Missing image
The Third Doctor emerging from the TARDIS (from the 1970 serial Spearhead from Space).

The TARDIS is the name of a fictional time travelling machine in the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who. The name is an acronym of Time And Relative Dimension (or Dimensions) In Space, a product of Time Lord technology. A properly piloted and working TARDIS is capable of transporting its occupants to any point in space and time. It is also larger on the inside than it appears from outside.

In the series, a Type 40 TARDIS is piloted by the main character of the Doctor. Although TARDIS is the name of a class of vessel rather than a specific craft, the Doctor's TARDIS is usually referred to as the TARDIS. Externally, the TARDIS resembles the shape of a 1950s style police box (a phone booth designed for police communications), and the programme has become so much a part of British popular culture that the shape of the police box is now more immediately associated with the TARDIS than its original real-world function.

TARDIS is correctly written in upper case, but there are many examples of the form Tardis in media and licensed publications. The word has entered popular usage and is used to describe anything that seems bigger on the inside than on the outside. The name TARDIS is a registered trademark of the British Broadcasting Corporation.


Conceptual History

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A 1950s style British police box.

When Doctor Who was being developed in 1963, discussions were made among the production staff as to what design the Doctor's time machine would take. Due to budgetary constraints, the concept of having it resemble a police box was settled on. This was explained in the context of the series as a disguise created by the ship's chameleon circuit (originally called a "camouflage circuit"), a mechanism which is responsible for changing the outside appearance of the ship in order to fit in with its environment. At the time of the series' debut in 1963, the police box was still a common fixture in British cities. With some 700 in London alone, it was a logical choice for camouflaging a time machine.

The concept of the police box disguise came from BBC staff writer Anthony Coburn, who re-wrote the programme's first episode from a draft by C. E. Webber. Coburn is believed to have had the idea for the time machine's external form after spotting a real police box while walking near his office on a break from writing the episode. The idea may also have been a creative ploy by the BBC to save time and money in props, but soon became an in-joke genre convention in its own right as the old-style police box was phased out of use. The anachronism has become more pronounced since there have been very few police boxes of that style left in Britain for some considerable time.

Although it is supposed to blend inconspicuously into whatever time or environment it turns up in, it invariably shows up in the police box shape. The rationalisation for being "stuck" in the shape of a police box was attributed in the second episode of the series to a malfunction in the chameleon circuit. Despite his considerable ingenuity in other fields and his ownership of a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor has been unable to fix this problem completely; the occasional temporary success has always been followed by a return to the status quo (in the 2005 episode Boom Town, the Ninth Doctor implied that he had stopped trying to fix the circuit quite some time ago because he'd become fond of the police box shape). Ironically, the exterior appearance of the TARDIS (despite slight changes in the prop) has become the most unchanging feature of the show over the course of its run, and the shape of the police box is now more immediately associated with the Doctor than with the police.

In 1996, the BBC applied to the UK Patent Office to register the TARDIS as a trademark. This was challenged by the Metropolitan Police who, not unreasonably, felt that they owned the rights to the police box image. However, the Patent Office found that there was no evidence that the Metropolitan Police — or any other police force — had ever registered the image as a trademark. In addition, the BBC had been selling merchandise based on the image for over three decades without complaint by the police. The Patent Office issued a ruling in favour of the BBC in 2002.

The TARDIS's ability to "travel" by dematerialising (vanishing) from one point and, after traversing the space-time vortex, simply rematerialising (appearing from nothing) somewhere else was also one of the trademarks of the show, allowing for a great deal of versatility in setting and storytelling without a large expense in special effects. The distinctive sound of the accompanying effect (actually classified as a musical piece) a cyclic wheezing, groaning noise, was originally created in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by Brian Hodgson recording, then electronically treating, the sound of his keys along the strings of an old, gutted piano.

General characteristics

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The console room from the first episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child (1963).

TARDISes draw their power from a variety of sources, but their primary source of power is a dimensional link to the nucleus of an artificial black hole created by the legendary Time Lord Omega. Each TARDIS's individual link, and the nucleus itself, is known as the Eye of Harmony. Other elements needed for the proper functioning of the TARDIS and requiring occasional replenishment include mercury (used in its fluid links) and the rare ore Zeiton 7.

Before a TARDIS (referred to as a ship by the Doctor) is fully functional, it needs to be primed with the biological imprint from the symbiotic nuclei of a Time Lord. Known as the Rassilon Imprimatur, this gives them a symbiotic link to their TARDISes and allows them to survive the physical stresses of time travel. Without the Imprimatur, molecular disintegration would result, a safeguard against misuse of time travel, even if the TARDIS technology were copied. Once a time machine is properly primed, however, and the imprint stored on a component (a briode nebuliser), it can be used safely by any species. According to Time Lord law, the unauthorized use of a TARDIS carries "only one penalty," implied to be death.

Apart from their ability to travel in space and time, the most remarkable characteristic of a TARDIS is that its interior is much larger than its exterior appearance would imply. The show has explained this by saying that a TARDIS is "dimensionally transcendental", meaning that its exterior and interior exist in separate dimensions. In The Robots of Death, the Doctor uses the analogy of how a larger cube can appear to be able to fit inside a smaller one if the larger cube is further away, yet immediately accessible at the same time (see: Tesseract). According to the Doctor, transdimensional engineering was a key Time Lord discovery.

There is some disagreement over whether the "D" in the name stands for "dimension" or "dimensions"; both have been used in various episodes.1 Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, claimed to have coined the name TARDIS, but the name appears to be applied to all Time Lord time machines by others. This apparent inconsistency, like others over the course of the programme's history, has generated some lively debate among fans.

The Doctor's TARDIS

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The secondary console room from the 1976-77 season.

In the programme, the Doctor's TARDIS is an obsolete Type 40 TT capsule (presumably TT stands for "time travel") that he unofficially "borrowed" when he departed his home planet of Gallifrey. Of the 305 registered Type 40s, all others have since been decommissioned and replaced by new, improved models. However, the changing appearance of the primary console room over the years implies that the Doctor does upgrade the TARDIS's systems every now and then.

The exterior doors of the police box operated separately from the heavier interior doors, although sometimes the two sets could open simultaneously to allow the ship's passengers to look directly outside and vice versa. Once through the doors of the police box, the TARDIS interior has a vast number of rooms and corridors. The exact dimensions of the interior have not been specified, but apart from living quarters, the interior includes an art gallery (which is actually an ancilliary power station), a bathroom with a swimming pool, a medical bay and several brick-walled storage areas (all seen in The Invasion of Time). The fact that the Doctor was able to jettison 25 percent of the TARDIS's structure in Castrovalva to provide added "thrust", however, implies a finite volume.

The exterior dimensions can be severed from the interior dimensions under extraordinary circumstances. In Father's Day, an episode of the new series that began in 2005, a temporal paradox resulting in a wound in time throws the interior of the ship out of the wound, leaving the TARDIS an empty shell of a police box.

The console rooms

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The console room of the Fifth Doctor's era, first seen in The Five Doctors (1983).

The TARDIS has at least two console rooms — the primary, white-walled, futuristic one seen most often throughout the programme's history and the secondary console room used during the fourteenth season (19761977), which has wood panelling and a more antique feel to it. Two other console rooms have also been seen, in the 1996 Doctor Who television movie and the 2005 series. The cavernous, steampunk-inspired console room of the television movie may have been a reconfiguration of either of the previously mentioned console rooms (as first suggested in Virgin New Adventures spin-off novels) or another one entirely.

In the 2005 series, the console room became a dome-shaped chamber with organic-looking support columns. The interior doors are now absent, with the police box doors being clearly visible from inside the TARDIS. Although the interior corridors have not been seen yet in the new series, the fact that they still exist was established in The Unquiet Dead, when the Doctor gave Rose some very complicated directions to the TARDIS wardrobe. The entrance to the TARDIS continues to be capable of being locked and unlocked from the outside with a key, which the Doctor keeps on his person. In the new series, the key is also remotely linked to the TARDIS, capable of signalling its presence or impending arrival by glowing.

The Virgin novels introduced a tertiary console room, which was described as resembling a Gothic cathedral (Nightshade by Mark Gatiss), and suggested that the "native" configuration is so complex and irrational that most non-Time Lords who witness it are driven mad from the experience (Death and Diplomacy by Dave Stone).

The main feature of the console rooms, in any of the known configurations, is the TARDIS console that holds the instruments that control the ship's functions. The appearance of the primary TARDIS consoles have varied widely but share common details; hexagonal pedestals with controls around the periphery and a moveable column in the center that bobs rhythmically up and down when the TARDIS is in flight. The central column is often erroneously referred to in fan literature as the "time rotor", although in The Chase, the time rotor was actually another component on the TARDIS console. However, the use of this term has passed into fanon, and even the production team of the new series refers to the central column as the time rotor.

Missing image
The console room from the 1996 television movie.

The secondary console was smaller, with the controls hidden behind wooden panels, and had no central column. The 1996 television movie console also appeared to be made of wood and the central column connected to the ceiling of the console room. The new series' console is circular in shape and divided into six segments, with both the control panels and the central column glowing green, the latter once again connected to the ceiling.

A distinctive architectural feature of the TARDIS interior is the "roundel". In the context of the TARDIS, a roundel is a circular decoration that adorns the walls of the rooms and corridors of the TARDIS, including the console room. Some roundels conceal TARDIS circuitry and devices, as seen in the serials The Wheel in Space, Logopolis, Castrovalva, Arc of Infinity and Terminus. The design of the roundels has varied throughout the show's history, from a basic circular cut-out with black background to a photographic image printed on wall board, to translucent illuminated discs in later serials. In the secondary console room, most of the roundels were executed in recessed wood paneling, with a few decorative ones in what appeared to be stained glass. In the new series, the roundels are built into hexagonal recesses in the walls of the new console room.

In the Third Doctor serial The Time Monster (1972), the console room of the TARDIS was dramatically altered, including the wall roundels. This new set, designed by Tim Gleeson, was disliked by producer Barry Letts who felt that the new roundels resembled washing-up bowls stuck to the wall. As it turned out, the set was damaged in storage between production blocks and had to be rebuilt, so this particular design only saw service in the one serial.

TARDIS systems

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The new series console room, first seen in the 2005 season.

Because the TARDIS is so old, it is inclined to break down. The Doctor is often seen with his head stuck in a panel carrying out maintenance of some kind or another, and he occasionally has to give it "percussive maintenance" (a good thump on the console) to get it to start working properly. Efforts to repair, control, and maintain the TARDIS were frequent plot devices throughout the show's run. This creates the amusing irony of a highly-advanced space-time machine which is at the same time an obsolete and unreliable piece of junk. The new series console room has a much more thrown-together appearance than previous consoles, with bits of junk substituting as makeshift controls, including a glass paperweight, a small bell and a bicycle pump.

The TARDIS is possessed of telepathic circuits, although the Doctor prefers to pilot it manually. In Pyramids of Mars, its controls are said to be isomorphic, that is, only the Doctor can operate them. However, this characteristic seems to appear and disappear when dramatically convenient, and various companions have been seen to be able to operate the TARDIS and even fly it.

Missing image
The Jade Pagoda, art by Peter Elson.

It has been theorised that the isomorphic feature is a security feature that the Doctor can activate and deactivate when convenient. The Time Lords (as well as similarly powerful beings) are able to divert the TARDIS's flight path (Genesis of the Daleks) as the renegade Time Lord known as the Rani also did once (The Mark of the Rani). The Rani used a Stattenheim remote control to summon her TARDIS to her. In The Two Doctors the Second Doctor also used a portable Stattenheim.

Some of the TARDIS's other functions include a force field and the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS), which can teleport the ship away if it is attacked (The Krotons). The Cloister Room on the TARDIS sounds the Cloister Bell when disaster is imminent. The interior of the TARDIS also exists in a state of "Temporal Grace", which is supposed to ensure that no weapons can be used inside its environs. This last function is also inconsistent in its application, as seen in Earthshock and The Parting of the Ways. The TARDIS also grants its passengers the ability to understand and speak other languages. This was previously described in The Masque of Mandragora as a "Time Lord gift" which the Doctor shared with his companions, but was ultimately attributed to the TARDIS's telepathic field in The End of the World.

At times the TARDIS also appears to have a mind of its own. It is heavily implied in the television series that the TARDIS is intelligent to a degree, and has a bond with those who travel in it (in Enemy Within, the Doctor calls the TARDIS "sentimental"). These characteristics have been made more explicit in the spin-off novels and audio plays. In the Big Finish Productions audio adventure Omega, the Doctor meets a TARDIS which "dies" after its Time Lord master has passed away. In the 2005 episode Boom Town, a portion of the TARDIS control panel opens and a luminescent vapour can be seen within. The Doctor describes this phenomenon as the heart of the TARDIS.

A portion of the TARDIS that could be separated and used for independent travel featured in two Virgin novels, Iceberg by David Banks and Sanctuary by David A. McIntee. This subset of the TARDIS had limited range and functionality, but was used occassionally when the main TARDIS was incapacitated, and its exterior resembled a small pagoda fashioned out of jade. A Yahoo! Groups electronic mailing list dedicated to discussion of the Doctor Who spinoff novels adopted the name "Jade Pagoda".

Other TARDISes

Other TARDISes have appeared in the television series. The Master had his own TARDIS, a more advanced model whose chameleon circuit was not broken. In the serial Logopolis, the Master tricks the Doctor into materialising his TARDIS around the Master's, creating a dimensionally recursive loop, with each TARDIS appearing inside the other's console room. Other Time Lords with TARDISes included the Meddling Monk and the Rani. The War Chief provided dimensionally transcendent time machines named SIDRATs to the alien race known as the War Lords. In The Chase and The Daleks' Master Plan, the Daleks named their time machines DARDISes.

In the spin-off media, Gallifreyan Battle TARDISes have appeared in the comic books, novels and audio plays, which fire "time torpedoes" that freeze the target in time. The renegade Time Lady Iris Wildthyme's own TARDIS was disguised as a No. 22 London Bus, but was slightly smaller on the inside than it is on the outside. The novels have stated that future model Type 102 TARDISes will be fully sentient, and able to take on humanoid form (Alien Bodies). The Eighth Doctor's companion Compassion was the first Type 102 TARDIS (The Shadows of Avalon).

In the Big Finish Productions audio play The One Doctor, confidence trickster Banto Zame impersonated the Doctor. However, due to incomplete information, his copy of the TARDIS (a short range transporter) was called a Stardis instead, resembled a portaloo rather than a police box, and was not dimensionally transcendental.

Outside of Doctor Who, the TARDIS has been immortalized in space: Asteroid 3325 was named "TARDIS" in its honour. In the 1989 movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the two protagonists travel in a time machine disguised as a phone booth, although it is not bigger on the inside than on the out.

Since the destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords as stated in the 2005 series, whether any other TARDISes still exist is uncertain.

Other appearances and merchandising

As one of the most recognisable images connected with Doctor Who, the TARDIS has appeared on numerous items of merchandise associated with the programme. TARDIS scale models of various sizes have been manufactured to accompany other Doctor Who dolls and action figures, some with sound effects included. Fan-built full size models of the police box are also common. There have been TARDIS-shaped video games, play tents for children, toy boxes, cookie jars and even a police-box shaped bottle for a TARDIS bubble bath.

With the 2005 series revival, a TARDIS-shaped DVD/CD cabinet, standing 22 inches tall with adjustable shelves, was due to be released at the end of May by Cod Steaks Ltd, a Bristol-based model-making company. Other TARDIS-related merchandise announced in conjunction with the new series include a TARDIS coin-box and a TARDIS that attaches to your telephone and flashes when an incoming call is detected. When the complete 2005 season DVD box set is released in November 2005, the box will resemble a TARDIS.

The TARDIS has been the subject of artistic works apart from Doctor Who. In 1988 the band The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (later known as The KLF) released the single "Doctorin' The Tardis" under the name The Timelords.


  • 1. The very first story, 100,000 BC, used the singular "Dimension" and other episodes followed suit for the next couple of years. The 1964 novelisation Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks used the plural "Dimensions" for the first time and the 1965 serial The Time Meddler introduced it to the television series. Since then both versions have been used on different occasions. In Rose, the first episode of the 2005 series, the Doctor uses the singular form.

See also

External links


  • Harris, Mark (1983). The Doctor Who Technical Manual UK: Random House, ISBN 0394862147.
  • Nathan-Turner, John (1985). The TARDIS Inside Out UK: Picadilly Press, Ltd, ISBN 0394874153.
  • Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1994). The First Doctor Handbook London, UK: Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0-426-2-430-1.
  • Howe, David J & Blumberg, Arnold T (2003). Howe's Transcendental Toybox: The Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who Collectibles UK: Telos Publishing, ISBN 1-903889-56-1.

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