Rassilon vs. the Pythia, the Looms & sterile Gallifrey

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    This thread is a bit of a primer in the backstory of Gallifrey as set up by the New Adventures novels of the ’90s. Several things in various media since then – audios, and even hints in the new TV series – have come dangerously close to conforming to the same storyline, so here’s a quick catch-up on this bit of backstory that I refer to fairly often.

    In the backstory of the books – namely Time’s Crucible: Cat’s Cradle by Marc Platt (NA #4) – there was, for all intents and purposes, a civil war among the sexes on Gallifrey, with Rassilon dead set on eliminating the influence of superstition and witchcraft in favor of science and rationality. Except that Rassilon, as he always seems to do, went overboard and pretty much eliminated all the women to eliminate the witches, ruled by a leader known as the Pythia. The Pythia’s followers who escaped resettled on another world and became the Sisterhood of Karn from “The Brain Of Morbius”, the witch-like coven that had their own form of regeneration via the Elixir of Life.

    But the war left the remaining Gallifreyans – who were all male anyway – sterile, hence the creation of the genetic Looms, and the genetic engineering of those who emerged from them that made regeneration as the Time Lords know it possible. Those Time Lords who finally die have their genetic material redeposited into the Looms, to allow for the creation of the next generation of Time Lords, though a generation to them is quite different than it is to us. This is why it was such a big deal for the seventh Doctor to go retrieve the remains of the Master from the Daleks at the beginning of the McGann movie (though why anyone would want to put the Master’s genes back into circulation is anyone’s guess).

    In “Remembrance Of The Daleks”, the Doctor slips up while explaining to Ace about Rassilon and Omega testing the remote stellar manipulator that led to, among other things, the taming of the black hole known as the Eye of Harmony and Omega’s accidental exile into the antimatter universe (“The Three Doctors”, “Arc Of Infinity”). Specifically, the Doctor says, “And didn’t we have trouble with the prototype” – hinting that he’s old enough to have been a contemporary of Rassilon and Omega (!!). In the next-to-last New Adventure, Lungbarrow (also by Marc Platt), the Doctor goes home to Gallifrey and becomes trapped in his own family’s House, where the rest of his family has been trapped for centuries. Some of his cousins have been harboring murderous intentions for centuries – including against the Doctor himself (just one of the reasons for his leaving Gallifrey) – and since the Houses are telepathically linked to their occupants like a TARDIS, it’s driven the House mad and convinced it to seal the entire family inside.

    As the Doctor finally deals with this, we basically get his origin story: the “Other,” the third original Time Lord who was indeed there with Rassilon and Omega, basically committed suicide during the Dark Times because he saw no good coming of Rassilon’s rule. He did so by stepping into the genetic stream that fed House Lungbarrow’s Loom, and that genetic material resulted in the Doctor; the first Doctor happened to look like the Other, and retained some of his characteristics, such as his crusading nature. Susan mistook the first Doctor for her real grandfather and forced her way into the TARDIS with him. Despite the inconvenience, the Doctor still knew that traveling with him was better for her than remaining on war-torn Gallifrey. He seemed to retain some awareness of the Other’s family, so her knew who she was. Something else that the Doctor retained from the Other was that the Other wasn’t 100% Gallifreyan (see also the eighth Doctor’s mention of being half-human – and every Doctor’s protective attitude toward Earth).

    The books hint strongly that he may not be as sterile as every other Time Lord born through the Looms, particularly in the original novel version of Human Nature. Conceivably (to coin a phrase), he could set in motion the repopulation of the Time Lord species with just the right partner. But would he want to? Hey, I destroyed all of your ancestors. Don’tcha love me?

    In “The End Of Time”, the crazy soothsayer lady in the last days of Gallifrey has a costume strongly reminiscent of the Sisterhood of Karn, implying that the reborn Rassilon may be desperate enough to invite the Sisterhood back in from the cold: the Time War was going badly enough that he was ready to look for strategy in tea leaves, entrails, prophecies and his daily horoscope.

    You wouldn’t think that the Time Lords would need to rely on prophecy, but the Pythia and her followers had mastered the art in seeing all of time – backward and forward. By exiling or exterminating them, Rassilon severely limited the Time Lords’ access to knowledge of their own future.

    In “Tomb Of The Cybermen”, the second Doctor mentions that his memories of his family “sleep in his mind” – which may mean that they’re dormant memories left over from the Other, involving Susan’s parents, born before Gallifrey became sterile.

    Are the books canon? If you want ’em to be, sure. I think it’s fun to try to piece all of it together in a consistent way, and look for things that – though they were written, filmed, etc. long before the show was cancelled and the storyline wound up in the hands of the fans, manage to fit in nicely with what’s been written since then. Stuff like the soothsayer from “The End Of Time”, or the House with its auntie and uncle (instead of cousins) from “The Doctor’s Wife”, while they may not actually be an attempt to shake hands with the novels or audios, get close enough to shouting distance that it’s a fun creative exercise (at least to me) to try to stitch it all together from the available clues.

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