The Gallifrey Chronicles
|ISBN#||1 85227 329 1|
|Summary: A guide to Gallifrey and the Time Lords.|
A Complete Fabrication? by Tom Berwick 5/8/05
Remember the Black Scrolls of Rassilon, the ones that caught fire in The Five Doctors? What did they say? John Peel sets out to tell us in a short story at the end of his The Gallifrey Chronicles. (Not to be confused with the novel of the same name).
The scrolls are revealed to be Rassilon's diary, which he started on the day of the coup that brought him to power. In just 205 days, he defeats the vampires, seizes power, stops the Games, invents the Sashes of Rassilon, introduces regeneration, and creates the Eye of Harmony. Talk about a quick job! Of course, he runs into problems on the way, by means of opposition, but if anyone objects, he just has them killed. Those rumours and legends the Second Doctor mentioned must have something to them.
Overall, Peel presents an entertaining and plausible account of the genesis of the Time Lords. An especially clever part is the idea of regeneration being caused by an artificially cultivated virus, created by a maverick biologist called Thremix. Thremix is Peel's own creation, and comes across as his favourite character here; regarded as a charlatan by his peers, but trusted by Rassilon, a maverick himself. The trust is mutual, but, as Thremix comes to doubt the morality of his creation, he learns, fatally, that his trust in Rassilon was misplaced. Meanwhile, Omega is revealed to have been betrayed by Rassilon as well, having his sash switched off at the moment he creates the eye of harmony. Intriguingly, this is because, in life, the megalomaniac of The Three Doctors was actually a democrat.
The most interesting character of all, however, is "The Stranger", a Time Lord from the future who has come to assist Rassilon in his endeavours. This character is presumably the Doctor, but Peel carefully avoids making it clear. Certainly, his ethical debates with Rassilon, and disgust at some of his actions strongly suggest the Doctor, and the readers are left to make their own minds up about which incarnation of the Doctor this is. (I've always pictured him as Troughton, in a Season 6B story. But that's probably just because I like his Doctor so much). It is these ethical debates that make the story so engaging. Rassilon is ruthless, but not usually cruel. He believes that what he is doing is for the best, and kills when he believes he must. This is often, but almost always with a heavy heart. But he expresses disappointment that one rebel, Jelen, did not die a more unpleasant, protracted death when he killed her. He did so in battle, but his reflections are still worryingly cold. He is cynical realism against the Stranger's equally cynical idealism.
Unfortunately, the story ends rather oddly, with Peel struggling to add things that he could not fit into his 205 days. 20,000 days later, Rassilon resumes his diary in order to explain why he stopped writing it. The reason is the Matrix, which rendered it obsolete, but, that being so, why write about it? Perhaps even odder is Pandak III's decision to add a note about what happened to Rassilon after his fall, followed by another about how he will lock the scrolls away with orders that nobody ever read them. Eh? Why write something that nobody's ever meant to read? And why does Borusa feel the need to incriminate himself by writing "Interesting" at the bottom?
The ending (and the "doing it all in 205 days" thing) are the only major flaws, though, and it is all understandable, and never less than entertaining. The story as a whole presents an entirely plausible account of the origins of the Time Lords, consistent with all we've heard before, while adding some useful new details. The regime Rassilon overthrows is considerably more plausible than the one presented in Time's Crucible, but I suspect the latter has the better claim to canonicity. Bugger. I don't much care for that book. But never mind! In his introduction to the scrolls, Peel stresses that these are written by Rassilon. They are not necessarily an attempt to give the facts, but to show what Rassilon wanted people to think. Perhaps he was telling fibs.
Overall, if you haven't a copy of Peel's The Gallifrey Chronicles, beg, borrow or steal one. (I'm not sure that the book as a whole is actually worth buying, though it isn't bad). I've no idea why Borusa wrote what he did, but his potted review was correct. Very "Interesting" indeed. 8/10.