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Doctor Who brings back some retro, crucial 5th Doctor villains

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Feb 9, 2020

Sorry Marvel fans, you're going to have to share the spotlight a bit this year. The Eternals have invaded Doctor Who, but it's not those Eternals — the concept of aliens called "the Eternal" exits in the Whoniverse, too. In Sunday's episode, "Can You Hear Me?," the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) comes face-to-face with a race of immortal aliens that she hasn't seen since she used to look like Peter Davison.

Here's what the return of Who's Eternals means, and how it might connect to the long-running mystery of the Timeless Child.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Doctor Who, season 12, episode 7; "Can You Hear Me?"**

Who are the Eternals in Doctor Who?

Though everything about "Can You Hear Me?" seems like it's going to be a rescue mission, the twist is fairly big: the Doctor and her friends haven't been summoned to help an innocent woman who was imprisoned and being tortured with nightmares... because the woman in question isn't innocent at all. In league with the creep-tastic Zellin (Ian Gelder), her name is Rakaya (Clare Hope Ashitey), and both of them are members of an immortal, nihilistic alien race called the Eternals.

Though suggestions of amoral god-like beings exist as far back as the 1st Doctor (William Hartnell) era, the Eternals were formalized in a 1983 serial called "Enlightenment," which starred the 5th Doctor, Peter Davison. In that serial, we learned that Eternals fed off the creativity of mortals, who they rudely (but not inaccurately) called "ephemerals." In the new episode, there's a direct connection when Rakaya mocks mortal humans saying: "What do you think it feels like for them, to be such, tiny, ephemeral, flashes of existence?"

The 5th Doctor (Peter Davison) in "Englightenment" (Credit: BBC/BritBox)

Who are the Guardians in Doctor Who?

Although it's been a while since the 5th Doctor tangoed with the Eternals in "Enlightenment," the fact that they appeared in this new 13th Doctor episode at all is interesting because the Eternals are also connected with another group of Whoinverse immortals: The Guardians. (Again, Marvel fans, don't get it twisted.) In fact, Zellin even mentions the Guardians by name and name-checks one pseudo-retro-active member, "The Toymaker," who was another nihilistic immortal who appeared in the 1st Doctor serial, "The Celestial Toymaker."

The difference between the Eternals and the Guardians is dicey when it comes to their powers, but when ranking Whoniverse space gods, the Guardians are at a higher level. We've only ever seen the "White" and "Black" Guardians in old school Who episodes like the serial "The Armageddon Factor," which starred the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker, as well as several serials of the 5th Doctor era, too, including the aforementioned "Enlightenment" as well as "Mawdryn Undead" and "Terminus." For the most part, the Black Guardian is bad news, and in "Can You Hear Me?," Zellin has similar vibes to the Black Guardian.

"The Armageddon Factor" (Credit: BBC)

How does this potentially connect to the Timeless Child?

But let's get to the big stuff that is still yet-to-be-explained this season. While the Doctor is briefly trapped on the nightmare space platform, she has an extended vision of the "Timeless Child," which we briefly saw before in "Spyfall Part 2." The Master told the Doctor that the Time Lords built their entire culture on the "lie of the timeless child." We still don't know what this means, but the fact that the Eternals are back in the game, and the Guardians were mentioned in this episode indicates there might be a connection.

Because the Guardians and the Eternals have powers beyond the Time Lords, it seems possible that they could be responsible for the conception of the Time Lords in the first place. In other words, if there's a conspiracy involving Time Lord history and some kind of cover-up, we might now have a few suspects. Why would the Doctor have parts of a repressed memory come back to her at this exact moment? Here's one hypothetical answer: because she was surrounded by& possible ancient Eternal and Guardian technology. And something about the nightmare generating tech is connected to the same old-school tech used to hide the secret of the Timeless Child.

Does this mean the Timeless Child is also an Eternal? Maybe. But, one thing is for sure. When Doctor Who finally explains what's going on with the Timeless Child, the Doctor will certainly cite this episode as one piece in a very wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, puzzle.

Doctor Who season 12 has three episodes left before its season finale this year. New episodes air on BBC America on Sunday nights.

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