Time Lords, you must understand, do not celebrate their birthdays. The main reason is because they are never actually born–and considering that they can recall everything they did from the day they were Loomed onward, anything reminding them of that awkward period is best discontinued. The secondary reason that no one mentions is because they all get so old that it’s embarrassing to remember and sometimes they just forget. When you’re not counting up to some threshold age at which your relatives can start worrying about (or looking forward to) your death, the whole act seems pointless. And anyway, can’t you just imagine all the fires those candles would start?
Plus, for a Time Lord actually traveling through time, one was rather fuzzy on exactly what the date was in any case.
Take today, for example.
Today is the 45th day of the 13th and last month of the 3rd year of the 1090th 12 year cycle on Osiris Beta. It is also, incidentally, the 3rd day ever on Earth. By Gallifreyian Mean Time, it’s 8 days into the second moon cycle of the 6th month. Jaconda does not yet exist. Androzani’s sun has long since gone nova. It has been 114 years since that strange volcanic activity on Dulkis. In 12 weeks, on Nekros…
Need I go on?
Suffice it to say that when one can travel in time, dates are very, very complicated.
According to Evelyn’s calculations, she’d been traveling with the Doctor for about 7 thirty-day months, so it must be mid-April for her. In another month, schools would be getting out and her students would go home for the summer holidays. If she were home, she would be preparing tomorrow’s head notes.
As it was, she was not capable of writing anything, given that her hands were shackled behind her and attached by some sort of chain to the wall. The place was dank and dark and something in the far corner was gnawing on what she hoped wasn’t a bone. She sniffed and regretted it. Positively medieval. I’ve seen better.
The Doctor was, predictably, griping. Evelyn sympathized with his irritation, for course, but was inclined to question the need for it to be so verbal.
“Of all the days to land on Osiris Beta!”
“Oh, don’t tell me: this is their yearly festival of tribute to their gods and we are to be the sacrifice?”
“Evelyn, I don’t know where you get such ideas.”
“Let me think now, the last four–no, five–times something like this happened to us,” said Evelyn, very sarcastically.
“However, I’m glad that for once I’m wrong.”
“For once?” the Doctor corrected her, “For once? You have been wrong more than once, I should think! And anyway,” he mumbled, “this is their yearly festival of tribute to their leaders and we are to be the sacrifice.”
“So I was right,” confirmed Evelyn in a self-satisfied way. “Now, what’s our plan for getting out of here?”
The third problem with Time Lord birthdays is in qualifying what the term means. If a birthday is a day upon which a wholly new person comes into the world (or universe, if you like), then with each regeneration, a Time Lord gains another birthday.
Take the Doctor, for instance, as he is conveniently nearby. The Doctor was Loomed on Gallifrey on the 8th day of the first lunar cycle of the first month. His second birthday, as it might be called, was on the planet Mondas on the 84th day of the year–Cybermen didn’t bother with actually dividing it into months. His third birthday was again on Gallifrey on the 7th day of the first lunar cycle of the 7th month. His fourth was on Earth on the 20th of a suspiciously balmy January. His fifth was on Earth again, on April 13th. His sixth and most recent day of birth had been on Jaconda during the 22nd lunar cycle of the year, each cycle being about the equivalent of a 7-day week.
Looked at this way, as the Doctor sits in the dungeon of the palace on Osiris Beta, he has not yet been born several times and is also billions of years old, were he to visit Androzani, or rather the space it used to occupy, today.
So perhaps you are beginning to see why Time Lords prefer to forget their birthdays and just sort of guess at the number of years they’ve been around.
Evelyn eyed the stereotypical crust of bread, lately shoved under the door, with deepest suspicion. “The Incas were more hospitable,” she pronounced finally. “And the Delvings threw us a feast.”
“You realize,” the Doctor grunted as he kept working on his manacles with a mysteriously acquired hair pin, “that they only ‘threw us a feast’ because they thought we were malnourished and wouldn’t therefore be satisfying to execute?”
Evelyn chuckled to herself. “I wonder what they’d think if they ever ran into a pair of skinny humanoids.”
The Doctor threw her a dirty look and continued with his work.
“Exactly how,” Evelyn called to the guard out in the hall, who was certainly there even if they couldn’t see him, “are we supposed to eat this bread with our hands bound?”
Her cell-mate huffed in irritation. “It’s no use–the lock’s the wrong kind of mechanism for a pin to work on it.”
“Doctor,” asked Evelyn pensively, “do you happen to have a calendar showing the next local solar eclipse?”
He cast her a withering look. “The moon here is much too small to eclipse the sun, and although I do appreciate the fact that you are well-read, give me a moment to…” He trailed off, the realization that he might have an idea clearly dawning on his face.
The thing about Time Lord ages that most confuses your average member of a shorter lived race, say Homo sapiens sapiens, is that their appearance rarely coincides with their age in actual years. Young Time Lords often take old bodies to try to lend gravitas to their presences, while old Time Lords might take a young body in an attempt to relive their miss-spent youth. This, however, is supposing that the Time Lord in question has any choice in the matter of their appearance upon regenerating. Most Time Lords do, given that nothing deadly ever happens on Gallifrey, and they can choose when to regenerate.
The Doctor’s case, naturally, is quite a bit different.
The Doctor has never chosen to regenerate–he has chosen to die several times, but that is not nearly the same thing. So circumstances have always taken the choice of appearance away from him. This has resulted in a curious hodge-podge of bodies, most of which were a bit more interesting that what one generally wants.
For reasons quite obvious when you think about his personality, the Doctor finds this blind shuffle of characteristics amusing, even if he is beginning to wonder why his eyes seem to be perpetually stuck on blue.
Anyway, the point is that while the Doctor has lived for about 980-something-ish Gallifreyian years (which are very similar in length to years on the third planet from the star Sol, conveniently enough), he currently appears to be around 42.
This means that not only does he get weird looks from passerby when he calls Evelyn a young woman, but that he and his snarky historian-turned-time-traveler friend can maybe just possibly escape this whole bothersome execution business without the usual running around and knocking out of guards that this often involves.
“Evelyn,” said the Doctor slowly, “I believe, if I’m right, we can get out of here!”
“Well, that’s good. And here I was expecting we’d just give up and let them throw us in their volcano or whatever unoriginal execution they had planned.”
The Doctor ignored her. “I have just remembered something that may be of some importance: while the Osirians are certainly a primitive and, in many ways, positively idiotic race, there is one curious line they will never overstep.” He paused dramatically.
“They’ll never murder a middle-aged woman?”
“They’ll never refuse an offer of a cup of cocoa?”
“They’ll never --"
“Doctor Smythe, you are ruining my dramatic pause.”
“I dislike melodrama. Just tell me how we’re getting out of here, please. My legs are starting to cramp up.”
The Doctor went back to looking pleased with himself. “I have recalled that Osirians will never sacrifice a man on his birthday!”
“And I suppose,” surmised Evelyn, “that we are somehow going to convince our captors that today–“
“–is my birthday! Although it actually isn’t. Although…” he considered at length, then shook his head. “No, it isn’t. Still it should be easy enough to convince them of.”
“I think you’re forgetting something: me. They certainly won’t believe that by some freak coincidence we share today as a birthday…” Evelyn pointed out with the air of correcting a student who’d gotten a date wrong in their last history essay.
“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” said the Doctor, waving her concerns away. “The Osirians, I should have said, will never kill a person on the birthday of any close family member either.”
Evelyn sighed. “Could this adventure be anymore cliché?” she asked rhetorically.
Most sentient species in the universe are at least partially temporally aware–that is, they can feel, to some extent, the passage of time. Most of them celebrate their birthdays, and should they ever meet a Time Lord they would be quite confused as to why that race does not.
Humans in particular love to celebrate birthdays. Time Lords just plain don’t understand the point. Well, academically they do, but, for humans, so few things are truly academic. The Doctor has never mentioned his birthday (when he can be bothered to calculate the date) to any of his human friends because then he would have to go into why he’s never, ever had a birthday party before. On Gallifrey, birthday parties just aren’t the done thing.
The Doctor doesn’t admit to himself that he’s a bit curious as to what these parties are like. However in his researches on the subject, he has discovered that they most seem to involve a lot of drinking alcohol and doing stupid things. Since Time Lords can’t get drunk, their parties would be dull indeed.
However, it transpires that the beings who live on Osiris Beta have a very different way of celebrating their birthdays.
It was a curious event, Evelyn thought, to have a large, horned Emperor of a large, horned people actually apologize to you. It gave one a warm fuzzy sort of feeling that something, at least, was right in the universe.
“We would not,” said the Emperor in his ponderous voice, “have subjected you to this had we known.”
“Oh, that’s quite all right,” the Doctor reassured him. “Now if you’ll just let us be on our way…”
“I feel that you must be compensated in some way for your troubles. Let me think a moment…”
And so it was that the Osirians decided to throw the Doctor a 980-something-ish birthday party. Unfortunately what Osirians consider fun isn’t very.
“I will never, ever look at cows and trampolines quite the same way again,” Evelyn confessed, as she stood dripping while the Doctor unlocked the TARDIS door. “Or scissors, for that matter.”
The Doctor held up his mangled coat and regarded it grumpily. “Well, that’s ruined. I suppose I’ll go back to wearing the multi-colored one now.”
“I think,” said Evelyn hurriedly, “that with a bit of thread…”
“No, it’s a lost cause,” he sighed. “I’ve got to say this has been the worst not-birthday ever.”
“Well, I know I can fix that,” she offered. “Come on, I’ll make us some birthday cake.”