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Feature: Doctor Who

Early Time Lords

The Doctor keeps claiming this of himself, but who were the Time Lords and did they have any other claims to fame besides a curious desire to wear head-dresses?

"Another time, another world". This was the phrase the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan used in the first episode of the original series back in 1963, when challenged to explain where she and the Doctor came from. The original line from the unused pilot episode had her saying that they came from the 42nd Century, which might have been taken to imply that they were from Earth, but the final version made it clear they were from elsewhere.

Little more was said for the show’s first few years, except that the Doctor had been a pioneer among his own people, and that the pair were “‘cut off” or “exiled” and unable to return home. Late into the first season Susan was waxing lyrical about how at night on her own world, “The sky is a burnt orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver” – a phrase we’ve heard again in the new series episode Gridlock – and displaying telepathic abilities. In the fourth season, we saw the Doctor himself surprise us further by renewing his entire body and personality – an ability he described as part of the TARDIS, allowing him to "‘live forever, barring accidents".

All very mysterious and intriguing, you might think, which is why it was arguably disappointing when the second Doctor’s final, especially gruelling adventure saw him reluctantly seek help from his own people – revealed for the first time as Time Lords, who turned out to be stuffy no-fun types who took a dim view of intervening in the business of other peoples and planets (not to mention his unauthorized borrowing of the TARDIS). When the show returned in 1970 with Jon Pertwee, Earthbound and in full colour, a little of the good Doctor’s magic had been lost.

Our first encounter with another member of the Doctor’s race (not, at this point, identified as Time Lords or from Gallifrey) was a colourful character in a monk’s habit, played by Peter Butterworth from the Carry On films. In contrast to the Doctor’s self-denying injunction merely to observe history and never to interfere with it, the Monk took a certain delight in messing about with history and was narrowly stopped from reversing the result of the Battle of Hastings. After a brief entanglement with the Daleks the following year, he was sadly never seen or heard of again – but could he be the mysterious ‘other’ alluded to by the Face of Boe in the current season?

“My people are very keen on clamping down on unlicensed Time travel,” confided the third Doctor to Sarah Jane Smith in her first adventure (in which he also let slip that the name of his homeworld was Gallifrey). It seemed a bit of a come-down for a race that had previously been so shrouded in mystery, but the more we saw of the Time Lords – and particularly the more times we visited them at home – the duller and more uninspiring they became.

by John Binns

Read the full feature and more on Doctor Who in
Cult Times Special #43

Photos © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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Cult Times Special #43
Doctor Who 2007
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