Why Doctor Who finally needs to bring back the Time Lords for good
The role of Gallifrey and its inhabitants has been too small for too long, writes Lewis Knight.
"I'm a Time Lord. I'm the last of the Time Lords. They're all gone. I'm the only survivor. I'm left travelling on my own 'cos there's no one else." - The Doctor, The End of the World, 2005.
These words from Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor in the opening series of Russell T Davies' revival of Doctor Who in 2005 signalled a bold new status quo for the time-travelling protagonist of the beloved cult show.
No longer was The Doctor one of many rather brilliant beings but was instead a figure adrift, an alien to all, a solitary figure mourning the loss of their people and all the more in need of emotional connection.
This served as the perfect springboard to deepen the hero's connection to his new companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and also ensured further enigma around The Doctor as we peeled back the layers of his role in the Great Time War between his people and their nemeses, the Daleks.
However, we are now no longer in 2005 and since then, the story of what happened to the Time Lords has been firmly established (including with a very brief return in the finale of Davies' first era on the show, The End of Time) and we even learned of another fellow survivor with the inevitable return of The Master (initially played by Sir Derek Jacobi and John Simm in the revival series).
Subsequently, the tenure of Steven Moffat as showrunner presented an opportunity to revive not just the Time Lords' homeworld of Gallifrey which he did in the 50th anniversary year of the show in 2013, in the crowd-pleasing special The Day of the Doctor, which also peeled more layers back on the role of The Doctor in the Great Time War.
This felt like perfect timing with the notion of the lone Time Lord with no (or with at least only one of their) peers by this point felt rather exhausted and the possibilities for more stories, more characters to equal the Doctor's abilities and rich history seemed endless.
Yet, the Time Lords remained largely absent until their return properly in the ninth series' final story, climaxing in Hell Bent. Here, Gallifrey, led once again by the villainous Rassilon (here played by Donald Sumpter), had returned from a pocket universe following the end of the universe - yes, it was rather complicated.
Despite The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) deposing the tyrant Rassilon, Gallifrey's survival and those of the Time Lords finally seemed assured.
That, however, was until the following era under showrunner Chris Chibnall.
In the second series to feature Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor, the return of The Master in Spyfall (now played by a lively Sacha Dhawan) saw the revelation that the villain had wiped out life on Gallifrey after discovering the truth of the Timeless Child.
Without getting too involved in these new convoluted and controversial twists to The Doctor and the Time Lords' mythology, the arc of The Timeless Child left the Time Lords once again virtually extinct, The Doctor a member of a different and mysterious race entirely and also the 'chosen one' from which the Time Lords derived their regenerative abilities, and then saw our hero leave Gallifrey barren of all life in a bid to defeat further enemies.
Well, now we're back to Square One in 2005. The Doctor is the sole Time Lord (bar the inevitable return of The Master), the final survivor of an alien race again and now even more isolated but heralded than ever.
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One can appreciate that Chibnall wished to take some risks with the story and mythology of The Doctor, but the results of these changes have just taken us full circle back to the beginning of the revival series and with reduced storytelling possibilities.
Throughout the classic run of the show, the benefits of having the Time Lords present have been illuminating not only for the character and history of The Doctor but also allowed writers to introduce us to various other memorable characters.
The temptation to have the Doctor as a solitary enigma outside of his relationships with his companions might be an attempt to return to the uncomplicated format of the show's earliest days under William Hartnell's First Doctor but following their bold introduction in the story The War Games - the last story of Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor era - it became clear that the door was now firmly open to explore more of the Doctor's people and his connections to them.
Despite the role of The Doctor's granddaughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) and then his meeting the memorable villain known as the Meddling Monk (Peter Butterworth) in Hartnell's era, The War Games, as well as being a terrific and memorable story on its own, also kickstarted the Time Lords' recurring appearances in the show and finally showed the scale of power among his people.
The subsequent appearances of The Doctor's people varied in scale. Still, they played a vital role in one of the show's greatest-ever stories, The Deadly Assassin, featuring Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor.
This taut thriller highlighted once again the culture of the Time Lords and the political machinations therein including with Chancellor Goth (Bernard Horsfall, returning from The War Games) whilst also revealing further information on their abilities and introducing us to the most ghoulish version of The Master even to this day.
Baker's era also gave us another regular character from Gallifrey - the Time Lady known as Romana. First played by Mary Tamm and then by Lalla Ward, Romana is one of the strongest companions in Who history and also enabled a dynamic that had not been portrayed before - someone of the same background as The Doctor, with physiological and psychological abilities to match him.
While The Doctor eventually parted ways with the wickedly fun Romana, he would continue to face off with The Master (the dynamic Anthony Ainley, mostly) for the rest of the show's classic run and also faced a female antagonist in The Rani (the fabulously camp Kate O'Mara).
Later, the Time Lords played another memorable role to mixed results in the season-long story The Trial of a Time Lord which once again placed The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) at his people's mercy but also enabled us a detailed look at their influence and provided an existential threat with a villain in the form of The Valeyard (an imposing Michael Jayston), a future incarnation of The Doctor.
Beyond further appearances from The Master and The Rani, the Time Lords would not feature to a major extent until the aforementioned stories in the revival, but these were few and far between.
Subsequently, the closest to a true peer outside of The Master and Romana has been the part-Time Lady heroine Professor River Song (Alex Kingston) and what a breath of fresh air she was in the Moffat era, not so much an antagonist for our hero but morally grey character for him to explore more complicated relationships with - including marriage.
Why stop there? Why not give The Doctor more equals or more figures with complicated familial, cultural or antagonistic connections that are not just simplistic enemies?
The Master (or Missy, when played by Michelle Gomez) is a fantastic alternate side of a coin for The Doctor in a connection that can feel everything from platonic to romantic to despicable at times.
However, there is such potential to explore further dynamics with The Doctor's people and his relationships with them, especially with so much history ripe to explore. If the Daleks can return endless times to battle the Doctor, the different plot threads can be used with Gallifrey and with the Doctor's people - with previous classic stories serving as evidence of this.
Your move, Mr Davies! Bring the Time Lords home!
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