The basis of science fiction is the exploration of intelligent alien life. Finding a new form is nothing shiny. After all, at humanity’s current level of development (read: we’re still dummies, the only possibility that well encounter aliens is if they find us first, and if that were to happen, you can bet those guys are going to outstrip us for smarts and resources. Maybe that’s why sci-fi leans on the advanced alien race so much; to prepare us for the inevitability of encountering a staggeringly superior race.
If and when that scenario goes down, when aliens land our front lawns, we can only hope we’re dealing with something like late-stage Time Lords, a race of extraterrestrial scientists whose last surviving member has been protecting the human race for more than half a century, armed only with his sonic screwdriver, his wit, and a big, blue box. Time Lords, as we know them, were created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, and Donald Wilson, when Doctor Who premiered in 1963.
But where did the fictional Doctor Who come from, according to Whovian lore? Who are the people who trained him and armed him and sent him on his quest? Read on for the basic facts on the good Doctor’s fallen brethren, the Time Lords.
The Time Lords are an ancient race from a sick-ass alien world called Gallifrey, with origins going back to the very foundation of the Universe. What we know about their earliest history is that they pretty much laid claim to the entirety of the Universe thanks to their incredible intellect. Just like the Doctor himself, though, these august aliens went through several growing pains before finally turning into possibly the greatest hero in sci-fi.
Without getting too in the weeds, here (remember: they are featured throughout fifty years of British TV history), let’s just say that the Time Lords began a bit like humans, advancing at an almost horrific rate until they were essentially well-armed savages. Seriously. They could control time, but they filled their days scooping up random species and pitting them against each other in battle. Thankfully, the Time Lords swear off violence after a spat with these fellas:
Without violence to entertain them, the Time Lords devote themselves to more intellectual pursuits, i.e. exploration and chatting with primitive species. Unfortunately, that latter pastime has the unfortunate consequence of getting an entire species obliterated after the Time Lords teach them the wonders of nuclear weaponry.
After that, the Time Lords kind of swear off intervening in the matters of lesser species, which basically meant everybody else. That might explain their un-abiding love of art in all its forms; gotta do something to stay busy without violence, right?.
Time Lords were fascinated by art, especially the practice of capturing individual moments in time in stasis cubes. Of course, this kind of work was left almost entirely to robots, because Time Lords couldn’t be bothered to take a break from their academic pursuits.
The overarching goal of a given Time Lord’s life was education. They were wise enough to keep a standing military, but the army’s place in actual society was minimal. The most revered Time Lords would spend literal centuries studying the finer points of galactic history at the cleverly-named Time Academy.
Sadly, over a period of centuries, this closed-off existence bred paranoia in the oligarchy controlling Time Lord society. That encroaching distrust led to the Time War, and a battle that completely destroyed every Time Lord (and Dalek), except one. For a while, at least. They come back.
They always come back.
Time Lords aren’t born, they’re crafted. At the age of eight, every Gallifreyan child is brought before the Untempered Schism, a tear in the fabric of time and space. To look upon it is to see eternity. Needless to say, not everyone’s mind survives that experience.
Time Lords are also built for the long haul, with biology that can hold up for hundreds of years before it kicks out. As such, they’re naturally tougher and more resilient than humans. What’s more, their brain is larger than ours and, even better, they get two hearts.
When it’s time for a Time Lord to croak, they get to regenerate. Once a Time Lord has taken enough damage or hit real old age, their body is renewed in a burst of … well, it’s gotten prettier as Doctor Who’s budget has increased:
Of course, Time Lords aren’t immortal. They only get 12 regenerations and then their time is up. Several hundred years, times 12? Not a bad allowance (assuming you don’t get into the deeper philosophical complexities implied by the Doctor regenerating as an entirely different person). Let’s move on.
As the progenitor of the Doctor, the Time Lords hold an honored position in science fiction history. Without these time-hopping nerds, we’d be without the longest running and most beloved science fiction TV series of all time.
These guys are so popular that they managed a number one hit in 1988:
Among the average super smart race of aliens you see in other science-fiction works, the Time Lords pretty much set the mold. They’re stuffy, supercilious thinkers who endure, not because of their differences to humanity, but because of their similarities. They are us, thrown into a bright and responsible future, at once a cautionary tale of the dangers of xenophobia and elitism, and a goal to which we should aspire.