Classic Doctor Who on BritBox: The Time Lords of Gallifrey
Mark Harrison | On 23, Nov 2020
Offering 626 Doctor Who episodes broadcast between 1963 and 1996, BritBox is bigger on the inside. If you’ve watched all of the new series already, join us as we turn on the TARDIS randomiser for a monthly primer on the adventures of the first eight Doctors…
Warning: This contains major spoilers for the 2020 season of Doctor Who.
The vanishing of Gallifrey and the Time Lords from the revival of Doctor Who is written in by Russell T Davies from its very first episodes. The fundamental conflict of portraying the Doctor’s home planet on screen is that it’s a place they got bored of, spurring them into adventure, and in the main (looking at you, Chris Chibnall) new adventures are always more interesting than origin stories.
While Davies and his successive showrunners have examined a post-Time War Gallifrey in dribs and drabs over the last 15 years, the Time Lords have never been reinstated as the omniscient ministry they were in the original run. We’ve caught up with returning Time Lords such as the Master and Rassilon and even seen or heard of a few new ones, like the Corsair, the General, and most recently, Gallifreyan agent Gat.
There are still a host of Time Lord regulars, however, who have never been seen in new Who to date, so we’ve put together a guide to the various renegades and politicians who’ve appeared in the Doctor’s orbit over the 26 seasons of the original series. All of the following are available to stream on BritBox, so let’s take a closer look at the Gallifreyans who aren’t the Doctor or the Master.
Often overlooked in rundowns of the Time Lords, Susan is the Doctor’s granddaughter. Played by Carole Ann Ford, she’s noticed by her teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) for both her intelligence and her lack of contemporary knowledge in the very first episode of Doctor Who. It’s a shame that Susan is most often written as a screaming damsel after her first serial, in which she’s a much sharper young woman, but for a while there, she’s the only one of the Doctor’s people we know…
What to watch: An Unearthly Child (Season 1, 1963)
The Meddling Monk
Before the Master, there was the Monk. Played by Peter Butterworth, this conniving, chaotic-neutral nuisance was the first of the Doctor’s people to turn up in the original series other than Susan. In The Time Meddler, he’s planning to subvert the course of England’s history for LOLs by setting himself up in a Northumbrian monastery in 1066. The Monk later returned in the mostly-missing First Doctor serial The Daleks’ Master Plan but hasn’t yet reappeared outside of spin-off media – frankly, it’s a wonder that Steven Moffat never revived the character for further timey-wimey shenanigans during that whole “time can be rewritten” era.
What to watch: The Time Meddler (Season 2, 1965)
The War Chief
The next Time Lord we meet is the War Chief (Edward Brayshaw), another renegade who was once a member of the High Council of Gallifrey, in the Second Doctor’s final serial, The War Games. This whopping 10-part epic sees the War Chief working with a race that calls themselves War Lords to abduct human soldiers from wars throughout history and simulate their conflicts for research into what they consider to be the most vicious species in the galaxy. This is the story that finally names the Doctor’s species as Time Lords, and has more of them arrive towards the climax…
What to watch: The War Games (Season 6, 1969)
Along with Rassilon (who’s been played in the new series by Timothy Dalton and then Donald Sumpter), Omega is described as one of the founders of Gallifrey. Having become stranded in an anti-matter universe, he’s peeved to be regarded as a great hero to the Time Lords, when he’d much prefer to be a god. Omega tends to turn up around anniversaries, first battling multiple Doctors in the 10th anniversary special, The Three Doctors, and then returning to menace the Fifth Doctor in Season 20, which revived an array of past monsters and villains in the run-up to another multi-Doctor special.
What to watch: The Three Doctors (Season 10, 1973) and Arc Of Infinity (Season 20, 1983)
As discussed in our Halloween column there were several homages to Gothic horror throughout producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s tenure, including this Frankenstein story about a Time Lord criminal who wants to pick the Fourth Doctor’s brains for his new body. The 2020 finale, The Timeless Children, referenced with its canonisation of previous, unknown incarnations of the Doctor, (actually played by crewmembers who rummaged through the BBC costume department).
What to watch: The Brain Of Morbius (Season 13, 1975)
Just as controversial in its time as some of the modern dalliances with Gallifrey, The Deadly Assassin goes a long way to demythologise the Time Lords. Writer Robert Holmes uses a political-thriller format to establish the home world that our hero deserted as a fusty old bureaucracy, as beholden to venal politics and spin as the contemporary UK government. That makes Angus McKay’s Borusa the Malcolm Tucker of the Time Lords, although he also serves as a former teacher and mentor from the Doctor’s schooldays.
What to watch: The Deadly Assassin (Season 14, 1976) marks Borusa’s first appearance, and he pops up in several other Gallifrey stories, recast as a different actor each time, most notably in The Five Doctors (Season 20, 1983).
At the start of his epic quest for the Key To Time, the Fourth Doctor is assigned a new companion by the Time Lords. Enter posh Prydonian Academy graduate Romana, who’s younger but much more composed than the old renegade. As played by Mary Tamm, Romana is the young professional to the Doctor’s ancient amateur, making their dynamic more balanced in terms of ability and knowledge than his other friendships over the years.
What to watch: The Ribos Operation (Season 16, 1978) kicks off the season-long Key To Time story arc.
Tamm left the programme after one season, prompting a fairly unique regeneration sequence in the following season opener. Emblematic of Douglas Adams’ tenure as script editor, Destiny Of The Daleks’ cheeky opening skit shows Romana appearing to try on several new bodies in a row. She settles on recent guest star Lalla Ward, who played Princess Astra in The Key To Time, and later married Tom Baker in real life. The clash of personalities continues, but the actors’ chemistry is reflected on-screen too, as the two Gallifreyans become best mates on a smashing lark through time and space.
What to watch: Destiny of the Daleks (Season 17, 1979) introduces the second Romana.
Introduced as another Gallifreyan foil to the Doctor, Kate O’Mara’s Rani has an advanced TARDIS and a tenacity for conducting dastardly experiments on living test subjects. She’s first introduced in The Mark of the Rani, where the Sixth Doctor faces both her and Anthony Ainley’s Master, but she also plays a more instrumental role in the newly regenerated Seventh Doctor’s debut serial, Time and the Rani. In both stories, the character embarks upon experiments with brain fluid that are as ingenious as they are nonsensical.
What to watch: The Mark Of The Rani (Season 22, 1986) and Time And The Rani (Season 24, 1987)
When Doctor Who returned from a year-long hiatus in 1986, the show came back with a reflexively self-critical legal drama that ran for the full length of Season 23. At the outset of the season, the Time Lords have had enough of the Sixth Doctor meandering in time and space and put him on trial (again) for violating their cardinal rule of non-intervention. Michael Jayston’s Valeyard is the prosecutor for the Time Lords, while TV’s OXO Mum Lynda Bellingham plays the Inquisitor, who adjudicates for the High Council. Throughout the trial, three stories are submitted in evidence, before some surprising revelations in the finale.
What to watch: The Mysterious Planet (Season 23, 1986) kicks off the season-long Trial of a Time Lord arc.
Other Time Lords of Note
– The Invasion of Time (Season 15, 1977) is a season-ending serial set on Gallifrey, following up The Deadly Assassin with a six-part invasion thriller where the Doctor claims the presidency of the Time Lords and enables a coup by a powerful new enemy. Borusa returns, and we also meet citadel guard Andred, (Chris Tranchell) banished intellectual Rodan, (Hilary Ryan) and an assortment of other lords and Castellans.
– At the other end of the Key To Time arc, The Armageddon Factor (Season 16, 1978) introduces Drax, another classmate of the Doctor’s from his Academy days on Gallifrey. Played by Barry Jackson, Drax is the least posh of all the Time Lords we’ve seen up to this point in the series. He also reveals the Doctor’s original nickname was “Theta Sigma”, which might be why Matt Smith’s new-series incarnation was so embarrassed to reveal it.
– Colin Baker has often joked that he’s the only Doctor ever to get the job after assaulting his incumbent, having played another Time Lord, Commander Maxil, in Arc Of Infinity (Season 21, 1984). Long before Peter Capaldi’s pre-Doctor guest spots, Maxil obviously leaves enough of an impression on the Fifth Doctor that he appropriates a similar appearance. Michael Gough, Paul Jerricho, and Elspet Gray play other Gallifreyan characters in the same story.
– An aspiring Time Lord emerges later that season in Mawdryn Undead (Season 21, 1984) which we previously covered in our column about the Brigadier. David Collings’ Mawdryn emerges from a transmat capsule with horrible injuries after an attempted regeneration, with Tegan and Nyssa believing he is the next Doctor, because reasons.
Classic Doctor Who is available on BritBox as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.