Power Corrupts? The Social Structure of Gallifrey

By Craig Young

Gallifrey's social structure at the point when it discovered time travel seems easy to calculate - it must have been some sort of feudal survival, perhaps with strong religious influence-otherwise why is the High Council composed of "Cardinals", surely an emblem of religious rank, and why Time 'Lords'? But why would a feudal society have been capable of withstanding the strains and stresses of modernisation on Gallifrey when it has not been the case here?

In the case of Earth's feudal societies, the Black Death and the development of the Italian mercantile cities provided the basis from which urbanisation, the loss of control over one's subjects, the rise of the middle class and Protestantism all proceeded. Some social analysts have called this formulation into question-they say it is too simple to privilege adherence to Catholicism as an impediment to national autonomy and industrial development. Perhaps Europe is not a good example - Japan was able quickly to modernise after it resumed European contact, and its feudal structures were more or less intact. Some theorists of the 'Japanese miracle' postulate that the social practice of deference and communal bonding in a regimented feudal society may have been transferred to multi-nationals.

All right then-let's assume that Gallifrey's pattern of development followed that of Japanese society. Perhaps a fusion of aspects of Europe and Japan. Gallifrey's aristocracy must have presided over the industrial development of their world, meeting in the high council with its president selected from their ranks in the process. At some stage the Lords of Gallifrey mastered the technologies of space flight and explored the worlds of their planetary system, whereupon they came across artifacts of an alien civilisation. Unless regeneration was already an evolved species survival characteristic, it may have been acquired at this point.

Starflight was mastered and Gallifrey then proceeded to explore the surrounding planetary systems. Meanwhile back home, the new technologies from the craft meant that the aristocracy could withdraw into the cities, leaving the masses of redundant workers to fend for themselves. The aristocracy took lower level nobles and the military with them. At some point Gallifrey came into conflict with the culture that previously held dominance over the time-stream and learnt that its administration was corrupt. At this point Rassilon emerged as leader of the Lords of Gallifrey, recovered the Eye of Harmony and worked with Omega on what could provide the power source for challenge to the 'Predecessor's' power. The predecessors attacked the stellar engineering project and destabilised the experimental Hand of Omega device, but all to no avail. Although Omega was cast into a singularity and resided there for a millennium, the Time Lords were born.

Rassilon's administration was not followed by rulers of integrity, as Morbius and the Forbidden Zone can testify. However, as a response to that early malaise, the High Council instituted its non-intervention policy. Then one Time Lord-the Doctor-came to question that policy. While collective intervention was harmful, an individual who sought to fight with the oppressed against injustice might not be. However, the Doctor aroused some interest as a result of his actions.

Others abandoned Gallifrey in their turn - Cho-Je / K'Anpo, Azmael, the Master (for less altruistic reasons than the Doctor), Salyavin... and the Rani. While formally exiled for unethical scientific activities, this Time Lady seems to have been present at a number of events in the Earth's historical development involving warfare and bloodshed. Is she in exile at all, or is she a covert agent of some sort But abuse of the responsibilities of a Time Lord was not limited to isolated individuals. With The Deadly Assassin, it became apparent that there were intimations of conduct deficiencies in high places. The corruption continued in Invasion of Time, nearly costing Gallifrey its temporal mastery. It survived the change of incarnations to appear in Arc of Infinity and once more in The Five Doctors. In that case it was President Borusa himself that had been corrupted-with ominous overtones, for if Gallifrey's President had been subverted, was this a matter of individual corruption anymore? The other cases had been serious enough, but from this point doubts began to grow about the Time Lord altruism in its administration of the timestream.

In another change of incarnation, The Two Doctors initially led one to suspect that the Time Lords were not above brutal military intervention to suppress time travel acquisition, as a group this time instead of as a result of individual evil. This trend culminated in The Trial of a Time Lord, with the Doctor on trial for his life in a kangaroo court. It transpired that the whole High Council had been corrupted in allowing the Valeyard access to the Matrix and to his past self, as well the Ravolox affair and, probably, the Thoros Beta tragedy as well (if such it was). But the Council received their just desserts-the revelations triggered a revolution on Gallifrey. Since then, they have not appeared in any of the Seventh Doctor's escapades.

Why? Is the revolution still going on and was it successful in the first place? Remember, the Valeyard now occupies the body of the Keeper and is probably not above having sleeper connections in the Time Lord hierarchy in that contingency that usurping his sixth incarnation's body failed. If the Time Lords are currently still engaged in civil war, that would explain the Rani's 'strange matter' experiments (personal mastery of the timestream?) and why the Doctor was the only source of intervention when the Daleks tried to use the Hand of Omega to gain hegemony over the timestream themselves.

In any case, the Time Lord power is not absolute, probably due to the rigidities of its feudal modernisation. Frontios revealed there were limits to their authority. Omega launched an attack that succeeded in neutralising Gallifrey in The Three Doctors, Vardans and Sontarans invaded Gallifrey, the Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen all have time travel capability (albeit primitive), and the stresses of the above seem to have perhaps taken their toll.

Power corrupts - not just individuals, but in this case, a civilisation. It may well be that the Time Lords dominance of the vortex is over. Or they may have other secrets.

This item appeared in TSV Special #1 (December 1990).

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