Features The Day of the Doctors

Published on July 12th, 2014 | by Philip Bates

Is The Kasterborous Constellation Real?

“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.

Sutekh - Pyramids

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…)

The Day of the Doctor - 12 Doctors Gallifrey

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?

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About the Author

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When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.




12 Responses to Is The Kasterborous Constellation Real?


  1. This has both annoyed and infuriated me ever since it was revealed that Gallifrey is supposed to be “in” Kasterborous.
    As you rightly point out, the constellations are not fixed in space. The appearance of the stars and the patterns they form depend entirely upon the position from where they are being viewed.

    As an amateur astronomer for over forty years, and a Doctor Who fan for nearly fifty years, I had always assumed that my fellow fans would be scientifically literate and therefore aware of this ridiculous concept. Saying that Gallifrey is in the constellation of Kasterborous without giving a reference point from which it should be viewed so as to appear to be in that constellation is an absolute nonsense. Then, as my wife constantly points out to me, it’s only a tv show… it doesn’t really matter!

    However, I’d still prefer Doctor Who to be scientifically accurate whenever possible, but maybe that’s just me.

    • avatar Wayne Fawcett says:

      ‘it’s only a tv show’????? give your wife a slap from all of us!

      • avatar David F says:

        Yeah, it’s one of Who’s most notable and loveable bits of nonsense. There’s objectively no such thing as a constellation.

        What if, in the world of Doctor Who, a particular well placed planet had developed a universally renowned space administration? A planet of astronomers, who pioneered the charting of the stars. Their perspective might have been taken as the standard when grouping worlds into constellations. A bit like Greenwich is for time. So every time a character refers to Kasterborous, he or she is using the Astronomax Constellation Constant.

    • avatar Nige says:

      but remember the Doctor is an alien. His translation of a ‘constellation’ in Gallifreyan could mean a physical grouping of stars, rather than our ‘human’ meaning of a constellation being a grouping of stars on our night sky…

  2. avatar hyncharas says:

    Though it’s all conjecture, I did find an old Chinese astronomy coin with the constellation Altair that doesn’t match star charts, but does match the TARDIS Key symbol (scroll down to see the coin enlarged):

    http://primaltrek.com/astronomy.html

    • avatar hyncharas says:

      Correction; the star Altair is found in the constellation Aquila…

      It is recorded to have 19 stars with two binary systems.

  3. avatar calliarcale says:

    I always figured that at some point a starfaring race such as the Gallifreyans would have to start meaning something different by the phrase “constellation”. Just as we’ve changed the meaning of “planet”, for that matter — originally, the Sun and Moon were planets, and Earth was not. So think about that. So I’ve figured that the term must eventually come to mean not just an asterism in the sky but an actual collection of stars that are in some way related, but perhaps not tightly enough to be called a cluster. (And some of our constellations, or at least recognizable asterisms within them, might still qualify. Like most of the Big Dipper, and Orion’s Belt.)

    So Kasterborous, I’ve always figured, must be retconned to mean a stellar grouping to which Gallifrey’s system belongs, along with Karn. A group of stars of similar age and origin which are moving in more or less the same direction through space.

    BTW, if we take the 1996 movie as evidence, then Kasterborous cannot be visible from Earth, unless it’s actually meant to be an entire *galaxy*. In the movie, the Doctor says that Gallifrey is 250 million light years away. That would put it as outside of not just the Milky Way (or “Mutter’s Spiral” as the Gallifreyans apparently know our galaxy) but outside the entire Virgo Supercluster. Far outside — the Virgo Supercluster is a mere 100 million light years across. 250mly is close to one estimate of the distance to the Great Attractor, which could make for an interesting possible location for Gallifrey. ;-)

    • avatar calliarcale says:

      On the other hand, in “Pyramids of Mars”, the Doctor does give coordinates to Gallifrey relative to galactic zero. So consistency (and perhaps a strong sense of astronomical scale) are not necessarily emphasized by the writers. ;-)

      • avatar hyncharas says:

        I think the relative position of Gallifrey is subjective, depending on where in the time stream you currently are; the creation of their “inner time” field on the planet would have affected the local gravitational forces of the entire star system…

        The real issue with it has been every writer for the show has had a slightly different interpretation of where Gallifrey actually is, because those making the old series couldn’t be bothered to tie to a real-life constellation.

        • avatar Hyncharas says:

          But if you ask me, Gallifrey’s home before the Time War was “Arp 220″ – it’s 250 Million light-years from Earth, it’s the result of two galaxies in the early stages of merging and, because of this, it resembles an hourglass.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Yeah, but the 1996 had a lot to say about everything. Half-human my eye. ;) You are, of course, right with the 250 million light years away, but doesn’t that contradict something else said in the show? I can’t quite remember the specifics, but that’s a writer for you! :P


  4. If Gallifrey was located in Arp220 it would appear to be (from our perspective) in the constellation of Serpens and not Kasterborous. Some have suggested that Kasterborous could be the name given by the Time Lords to the constellation we call Serpens, unfortunately the Time Lords wouldn’t see the same star patterns we do and so would not have a direct correlation between the two.
    Naturally Gallifrey would appear to be in different constellations to different races on different planets depending upon where they would have to look in order to locate it. Giving Gallifrey a fixed constellation as a reference point makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    Try working out which constellation the Earth is in and you’ll see what a meaningless task it is. The Earth will appear to be “in” whichever group of stars form the background when you look at it from wherever you happen to be at the time.

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