A throwaway line of dialogue in Doctor Who’s David Tennant era revealed major changes on Gallifrey – and nodded to the classic series as well.
Doctor Who hinted at major changes on Gallifrey before the Time War – and subtly referenced abandoned plans for the classic series companion Ace. It’s easy to forget the Time Lords weren’t part of the original plans for Doctor Who. Dialogue in the very first story, “An Unearthly Child,” hints the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan were exiled, cut off from their own people and desperately trying to find their way home; it wasn’t until 1969’s “The War Games” that the Time Lords themselves made their debut.
The Time Lord homeworld of Gallifrey wasn’t really explored until 1976’s “The Deadly Assassin,” a key moment in the show’s lore. It’s one of the most unusual stories in the history of Doctor Who, simply because it is one in which the Doctor doesn’t have a companion; the Doctor dumped Sarah Jane Smith on Earth when he received the summons to return home, explaining he was forbidden from taking her to Gallifrey with him. The story went on to define much of Gallifrey’s culture, technology, and even aesthetic.
Russell T. Davies brought Sarah Jane Smith back in 2006 in the story “School Reunion.” It was an emotional episode, particularly delightful for fans of the classic series who were thrilled to see Doctor Who return, but also powerful for the moment when the Doctor was confronted with the consequences of abandoning Sarah Jane. “Did I do something wrong,” she asked, “because you never came back for me. You just dumped me.” It’s a fair criticism – the Doctor tends to treat companions quite badly – and the Doctor was shaken by it. “I told you,” he defended himself. “I was called back home and in those days humans weren’t allowed.” The precise wording is intriguing; “in those days” humans weren’t allowed, the Doctor notes, unintentionally hinting things changed.
Oddly enough, that particular change was part of the plan for Doctor Who season 27. Marc Platt was to write a story called “Ice Time” in which the Doctor confronted the Ice Warriors in 1960s London, and the story would have culminated in his finally revealing his purposes for his then-companion Ace; he wanted her to enroll at the Prydonian Academy on Gallifrey, the first human to do so. The BBC canceled Doctor Who in 1989, however, and season 27 was never made; Platt was only in the earliest stages of scripting it, although the basic plot was incorporated into the Big Finish audio-drama Thin Ice.
Russell T. Davies was careful not to overdo continuity and Easter eggs; he wanted Doctor Who to reach new viewers as well as old. For all that’s the case, though, his love for the classic series shone through in “School Reunion,” written by Toby Whitehouse. That’s particularly true in this throwaway line of dialogue, which subtly incorporates a long-since-forgotten Doctor Who idea back into the show’s lore.