“I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?”
Yes, actually, Doctor. Where is Kasterborous?
Our site’s namesake first cropped up in Pyramids of Mars, the Doctor revealing Gallifrey’s binary location under the control of Sutekh the Destroyer (don’t mind him: where he treads, he leaves nothing but dust and darkness). The four-part serial was written by Stephen Harris, who has since been absorbed by the crack in time and now no longer exists. Harris is, in fact, a pseudonym for Lewis Greifer (The Goon Show; Whodunnit!) and Robert Holmes (The Ark in Space; The Caves of Androzani), the latter of whom likely came up with the constellation.
It’s been mentioned throughout the series, both Classic and NuWho. But what is a constellation, and what does it reveal about the Doctor and his home planet?
Most of us know what constellations are: the patterns of stars in the night sky, typically named after mythical beings. Perhaps the most widely identified are the Great Bear (consisting of seven stars), commonly known as the Big Dipper, and the Little Bear, its start-point being Polaris, located one degree off the celestial North Pole. Many can also name-check Orion, the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters), and the Dog Stars which are mentioned in 2011’s The Curse of the Black Spot.
From Big Finish’s potentially-now-canon Trial of the Valeyard, we know that Kasterborous is composed of 17 stars, but we’ve only ever seen the constellation, presumably, on the back of a previous TARDIS key design and that showed only six suns.
If we could identify Kasterborous in the night sky, would that mean the Doctor thinks of Earth as his home more so than Gallifrey? Constellations, after all, shift depending on a planet’s location in space (and even hemisphere), so whereas we can identify a shape of stars, if we were on a different planet (or if, as in The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End, the Earth was moved), the whole sky would appear different. As Sutekh says: “Names mean nothing”. If the Doctor refers to his actual home planet as being in a constellation only seen from Earth, that would reinforce our belief that the Doctor thinks of Earth as his adopted home. Of course, Kasterborous might be a constellation seen only from a different planet, which would be like finding out he’s been having an affair all this time…
Even if the Doctor originally referred to the constellation as it would appear from Sutekh’s prison on Mars, it would still be the same celestial landscape; because the distances between stars are so great, you would have to travel very far from our solar system to see any difference.
If only the Doctor Who crew would give us a definitive account of what Kasterborous looks like, then astronomers can discover it in the night sky and we’d all be happy!
(In Gridlock, we found out that Gallifrey is in a binary star system and scientists have since located planets orbiting twin suns. They named the system Kepler 47 after the telescope that discovered it. One planet even exists in the habitable zone, allowing for water and thus some form of life – it’s likely that it’s a gas giant similar to Jupiter, though, so who knows if any life could be found there. However, the planet’s potential natural satellites, ie. moons, are another story altogether…)
Nonetheless, since 1975, Kasterborous has been mentioned as if it’s a fixed location in tales like Attack of the Cybermen (1985), Voyage of the Damned (2007), and even in the 50th anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor – in which the Tenth Doctor threatens a rabbit. The Sounds of Drums alludes to it while talking about Gallifrey as “the Shining World of the Seven Systems.”
Since the intervention of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors (and the one who broke the promise) in the Time War, Gallifrey is frozen in a pocket universe (okay, so it has been all the time the universe thought it destroyed), so presumably it’s no longer in Kasterborous. But wouldn’t it be great if that were the name of the pocket universe?
Why is this site called Kasterborous then? Maybe it’s because we like an air of mystery; because it sounds pretty cool; because we don’t like to think of ourselves as stuffy and backward so can’t call the site ‘Gallifrey’ (though we do all, naturally, have terrible dress sense).
But then, can you think of any other site name-checked so frequently in Doctor Who?