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DOCTOR WHO: A Brief History of Time Ladies

After 36 seasons and a cumulative 54 years on television, the Doctor will be played by a woman for the first time ever. When Jodie Whittaker takes over the iconic lead role in Doctor Who, she’ll represent the first time that particular Time Lord has incarnated as a Time Lady. She is by no means the first Time Lady ever in the series—duh—and some of the Doctor’s closest allies and most fearsome enemies have been Gallifreyan women. Would you like to meet some of the most prominent ones? I bet you would!

NOTE: I’m only going to be talking about Gallifreyan Time Ladies, so the Doctor-Donna, Jenny, and River Song will be left out. Don’t @ me.

Susan Foreman

The Doctor’s very first companion, technically, was his granddaughter, Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford. As the show began, she and the Doctor were hiding out in London in 1963 and her teachers–Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright–became concerned about how she could be so incredibly brilliant in areas of math and science but so laughably unaware of everyday things like what kind of money the U.K. used. This led to them discovering the truth, that Susan and her grandfather were aliens who traveled in time and space.

A main character for the first season and a bit of the second, Susan existed at a time when the series hadn’t come up with much of the mythology surrounding the Doctor. Regeneration was never mentioned, nor was she given more than a few passing references after she left. But, she’s technically a Time Lady, and she had telepathy for like one story because they didn’t know what they were doing yet.


Romana 1
The next major Time Lady to appear in the series was the Fourth Doctor companion Romanadvoratrelundar, a/k/a Fred, a/k/a Romana. Initially played by the fabulous Mary Tamm, Romana was assigned to travel with the manic Tom Baker Doctor when he was in search for the various pieces of the Key to Time. She was much younger than the Doctor, but often boasted of being much more learned than he. She was one of the first companions who could be as smart as the Doctor, though he could still teach her things from his experiences.

Romana 2
After that season, Tamm decided not to return, so the first part of the following episode had Romana trying on new looks (something I guess Time Lords could do if they wanted) before settling on the look of the previous adventure’s Princess Astra (indeed, actress Lalla Ward who played Astra was cast as Romana). Dubbed Romana II, this incarnation was perhaps the closest to being the Doctor herself, even basically taking the lead in the story “The Horns of Nimon” while Baker’s Doctor played the comedy sidekick. As with many companions, her exit was a bit abrupt and didn’t do justice to the character, but for awhile Romana (who in spin-off material became the Time Lord President) was unmatched.

The Rani

The Doctor’s first Time Lady adversary was the Rani, as played by Kate O’Mara, who appeared in two stories in the 1980s — “The Mark of the Rani” opposite Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, and “Time and the Rani,” which was Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy’s first adventure. Very unlike the Master, whose aim is almost always causing chaos and particularly sticking it to the Doctor, the Rani was an amoral scientist who thought of humanity as lower lifeforms, perfect for test subjects for her experiments. The only reason she gets on the Doctor’s radar is through the Master’s meddling, in fact, and later she means to use the confused new Doctor to unwittingly aid some of Earth’s greatest thinkers in solving her greatest problem. The Rani’s a pragmatic adversary, and one underserved by the second of her two stories.

Various Authority Figures

There have been surprisingly few Time Ladies overall in Doctor Who, and in between Romana and the Rani, we only got a small handful, usually whenever the Doctor would visit Gallifrey. The first of these was Chancellor Thalia (Elspet Gray) in “Arc of Infinity,” the second was Chancellor Flavia (Dinah Sheridan) in “The Five Doctors,” and the third—with a much bigger part—was the Inquisitor (Lynda Bellingham) who acted as the judge during the season-long “The Trial of a Time Lord.”

That One Lady in “The End of Time”

One of the many, many unexplained things about the Tenth Doctor’s final story is the identity of the Time Lady in white, as played by Claire Bloom. It’s been largely hinted at that writer Russell T. Davies’ original intent was for her to be the Doctor’s never-before-mentioned mother, but it was never mentioned and she was just kind of mysteriously helpful. So who knows?

Time Lords Becoming Time Ladies

The first time we ever heard a full reference of the fluidity of gender and sex in Gallifreyan regeneration was actually 2011’s “The Doctor’s Wife,” in which the Doctor receives a message which he’s led to believe is from his old friend, the Corsair, who is said to have regenerated as both male and female. In the months leading up to the announcement of Jodie Whittaker’s casting, the notion that the Doctor could be played by a woman continued in showing the Time Lord General as played by Ken Bones in “The Day of the Doctor” and “Hell Bent” being shot by the Doctor in the latter episode and regenerating into a woman played by T’nia Miller. Also worth noting, Ken Bones is an old white man, and T’nia Miller is a young black woman.

Missy/The Master

The most prominent Time Lady since the classic series is actually Michelle Gomez’s Missy, who appeared throughout Series 8, the beginning of Series 9, and most of Series 10. Having been male through all of his regenerations up to that point, the Master first (and if continuity is to be believed, only) female incarnation was at once more conniving and more insane, however hearkening back to Roger Delgado’s first incarnation in her desire to rekindle her friendship with the Doctor, something that was largely forgotten until the new series.

Which is your favorite Time Lady? Did I leave any major ones out? (I don’t think I did.) Let me know in the comments below!

Images: BBC

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!

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