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Doctor Who Origins: The TARDIS

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Marc Turner
This “Doctor Who” favourite really has stood the test of time. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be investigating the origins of the TARDIS. We’re drawing on various sources to give you the lowdown on everyone’s favourite timeship, including not just the Doctor’s onscreen exploits, but also short stories, novels and audio plays. Special thanks to our user RichardFB for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Doctor Who Origins: The TARDIS


This “Doctor Who” favourite really has stood the test of time. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’ll be investigating the origins of the TARDIS.

We’re drawing on various sources to give you the lowdown on everyone’s favourite timeship, including not just the Doctor’s onscreen exploits, but also short stories, novels and audio plays.

Let’s begin with the basics. The word TARDIS is an acronym for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space” – and definitely not this alternative abbreviation once jokingly suggested by the Twelfth Doctor. Although come to think of it, that would suit the TARDIS equally as well.

Strictly speaking, the TARDIS is not just a time machine, but a space-time vessel, capable of travelling anywhere in the universe at any period. And the Doctor has certainly used it to explore extensively through the years, journeying from the edge of the universe to its centre, and from the start of time to the end of all things. The TARDIS is even capable of moving between parallel realities, though supposedly it wasn’t actually designed for that purpose.

Despite their obvious uses, TARDISes are more than just machines. Such is their complexity, they are – according to legend – not “built” but “grown” from seeds or cuttings. Consequently, TARDISes have a living consciousness – as was graphically demonstrated in “The Doctor’s Wife” when the matrix of the Doctor’s TARDIS was transferred into a human body – for arguably one of NuWho’s finest ever episodes.

As such, TARDISes have a degree of free will along with a distinct personality. The Eighth Doctor once described his TARDIS as “sentimental”, and it has now and again expressed opinions regarding the Doctor’s companions. But, considering how far back the two of them go, it’s unsurprising that the Doctor and the ship have developed a mutual affection. There are in fact over 160 variants of this Gallifreyan gallivant-er, and the Doctor’s is only type 40, leading other Time Lords to dismiss it on occasion as perhaps past its best.

But the big question is this; Why a blue police box? Well, TARDISes are normally able to blend in with their surroundings using what’s called a “chameleon circuit”. But after the Doctor’s transformed itself into a police box in the ’60s, the circuit malfunctioned causing the TARDIS to get stuck in its now-familiar form.The Doctor has made a few attempts to change the iconic blue appearance with generally unsatisfactory results. But there have also been suggestions that any effort made to radically reimagine the TARDIS for modern times has been done so half-heartedly, because the Doctor is actually quite fond of the classic police box look.

As every “Doctor Who” fan knows – or just anyone who’s ever watched even a little bit of TV – the inside of the TARDIS is much bigger than the outside. This is because the interior is in another dimension to the exterior. In “The Robots of Death”, the Doctor tried to explain the concept to his companion Leela by demonstrating how a large box could appear to fit inside a smaller one if the larger box was further away. But, just how big is the inside of the TARDIS? Well, infinitely big according to the Eleventh Doctor, since new areas can always be added to the old. But, would that make the thing pretty heavy? Not according to Twelve.

Of course, we’ve only ever seen a fraction of the TARDIS’s interior. Since the first series in 1963, we have slowly been introduced to various ‘never-before-seen’ areas, including the Cloister Room, the Zero Room, and even the swimming pool. The focal point has always been the main control room, though. This area seems to have gone through as many reincarnations as the Doctor has, often offering some kind of insight into its present incumbent’s character. The exterior has also been tinkered with down the years, of course, including changes to the police box’s blueish shade and tweaks to the design.

This being “Doctor Who”, things don’t always run smoothly in the TARDIS. Literally. This timeship is actually meant to have six pilots, so the journey can get a little bumpy when the Doctor controls it alone. Then there’s the so-called “vwoorpy” sound the TARDIS makes as it travels – a noise that companion River Song once attributed to the Doctor piloting it with “the brakes on”. It should be noted, though, that the other TARDISes the Doctor has encountered on his travels make exactly the same sound.

The TARDIS has also experienced various technical faults over the years, including exhausted resources and unreliable controls. Though in the case of its tendency to rematerialize in unwelcome places, there may be a good reason for that.

If you’ve ever thought the outside of the TARDIS looks a bit flimsy, you’re not alone. But it’s actually much sturdier than it seems, having survived missile strikes, car impacts, and alien attacks. Among other forms of defence, the TARDIS can become invisible, and it has a siege mode that transforms it into a cube covered with Gallifreyan symbols.

Despite this, the TARDIS has suffered heavy damage on occasion. For example, it was destroyed by the Silence in “The Pandorica Opens”, whilst in “The Mind Robber”, it broke apart under the influence of alien forces. Fortunately, it’s usually able to self-repair, and even rebuild itself completely should the need arise.

All in all, it’s a pretty impressive bit of kit!
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