The Tragedy of a Time Lord

As humans, we count our age in years and measure cultural change in decades. Human civilization of any sort has existed a mere 5000 years. The species itself is 200,000 years old, give or take.

Gallifreyan civilization, on the other hand, can be measured in billions of years. They were building transmats before our evolutionary ancestors crawled from the primordial ooze. They can crush stars into black holes and contain them as power sources. And, of course, they’ve mastered time travel, a feat accomplished by very few other races in all of space and time.

It’s not so surprising, then, that the Doctor might be rudely dismissive of other people’s technology.

If we traveled a mere 50,000 years into the past, we would hardly be impressed by a well-designed arrow head. And no one would likely blame us for judging this prehistoric culture – devoid of writing, metal working, urban living and even the wheel – to be crude and simple.

Go Away Humans, Doctor WhoThe Doctor tries very hard to be egalitarian, but the fact is we’re billions of years behind the Time Lords. In their eyes, it’s as if we’ve just discovered fire. It’s going to take us another 9 million years just to invent a sonic screwdriver. So it’s not so surprising the Doctor sometimes feels the need to explain things slowly and with very small words.

The Doctor is Alone

Individual Gallifreyans live for millennia. At 2000 years, the Doctor is still fairly young. Yet had he lived those years on Earth, he would have witnessed the rise and fall of dozens of civilizations.

Humans are lucky to reach a century. From the perspective of a Time Lord, human life is fleeting, gone almost before it began. It’s easy to be callous concerning death and humanity since it naturally happens so frequently.

When humans become emotionally involved, it’s possible one will have to endure the death of the other. For a Time Lord, that’s a guarantee. To settle down among humans sets oneself up to witness the death of every friend, every child of those friends, every grandchild of those friends.

Doctor Who on a Swing with Little Girl

So the Doctor emotionally keeps his distance. No matter how fond he becomes of his companions, he never keeps them for more than a couple years. Rarely does he directly pitch them out, but there comes a time he stops working to keep them around.  Adventures in the TARDIS can be emotionally grueling. Eventually, nearly everyone finds a place to be more appealing than traveling with the Doctor.

Friendships are momentary distractions. Anything more offers a lifetime of pain. The Time War has just accentuated the situation, obliterating one of very few groups who understand the weight of time. It has certainly complicated his relationship with his arch enemy, the Master/Missy, the only other Time Lord in existence.

The Weight of Doing Good

The Time Lords recognize technology is a mixed blessing. In the wrong hands, advanced science can be catastrophic. They gave technological aid to a neighboring world, for example, only to watch them destroy themselves in a nuclear war.

Nor are the Time Lords immune to misusing knowledge. Rassilon, who invented time travel, also created the Time Scoop which snatched beings from time and space and placed them in the Death Zone where they were forced to fight to the death for the sake of entertainment.

And they understand the dangers of time travel. Ripples too easily become waves. Apparently simple choices can have far-reaching effects. Saving a person can shift the development of a civilization.

The Time Lords look at the universe in broad strokes. The Doctor looks at people individually. The Time Lords think of ramifications on a planetary scale, while the Doctor is more concerned about a single village or even a single person.

Misplaced or not, it’s a sense of duty that led the Time Lords to withdraw from the universe. They highly regulate time travel, using it primarily to witness history rather than change it.

And they stagnated.

This is the life into which the Doctor was born. He attended the Prydonian Academy, the most esteemed educational institution on Gallifrey. He likely could have done just about anything he wanted, but what he wanted was to be free.

So he stole a TARDIS (or the TARDIS stole him, depending who you ask) and left. The fact that he also brought his young granddaughter suggests something else might have also been amiss, but he’s never spoken of it.

He can talk dismissively of the Time Lords rigid adherence to rules, but the fact is he knows in detail the repercussions of casual time travel. He understands the reasons for those rules. Thus, he’s constantly torn between saving people in the here and now and making sure the future remains intact.

It’s easy to forget Doctor is not human. After all, he looks human, and he behaves mostly like a human. But his perspective is deeply alien, and it frequently manifests in behavior bizarre, callous or occasionally even cruel. Since the Time War, the emphasis has been on the loneliness of losing your people, but the fact is the Doctor has always been lonely.

Leave a Reply