Old Post: Imperial March – Time Lords (1/?)

(originally posted 30 March 2014)

Trying to follow in the impressive footsteps of my dear friend Sam, I’d like to end Imperial March the same way I begun it – by describing a villain. Or a set of villains, in this case.

I haven’t done much for Imperial March, partly because the Muses didn’t grant me any sort of villainous inspiration (I’ve done loads of non-villainous artsy things, though) and partly because my PhD research is proving pleasantly time consuming.

But this post is part of a sort of side-project – my now year-old obsession with Doctor Who has proved somewhat productive as I will be talking about Time Lords at a symposium in Westminster in September.

Because that’s the thing. Whereas Sam talks about outright, clear-cut villains, I have always had a soft spot for characters who aren’t outright villains but who are merely morally ambiguous. Dorian Gray, for instance. It’s why I favour the “The Master is basically a scorned lover and is merely trying to get the Doctor’s attention by blowing up half the universe half the time”-explanation over “The Master is Evil, period.”

And the Time Lords are a magnificent civilisation as a whole, in this regard. They aren’t outright evil, oh no. They’re just – misguided. Slow. Close-minded. Bureaucratic. But evil, no. Sure, there are some amongst them who could be construed as evil – the Master, despite my preference for an alternative explanation, could be evil, as could be the Rani (I’ve just heard of the death of Kate O’Mara, may she rest in peace – I’ve only seen her as the Rani but she was incredibly memorable in that role), despite the notion that the Rani just basically has no regard for anything but her experiments (which should not make her truly evil, really), or Borusa (who really is just too ambitious for his own good), or Goth (same), or the Monk (who just really takes the Doctor’s meddling a bit further than the Doctor would). I suppose not even the War Chief is truly evil, just horribly, lethally misguided.

What we’ve seen of Time Lord and/or Gallifreyan society thus far is not much – just their political and judicial system. A lot can be said about a civilisation from this, but a lot has also been ignored – we haven’t a clue what daily life on Gallifrey is like. My historian friend perhaps put it best when she told me that yeah, kings and all are really cool, but it’s the real people who actually have to live with their decisions. Which is why I was over the moon – after re-watch, because it needed a re-watch – about The Day of the Doctor, in which we finally saw groups of regular Gallifreyans. Yeah, we saw a group of Outsiders before, in The Invasion of Time, but they were, indeed, explicitly Outsiders. Other Gallifreyans and Time Lords thus far seen were judges, juries, civil servants, guards, councillors, and other people high up in society.

I was also excited about the crack in the universe in The Time of the Doctor, for obvious reasons. Yeah, Mark Gatiss does have a point that the Time Lords shouldn’t be featured too often because it makes them seem stuffy and domesticated. But I don’t think that ‘stuffy and domesticated’ is necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Doctor ran from Gallifrey because “he was bored” (The War Games, episode 10) – doesn’t the Time Lords being all-powerful but stuffy and domesticated completely justify that? It would justify the Doctor’s entire defence in that serial, actually – he basically tells them that they’re all-powerful but too content doing absolutely nothing and that therefore he finds himself compelled to go out and meddle in the affairs of other planets, breaking the Time Lords’ most important law.

Mind, I’m not saying that they should be featured more often than only every once in a while. I agree with Gatiss there. I’d be perfectly content with seeing them only every three years or so – I’d hate for them to become as normalised as the Daleks.

But in any case, in fact, I think that stuffy and domesticated exactly describes the Time Lords as they ought to be. As they are, generally.

Consider this. For the longest time, they have been a stagnant, introverted, isolationist society. No real outside enemies. After all, it takes the Vardans and the Sontarans a mole to take down Gallifrey’s defences from the inside. The Gallifreyans have nothing to worry about because normally Time Lords don’t travel too far from Gallifrey – the Doctor, the Master, the Rani and the Monk are obvious exceptions, but despite all their mischievous natures (yes, you too, Doctor), none of them would consciously consider forming an alliance with any party that may actually, actively threaten their home planet. Gallifreyans just live their lives (plural, of course) in relative peace within the confines of the Gallifreyan sphere.

But the lack of a common enemy divides, like a common enemy unites. Even a Time Lord would get right bored if every day was basically the same – especially if you’ll have day after day after day of that for perhaps millennia (Seriously, what do they do?). Yes, they study the universe outside of their sphere, and they learn – no one knows precisely how long Time Lords exactly spend in the Academy, but given that in The Sound of Drums it is established that Time Lords get inducted at age 8 and Romanadvoratrelundar was 140 or 125 (even she forgets her age, and she’s comparatively young) after just graduating – and she was a particularly gifted student, too – it’s safe to say that Academy time may be well over a century.
For comparison, I’ve spent about two decades (Dutch primary school starts at age 4) in the education system and I’m currently working on a PhD. So multiply that by five (and the other four times twenty years aren’t at all concerned with learning to read and write and do maths) and account for the much greater mental abilities of Time Lords and you may start approximating a bit of how much they could potentially learn. And that’s just in formal education.
But it’s established that the Doctor didn’t like his education. If the like-to-dislike ratios in Time Lord society are anything like those I’ve observed here, I’m fairly certain most Time Lords get fed up with their education at one point or another too.
So that’s all they have then. Millennia to live and nothing to do. So you get in-fighting.

Not, like, civil war of course, because Time Lords are highly civilised people. But politics. Cliques.

Chapters.

One thing that struck me (and many others too) is the notion that in The End of Time and The Day of the Doctor, the Time Lords and Gallifreyans seemed united in wearing dark red robes. It was established in The Deadly Assassin that generally, Time Lords wore colours following their Chapters – as Runcible so clearly explains in that serial, “the scarlet and orange of the Prydonians, the green of the Arcalians, and the heliotrope of the Patrexes, and so on”. Of course, Runcible also explains in that serial that the robes and the insignia are seldom worn, but we see them in every serial – up to The End of Time – that features the Time Lords since then. Or at least, we see the colours, not the full regalia per se. But in The End of Time, Rassilon has taken over command in the Gallifreyan war against the Daleks, and suddenly the Time Lords are no longer divided into chapters but are instead all wearing dark red. United in a common cause, I expect. There’s still internal politics – as the War Council of The Day of the Doctor explicitly references the notion that the High Council had plans of their own which backfired (though they managed to pull the Master back into the war – see The End of Time pt. 2 – poor Master, I hope they fixed his energy and drum issues in their pocket universe).

But not all Time Lords seem to wear the robes of their chapters, even during times of peace.

Guards don’t. Andred in The Invasion of Time, and Maxil in Arc of Infinity don’t, in any case, nor do any other official members of the Chancellery Guard. Which is really to be expected, them being guards and all – regardless of chapter, they need to stand guard. Of what, if Gallifrey has no ‘natural’ enemies? Of Outsiders, shobogans and internal politics, I presume. Regardless of chapter.
Magistrates don’t, as can be seen in The War Games and The Trial of a Time Lord. I suppose then that justice, even on Gallifrey, is suppose to be impartial – magistrates wear black and white. As does the Valeyard, which we learn is Gallifreyan for learned prosecutor. And yes, prosecutors are generally expected to be impartial too, merely reporting and describing crimes and accusing the suspect regardless of who the suspect is. I do wonder what the difference is between the three-judge court of The War Games and the full jury plus magistrate plus prosecutor plus possibility for defence court of The Trial, but I expect this to be similar to a division between Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court. In The War Games, the Doctor is merely a Time Lord hopping about space and time in a stolen TARDIS meddling in things he shouldn’t meddle in, while in The Trial he is an ex-Lord President accused of, yes, meddling, as well as genocide and a whole host of other things. Also, you know, the High Council kind of wants him as a scapegoat in that one.
The black robes worn by Time Lord observers in The Three Doctors and briefly in Colony in Space intrigue me, too. Who are they? Canonically speaking, if they were mere Time Lords, they would be wearing their chapter colours, not black (of course from a production point of view, these serials were made before The Deadly Assassin, so before the establishment of chapters). But as we find out in serials such as The Deadly Assassin, as well as some others, the Doctor was forced to work for the Celestial Intervention Agency for a while whilst exiled to Earth after his trial in The War Games. And these black-robed Time Lords can be seen observing time lines and specifically lifting the Doctor out of his own time-line to do battle with Omega in The Three Doctorsand diverting the course of the TARDIS to solve some minor crisis having to do with the Master and a human colony in Colony in Space. In fact, the Time Lord who shows up at the beginning of The Genesis of the Daleks to tell the Doctor to go meddle in the time-lines of the Daleks also wears black – it is therefore my hypothesis that these black-robed Time Lords, who meddle in time whilst meddling in time is strictly against the laws of Gallifrey, are indeed CIA-agents. Wearing black instead of their chapter colours, of course, because they are far above petty internal politics. These are intertemporal politics these Time Lords are dealing with, after all.

But in the end, yes, stuffy and domesticated and all-powerful. And boring in the most exciting way. That’s what Time Lords are, or what I believe them to be. How I perceive them.

Not villainous per se. Just fascinatingly uncaring.

I expect I will continue writing about them some other time. They’re a fascinating fictional society.

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Author: Ilse A Ras

There are times when I am doing research on crime news and language; sometimes I'm obsessed, sometimes I'm bored, and sometimes my tea is getting cold.

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