Time Lord

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This article is about the Time Lords from Doctor Who. For alternate meanings, see Time Lord (disambiguation).

Template:Doctorwhorace The Time Lords are a fictional race of humanoids, originating on the planet Gallifrey, seen in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. The Doctor himself is a Time Lord. The female members of this group, like Romana, are sometimes called Time Ladies. They are so called because they have the technology to effect time travel, to a degree more advanced than any other civilisation. Time Lord time machines are known as TARDISes.



The nature and history of the Time Lords were gradually revealed as the television series progressed. Each story to feature them and their home planet added additional layers of complexity and intrigue, stemming from the dissatisfaction of various scriptwriters wrestling with the thorny problem of why the Doctor is in exile in the first place. Among other things, Time Lords are increasingly revealed as being corrupted by their inaction and Time Lord society as stagnant. Over the course of the show's initial 26-year run, it was never made entirely clear what purpose or mission the Time Lords served, or what exactly they did with their mastery over time. Nor, ultimately, was it ever explicity made clear what had caused the Doctor to leave his people.

The Time Lords are normally held to be some of the most technologically powerful beings in the Doctor Who universe, although there are a number of notable exceptions such as the (now extinct) Osirians and the various higher powers of the universe such as the Black and White Guardians. The power of the Time Lords appears limited by their policy of non-interference with the universe and sometimes by intense internecine division.

Physical characteristics

Time Lords appear human, but differ from them in many respects. Time Lords are extremely long-lived, routinely counting their ages in terms of centuries. It is not known how long a Time Lord can live, although the Doctor claimed in The War Games that Time Lords could live forever, "barring accidents." They also have the ability to regenerate their bodies when their current body has become too old or is mortally wounded. This process results in their body undergoing a transformation, gaining a new physical form and a somewhat different personality. Regenerations can be traumatic events, and have been known to fail.

It was stated in The Deadly Assassin that a Time Lord can regenerate twelve times before permanently dying. The ability to regenerate may be linked to what is known as the "Rassilon Imprimatur", the symbiotic nuclei of a Time Lord that bonds him to a TARDIS and allows their bodies to withstand the molecular stresses of time travel. As with most such "rules" there were occasionally exceptions. For example, when the renegade Time Lord called the Master reached the end of his regenerative cycle he possessed the body of another person to continue living.

It may be that the Time Lords have the ability to circumvent the limit — in The Five Doctors the Master is offered a new cycle of regenerations by the High Council in exchange for his help. Since the Master was still inhabiting a non-Gallifreyan body at the time this implies that it is possible to grant them to a non-Gallifreyan, albeit one inhabited by a Time Lord mind. Non-Gallifreyans are also seen to regenerate in Underworld and Mawdryn Undead, but with adverse side effects.

The revelation in the 1996 television movie that the Doctor was half-human proved controversial among fans, and some have suggested that only the Eighth Doctor was half-human due to the particularly traumatic circumstances of his regeneration, rather than the Doctor having been half-human all along. (The evidence for or against this in the series is, typically, equivocal.) The Time Lord ability to change species during regeneration is referenced by the Eighth Doctor in relation to the Master in the television movie, and is supported by Romana's regeneration scene. In the 1979 serial Destiny of the Daleks, Romana demonstrated an apparent ability to "try on" different bodies from a number of different species during her regeneration, before settling on a final, Gallifreyan form which physically resembled Princess Astra of Atrios.

Other physiological differences from humans include a second heart and a "respiratory bypass system" that allows them to survive being strangled or even extended exposure to the vacuum of space. If severely injured, they can go into a healing coma which dips their body temperature to below freezing. Time Lords can also communicate by telepathy, and it is implied that they may be clairvoyant, or have additional time-related senses.

The biological imprint (or bio-data) of a Time Lord is kept in the Matrix, a computer network that contains the sum total of all Time Lord knowledge. The unauthorised extraction of a Time Lord's bio-data is tantamount to treason (Arc of Inifinity).

Culture and society

Missing image
The seal of Rassilon, a common motif in Time Lord design

Time Lords are, in general, an aloof people. The Doctor has characterised the Time Lords as a stagnant and corrupt society, a state caused by ten million years of absolute power. Their portrayal in the series has been reminiscent of academics living in ivory towers, unconcerned with external affairs. It has been suggested that, since perfecting the science of time travel, they have withdrawn, bound by the moral complexity of interfering in the natural flow of history (compare with the Prime Directive).

Another explanation might be that they simply find the outside universe distasteful. While interference is apparently against Time Lord policy, there are occasions when they have intervened. The show also referred to the Celestial Intervention Agency, an organization that occasionally sent the Doctor on missions, sometimes even to change history.

It has also been hinted that the terms "Gallifreyan" and "Time Lord" may not be synonymous, and that Time Lords are simply that subset of Gallifreyans who have achieved the status of Time Lord via achievement in the Gallifreyan collegiate system. However, both Romana and the Doctor have referred to "Time Tots" (infant Time Lords), which suggests that the Time Lords may be a hereditary, aristocratic class among Gallifreyans.

Time Lords belong to various colleges or chapters, such as the Patrexes, Arcalian, and the Prydonian chapters, which have ceremonial and possibly political significance. Each chapter also has its own colours; the Prydonians wear scarlet and orange, the Arcalians wear green and the Patrexeans wear heliotrope. Others mentioned in spin-off novels include the Dromeian and Cerulean chapters. The Prydonian chapter has a reputation for being devious, and tends to produce renegades; the Doctor, the Master and the Rani are all Prydonians. The colleges of the Academy are led by the Cardinals. Ushers, who provide security and assistance at official Time Lord functions, may belong to any chapter, and wear all-gold uniforms.

The executive political leadership is split between the Lord President, who keeps the ceremonial relics of the Time Lords, and the Chancellor, who appears to be the administrative leader of the Cardinals and who acts as a check on the absolute power of the Lord President. The President and Chancellor also sit on the Time Lord High Council, akin to a legislative body, composed variously of Councillors and more senior Cardinals. Also on the High Council is the Castellan of the Chancellory Guard, in charge of the security of the Citadel, whom the Doctor has referred to as the leader of a trumped-up palace guard.

Time Lord society is full of pomp and ceremony, with artefacts given weighty names like the Hand of Omega, the Eye of Harmony or the Key of Rassilon. The Doctor has commented that his people have an "infinite capacity for pretension".

Paradoxically, although the Time Lords are a scientifically and technologically advanced race, the civilisation is so old that key pieces of their technology became shrouded in legend and myth. The edict and general aversion against exploring Gallifrey's past (see below) also contributed to this. Accordingly, until the Doctor rediscovered it, the Time Lords did not know the location of the Eye beneath their Capitol. They also treated such ceremonial symbols as the Key and Sash of Rassilon as mere historical curiosities, being unaware of their true function.

The Time Lord homeworld, Gallifrey, is an earthlike planet in the "constellation" of Kasterborous. Its capital city is also called Gallifrey, and contains the Capitol, the seat of Time Lord government. At the centre of is the Panopticon, beneath which is the Eye of Harmony. Outside the Capitol lie wastelands where the Shobogans, or "Outsiders", Gallifreyans who do not belong to the Time Lord elite, live in less technological tribal communities.

Fitting their generally defensive nature, Time Lord weapons technology is rarely seen other than the staser hand weapons used by the Guard within the Capitol. Standard TARDISes do not have any onboard weaponry, although Battle TARDISes (armed with "time torpedoes" that freeze their target in time) have appeared in the spin-off media.

One exception to the Time Lords' defensive weaponry is the de-mat gun (or dematerialisation gun), a weapon of mass destruction that removes its target from spacetime altogether. The de-mat gun was created in Rassilon's time and is a closely guarded secret, the knowledge to create one kept in the Matrix and available only to the President. To make sure this knowledge is not abused, the only way to arm a de-mat gun is by means of the Great Key of Rassilon, whose location is only known to the Chancellor. As a means of extreme sanction, the Time Lords have also been known to place whole planets into time-loops, isolating them from the universe in one repeating moment of time.

History within the show

(Note: Some of the information below is taken from the spin-off novels and the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan" devised by former Doctor Who script editor Andrew Cartmel. As with all spin-off media, its canonicity is unclear.)


Most of the history of the Time Lords is shrouded in mystery, contradictory legend, rumour and supposition, as no Time Lord is allowed to travel to Gallifrey's past for fear of altering it. However, it is known that some millions of years ago the planet was home to a civilisation that could see all of the past and future. Gallifrey was also dominated by a cult of the Pythia, a great and powerful priestess. This cult was overthrown by a group of three younger Gallifreyan scientists, Rassilon, Omega and "the Other", whose name has been lost to time.

When these three overthrew the Pythia, she cursed the people with sterility. Her cult fled to a nearby planet where they became the Sisterhood of Karn. Forced to find a new way to reproduce, Rassilon built the Looms, cloning machines that could create new Gallifreyans to replace the dead. The Looms were eventually incorporated into great Houses of Cousins, to regulate the population levels and organize the new society. Omega, in the meantime, concentrated completely on his time travel experiments. The Other's role was unclear but he seemed to have held the alliance between Rassilon and Omega together, and was a part of the project that produced the Hand of Omega.

The Hand of Omega was a stellar manipulator able to rework a star into a new form to create a source of energy necessary for time travel. Omega used the hand on the star Qqaba, but it first flared into a supernova, then collapsed into the black hole whose nucleus eventually became known as the Eye of Harmony. Omega was thought to have died, either in the supernova or consumed by the black hole, but in fact had been displaced into an antimatter universe (The Three Doctors). Rassilon then took control of both the Eye and Gallifreyan society, and the Time Lords could now live up to their name.

The Dark Time

The early period of Time Lord history is also known as the Dark Time, when the first Time Lords abused their powers over time by manipulating lesser species. Among these abuses was the use of the Time Scoop to abduct beings from throughout history to participate in gladiatorial games in an area of Gallifrey known as the Death Zone (The Five Doctors).

Eventually, Rassilon's rule became dictatorial and reached the point where he became obsessed with implementing his reforms and preserving Gallifreyan society as he saw it before the end of his life. Despite the protest of the Other, bloody purges began, and Rassilon began to dabble in immortality. The Other, knowing that Rassilon would hold his family hostage to secure his cooperation, told his granddaughter Susan to go into hiding and literally threw himself into the Looms, disintegrating and spreading his genetic code into the machines.

A year later, the Doctor arrived in his "borrowed" TARDIS from Gallifrey's future and discovered Susan on the streets of the city, where she had been living since failing to make it off-world. Somehow, Susan recognized him as her grandfather and he also knew her name. The Doctor then left Gallifrey's past, taking Susan with him into his exile. Many of the novels (especially Lungbarrow and The Infinity Doctors) have implied that the Doctor may be the Other, genetically reincarnated from the Looms, but the truth of the matter remains uncertain.

(An alternative version, which contradicts the "Cartmel Masterplan" , is in the short story Birth of a Renegade by Eric Saward published in the Radio Times 20th Anniversary Special (1983). This puts Susan in the Time Lord's recent history and identifies her as a descendant of Rassilon and the unwitting focus for a "student rebellion" against a dictatorial President. The rebellion is put down and the Doctor, his memory altered, is used to take Susan into exile.)

Now absolute ruler of Gallifrey, Rassilon led the Time Lords in a war against the Great Vampires, a war so horrific that the Time Lords foreswore violence from that point on. The weapons used by the Time Lords against the vampires in that war included Bowships that fired giant bolts through the Great Vampires' hearts, and the N-Forms, extradimensional war machines developed by the Patrexes chapter that attacked planets where they detected the presence of vampires. The Doctor encountered a surviving vampire in E-Space in the serial State of Decay and a reactivated N-form in the Virgin New Adventures novel Damaged Goods, by Russell T. Davies.

Neutrality policy

At some point in their history the Time Lords actively interacted with the civilisation of the planet Minyos, giving them advanced technology. This met with disastrous results, the Minyans destroying themselves in a series of nuclear wars and giving rise to the Time Lords policy of non-interference (Underworld). However, the Big Finish Productions audio play Gallifrey: The Inquiry reveals that it was actually the secret test of a Time Lord timonic fusion device that destroyed Minyos, an incident that was covered up by the High Council.

Regardless, as a result, the Time Lords apparently adopted an official policy of neutrality and non-interference, acting only as observers save in cases of great injustice. However, given the existence of the CIA and other renegade Time Lords such as the Doctor, the Master, the Meddling Monk, the Rani and the War Chief, the policy again seems one more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Recent history

In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Ancestor Cell by Peter Anghelides and Stephen Cole, the Eighth Doctor, to prevent the voodoo cult Faction Paradox from starting a time war between the Time Lords and an unspecified Enemy, apparently destroyed Gallifrey and retroactively wiped the Time Lords from history. In the last regular Eighth Doctor novel, The Gallifrey Chronicles by Lance Parkin, it was revealed that while Gallifrey was destroyed, the Time Lords were not erased from history. However, the cataclysm set up an event horizon in time that prevented anyone from entering Gallifrey's relative past or travelling from it to the present or future. The memories of the Time Lords also survived within the Matrix, which had been downloaded into the Eighth Doctor's mind, but their reconstruction would require a sufficiently advanced computer. At the novel's end, the question of whether or not the Time Lords would be restored remained unanswered. However, it can be assumed that both they and the planet were restored at some point before the start of the 2005 series if the novels are to remain consistent with the new series' continuity. Again, it should be emphasised that the canonicity of the novels is unclear.

In the 2005 series episode The End of the World, the Ninth Doctor said that Gallifrey had been destroyed in the last great "Time War" and that he is the last of the Time Lords. In Dalek, the Doctor further revealed that the war involved the Daleks and the Time Lords, and that both sides were obliterated in the final battle. Producer Russell T. Davies wrote in the April 28, 2005 issue of Doctor Who Magazine that the time war in the series and the one in the novels are unrelated. The two-part 2005 series finale, however, suggests that the fate of the Time Lords may not be definitive.

Partial list of Time Lords appearing in Doctor Who

The Doctor

Other Doctors

Occasionally, other actors have played the Doctor:

Time Lords in the television series

Time Lords from spin-off media

  • Valentine from Death Comes to Time
  • The Minister of Chance from Death Comes to Time
  • Casmus from Death Comes to Time
  • Irving Braxiatel from the Virgin New Adventures.
  • The Other from the novel Lungbarrow
  • Homunculette from the novel Alien Bodies
  • Marnal from the novel The Gallifrey Chronicles
  • Larna from the novel The Infinity Doctors
  • Ruath from the novel Goth Opera (full name Ruathadvorphrenaltid)
  • Savar from the novels Seeing I and The Infinity Doctors

See also


  • Parkin, Lance (1996). Doctor Who: A History of the Universe - From Before The Dawn of Time and Beyond The End of Eternity London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 0-426-20471-9.

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