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Timothy Dalton as Rassilon, plus Time Lords, in The End Of Time

Of all the races to have paraded across our screens in Doctor Who, few are as often rhapsodised over as the Time Lords of Gallifrey (apart from the humans of Earth, of course, they get an amazingly good press), and few let down that praise as comprehensively. It’s not that they’re evil-minded as such, but they’re aristocratic and stuffy, they’re fantastically up themselves, theirs is a hidebound, rigid society, and on recent form, they’re also prone to grumpiness and spitting while they yell.

And in the same sense that you should never trust internet technicians that insist on calling themselves ‘webmasters’, there’s something about their self-elevated status as ‘Time Lords’ which suggest excessive haughtiness. They may have set up a strict code forbidding them from meddling with the affairs of non-Time Lord peoples – the First Law, that the Doctor has broken by pinching a TARDIS and meddling with the affairs of others – it always comes across more that they’re worried about soiling their hands with the affairs of inferior beings than puncturing the fabric of time itself.

Here’s their first appearance, sentencing the Doctor to exile on Earth, and forcing a regeneration in the process:

The annoying aspect of all this high-handedness is they’re not above using the Doctor (or the Master) as hired hands when there’s some meddling work to be done. Like sending the Fourth Doctor back to Skaro to prevent the invention of the Daleks, or that business with the Key To Time, which required the Doctor to drop Sarah Jane off and hunt down six pieces of a temporal jigsaw puzzle. And then the Fifth Doctor was split into his various previous incarnations by a Time Lord, requiring interference from the Master to sort it all out. Not that he DID, but that was the plan:

And then the Sixth Doctor was put on trial, and all of his recent actions questioned and challenged.

You’ll notice that the first thing he is charged with is “conduct unbecoming a Time Lord.” Further proof of their lofty self-image, and proof that the qualities that make the Doctor special are not inherited, or even encouraged.

Of course, since then there’s been the Time War, a battle to the death between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and since the Daleks are clearly the baddies, and the Time Lords joined the Doctor in fighting them, this must mean the Time Lords are the goodies, right? Well, sort of. It’s a war, bad things happen in a war, and even the Doctor comes out a changed man.

In the end it’s their need to stand above all things, their cold passion for supremacy, that makes them rotters. When Rassilon discovers he can use the Master to pull Gallifrey out of the timelocked war, allowing all of the various atrocities to spill out all over the Earth, he damns all humankind without a second thought, all for the resurrected glory of his home planet.

Which is exactly the sort of thing the Daleks would do.

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By Fraser McAlpine