What is a Time Lord?

Need a guide to the ancient race of aliens who raised the Doctor? Read on!

The Doctor refers to themself as a Time Lord - specifically, they’re the last of the Time Lords, from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. Gallifrey is where they were raised, where they ran away from (and occasionally returned to), and sometimes is even President of! Although the Doctor has always been an outsider to the Time Lord ways of life (or lives), the legacy of Gallifrey impacts their travels from time to time.

From their founding members to what they’re up to nowadays, here’s a handy guide to the mighty Time Lords of Gallifrey! 

What do Time Lords look like? 

The Time Lords on Gallifrey

Externally, a Time Lord looks human. Although, as the Eleventh Doctor pointed out, they came first, so technically, we all look like Time Lords. If you don’t know what a human looks like, please find a mirror. 

Internally, however, we couldn’t be more different. For a start, Time Lords have two hearts, a respiratory bypass system - enabling them to survive without breathing for long periods - and have low-level telepathic abilities. However, their physiology also gives them a unique ability, regeneration. 

Regeneration is the Time Lord’s way of staving off death. When they are dying, they can change every cell in their body. The downside to this is this change results in a new physical appearance and changes in personality. 

Apparently, Time Lords can only regenerate a maximum of twelve times in a single regenerative cycle. After that, they die. However, the Time Lords have been able to give certain members of their society additional regenerative cycles. The Doctor, when he reached the end of his final life in The Time of the Doctor, was granted more regenerations, and just in time too! 

What planet do Time Lords come from?

The Time Lords’ home is called Gallifrey, which is a planet in the Kasterborous System. Gallifrey orbits two suns and has a distinctive burnt orange sky. The Citadel of the Time Lords was located on the continent of Wild Endeavour, and there were barren wastes called the Drylands.

The Time Lords fought off many threats to their home planet, including a war with vampires (as mentioned in State of Decay)! They always won, due to their superior technology. However, their defences weren’t infallible, and Gallifrey has been invaded from time to time. In one spectacular run of bad luck, they were once invaded twice on the same day (watch The Invasion of Time for this adventure)!

One of the most catastrophic invasions occurred during the final day of the Time War when the Daleks invaded Gallifrey. But more on that later…

Who rules the Time Lords?

Time Lord society is split into six chapters, including the Doctor’s chapter, the Prydonians. From these chapters, the governing body - the High Council - was chosen. The High Council consisted of the President, the Chancellor, the Castellan (the head of security) and various Lord Cardinals. The Doctor briefly became President, but he ran away at the first chance. 

All Time Lords, regardless of chapter, had to attend the academy. While this austere institution might seem like a noble place, it had a severely messed-up initiation ceremony. The Time Lord children, at only eight years old, had to stare into the time vortex, through a rip called the Untempered Schism. If you don’t think that sounds too bad, some believe it’s what drove the Master mad! 

The rest of Time Lord society could be equally cruel. On Gallifrey, the Time Lords had a Death Zone (featured in The Five Doctors). Imagine a mix between a safari park and a gladiatorial arena, and you’d be in the right ballpark. They would put ‘inferior’ species in the Death Zone and watch them fight to the, well, death. Basically, they aren’t exactly the nicest of species. 

Time Lord Tech 

When it comes to the Time Lord tech, there’s a whole plethora of insanely powerful artefacts and mind-boggling machinery. One such piece of astonishing technology is the Matrix (first seen in The Deadly Assassin). No, not that one. This Matrix is the repository of all Time Lord knowledge. Although, you can enter the Matrix, and bend the reality in there to your will; so it is sort of like the other one.

However, the pièce de résistance are their time machines. A TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, are ships that can travel anywhere in all of space and time. They’re bigger on the inside, as the inside of a TARDIS is in a separate dimension to the dimension of the outer shell. 

When they’re working normally, the exterior of a TARDIS can disguise itself to blend in with its surroundings, thanks to the Chameleon Circuit. In the Doctor’s TARDIS, this circuit is broken, which is why it always looks like a police box (or whenever the Doctor tries to repair it, like when it turned into a dresser in Attack of the Cybermen)

The High Fashion of the Time Lords

The Time Lords have mastered many things. Fashion isn’t one of them. Time travel, spaceships to fight vampires, trans-dimensional engineering, they can do that with aplomb. A decent-sized collar? Not so much. The ceremonial robes of the Time Lords cut a distinctive outline to be sure, but would make it tricky to go through a lot of doors.

The Time Lords has had various versions of the outfit (modelled by the dashing Rassilon below in Hell Bent), but the distinctive collar, the red robes matching the Gallifreyan atmosphere, and the symbol of Gallifrey have remained similar since the Doctor returned home of his own volition in The Deadly Assassin.

Rassilon in Gallifrey

The Story of Rassilon

Time Lord society is possibly as sketchy as it is because it was founded by very sketchy people. Two of the most famous, and dangerous, founders were Omega and Rassilon.  

Omega created the Eye of Harmony, which gave the Time Lords the ability to travel in time. He was thrown into an anti-matter universe and has since tried to destroy the main universe on several occasions, in The Three Doctors and later in Arc of Infinity.

Rassilon, on the other hand, was a once good man who became a maniac. He also had a strange habit of naming things after himself. The Seal of Rassilon, the Tomb of Rassilon (as in The Five Doctors)... If he was writing this, the article would be called the Article of Rassilon, comprising the Words of Rassilon. 

Basically, bit self-obsessed. 

Recently, another significant founder of Time Lord society was revealed. Tecteun was a Gallifreyan scientist and traveller, who found a child with the ability to regenerate. She stole this ability for herself, and gave it to the other Time Lords. They limited the number of regenerations to twelve, and the rest is history (as revealed in The Timeless Children)...

Where are the Time Lords now? 

The other thing you should probably know about the Time Lords is that they’re all gone now. Well, okay, there’s the Doctor and the Master, but apart from them, they are missing. As mentioned early, the Time Lords were involved in the Last Great Time War. This was a massive temporal war between them and the Daleks, which only came to an end when the Doctor was forced to destroy both sides.

Or so he thought. Via time-bending shenanigans, an attempted Zygon invasion and a marriage to Queen Elizabeth the First, multiple incarnations of the Doctor banded together to save Gallifrey, sending it out of the universe, which you can see in The Day of The Doctor.

Hooray, the day is saved! Gallifrey is tucked away in a pocket universe, full of lots of very alive Time Lords. Sadly, this didn’t last. The Master uncovered the truth about the Timeless Child and, in a rage, massacred the lot of them. So, they’re gone, as far as we know. 

What’s in store for the future of the Time Lords? Who knows! Right now we’re just interested in the fate of one particular Time Lord…


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