Doctor Who Season 12 Episode 10: What Gallifrey’s History Reveals About the Finale

With Gallifrey once again central to a Doctor Who finale, here's a refresher on the evolving history of the Doctor's home planet...

Doctor Who Season 12 Episode 2
Photo: BBC

“They lied to us. The founding fathers of Gallifrey. Everything we were told is a lie. We are not who we think, you or I. The whole existence of our species is built on the lie of The Timeless Child. Do you see it? It’s buried deep in all our memories, in our identity.” – The Master, “Spyfall, Part 2

The Doctor Who season 12 finale is nigh, and we’re going back to Gallifrey! The planet where they like their snow globes like they like their collars – huge! And apparently everything you knew was a lie. Which for the Doctor is a massive, haunting revelation that will shake her very hearts, but for the rest of us has us scratching our heads and saying “What do we know about Gallifrey?”

Gallifrey is one of the most mysterious places in the entire Whoniverse, and yet our guide, the person who normally unravels these mysteries for us, has little to no interest in doing so. Plenty of companions have asked, sometimes repeatedly, to be taken to the Doctor’s world, and the Doctor always refuses, either because they’re on the run, or the deeply xenophobic planet is closed to visitors, or because they have recently angered the planet’s powers-that-be again, or the planet’s been destroyed but mainly, mainly, because with an entire universe at their disposal the Doctor would rather go literally anywhere else.

A Brief History of Not Knowing Anything About Gallifrey

Originally the show felt the same way. While in the original pilot episode Susan revealed she and the Doctor came from “the 49th century” the line was cut by the time the episode was reshot for broadcast. The Doctor says he and Susan are simply from “another place, another time” and leaves it at that. A mystery piled on top of the mystery of “Doctor who?” Viewers didn’t need to know any more than that once the series got going – the Doctor was a mysterious traveler, he had adventures, and when the adventure was done he went to the next adventure. Indeed, there were plenty of fans who would have been outraged at the idea of revealing the Doctor’s home planet. What next? Giving the Joker a detailed origin story?

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Over the years that followed, we only saw one of the Doctor’s people (whoever they may be – they had no name yet), traveling in a TARDIS just like the Doctor’s own (which raised eyebrows among people who’d heard him say he invented it), and learned more about the Doctor. We discovered his lifespan was measured in centuries, and that he could renew himself, changing his physical appearance (not to mention clothes).

But it wasn’t until Patrick Troughton’s final serial, “The War Games,” that things get so bad that the Doctor is forced to call upon his people for help, and for the first time we hear the name “Time Lords”.

The Doctor: Well, the Time Lords are an immensely civilized race. We can control our own environment, we can live forever, barring accidents, and we have the secret of space-time travel.

Jamie: Well, what’s so wrong in all that?

The Doctor: Well, we hardly ever use our great powers. We consent simply to observe and to gather knowledge.

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Zoe: And that wasn’t enough for you?

The Doctor: No, of course not. With a whole galaxy to explore? Millions of planets, eons of time, countless civilizations to meet?

Once the Pandora’s Box is opened, writers kept going back for more. Over the following decades, the Doctor’s world gets a name, Gallifrey. While our first view of the Doctor’s homeworld saw the Time Lords in monochrome robes on a world of shiny walkways against shadowy backgrounds, we would return to the planet several times, showing us an ancient, moribund world, the sort of place to have countless Great Halls and not a single videogame arcade.

The new series brought back some of the mystery to the planet by blowing it up (despite the fact it had already been blown up in a totally separate war in the books), but by the Tenth Doctor, he was waxing lyrical about his old homestead.

“Ah, you should have seen it, that old planet. The second sun would rise in the south and the mountains would shine. The leaves on the trees were silver. When they caught the light every morning it looked like a forest on fire.”

Since then Gallifrey has come back, twice, and been destroyed again, and this is only covering what’s happened on screen. Through the books, comics and audio adventures Gallifrey has a rich and self-contradictory history.

So the big question is: How much of that is going to be relevant in the series 12 finale?

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The Founding Fathers

Let’s go back to the Master’s big ominous speech.

“They lied to us. The founding fathers of Gallifrey. Everything we were told is a lie. We are not who we think, you or I. The whole existence of our species is built on the lie of The Timeless Child. Do you see it? It’s buried deep in all our memories, in our identity.”

Now before we get into anything else I just want to say: Please, please, for love of Rassilon, don’t let Gallifrey turn out to have been Earth all along. I don’t think they’re going to go that way, but I want that out there and in print.

“The founding fathers”, “We are not who we think”, “The whole existence of our species is built on” – It’s pretty clear that whatever this big revelation is, it goes back to the very foundation of Gallifreyan civilization. Which is an area we actually already know something about.

The founding fathers are most likely Omega and Rassilon.

Omega

For those not up on their Who lore, Omega was first introduced in “The Three Doctors” as the Time Lord responsible for developing a way to create supernovas that would give Time Lords enough power to travel through time. It was an act that resulted in him being stranded in an “Anti-Matter Universe” and, as is the way with these things, sent him murderously insane.

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His invention, the Hand of Omega, is potentially the reason (one of the reasons) the Doctor left Gallifrey. The Doctor had the Hand stowed aboard his TARDIS when he landed in London, 1963, and left it there until his seventh incarnation, who returned to trick the Daleks into using it to send Skaro’s star supernova (Skaro has been destroyed and reconstituted, lost and found almost as often as Gallifrey).

Rassilon

After Omega, the biggest of Time Lord big wigs is Rassilon. Variously known as an engineer and architect, the first true Time Lord, and the High President of Gallifreyan society, he helped convert Omega’s supernova into the Eye of Harmony, the black hole that is the source of Time Lord power, and of basically creating regeneration. The Eye of Harmony (which, oddly, seems to exist both on Gallifrey and at the heart of every TARDIS) is, basically the foundation of everything that makes Time Lords Time Lords. If there is a dark secret at the heart(s) of Time Lord history, it’s probably there.

Rassilon was one of the Time Lords, alongside the Master, brought back from the dead to fight the Time War, played by Timothy Dalton, the only man to play James Bond and a Time Lord (throw that in your fan theory cooker and see what comes out).

Now it has to be said that while he’s viewed in somewhat messianic on Gallifrey, his appearances in the TV show and various spin-off media have always depicted Rassilon as a bit of a bastard. He’s been variously accused of killing Omega for being too popular, of being responsible for the genocide of various other alien species, wiping out huge portions of the Gallifreyan population, of deliberately botching regeneration technology so that only he could be immortal, and of course, in his Tim Dalton incarnation, literally trying to destroy the entire universe.

Basically, I’m saying if there is a terrible crime at the dawn of Time Lord civilization, the suspect list isn’t exactly long.

Rassilon was last seen on telly being kicked off Gallifrey by the Twelfth Doctor, although interestingly, in the comics he comes back to the Time Lord homeworld at the head of a Cyberman army…

“The Other”

Now we’re going to step into far murkier waters. During the Seventh Doctor period of the show, script editor Andrew Cartmel helped to put together what would become known to fans as “The Cartmel Master Plan”. The point in this plan was to return to the mystery of the Doctor, mark him out as more than “just another Time Lord”.

Of course, then the series got canceled, and the episode that would have seen most of this plan come to fruition, set in the Doctor’s creepy ancestral home on Gallifrey, was completely reworked into the (still incredibly frickin’ weird) story, Ghostlight. (The original plans for the episode were eventually written as the novel, Lungbarrow. Second-hand paperbacks of that book currently retail on Amazon for around £995)

Elements of this plan that made it to the screen included the Doctor, talking about the Hand of Omega’s creation, saying, “… and didn’t we have trouble with the prototype”, then sheepishly changing this to “they” when asked about it.

In the Virgin New Adventures novels, these ideas crystalize into the idea of “The Other”, a third Time Lord alongside Omega and Rassilon, who the Doctor is a reincarnation of.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a mysterious past version of the Doctor bouncing around.

Now we’re not suggesting Chris Chibnall is straight up going to make the Cartmel plan canon, but the Cartmel period of the show is a definite influence on this season. The deep continuity dives, the building up of mystery, and of course, the frequent heavy-handed political metaphors (not a criticism, I love a heavy-handed political metaphor I do).

If Chibnall is drawing inspiration from Cartmel, then it’s worth noting that Cartmel’s plan was never about explaining the Doctor but creating more mystery around him (Even more than that question mark-covered woolly jumper).

What I’m saying is, if you’re expecting the series 12 finale episode to answer all your questions, you could be in for a disappointing time.

Read our review of series 12’s penultimate episode, “Ascension of the Cybermen,” here.