The Gallifrey Conundrum

Anyone who’s more than a passing fan of Doctor Who knows that The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Over the decades, a substantial body of continuity has built up around them. When the new series was being launched, showrunner Russell T. Davies made it pretty clear that he wanted a completely fresh start, unburdened by all of that lore. He came up with the idea of a “Time War”, where the Time Lords and the Daleks, The Doctor’s greatest enemies, would have had a war so vast that they wound up destroying each other completely.

It didn’t work.

The Daleks quickly made an appearance, followed by Gallifrey. Things kept changing – Gallifrey was destroyed, then saved, then invaded and virtually destroyed, then saved again, then destroyed again. I’ve actually lost track…. And it’s not like we’re seeing the effects of the Time War as “reality” (as far as the series is concerned) changes around us.

It’s more like they cannot decide what to do with Gallifrey and the Time Lords.

Maybe if they stepped back a bit and first asked themselves “What do the Time Lords actually do, anyway?”

Please note that while I consider myself a fan, I am not part of “fandom”. This is all my own speculation.

From what we know, the Time Lords are a reclusive oligarchy that has managed to master time travel, and doesn’t really want anyone else getting involved. A few of them have “gone rogue” (e.g. The Meddling Monk, The Rani), but on occasion others have been tapped to deliberately intervene in historical events. If necessary, they can play with a person’s memories, presumably by either some sort of hypnosis or causing them to never remember something in the first place. They have something called “The Matrix”, which is some sort of repository of the collective knowledge of all former Time Lords. It’s not clear what it really does.

The Doctor left Gallifrey for unclear reasons. Lore suggests that he left in a huff over how the Time Lords weren’t doing anything to fight the evil he saw in the universe. He was also miffed at the corruption he saw among them.

The whole Time Lord and time travel thing was the result of some venerable Gallifreyans: Rassilon, who apparently did all the theoretical work behind it, and Omega, the engineer who provided the power source to make it work in practice. There have been hints of a third Time Lord at the beginning – some suggest it actually was The Doctor (I prefer not knowing exactly who The Doctor is in the History of Gallifrey – leave us with some mystery).

So what can we make of that?

Let’s look at other examples of time travel in SF.

When you’ve got an individual discovering time travel, two things usually happen. They go play the tourist – see Babe Ruth pitch, attend a Bach organ recital, that sort of thing – or try and change history (either personal or global). While one can build a novel, movie, or TV series off of that, it’s not what the Time Lords are doing.

When you have an organization developing time travel, however….

From the stories I’ve read (see Poul Anderson’s “Time Patrol” series and Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity), the organization uses its powers for the primary purpose of protecting its own existence. Increasing that power is next on the agenda.

If we apply that model to the Time Lords, it makes perfect sense. They got time travel “first” (whatever that means in this context), and are working behind the scenes to keep anyone else from getting it. There’s no telling what damage an amateur might do to history! And if they can keep themselves in power, well, that’s just the icing on the cake, right?

Perhaps there is a faction among the Time Lords that prefers to make the galaxy a safe and good place for everyone (the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number), and is engaged in political infighting for dominance. The Doctor could be part of that faction, and he left when the other side was overwhelmingly dominant. Perhaps they even really did throw him out.

There’s plenty of room there for stories of political intrigue. Which side will dominate? What tweak of history will produce a better outcome? Is it better to allow a lesser evil if it prevents a greater one from occurring?

Yes, this will in effect take the Time Lords back to what they were in the “Classic” series. Something in the background for The Doctor to complain about – unless their help was needed for some reason – but never really front and center, dominating the story. Unless you wanted to do a “palace intrigue” story, in which case, have fun.

It may not be as interesting or attention-grabbing, but the constant destruction and resurrection of Gallifrey really ought to stop.

2 thoughts on “The Gallifrey Conundrum

  1. This is absolutely right.

    I’ve had in my head for some time a story about a Gallifreyan Civil War of a sort, between the haves and have-nots. We know that not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords. I imagine the leader of the uprising as an inversion of the Master, called “the Servant,” and perhaps one who, after gaining power, stands against the Doctor’s interventions in time and space.

    But I guess destroying it again was fine.


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