume that the "timeless child" is going to play a major role this series, possibly as a mystery of the Doctor's past that the episodes will slowly unravel. Strikingly, it appears that the Doctor herself isn't even aware of the true significance of the timeless child, despite her instinctive reaction to the term. After all, the Remnants say that what they see in the Doctor is hidden even from the Time Lord herself.
Would it also be reasonable to assume that the timeless child is the Doctor, and it's she who was "abandoned and unknown" in her childhood? The Doctor's childhood has remained a mystery throughout the series, though snippets have been revealed here and there.
Back in 2014, the Radio Times summarised what fans knew so far about the Time Lord's upbringing on Gallifrey (the Doctor "grew up on a house perched half-way up a mountain," according to the third incarnation.) In the 2006 episode "The Girl in the Fireplace," Madame de Pompadour calls David Tennant's Tenth Doctor "such a lonely little boy," while in 2014's "Listen", the young Doctor cries in bed. "He has run away from some sort of school, upset about something and doesn’t want the other boys to see," the Radio Times recaps. An offscreen voice declares of the young Doctor, "he’s not going to the academy, is he, that boy? He’ll never make a Time Lord."
Each Doctor before Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth demonstrated a tortured relationship with their past — particularly, the loss of their home planet (though in 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor," it was revealed that Gallifrey was not, in fact, destroyed in the Time War with the Daleks, but concealed in a "pocket universe.") Could the "timeless child" refer to another aspect of the Doctor's childhood, one that will come to define Whittaker's Doctor?
Doctor Who's never been a show to reveal its hand upfront, so it's likely we'll be waiting a while to discover exactly why the Remnants' whispers were so unsettling to the Time Lord. What we probably can conclude, however, is that the timeless child will reveal something crucial about the Doctor.