Doctor Who and Gallifrey

I’m fairly new to the whole Doctor Who series, but from what I understand, the Doctor’s home planet and all other (known) members of his race have been destroyed. Also, the Doctor seems to have some sort of angst about this (wasn’t he the cause of/involved in/unable to stop said destruction?).

My question is: seeing as the whole point of being a “Time Lord” and having a contraption like the TARDIS is that you can go to whenever and wherever in time, has it ever been explained why the Doctor can’t just go back to when Gallifrey wasn’t all blown up? Also, seeing as (I assume) other members of his kind probably travel thru time as well, why shouldn’t it be very possible that other Time Lords are out there in different times? If there was some kind of thing about how it completely disappeared from all of space-time, then doesn’t that make the Doctor just about the biggest paradox ever?

As for many things pop-culture, Wikipedia has a good article on the Time War of the Doctor Who Universe.

Doctor Who doesn’t really do big technobabble explanations for the issues time travel. Where Star Trek tried to create a consistent fictional basis for their technology, Doctor Who pretty much goes with “This sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. A [del]wizard[/del] Time Lord did it.” They throw out things like “Blinovich limitation” and “fluid link” when they have to, but they don’t dwell on it.

WRT Gallifrey, there’s been no direct explanation for why the Doctor can’t go back to antebellum Gallifrey, but it’s pretty clear he can’t. It’s been more-or-less implied that Gallifrey and the other Time Lords were erased from existence. We know he can’t go back to the Time War itself because it’s been “time locked.” We also know that he can’t change the history of the War because some things in time are “in flux” and others are “fixed points in time” that cannot be altered. It is unclear whether these rules are natural and inviolable laws, practical technological problems, or even moral/cultural taboos. Sometimes the Doctor implies that the “laws of time travel” CAN’T be broken, sometimes that the Time Lords will punish him for breaking them (in the old series), sometimes he breaks them with impunity and sometimes he breaks them and Very Bad Things happen.

The Doctor has told us (well, Rose) that he personally destroyed Gallifrey and all the other Time Lords because it was the only way to wipe out the Daleks. Since the Daleks seem not to have suffered much of a setback from being wiped out of existence, it’s not too surprising the Doctor’s a bit angsty.

FYI, if you’re new to the series, you should be aware that there a lot of major spoilers that center on this topic. I’ve tried hard not to reveal anything (besides the complete non-secret of the Daleks’ continued survival) but others might not be so careful.

I don’t mind being spoiled. Seeing the event as it actually unfolds is always worth it, even if you know what happens at the end. Also, seeing as I tend to research things once I decide I like them, I tend to “spoil” myself on a regular basis. However, despite my reading, I hadn’t yet found a answer to my questions, and was wondering if there was something I had missed or wasn’t recorded but was known.

Thanks for the answers so far!

In the novels that predated the television revival (and have even been an inspiration for some of the series), the Eighth Doctor was forced to wipe out Gallifrey and the Time Lords retroactively. This was actually a different destruction of Gallifrey that is in the series (RTD acknowledged that the series Time War is different from the books’ Paradox War in one of the BBC Annuals), but the Time Lords were removed from history except for a couple occasional surprise appearances. It’s possible that something similar happened here.

Hello! I’ll throw my whole three and a half years of exposure to old Who behind this and say that Gallifrey is meant to have been set apart inside a protective ‘time bubble’ of the earliest Timelords’ creation (I believe this is what’s so poetically termed the ‘transduction barrier’).

As they had gained mastery over time, it was important that the Gallifreyans’ own past not be altered, which would create terrible paradoxes, so they used this mastery to set their planet apart in a protected bubble of linear time which was present throughout the entire course of the external universe. Anything of Gallifreyan origin could re-enter (with codes and approval) during any era and only linear time would have passed within to match its/their leave of absence.

There was a fourth doctor story in which the barrier was breached, but I’m pretty sure that was done from within.

As for the time war:

[spoiler]I assume the Daleks were able to invade Gallifrey by a similar internal breach. The Timelords recalled their own and waged desperate war against total Dalek forces, but eventually the only option remaining was self sacrifice. Their protective barrier became their last weapon. However, if the barrier was collapsed and everything within burned, it would not only destroy the Daleks, but, because of their set-apart timeline, erase the Timelords from history.

The loss of Gallifrey would affect the course of the universe in minor ways (because they had observed strict neutrality, mostly), victorious Daleks, however, would have gone on to conquer everything. So the Doctor pushed the button but was outside the barrier and survived, though he arguably lost his 8th life around this time, and became the last and only Timelord in existence.

The rest of the universe was affected to some degree by paradoxes and altered history. Whispers of Timelords and sure knowledge of Daleks and their mysterious absence would still exist. For a while.[/spoiler]

Also, one of the tenets of this show is that The Doctor cannot revisit his own past.

Right. Absolutely not. Except, of course, when he does.

TV Sci/fi Theorem: As the number of unused storylines approaches zero, Any unalterable law of physics gains a smaller value of unalterability.

Not exactly. There are just potential problems if he meets himself and especially if the two versions touch. But in, say, “Time-Flight,” the Fifth Doctor was specifically in the same time period as the Third Doctor (he contacts UNIT to confirm his identity) with no problems.

Not that he hasn’t met himself, but so far I don’t believe he’s met himself in the same regeneration. The closest was in “Father’s Day,” where all hell broke loose because Rose made a change in the past while there was a second time-traveling version of her in the same location. But the two versions of the Doctor only observed events and didn’t interact.

But the rules for the Doctor have always changed. There were supposed to only be 12 regenerations, but the Master is way past that. The TARDIS originally could not be controlled and visited randomly; that stopped after a few seasons. It also could not go back to a location where it had previously been (specifically stated as a plot point in “The Chase”), but that was given up. Of course, the TARDIS was broken when the Doctor took it, so maybe he made repairs.

For meetings, I can think of “The Three Doctors,” “The Five Doctors,” “The Two Doctors,” and the Christmas special short where Ten met Five. I think there were explanations of the special case as to why the Doctor was able to meet himself.

I agree that Gallifrey’s history must be “time locked” - I take that to mean set in stone, so free of both intervention, visitation and random fluxes in time. After all, how many times has Earth’s history been on the brink of a complete and total rewrite?

But this doesn’t explain why timelords from different parts of Gallifrey time (G-time? Can I patent that?) can’t meet up in normal time (N-time? No, that sounds too much like N-space. Real time, then?). In fact, I’m pretty sure this happens. Correct me if I’m wrong, but WAAY back, during the 1st Doctor’s years, didn’t he meet that timelord from his future with a better TARDIS who wanted to rewrite England’s history (Meddling Monk???). Either way, even with a time lock, the G-past could be changed by meeting someone from the G-past in real time.

Also, with the Time War, the fact that there are NO timelords in real time anymore is interesting. For one example, Romana was strutting all over real time with the Doctor. But take any timelord who visited real time and then died in the Time War - couldn’t the Doctor go back to when they were alive in real time and say hi? Retroactive destruction seems the only way out of it - except people remember the timelords.

Ooh, ooh, but many species were aware of the Time War - so some of them could no doubt “remember” history before it was changed. There is precident for this sort of thing - timelords, at least, show greater resistance and awareness of temporal disturbances eg slowing of time, temporal loops, etc, so perhaps other species are this astute?

Okay, I’ll stop debating with myself.

It seems the whole universe ticks to G-time sometimes. After all, whenever any two timelords meet they remember all previous encounters, no River Song I-will-meet-your-future-incarnation paradoxes. Ever.

By the way, I like your fankwank there, daygecko. I would be happy if that became official canon… except if it did, I already know what happened, so it is not a surprise… AHHH! Is this what it feels like to be a timelord? freaking out

Damn, there I go again. Okay this time I’ll stop.

You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!

Right. He can observe but not alter actions that have already happened in his personal timeline.

I have nothing to back it by, but I’ve suspected that the Timelords failed to stop the Daleks, and were going to raise the drawbridge and keep themselves safe while the Daleks conquered the universe… and the Doctor deliberately sabotaged Gallifrey’s defenses to lure the Daleks into a trap. This would explain both the Doctor’s extreme guilt, and the accusation by the surviving Daleks that the Doctor is a hypocrit and one of the greatest mass-murderers in history himself. Certainly this would be more in character for the Time Lords as we’ve usually seen them portrayed: concerned not a little with protecting themselves and their own power.

In one of the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson) episodes, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in the very far future after the destruction of Earth, and the Doctor is frantically concerned that no one know they were there. I always wondered if this was because it was in an era that was in Gallifrey’s relative future, which would be a big no-no for Time Lords. Although I think daygecko’s idea of a completely independent “Gallifrey time” makes more sense.

I seem to recall hearing that he can’t go back further in time than his own birth. Not sure if he’s broken that one, as nobody really knows when he was born.

I’m pretty sure that he cannot alter his own timeline, though. It is what it is, and he can’t go back and change what he himself has set in place already. That one has probably been broken too.

Am I correct in my understanding that we have not been shown the events of the time war yet? What was the situation at the end of the last series before Eccleston? Were the other Time Lords still around?

No, that was Sam from Quantum Leap.

My own personal fanwank is that a full-fledged timewar would involve both sides repeatedly trying to travel back far enough to wipe out the other side before they became strong enough to be a threat. Carried out to the extreme of mutually assured destruction, this would eventually end with both sides annihilating each other at the dawn of time itself. Technically, neither Gallifrey or Skaro ever actually existed. But the echoes of this titanic struggle across all of time means that people remember the Time Lords and the Daleks, even if no one can ever figure out where they came from, or what happened to them, or even very much of who they were or what they did. All that’s left is the occasional unexplained artifact, like the prison ship full of Daleks, or the Doctor himself.

In the original series, there was a planet full of Time Lords, many of whom made guest appearances, including a few recurring characters. The Time Lords were mostly a bunch of officious dickheads, though, who mostly existed to give the Doctor a hard time about going out in the universe and saving people’s lives. Occasionally, they’d pop up and force the Doctor to go on a mission of one sort ot another. They exiled him to Earth during one of his incarnations, mostly because shooting on location in London was cheaper than building a bunch of sets of other planets. At another point, they kidnap him back to Gallifrey and (IIRC) force him to become president. When the first series was cancelled, Gallifrey and the Time Lords were still very much a going concern, and there was no hint of a Time War between them and the Daleks.

The Time War took place between the 8th & 9th Doctors but, no, it’s never been shown in the series. IIRC, it originated as a plot element from one of the novels.

The 4th Doctor did something similar against the Sontarans. He disabled Galifrey’s defenses to lure them into a trap (which apparently consisted of hiting them with pool chairs).