The Seventies




The Time Lords, created by script editor Terrance Dicks and writer Malcolm Hulke at the tail end of the sixties, were to constitute one of the most important elements in Doctor Who's development during the seventies. Initially, however, very little was revealed about them. In their debut story, The War Games, they appeared only briefly, being presented as a mysterious and rather aloof race possessing awesome powers - including the power to exile the Doctor to Earth and transform his physical appearance. Nothing more was then seen of them until season eight's opening story, Terror of the Autons, when a Time Lord emissary dressed in a supposedly inconspicuous business suit, complete with bowler hat and brolly, materialized to warn the Doctor of the presence on Earth of another of their race - a renegade known only as the Master.

The introduction of a character like the Master was perhaps inevitable, given the new direction in which Doctor Who was being steered at this point in its history. Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts, when recalling how they came to devise the character, generally cite Sherlock Holmes's great adversary Moriarty as their chief inspiration. The concept of the arch-enemy goes back much further than Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's novels, however, and was firmly established in many of the genres and individual sources upon which Doctor Who drew in seasons seven and eight.

Take, for example, the spy/thriller genre, as typified by the popular James Bond films. Bond almost always finds himself pitted against some deranged yet brilliant super-criminal, intent on taking over or destroying the world by means of a fiendish - if highly convoluted and improbable - 'master plan'. The name and individual traits of the villain might change from film to film, but the character fulfils essentially the same function every time - to act as Bond's arch-enemy. Superheroes, too, need supervillains to battle against; and just as a superhero always has characteristic powers and special abilities, so too must his adversary. Batman, for instance, is aided by Robin, has the use of his utility belt, travels in the Batmobile and can call on the resources of the Batcave, while each of his regular foes - the Riddler, the Joker, the Penguin et al. - has his own particular special abilities and trademarks.

In early seventies Doctor Who, the Doctor is aided by Liz or by Jo, has the use of his electronic gadgets, travels in Bessie and can call on the resources of UNIT. He also has his own special powers and abilities: mastery of Venusian aikido; the ability to converse fluently in obscure dialects; a high resistance to G-forces; and even, in The Ambassadors of Death, the power to make an object vanish as if by magic and reappear a few minutes later, without any apparent technological aid! The Master, filling the previously vacant role of the Doctor's arch-enemy/supervillain, quickly establishes some of his own trademarks: the use of a matter-condensing gun; the power to hypnotize people and force them to do things against their will; and the expert use of disguises.

The Master's name is itself evocative of similar characters in other series, such as Batman's aforementioned adversaries and Adam Adamant's recurring foe, the Face; and it had been used once before in Doctor Who, for the mysterious controller of the Land of Fiction in the season six story The Mind Robber. As Letts and Dicks recall, however, their main reason for choosing this name was that, in common with the Doctor's, it corresponded to an academic qualification.

The only humanoid villain to have appeared in more than one story prior to the introduction of the Master had been the Time Meddler - also a member of the Doctor's own race. He however had been a very different type of character, motivated by a mischievous sense of fun and a desire to 'improve' the course of history rather than by a genuinely evil disposition. A much closer antecedent to the Master in terms of character traits can be found in The War Games in the person of the War Chief, an evil renegade Time Lord cynically exploiting his alien 'allies' as part of a callous scheme to gain power for himself - something the Master would also attempt in stories such as Terror of the Autons, The Claws of Axos and The Sea Devils.

The Doctor's relationship with the War Chief was quite different from those with his previous adversaries. The two Time Lords were seen to discuss the pros and cons of their situation in an academic, almost detached manner, and for once the Doctor appeared to regard his opponent as an intellectual equal. When the War Chief tried to strike a bargain, offering the Doctor a half-share of power in return for his help, viewers were left with serious doubts as to what the Doctor's reply would be. This curious rapport - an indefinable bond, perhaps, between two members of the same race, outcast amongst lesser beings - was also very apparent between the Doctor and the Master. The Doctor seemed actually to relish each new encounter with his arch-enemy, admitting at the end of Terror of the Autons that he was 'almost looking forward to it'.

While the War Chief can be regarded as a direct forerunner of the Master in terms of his motivation and his relationship with the Doctor, the War Lord - another character in the influential season six story The War Games - was a much closer parallel in terms of appearance, with his bearded, saturnine countenance and his plain black suit, complete with Nehru-style high-collared jacket. The hypnotic powers displayed by the War Lord's race, the Aliens, similarly foreshadowed those of the Master.

Quite apart from fulfilling the function of an arch-enemy, the Master also provided the series' production team with a means of lending credibility to a situation - a rapid succession of seemingly unconnected threats to Earth's security - which would otherwise have become increasingly unbelievable. All the various alien invasion attempts presented in season eight were seen to be due purely to the Master's intervention, and the Master's interest in Earth due mainly to the Doctor's own presence there. The workability of the exile scenario was thus preserved, although at the cost of a certain degree of predictability in the stories. The production team realized that viewers would eventually lose patience with the inclusion of the Master as the major villain in every story and with the long list of alien beings seemingly queuing up to attack the Earth. They therefore decided to limit the Master to one or two appearances per season in future and to move the series away from a totally Earth-bound setting.

To achieve this latter aim they had the Doctor undertaking a series of missions for the Time Lords, during the course of which a little more was learned about the race. In The Three Doctors, they were even seen to be vulnerable to attack, albeit by one of their own kind - namely Omega, the stellar engineer who had originally given them the power they needed for time travel. In this story, too, they were portrayed as a technocratic race, heavily reliant on science for their position of power. They were also shown to have a hierarchy, with a President and a Chancellor taking charge of the emergency - an emergency which they feared might leave them as vulnerable as those they were 'pledged to protect', a rather surprising sentiment for a race supposedly committed to a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other planets. Still however The Three Doctors failed to reveal any great detail about Time Lord society, leaving a residual air of mystery surrounding them. In fact, it was not until season eleven's opening story, The Time Warrior, that viewers finally learned the name of their home planet, Gallifrey (slightly amended from Galfrey in writer Robert Holmes's original script).

The first season of the fourth Doctor's era added little to the previously established history of the Time Lords, although a single emissary did appear to the Doctor at the beginning of Genesis of the Daleks to assign him the task of attempting to alter the Daleks' future. The following two seasons, however, provided fresh insights which shed a whole new light on the matter.

The season thirteen story The Brain of Morbius gave an indication of what was to come by casting further doubt on the original view of the Time Lords as invulnerable, near-immortal beings. It exposed their reliance on a substance known as the Elixir of Life to get them through difficult regenerations and revealed that revolutionaries under the leadership of the renegade Morbius had recently attempted to overthrow their rulers and reverse their policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other worlds.

It was season fourteen's The Deadly Assassin, however, which really overturned viewers' previous impressions. This story, the first to be set entirely on Gallifrey, gave its writer and script editor Robert Holmes an opportunity to present his own revisionist interpretation of Time Lord life. Holmes's view was of a race gone to seed, more concerned with protocol and rituals than with the science which had made them so powerful in the first place. Their superior knowledge appeared to have allowed them to slip into complacency as they spent their time worrying about petty politics rather than the affairs of the rest of the Universe.

'I'd noticed,' said Holmes, 'that over the years they had produced quite a few galactic lunatics - the Meddling Monk, the Master, Omega and Morbius. How did this square with the notion that the Time Lords were an omnipotent bunch of do-gooders? Could it be that this notion had been put about by the Time Lords themselves?'

After the death of actor Roger Delgado in 1973, it had seemed unlikely that the Master would ever again cross paths with the Doctor. In The Deadly Assassin, however, he did return, albeit in a much-altered form. Although he retained his cunning and guile, and his penchant for the grand scheme, his veneer of charm had gone. Nearing the end of his natural life, having used up all twelve of his regenerations (the first time this limit had been revealed), he was now a twisted parody of his former self. His body was emaciated and blackened, the result of a terrible accident on the planet Tersurus, and he was clinging to life only by virtue of his amazing willpower and his hatred of the Time Lords - and especially of the Doctor. This depiction allowed the production team to resurrect the character in a way which would minimize audience resistance while at the same time leaving open the possibility of a proper regeneration at a later date - something which would eventually happen in the early eighties.

The Time Lord system of government as depicted in The Deadly Assassin seemed to have its basis both in scholastic and in religious organizations. Beneath the President and the Chancellor were the Cardinals, the heads of the Time Lord chapters, three of which - the Prydonians, the Patrexes and the Arcalians - were specifically named in the story. Each of the different chapters was distinguishable by the colours of its ceremonial robes: orange and scarlet for the Prydonians, green for the Arcalians and heliotrope for the Patrexes. The Doctor was revealed to be a Prydonian - apparently the most important and influential of the chapters, having provided more Presidents than all the others put together. The true seat of power, however, seemingly rested within the High Council, a body on which the most high-ranking of the Cardinals sat. Also mentioned was a shady organization known as the Celestial Intervention Agency, which had apparently been responsible for sending the Doctor on his earlier missions.

Other ranks of Time Lords seen in the story included the Castellan, an official responsible for law and order who was in command of the force of Chancellery guards, and the Co-ordinator, whose duties were akin to those of a librarian, watching over the APC Net and the Matrix - the repository of all the knowledge and experience of deceased Time Lords. Hints were also dropped that there were other, more lowly classes of Gallifreyans who were not themselves Time Lords.

Such was the extent of the Time Lords' degeneration, as Robert Holmes saw it, that they had even lost interest in their own history. The Sash of Rassilon and the Great Key of Rassilon, which they had considered merely symbolic regalia of the Time Lord President, were discovered by the Doctor to be, in truth, highly important pieces of technology giving access to the Eye of Harmony, a device - situated below the Capitol's ceremonial meeting hall, the Panopticon - which held stable the core of a black hole and thereby acted as the source of all the Time Lords' power. Rassilon, like Omega before him, was described as a legendary figure from the dawn of Gallifreyan civilization who had been responsible for providing the key to time travel.

The season-fifteen story Underworld gave viewers a little more information about Time Lord history, explaining in the process the reason for their non-interventionist policies. It was revealed that they had once aided a race called the Minyans by giving them the technology with which to build an advanced society. The Minyans had treated the Time Lords as gods, but had been insufficiently advanced to cope with the new abilities they had been given. Using those gifts to create powerful weapons, they had ultimately destroyed themselves in a cataclysmic war. The Time Lords had consequently vowed that from that time onwards they would never again interfere in the affairs of other races.

It was in The Invasion of Time, the story which immediately followed Underworld, that the Time Lords themselves were next seen. This story essentially confirmed the Robert Holmes view of Gallifreyan society, while at the same time adding a number of new elements. One of those was a female Time Lord, Rodan, who - with the exception of the Doctor's grand-daughter, Susan - was the first female Gallifreyan ever to be seen in the series. Rodan was a very junior Time Lord, whose responsibilities included monitoring the approach of spaceships to Gallifrey and controlling the transduction force field barriers which protected the planet from possible invasion. Another important addition was that of a group of Gallifreyans who had turned their backs on their former comfortable lifestyle and now lived a more primitive existence in the wastelands outside the Capitol.

Season sixteen introduced a number of important new elements to Doctor Who. The Doctor's search for the Key to Time was initiated by the White Guardian, a being representing the forces of order, who was implied to be in an eternal power-struggle with the opposing Black Guardian, representing the forces of chaos. The Guardians were created by producer Graham Williams essentially to meet the series' need for a new race of powerful, omniscient beings - a role vacated by the now-flawed Time Lords. One of the White Guardian's actions at the start of the season was to give the Doctor his first Time Lord assistant, in the person of the brilliant yet inexperienced Romana.

The seventies would have ended with the disclosure of further details of Time Lord history had it not been for the abandonment of season seventeen's final production, Shada, due to industrial action at the BBC. The eighties, however, would see many more facts revealed about the Doctor's people and home planet as they continued to play a central role in Doctor Who's evolution.

Seventies pic
A photograph taken at the launch signing for The Seventies With Jon Pertwee. L to R: David J Howe, Jon Pertwee, 'friend', Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker.