When a series gets a large enough following the unique languages used therein are normally translatable either by fans who work it out or by offically released material (Klingon in Star Trek, the runes in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Deadric in The Elder Scrolls).

When I was watching the new episodes of Doctor Who I noticed Gallifreyan script drawn on the spinny things around the center of the TARDIS which made me remember the Gallifreyan on his cot in A Good Man Goes to War. However I don't think in the series I've seen The Doctor explain the meaning behind any of it, or how one goes about translating it rather letting the TARDIS do it for his companions.

So I am wondering, is there a method to translate Gallifreyan?

  • A fan has invented a transliteration between English and Circular Gallifreyan, but it's not official in any way. You won't be able to decode what's on the show with it.
    – Izkata
    Sep 11, 2014 at 2:39
  • Actually, according to River, the TARDIS can't even translate written Gallifreyan, which is why we (and Amy and Rory) see it rather than it's translation on The Doctor's baby cot.
    – KutuluMike
    Mar 13, 2015 at 11:41
  • 2
    @MichaelEdenfield What River says it that the TARDIS doesn't translate written Gallifreyan, not that she can't (as Kromey comments further down). Being a Gallifreyan piece of (granted: uber-powerful and quasi-sentient) machinery, she expects her Gallifreyan pilots to understand their own native language, so I always assumed she just doesn't bother with the translation (or because Time Lords can be a bit difficult/excentric at times and program their tech not to translate their own language - to keep it a kind of secret language).
    – BMWurm
    Mar 13, 2015 at 13:42
  • Her words were "It's Gallifreyan, it doesn't translate". She's using "doesn't" in the same sense as we'd say 'that doesn't compute' or 'it doesn't work'. "It [Gallifreyan] is not something that can be translated [by the TARDIS]".
    – KutuluMike
    Mar 13, 2015 at 14:01
  • I know how to read Gallifreyan, but the spinny things dont have any sense if you try to read them. here u can have a link to try to read Gallifreyan, and a translator to correct you if you have any problems with spelling. Translator: zygar.net/Gallifreyan/translator.html Help: timeturners.wikidot.com/circular-gallifreyan Aug 29, 2017 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


No, because the Doctor Who franchise does not have any interest in such internal continuity.

Sometimes Gallifreyan is mathematical gibberish:

the Doctor's calling card from 'Remembrance of the Daleks'

or some kind of vaguely Persian/Egyptian script:

Gallifreyan in 'The Deadly Assassin'

The production team never worried itself with that kind of continuity, though there's some indication that it's supposed to be "Old" and "Modern" Gallifreyan. For more detail, this essay analyses Old Who Gallifreyan.

Now in New Who it's most often geometric:

TARDIS screen interface from 'The Snowmen'

New Who --especially under Moffat-- may be making a more concerted effort to show a continuity of language (at the very least, they're making it visually consistent--which is still not to say it's translatable). But since Gallifrey is burning for most of New Who, we don't yet have as many samples to analyse. That said, there are fan versions of Gallifreyan which are reminiscent of some of the kinds of visuals you'll see on the show.

  • Also, to add a bit to the whole consistency thing: It's been said several times that the TARDIS won't translate Gallifreyan, yet in episodes like The Day of the Doctor there is text clearly written in (or translated to) English (like NO MORE), which would be odd to be written in another language (assuming the Dalek are able to read it).
    – Mario
    Sep 11, 2014 at 7:39
  • @Mario Translation conventions in Doctor Who are an entirely different question (the NO MORE message was not seen by anyone who'd need or want to read it in English, so unless the TARDIS was breaking the four wall to translate for us... better not to think about it).
    – BESW
    Sep 11, 2014 at 7:41
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    In truth, despite claims to the contrary ("Rule #1: The Doctor lies"), the TARDIS is fully capable of translating Gallifreyan. She just doesn't. (Alternatively: She really truly can't translate it.) She does, however, play with it, producing different forms to suit her aesthetic whims. We've seen her translate written language, making it appear in the viewer's own language, so it stands to reason that she can make Gallifreyan appear however she wants it to, too! (Or to put it another way: Once you introduce an element capable of manipulating your thoughts, everything is consistent!)
    – Kromey
    Sep 11, 2014 at 17:17
  • I've never really watched Dr.Who but stuff like this makes me want to watch it for some reason. Please excuse me being a neophyte, but is there an in-universe reason for having different languages and symbols displayed? Apr 15, 2017 at 18:02
  • @Withywindle do you mean the geometric gallifreyan vs vaguely arabic vs the other forms of gallifreyan? None that is currently known,
    – user57650
    Apr 15, 2017 at 18:57

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