Gallifrey at War

As an addendum to my Brief History of Gallifrey, which is based solely on Doctor Who’s original 1963-1989 run on the BBC, I present a short synopsis of what was revealed during the tenure of erstwhile show-runner Russell T. Davies about the cataclysmic Time War, the events of which occurred between the original series and its 2005 revival.


After regenerating into his eighth incarnation, the enigmatic time-traveler known only as the Doctor is summoned back to his home planet of Gallifrey, for his people, the Time Lords, have gone to war with the Daleks, a murderous race considered the greatest threat to all living beings throughout the universe. Since the Daleks have finally perfected their own version of time-travel technology, the ensuing conflict takes the form of a “Time War.”

As the Time War begins, the Daleks suddenly vanish out of time and space, leaving only their fearsome reputation behind.1 This places a great strain on the time-continuum, which the Time Lords alleviate by sealing the entire Time War inside an impenetrable “bubble” called a time-lock. It also limits the collateral damage from their warfare to lifeforms that are considered “time-sensitives.”2 The Sontarans, despite their well-earned reputation as warriors, are excluded from participation in the Time War.3

Seeing the necessity of ending the threat of the Daleks, and hopeful that some good will ultimately come from the conflict, the Doctor fights on the front lines of the Time War. However, he is sickened by the carnage he witnesses during a battle known as the Fall of Arcadia. Unfortunately, the war leaves him no time to reflect or come to terms with what he is experiencing.4

In the very first year of the Time War, the prime Dalek command ship is destroyed when it flies into the jaws of a creature known as the Nightmare Child at a point in space called the Gates of Elysium. The Doctor is present and tries to save his old enemy Davros, creator of the Daleks, but fails. However, unknown to either side, Davros is rescued by a Dalek who has traveled from the future and broken through the time-lock at the cost of his sanity. Learning from his savior that the war will eventually exterminate both the Daleks and the Time Lords, Davros goes into hiding and begins growing a new race of Daleks from the cells of his own body.5

With the loss of Davros, the Daleks appoint leaders from among their own ranks, known variously as the Supreme Dalek or the Emperor Dalek. Certain Dalek strategists begin to suspect that the loss of Davros has left them at a disadvantage in the war, due to the Time Lords’ unpredictable emotional responses, which the Daleks lack.

Hoping to press their advantage, the Time Lords “resurrect” the Master, believing him to be the perfect warrior for the Time War.6 As the Trakenite body he had been inhabiting was corrupted by a mutation that clouded his mind with animalistic savagery, the Master is granted a new Gallifreyan body, complete with a new set of twelve regenerations, and sent into battle. The Master initially goes along with his conscription, looking for a way to turn the entire situation to his advantage.

After one particularly intense battle, a single Dalek is somehow blasted through the time-lock and hurtles down the time vortex until eventually crash-landing on the planet Earth in the 20th century. Its armor badly damaged and its weaponry useless, the Dalek is made the prisoner of a succession of humans over the years to follow.7

As the Time War rages on, the physical forms of the Gelth are destroyed, leaving their entire population trapped in a gaseous state. They begin searching for a way to regain solid bodies.8

At some point, the Daleks develop their technology so as to use the background radiation of the time vortex as a power supply.9 This makes them more formidable than ever, and they attack the Time Lords with renewed vigor.

Unbeknownst to the Doctor, Time Lord engineers create a transdimensionally-engineered prison ship in which millions of Daleks are incarcerated.10 They hope that this more humane solution will allow the Time Lords to salvage some of their lofty principles after the war is won.

However, out of a growing sense of desperation, the High Council of the Time Lords votes to awaken the first and greatest Time Lord in history, Rassilon, from his eons of suspended animation. Upon his emergence from his tomb at the center of the Death Zone, Rassilon is reinstated as their Lord President.

The resuscitation process causes Rassilon to regenerate, though unfortunately, his latest incarnation is even more power-mad and vengeful than his previous one was. These flaws were the reason the Time Lords had sentenced him to perpetual suspended animation in the first place, but the High Council now believes they will be an advantage against the Daleks.

Over the objections of the other councilors, Rassilon brings forward in time a half-mad soothsayer known as the Visionary to advise him on his conduct of the Time War. To the consternation of all present, she predicts that the war will end with the destruction of both sides.11

After Rassilon wins a succession of devastating battles against the Daleks, a secret order of Daleks known as the Cult of Skaro is created. They are genetically engineered to possess emotions and to have a sense of individuality so that they may think as their enemies think and thereby negate the Time Lords’ strategic advantage. Existing independently of the authority of the Dalek Emperor, the members of the Cult of Skaro even go so far as to adopt individual names. The Doctor eventually hears legends of their existence, to which he lends little credence.12

The Nestene Consciousness loses its food stocks when its protein planets are destroyed. The Doctor attempts to save the homeworld of the Nestene Consciousness, but ultimately fails.13

When the Master witnesses the Dalek Emperor taking control of the Cruciform, he becomes so frightened that he deserts the war, fleeing to the veritable end of the universe, near the year 100 trillion as humans reckon time. He uses a Chameleon Arch to change himself into a human being so neither the Time Lords nor the Daleks will be able to find him.14 The Master’s time capsule is able to penetrate the time-lock, but it is destroyed in the process.

The Master, now in human form, is found naked and alone on the coast of the Silver Devastation. He has no memory of his true identity and his only possession is an unassuming “fob watch,” which contains the essence of his Time Lord self. Barely aware of the fob watch due to its perception filter, he assumes the name “Yana” and becomes a scientist, eventually growing into an old man.15

After the Master’s desertion, both the Time Lords and the Daleks resort to increasingly horrific measures in an attempt to gain any advantage in the Time War. Among the abominations unleashed in battle are the Skaro Degredations, the Horde of Travesties, and the Could-Have-Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres. The Doctor soon realizes the area within the time-lock is turning into Hell. Though at its outer edges the Time Lords can conduct business as usual, at the heart of the time-lock millions of combatants die every second, lost in bloodlust and insanity, only to be continually resurrected by time itself to face death again and again.16

The Doctor realizes he is the only one who can end the war. As such, he tries everything he can think of to bring this about. Sadly, his heroic efforts come to naught.17

As the inevitable end of the Time War approaches, four members of the Cult of Skaro capture one of the Time Lord prison ships and escape with it into the Void, the area of null-space that exists between dimensions, so that their race might survive the coming armageddon.18

Rassilon finally decides the only way to win the war is to bring about the end of time itself, an apocalypse he believes the Time Lords can survive by abandoning their corporeal forms to become cosmic entities of pure consciousness. Learning of this plan, the Doctor is forced to accept that the Time War has changed his people right to the core, corrupted them, and made them more dangerous to life in the universe than any of the enemies he has fought in the past. He decides that he must do whatever it takes to stop them.

The Doctor slips away in the TARDIS. Members of the High Council realize he is gone, but a quick search turns up nothing. They are aware that he still “possesses the moment” and fear he may use it to end the war, destroying Time Lords and Daleks alike.

The High Council of the Time Lords meets in special session on the day the Visionary has foreseen will be the last of their existence. The Chancellor shares with Rassilon one further prophecy from the Visionary, which suggests that the Doctor and the Master will somehow both survive the war and continue their personal conflict into the future, with the planet Earth as its focal point. Inspired, Rassilon hatches a plan to enable Gallifrey to escape the time-lock, and thus its imminent doom, by forming a psychic link to the Master’s mind that extends beyond the time-lock’s beginning and end.

The Time Lords send a signal back to the moment when the young Master first looked into the Untempered Schism — a rhythm of four beats that echoes the heartbeat of a Time Lord. (This ever-present “drumbeat” would prove to be a major contributing factor to the Master’s psychopathic tendencies as he grew older.) Then, to make the link a physical one, Rassilon removes a large diamond — a “white-point star” — from the head of his scepter and hurls it to Earth in the early 21st century, where he knows the Master will find it. Predictably, the (future) Master uses the white-point star diamond to open a conduit through the time-lock, planning to conquer the Time Lords as part of his latest scheme. Meanwhile, Rassilon addresses the full Time Lord council, having them vote on whether the Time Lords should accept their destruction or escape into the future to complete his plan to win the war. The council votes with Rassilon nearly unanimously — only two among them dissent. Angered, Rassilon commands both dissenters to assume a stance of shame. Along with two councilors, Rassilon leads the dissenters to the mouth of the conduit to confront the Master and the Doctor of the future.

Outside the time tunnel, the (tenth) Doctor convinces the (future) Master that the Time Lords must not be allowed to escape from the time-lock, for they will merely unleash untold horrors upon the universe before destroying it completely. Thus, the friends-turned-enemies join forces one last time. The (tenth) Doctor destroys the white-point star, causing the conduit to collapse, as the (future) Master attacks Rassilon and drives him back into the warp as it closes. Though Gallifrey itself had begun to materialize right next to the Earth, as the conduit closes it is drawn back into the warp, reverting to its previous location in time and space.19

Shocked to see Gallifrey beginning to dematerialize, and feeling he no longer has any choice, the (eighth) Doctor initiates the destruction of the Dalek fleet. In one second, ten million Dalek warships burn up, exterminating the entire Dalek race.20

As the Daleks die in the Doctor’s inferno, one ship manages to slip through the time-lock while it is weakened by the (future) Master’s meddling. It hurtles through time, a crippled hulk, until coming to rest near Earth circa the year 200,000. The last surviving Dalek conceives a plan to recreate his species using human tissue as a basis.21

Amidst the inferno, the planet Gallifrey is destroyed just as it rematerializes, reduced to rocks and dust adrift in space. Every remaining Time Lord is killed except the Doctor. Isolated from the conflagration aboard the TARDIS, he is the sole survivor.22

The process of destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords grievously injures the Doctor, causing him to regenerate into his ninth incarnation. His new physical appearance is affected by his emotional trauma, and he becomes a gaunt, intense figure with his hair shorn in mourning.23

For a time, the TARDIS drifts aimlessly in space as the Doctor grieves. With the destruction of Gallifrey, his whole family has been wiped out. He realizes the Laws of Time prevent him from saving any of them.24 The inferno has also badly damaged the interior of the TARDIS, forcing the Doctor to make extensive repairs.

Eventually, the Doctor resumes wandering the universe in the TARDIS, though he is now completely alone.25


1 27.13 “The Parting of the Ways”
2 27.3 “The Unquiet Dead”
3 30.5 “The Sontaran Strategem”
4 28.14 “Doomsday”
5 30.13 “The Stolen Earth”
6 29.13 “The Sound of Drums”
7 27.6 “Dalek”
8 27.3 “The Unquiet Dead”
9 28.14 “Doomsday”
10 ibid
11 30.18 “The End of Time”
12 28.14 “Doomsday”
13 27.1 “Rose”
14 29.13 “The Sound of Drums”
15 29.12 “Utopia”
16 30.18 “The End of Time”
17 29.13 “The Sound of Drums”
18 28.14 “Doomsday”
19 30.18 “The End of Time”
20 27.6 “Dalek”
21 27.13 “The Parting of the Ways”
22 27.2 “The End of the World”
23 27.1 “Rose”
24 27.8 “Father’s Day”
25 27.2 “The End of the World”

1 comment:

Tony said...

The Time War is referenced obliquely in part two of “The Madwoman in the Attic,” a 2009 episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. The extermination of another race of time-sensitives is described.