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The Social Structure of Gallifrey - A Reinterpretation

By Jon Preddle (writing as R. H. Cotwood)

Craig Young's look at the social structure of Gallifrey (TSV Special 1) was interesting, and inspired me to look further into the full structure of Time Lord society, and that of Gallifrey as a whole. My research resulted in a chart which indicates the main paths of power within the Gallifreyan hierarchy:


Gallifrey is one of six planets in a star system (from The Invasion of Time). Its dominant lifeform is a humanoid race who call themselves 'Time Lords'. But while all Time Lords are Gallifreyans, not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords (a clever concept devised by producer Graham Williams). When we say "Time Lord", we are actually only referring to one group within Gallifreyan society, but the name has been used to refer to the whole race. In Mawdryn Undead, the Doctor claimed he will no longer be a Time Lord if he loses the power to regenerate. This implies that only Time Lords are capable of regeneration. So how does one become a Time Lord? Is regeneration natural, or earned?

Gallifrey is also the name of the Capitol, a huge city consisting of towers beneath a protective dome - the Quantum Forcefield. The planet is also protected by a transduction barrier. The Gallifreyans have lived there for millions of years.

Now to refer to the chart:

Gallifreyans: The general populace. At an early age, a career is decided upon and there are four paths that can be followed: 1. Continue living as a Gallifreyan in unimportant roles. This is an area yet to be explored on the screen. Are there banks on Gallifrey? Laundromats? Shops? Traffic Wardens? Traffic!?; 2. Join the Chancellery Guards; 3. Enter one of three Academies; 4. Or leave the safety of the Capitol and live in the wilderness.

Chancellery Guards: The 'police force'; they protect the people in the Capitol, and are generally used on ceremonial occasions as there is little crime on Gallifrey. It is possible to work through the ranks and become Commander of the Guards, and then possibly Castellan. Most guards are not Time Lords, but those that are generally go on to become Castellans (kind of similar to our Minister of Police, who overseas the operation of the police force but is not themselves a policeman).

Academy: Gallifreyans who wish to become Time Lords must go to the Academy, of which there are at least three that are name on screen: Prydon, Patrex and Arcalia. Each specialises in certain fields - Prydon (the Doctor's academy), specialises in science and technology, whilst the other two are law and medicine. Upon graduation (which can occur after hundreds of years of study), one becomes a Time Lord, a name dating back to the time of Rassilon. Now meaningless, it once held great esteem. Graduation brings with it the powers of regeneration - given an allotment of 13 bodies - a form of partial immortality. How this is given is unknown but we do know from The Five Doctors that the cycle can be revoked or renewed.

Time Lords: Time theory, law, medicine and science are the mainstays of Gallifreyan life. Scientists we have seen include Omega, Rassilon, the Doctor, Rani, the Master and Drax. The highest position in law is that of Valeyard, but very few achieve this office. Once Gallifreyans have graduated as Time Lords they spend thousands of years using their skills and knowledge to study the Universe, whilst slowly using up their regenerations. Some become bored with this style of life, and go out into the wastelands. Some also leave Gallifrey to continue their studies elsewhere, such as Azmael and K'Anpo, or for other less sedate reasons, such as the Doctor, the Master, Rani, War Chief, Monk and Morbius.

Outsiders: Seen only in The Invasion of Time, these Gallifreyans live like savages - a life they have chosen for themselves. They hunt - but what? What form of animals live on Gallifrey? The wastelands are desert regions, south of the Capitol. The Doctor lived in this region as a boy, where he often visited a hermit who lived in the mountains of South Gallifrey. The Death Zone, a legacy of the Old Times, is also found there. Some of the outsiders are Time Lords, but whether they can still regenerate or not is unknown. Being outside the Capitol may mean that they are also outside the sphere of influence of the Eye of Harmony - the suggested source of regenerative powers. The outsiders are ignored and despised by most in the Capitol.

High Council: Gallifrey is ruled by the High Council, consisting of the President, Chancellors, Councillors and Cardinals, and the Castellan. The Councillors are like 'backbenchers'. Some Councillors might not necessarily be Time Lords, but very few 'ordinary' Gallifreyans get this high in society. The Cardinals represent their Academy, and there is at least one representative from each on the Council. In The Deadly Assassin, Borusa, who had been the Doctor's teacher (and no doubt that of the Master, Rani and Drax as well), was a Prydonian Cardinal.

Senior to the Councillors and Cardinals is the Chancellor, who appears to act as a 'deputy President', although there is some confusion as to what this position actually is. In The Deadly Assassin, Chancellor Goth was a possible candidate for President; anyone can run for President, but only High Council members ever seem to win. After Goth's death, because the Doctor was the only other candidate, he won by default, but in The Invasion of Time, it was stated that the Chancellor can never become President because the Chancellor is the only one entrusted with the safekeeping of the Great Key - something which no President can have due to the power it holds. This is a rule imposed by Rassilon, the first President.

So why did Goth run for President if he knew he could never win? Did the President know the Doctor would succeed him - after all, his Resignation Honours list held "a few surprises"! The President is afforded unlimited access to the Matrix, part of the APC ("Amplified Panotropic Computations") Net containing all Time Lord knowledge. The reason the Great Key is hidden is because once a President had it in his or her possession they would have ultimate power over the De-Mat Gun, something the Time Lords consider to be too dangerous to be held by one individual.

In The Invasion of Time the Doctor was allowed access to the Matrix, which might explain why later incarnations of the Doctor have been knowledgeable about Rassilon, when previous ones were ignorant. Although he suffered amnesia at the end of the same story, the following story, The Ribos Operation, indicated that he had regained his memory of the Sontaran invasion.

In The Invasion of Time Borusa was only Chancellor-Elect, although he had the Great Key in his possession, so could never be President, however in Arc of Infinity Borusa was now President! We can only speculate at what happened. The Great Key was damaged at the end of The Invasion of Time and therefore harmless, so even the Chancellor could now become President - besides which, Borusa wasn't officially a Chancellor anyway. Interestingly, in both Arc of Infinity and The Five Doctors, the Chancellor has been a woman; Thalia and Flavia respectively.

A President will remain in office until he or she dies, resigns, or is deposed (which is what happened to the Doctor in The Trial of a Time Lord). The Prydon Academy has produced more Presidents than any other. Competition within the High Council can arise easily. Each time the Doctor returns to Gallifrey, one of the Council turns traitor: Goth in The Deadly Assassin, Kelner in The Invasion of Time, Hedin in Arc of Infinity, and Borusa in The Five Doctors. Morbius was once a Time Lord of the First Rank, possibly even a Chancellor on the High Council.

Within the High Council is the Celestial Intervention Agency. This is a secret body made up of certain High Councillors, including the President. It is here that secret policies are made to allow intervention in the affairs of other planets - especially where time travel is involved. We have seen the CIA at work directing the Doctor in such stories as The Two Doctors, Colony in Space, The Curse of Peladon, The Mutants, The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, The Brain of Morbius and Attack of the Cybermen amongst many others. The Time Lords' policy of non-intervention seems to be a prime example of the saying that "rules are made to be broken". Even the all-powerful Time Lords are guilty of not practicing what they preach.

While it was only three members of the High Council who put the Doctor on trial in The War Games, it was the CIA who intervened and convinced them to let the Doctor go to Earth to act as their agent (unknown to the Doctor), something he might have even been doing ever since he left Gallifrey with Susan!

Gallifreyan society is a complex but interesting part of Doctor Who, and if the series ever returns, I hope we can once more see into the Doctor's home background.

This item appeared in TSV 22 (April 1991).