Time Lords: Time Locked, and I’m loving it.
It’s over eight years since Russell T Davies bought back the show. In doing so he consigned the Time Lords to a Time Lock, and then started to tell the viewer how noble and great they were. Then he bought them back just to demonstrate how mad they’d become.
As we approach the 50th, I’m always intrigued when I see the very genuine desire from some on our forum (amongst others) for the Time Lords to return to the show. Also, the 12 regeneration rule seems to be raising its head with SM answering a question or two about it.
As we have lots of viewers who are not that familiar with the BG years I thought I’d give a quick run down on how the story of the Time Lords evolved, with some (hopefully) humorous references and explain how I saw them. Comments and additions are most welcome.
The noble ideal of the Time Lords. Just how real is it?
Keep the Doctor Asexual Society (KDAS)
Concerned fandom for the Preservation of Regenerations. (CFPR)
Time Lordy rating: A subjective PhaseShift rating upto 100% comparing the idealised view of the Time Lords to what was on the screen.
||What we learn||Comments|
|The Unearthly Child(1)
A bonkers old man and his granddaughter kidnap a couple of teachers. They are wanderers in time and space, and he’s afraid they’ve learned too much.
|The Doctor has a TARDIS. Susan claims she coined the name TARDIS from the initials Time and Relative Dimension in Space (one would think a pretty obvious acronym for a technologically sophisticated society to adopt).||KDAS suggest that Susan isn’t his real family, it’s not confirmed she’s from Gallifrey and the suggestion that an elderly alien once “jumped off the good foot and did the bad thing” is horrible.|
|The Time Meddler(1)
The Doctor and team encounter another member of the Doctors race. One who prefers to Meddle in time.
|Others of the Doctors people are abroad in their Time Machines. Not all of them are as well meaning as the kidnapper general.|
|The Tenth Planet(1)
The Doctor confronts the Cybermen for the first time. He collapses at the end. In the TARDIS he changes appearance, form and personality.
|He calls this renewal in the next story, which launches a thousand tedious flame wars years later as people deny this is “Regeneration”.||CFPR demand this isn’t the first regeneration.|
|The Tomb of the Cybermen(2)
The Doctor encounters a tomb. With Cybermen in it. The name is on the tin, people.
|The Doctor is pretty adamant he has a family. Who “sleep in his mind” unless he wants to remember them. Awww.||KDAS demand that “family” may mean parents, and dispute any suggestion that any family was the result of the Doctor doing the “S-E-X thing”.|
|The War Games(2)
The Doctor and team land in a war zone, that becomes lots of war zones as they cross them, and the Doctor realises someone is using his own peoples technology to create the ultimate army from humans. The Doctor confronts a renegade called the War Chief.
|Information overload! The Doctor is a “Time Lord”. Some renegade Time Lords aren’t very nice, and abuse their technology. Interfering in events is Very Bad as far as Time Lords are concerned. They carry out a death penalty by dematerialisation, which means that the people concerned never existed. And then isolate the planet of the War Lords for eternity within a force shield. They force “a change of appearance” on the Doctor and exile him to earth with his disabled TARDIS. This is a light sentence, based on mitigation that he has acted with benevolent intent.||CFPR launch more flamewars years later as people still demand that a “change of appearance” does not constitute a regeneration.Time Lordy Rating. High 98%. Aloof, imposing and in control. The trial sees them at their height. Remove percentage points for the entire dematerialisation thing. Amnesty would have complained about the death penalty but, you know, he never existed in the first place now/then. Probably.|
|Terror of the Autons(3)
After a year on Earth fruitlessly trying the get the TARDIS fixed, a Time Lord appears to tell the Doctor that a rival Time Lord, the Master, is likely around, but he can’t be bothered to help. Because interfering is Very Bad. Hilarity ensues as the Doctor tackles his old foe who has allied himself to the Nestenes..
|What we learn. Some Timelords are very bad (again). The Time Lords really can’t put their back into this entire “hunting down renegade Time Lords” thing can they? They do have a natty taste in Savile Row gear though. The Master has a different type of TARDIS to the Doctor as their parts are not interchangeable. It may have a “go faster” stripe.||Time Lordy Rating. Still High 90%. Aloof, imposing and in control. But shouldn’t such an advanced civilisation be willing to put a little more effort into hunting renegades?|
|The Three Doctors(3)
The Time Lords are under attack, the source of their power being drained. Only one man in three bodies can save them. The problem is legendary Gallifreyan Stellar Engineer Omega. After creating the source of thier power he was trapped alone in an antimatter universe and has gone completely mad.
|Hartnell refers to himself as the “original” Doctor. The Time Lord President refers to him as the original. They grant a pardon and replace the knowledge taken from the Doctor.||CFPR reserves to right to ignore these as badfacts, and we still don’t know if previous changes are regenerations.Time Lordy Rating. Takes a dent to 76% .Not so high and mighty now eh?|
|The Time Warrior(3)
The Doctor meets the Sontarans on medieval Earth.
|The Sontarans know of the Time Lords. Gallifrey is named as their Planet.||Protests from fandom erupt from three people in the Neasden area who decide we now know “too much” about the Doctor.|
|Planet of the Spiders(3)
The Doctor investigates giant spiders with powerful mental capabilities. He saves the Universe at the cost of his own life and meets another Time Lord.
|Other Time Lords are renegades. Not all of them are evil! Regeneration is the term coined by the other who seems to be an old acquaintance of the Doctor. He appears to have other abilities, like maintaining a 3D projection of his own next incarnation.||CFPR grudgingly accept that this is a regeneration. The first mind you!|
|Genesis of the Daleks(4)
The Time Lords send the Doctor back to the creation of his old enemies. They want him to either kill them off, of make them less aggressive.
|Time Lords can see potential future time streams. One of them looks pretty dire with the Daleks attaining universal supremacy. Time Lords can travel without TARDIS, here using a Time Ring.||Time Lordy Rating. Ouch – 60% .A bit of self preservation here as they decide to use the Doctor to interfere. A “hands off approach” for plausible deniability.|
|Brain of Morbius(4)
The Doctor seems to be sent to Karn by the Time Lords. Morbius, a rebel Time Lord they executed is being bought back. The Planet is the home of the Sisterhood of Karn who are a bit peeved with the Time Lords.
|Karn is probably another planet in the Gallifrey system (a billion miles away). When Time Lord regeneration goes wrong, the Time Lords tap the Sisterhood for some of their Numismatron gas, which helps. Another Time Lord – another Genocidal maniac.
In a mental battle with Morbius the Doctor appears to have other forms prior to Hartnell who look suspiciously like members of the then production team.
|A thousand tedious arguments about the Doctors potential regenerations prior to Hartnell are caused by a production joke.Time Lordy Rating. Gordon Bennet. They can’t stroll a mere billion miles away to sort out one of their own problems? 50%|
|The Hand of Fear(4)
The Doctor lends a hand to a fossilised hand. He receives a summons to Gallifrey at the end.
|Sarah Jane has to be abandoned because Gallifreyans “Don’t allow strangers in these parts”. Bet they support UKIP.|
|The Deadly Assassin(4)
The Doctor returns to Gallifrey to find himself setup for murder by the Master and sentenced to execution. He avoids the fate by standing for President (which he wins as his opponent is revealed as a traitor.
|Information overload! The Matrix is a network of dead Time Lord brain patterns that controls Gallifrey. The Doctor is a Prydonian Order Time Lord. Other Orders are available. The Matrix can be used to transmit telepathic messages and visions of the future to living Time Lords. The Doctor got into a “bit of bother” before legging it from home. Time Lords can regenerate 12 times (13 lives), and the Master has gone beyond this point, requiring a lot of moisturiser. Rassilon is an ancient Time Lord who also helped found Time Lord society. It emerges later that virtually everything of importance on Gallifrey is named after him and Omega. The Doctors Pardon was at the behest of an organisation within Gallifrey called (70s Satire alert) the “Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA)”. An organisation that allows the non-intervention Time Lords to, er, interfere. Not all power mad Time Lords leave Gallifrey.||A senior Time Lord cracks a joke about the “plebeian” classes to a Policeman. “PlebGate” does not occur in Gallifreyan media. Certain politicians in the UK start to dream wistful thoughts that they have been born on the wrong planet.CFPR is born to conserve the Doctors regenerations by spurious argument. See “Renewal” and “Change of appearance”.Time Lordy Rating. Oh dear. A lot of illusions are shattered. 32% and falling.|
|Image of the Fendahl(4)
The Doctor confronts an ancient evil from the mysterious fifth planet of the Earth Solar System.
|In an attempt to view the Fendahl at home he discovers the Time Lords isolated the planet and have removed all record of it. He is very angry||Oh dear, that “non-intervention” thingy looks evermore shaky.|
The Doctor encounters a group of survivors from a race called the Minyans who are a bit peeved with Time Lords. He helps them find a race bank of other survivors.
|The reason that the Time Lords don’t interfere (guffaw) is that in their early days they played God with a race they encountered, accelerating their development thousands of years from stone age to space age in a couple of centuries. They then had their ass handed to them on a plate by their worshippers before the race virtually annihilated itself. They even gave the race a form of mechanical regeneration which the Doctor is horrified to learn they have used thousands of times.||I apologise if this makes this story sound far better than it actually is.|
|Invasion of time(4)
The Doctor assumes the Presidency of Gallifrey and appears to be a traitor willing to use his office to sell out his people.
|Non conforming elements of Gallifreyan society are cast out to live in the suspiciously earth like wilderness. Time Lords seem to go to pieces when the artifice of power is taken away from them and the transduction barrier that surrounds Gallifrey is breached. Time Lords come in two flavours, as we meet the first woman (who’s a bit bored with Gallifreyan life).||Time Lordy Rating. Really, oh dear. As soon as the transduction barrier is lowered it appears some Time Lords lack the spine of the average Target paperback. A meagre 15%|
The Doctor gets a mission to assemble the Key to Time and a new companion.
|Romana spends the next six stories reminding the Doctor just what an idiot he is compared to other Time Lords.||Fandom erupts with labels of “Smug” applied to Romana. For the modern equivalent, see reaction to River Song.|
|The Armageddon Factor(4)
The Doctor completes his quest for the Key with help from another renegade Time Lord, Drax.
|Some renegade Time Lords are not Good or Evil, but merely dodgy wheeler dealers with even dodgier accents. Drax picked up his marvellous cockney lingo in Earth prison. We learn the Doctors designation at the Academy was Theta Sigma.|
|Destiny of the Daleks(4)
The Doctor meets the Daleks again, although first we have to go through a fan troubling regeneration for Romana.
|Roman treats regeneration far more casually than the Doctor and, as ever, is a bit better at it. Time Lords can take on more alien forms during Regeneration.||Wails of “this doesn’t make sense” erupt as Script Editor Douglas Adams takes a jokey approach to a casting issue.|
|Arc of infinity(5)
The Doctor is drawn back to Gallifrey when Omega launches an attack and attempts to bond with him. Cue hilarity as he is shot by his next incarnation, and does a lot of running around Amsterdam.
|The Time Lords decide the best way to end their problems is to terminate the Doctor without trial. Ungrateful gits. More treachery and another Time Lord traitor is revealed.||Time Lordy Rating. Christ – both pififul and repetitive. 10%|
The Doctor encounters some scientists who tried to recreate the regeneration technique. The are now immortal but in a continual state of cellular mutation. To end their suffering they need something from the Doctor.
|Reinforcing the thirteen lives rule. To end the suffering the scientists want the Doctor to give them one each of his regenerations.||To people with sense this places the fifth Doctor as the Fifth Doctor. “Eight of them, eight of me – they want to take my remaining regenerations”.|
Someone on Gallifrey is collecting Doctors and sending them to an area on Gallifrey called “The Death Zone”. The Doctors have to navigate the hazards to find the Tomb of Rassilon to find out what’s going on.
|Ancient Time Lords used to practice war games with captured aliens for their amusement. Rassilon seems to have gained immortality of a kind. He is either the hero who ended the abomination of the games, or the one who started them. Nobody seems to know. He thinks other people seeking immortality is a bad thing, and will give it to them in a way they don’t really expect. Reinforced the 13 lives thing as President Borusa is on his 13th and final life. Another visit to Gallifrey and another mad traitor unveiled.See note by @Wolfweed below for even more!||Time Lordy Rating. Oh look. Another power mad corrupt Gallifreyan. How unexpected. 5%|
An old Gallifreyan friend of the Doctor seems to be acting out of sorts, kidnapping kids and working for a power mad slug.
|Reinforces the 13 life rule. The plot seems to resolve around Azmael, a product of a civilisisation who have conquered time travel, conveniently forgetting Newtonian level physics. D’oh!||Words fail me on this one.|
|Mark of the Rani(6)
The Doctor and Peri meet George Stephenson and discover another renegade, The Rani, who has a habit of performing experiments on lower life forms like humans.
|Let’s just think about this. The Time Lords hunted the Doctor and put him on trial for borrowing a TARDIS and interfering with benevolent intent. When the Rani got into trouble on Gallifrey, she was banished with a TARDIS to continue her evil experiments. And no one on Gallifrey saw any difficulties in this? Man, she must have had one hell of a lawyer.||Time Lordy Rating. The Rani could be a fun enough character but what the hell were the writers actually on? 0%|
|Trial of a Time Lord(6)
The Doctor is put on trial again. He is accused of genocide amongst other things.
|It’s a dastardly plot! The Time Lords caused the events the Doctor is accused of, and have bought back a dark future incarnation of the Doctor himself, The Valeyard, to prosecute him. Never once suspecting he’d turn on them.||Time Lordy Rating. Absolutely bloody incompetent. Gone is the majesty and control, as the Time Lords lack the power to even mount a successful cover up of their crimes. Pathetic. -1,000,000%|
There are many other casual references, but these are some of the “highlights” of the show.
I think Russell did the right thing in locking them away. It’s interesting to note that the real damage to the Time Lords reputation started after one truly good story (Deadly Assassin) and we got into some recurring tropes very quickly.
They became the equivalent of catnip to certain writers, and I’m sure a memo must have been circulated at one point which said:
“Does your story lack sparkle – then what you need is new and improved Time Lord RENEGADE! Make him good, make him evil! Maybe you’ll get lucky and create the new Master with guaranteed creator credits!! Need some mysterious artefact at the centre of your latest opus? Try inserting “of Rassilon” or “of Omega” after any object (“The vacuum cleaner of Omega” for example) to facilitate the creation of your latest plot macguffin”.
It became very lazy. The obvious point people make is that we have a new generation of writers who may not fall into those traps. The problem is though that Russell, Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts all wrote Virgin range books that dipped into Gallifreyan “continuity porn”. I think they all went into it thinking they could write a really good Time Lord story. They all fell into the traps of the old series. It hardly matters in books which had a print run of 20,000 dedicated followers, but for the wider audience I think it could be territory that you best keep out of. I think Russell showed admirable foresight (and restraint) in his setup for the new series.
I’m sure it may happen at some point in the future, but I have a sinking feeling that whatever good stories may arise from their immediate release, history will repeat itself. The Time Lords are a great concept when you don’t have to deal with them face to face.
Long live the Time Lock.