The Time Lords of Gallifrey

They existed in the background unnamed for over five years, pushing existing only as a reference – "my people." But the Time Lords’ influence on Doctor Who grew and grew until one day in April 2005 we discovered that bar the Doctor, the Time Lords and their planet Gallifrey were gone.

In a new series of articles, we look at the Time Lords, the lost race of brilliant scientists, engineers and galactic statesmen from the dawn of time, of which the Doctor is the last known survivor. To begin, Christian Cawley gives us an overview of the topic, covering the Time Lord basics…

For the uninitiated, the Time Lords were a race of super-intelligent, almost omnipotent men and women whose technology allowed them to observe the Universe from their planet of Gallifrey. Despite their power, that is all they did – observe – and this is why the Doctor and a select group of other renegades were frowned upon by both their contemporaries and their elders. Early in Doctor Who, we met the Monk – later christened "Mortimus" in Paul Cornell’s novel No Future – in the First Doctor adventure The Time Meddler and again in the Dalek epic The Dalek’s Master Plan. Later in the 1960s we encountered the War Lord The War Games who left Gallifrey at around the same time as the Doctor, but the most illustrious of the Doctor’s rival Time Lords was the Master (1971-1996?).

The Time Lords themselves harnessed the almost infinite power of a Black Hole in order to build their immense power. The founder of their society was Rassilon, later revered as a god, while Omega was the Gallifreyan charged with the task of harnessing the Black Hole. He succeeded, but was lost in an anti-matter universe. The Black Hole was encased in force fields of vast power and taken back to Gallifrey where it was rechristened "The Eye of Harmony" and buried beneath the vast Panopticon, the centre of all Time Lord activity. It is believed that TARDISes possess a link to the Eye, from which they get the energy to sustain themselves. There was also another who worked with Omega and Rassilon, who more than likely designed the first TARDISes, although his identity was lost as history was written.

It isn’t clear whether Time Lords were genetically engineered or reproduced naturally. It is known of course that they all had the power to regenerate. The number 13 has been hinted at as a limit for this process, but it is likely that this depended on a number of factors. Not all Gallifreyans were Time Lords, and according to some accounts, not all Time Lords were Gallifreyan. Other Gallifreyans were known as "Outsiders" or Shobogans, and lived on the vast "Outlands" of Gallifrey, while the Time Lords kept themselves locked in their vast Capitol or in their houses scattered across the planet.

For a society stretching back to the dawn of time, the Time Lords’ days were spent on relatively trivial matters of state, as well as science and learning. There were one or two other activities that they partook but these were on the whole looked upon as barbaric and largely ignored. It should be noted too that many Time Lords were – for all their learning – notoriously xenophobic and guarded their technology jealously. A secret cabal of Time Lords populated the secret group known as the Celestial Intervention Agency or CIA. Their main concern was that the power of time travel should not fall into the hands of other races – they had many methods, and many agents, including one occasion the Doctor…

Several races attempted to destroy the Time Lords. A race of Giant Vampires crossed from another Universe into our own when the Eye of Harmony was captured, and nearly destroyed Rassilon’s fledgling society. They were destroyed by a Time Lord weapon, the Bowships, vast space craft that fired giant arrows of silver. Later, the cloned race of Sontarans and the Vardans – beings who inhabited energy waves – attacked Gallifrey and would have succeeded if it were not for the Doctor. Other elements of the Time Lords’ own creation caused terrible problems, including the planets’ disappearance at one point, as well as the return of Omega (The Three Doctors). Ultimately, the War between the Daleks and the Time Lords lead to the massive destruction of both races.

It is likely that the Daleks gained a significant advantage over the Time Lords and had probably already conquered most of Gallifrey. The Doctor would have had no choice other than to destroy his world and people and their conquerors rather than see his beloved hmoeworld subverted and all of time itself surrendered to the Daleks.

The rest of this series will look at characters and events in Time Lord history, as well as their culture. Next time, we’ll profile the man who began it all, Rassilon.

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