The relevant books are:
- 1. The Eight Doctors (clearing the decks from Trial of a Time Lord)
- 2. Blood Harvest
- 3. Goth Opera
- 4. Happy Endings (only pages 1-7 and 279-280, but it's important stuff)
- 5. Lungbarrow
- 6. The Shadows of Avalon
- 7. The Ancestor Cell
The Shadows of Avalon only has four pages on Gallifrey itself, but it's indispensable. Apart from being a crucial part of the development of Romana, Gallifrey, Compassion and the 8DA storyline, its Brigadier material also picks up from Happy Endings. The arc is largely Romana's story, though she only takes over as president from Flavia halfway through.
There's further Gallifrey lore in other books - past (Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, The Pit, Divided Loyalties, etc.), future (Alien Bodies, The Taking of Planet 5) and sideways (The Infinity Doctors, Dead Romance?) - but it's background or possible-maybe stuff rather than part of the main story. These seven books stand up fine without all that. To my surprise Lungbarrow was the most awkward standalone read, since when it comes to the 8DAs the backstory I was missing in The Shadows of Avalon and The Ancestor Cell hadn't happened yet.
The saga's worst books are unfortunately its first and last instalments, with The Eight Doctors busting a hundred boundaries of crap but at least offering more entertainment (albeit often unintentionally) than The Ancestor Cell. Blood Harvest and Goth Opera are rollicking adventures. The Shadows of Avalon is one-third shite and two-thirds masterpiece, while Lungbarrow is an excessively convoluted continuity-fest of gothic imagination.
Overall it's a bumpy ride, juxtaposing utter fanwank with high-minded ambition before wrapping it all up with panicked expediency. On the other hand it's one of the better Doctor Who story arcs, immeasurably helped by the fact that its books weren't published en bloc. Thus the internal continuity can be honed to greater precision than usual and we can get two Terrance books followed by three Cornell ones (albeit with Lungbarrow interrupting this continuity of authors towards the end). Vampires link the first three books, while the Brigadier connects Happy Endings to The Shadows of Avalon.
You also see Romana being seduced by the dark side. No, not like that.
Incidentally it's a tricky problem deciding where to put The Eight Doctors, not helped by its multiple Gallifrey plot threads, but I'd suggest reading it first. For those who follow the Big Finish audios, I believe The Apocalypse Element and Sirens of Time follow on from Romana's ascendency to President in Happy Endings, while we'll probably end up placing Neverland after Lungbarrow.
Some day I'll return again to these seven books. Could be interesting. They're a bit of a rag-tag collection, but Gallifrey is where the books have most consciously tried to be epic. Some of it's rubbish, but some of it's almost brilliant.