A product of Time Lord technology, a properly maintained and piloted TARDIS can transport its occupants to any point in time and space. The interior of a TARDIS is much larger than its exterior, which can blend in with its surroundings through the ship's chameleon circuit. In the series, the Doctor pilots an unreliable, stolen, obsolete Type 40 TARDIS, once referred to as a TT Capsule, whose chameleon circuit is faulty, leaving it locked in the shape of a 1950s-style London police box after a visit to London in 1963. It was stolen from Gallifrey where it was an old decommissioned derelict, and the unpredictability of the TARDIS's short range guidance — that is, relative to the size of the entire Universe — has often been a plot point in the Doctor's travels.
Although "TARDIS" is a type of craft, rather than a specific one, the Doctor's TARDIS is usually referred to as "the" TARDIS or, in some of the earlier serials, just as "the ship" or "the capsule". (In the two 1960s Dalek films, the craft was referred to as Tardis, without the definite article.)
Doctor Who has become so much a part of British popular culture that not only has the shape of the police box become more immediately associated with the TARDIS than with its real-world inspiration, the word "TARDIS" has been 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.
When Doctor Who was being developed in 1963, the production staff discussed what the Doctor's time machine would look like. To keep the design within budget, it was decided to make it resemble a police box. This was explained in the context of the series as a disguise created by the ship's "chameleon circuit", a mechanism which is responsible for changing the outside appearance of the ship in order to fit in with its environment. A further premise was that the circuit was broken, explaining why it was "stuck" in that form.
The idea for the police-box disguise came from BBC staff writer Anthony Coburn, who rewrote the programme's first episode from a draft by C. E. Webber. Coburn is believed to have conceived the time machine's external form after spotting a real police box while walking near his office on a break from writing the episode. In that first episode, An Unearthly Child, the TARDIS is first seen in a 1963 junkyard; it subsequently malfunctions, retaining the police box shape in a prehistoric landscape.
At the time of the series' debut in 1963, the police box was still a common fixture in British cities. It provided a direct telephone link to the local police station, but contrary to popular conception, the telephone was on the exterior of the box, and the box itself was designed for use as a temporary holding cell. (In the 2005 episode The Empty Child the Doctor states that the phone on the outside of the TARDIS is a dummy, and is not connected to anything - although in that particular episode, it rings.) With some 700 in London alone, it was a logical choice for camouflaging a time machine. While the idea may have begun as a creative ploy by the BBC to save time and money on props, it 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. Despite changes in the prop, the TARDIS has become the show's most consistently recognisable visual element.
The type of police box the TARDIS resembled was normally constructed out of concrete. However, the props for the television series were originally made out of wood, and later on from fibreglass, for easy transportation and construction on location as well as within the confines of a studio set. The props have also varied slightly in their dimensions and designs over the years, and do not conform precisely to their real-life counterparts — all are slightly scaled down versions of the real thing.
The production team conceived of the TARDIS travelling by dematerialising at one point and rematerialising elsewhere, although sometimes in the series it is shown also to be capable of conventional space travel. In the 2006 Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride", the Doctor remarks that for a space ship, the TARDIS does remarkably little flying. The ability to travel simply by fading into and out of different locations became 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 accompanying sound effect — a cyclic wheezing, groaning noise — was originally created in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by Brian Hodgson. He produced the effect by dragging a set of house keys along the strings of an old, gutted piano. The resulting sound was then recorded and electronically processed with echo and reverb. When employed in the series, the sound is synchronised with the flashing light on top of the police box. The comic strip feature of Doctor Who Magazine traditionally represents the ship's distinctive dematerialisation sound with the onomatopoeic phrase "vworp vworp".
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 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.
TARDISes are grown, not made ("The Impossible Planet"). They draw their power from several sources, but primarily from the singularity of an artificial black hole, known as the Eye of Harmony (the 1996 Doctor Who television movie). In The Edge of Destruction (1964), the power source of the TARDIS (referred to as the "heart of the TARDIS") is said to be beneath the central column of the console, with the rise and fall of the column an indication of its functioning. They are also said to draw power from the entire universe as revealed in the episode "Rise of the Cybermen", in which the TARDIS is brought to a parallel universe and cannot function without the use of a crystal power source from within the TARDIS, charged by the Doctor's life force.
Other elements needed for the proper functioning of the TARDIS and requiring occasional replenishment include mercury (used in its fluid links), the rare ore Zeiton 7 (Vengeance on Varos, 1985) and "artron energy." The latter is a form of temporal energy, generated by Time Lord minds, which is also said to help power TARDISes (The Deadly Assassin, 1976; Four to Doomsday, 1982). Another form of energy, "huon energy", is found in the heart of the TARDIS and (apart from the activities of the Torchwood Institute) nowhere else in the universe ("The Runaway Bride").
Before a TARDIS becomes fully functional, it must be primed with the biological imprint of a Time Lord, normally done by simply having a Time Lord operate the TARDIS for the first time. This imprint comes from the Rassilon Imprimatur, part of the biological makeup of Time Lords, which gives them both a symbiotic link to their TARDISes and the ability to withstand the physical stresses of time travel (The Two Doctors, 1985).
Without the Imprimatur, molecular disintegration would result; this serves as a safeguard against misuse of time travel even if the TARDIS technology were copied. Once a time machine is properly primed, however, with the imprint stored on a device called a "briode nebuliser", it can be used safely by any species. According to Time Lord law, unauthorised use of a TARDIS carries "only one penalty", implied to be death.
A TARDIS usually travels by dematerialising in one spot, traversing the time vortex, and then rematerialising at its destination, without physically travelling through the intervening space. However, the Doctor's TARDIS has been seen to be able to fly through physical space, first in Fury from the Deep (1968) and at repeated times throughout the revived series, most notably in "The Runaway Bride" (2006), in which the TARDIS is actually shown launching into space (most previous incidents show the TARDIS flying only after it has dematerialised from a location). As seen in "The Runaway Bride", extended flight of this nature puts a strain on the TARDIS's systems. While a TARDIS can materialise inside another, if both TARDISes occupy exactly the same space, a Time Ram will occur, resulting in the mutual annihilation of both (The Time Monster). In Logopolis, the Master tricked the Doctor into materialising his TARDIS around the Master's, creating a dimensionally recursive loop (each TARDIS appears inside the other's console room).
Apart from the ability to travel in space and time (and, on occasion, to other dimensions), the most remarkable characteristic of a TARDIS is that its interior is much larger than it appears from the outside. The explanation is that a TARDIS is "dimensionally transcendental", meaning that its exterior and interior exist in separate dimensions. In The Robots of Death (1977), the Fourth Doctor tried to explain this to his companion Leela, using the analogy of how a larger cube can appear to be able to fit inside a smaller one if the larger cube is farther away, yet immediately accessible at the same time (see Tesseract). According to the Doctor, transdimensional engineering was a key Time Lord discovery. To those unfamiliar with this aspect of a TARDIS, stepping inside the ship for the first time usually results in a reaction of shocked disbelief as they see the interior dimensions.
Susan Foreman, the Doctor's granddaughter, claimed to have coined the name TARDIS: "I made [it] up from the initials". However, the word TARDIS is used to describe other Time Lords' travel capsules as well. The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Keith Topping and Martin Day suggests that "[she] was an influential young lady, and her name for time machines caught on." The Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow by Marc Platt records Susan telling the First Doctor that she gave him the idea when he was, implicitly, the "Other".
As seen in The Trial of a Time Lord (1986), the experiences of the TARDIS and its crew can be recorded and played back from the Matrix, the Time Lord computer network that is the repository of all their knowledge. The Doctor implies in this serial, with his protestations of being "bugged", that the TARDIS is not normally connected to the Matrix in this manner.
The TARDIS has been shown to be incredibly rugged, withstanding gunfire (the 1996 Doctor Who television movie, "The Runaway Bride"), temperatures of 3000 degrees without even scorching ("42"), atmospheric reentry ("Voyage of the Damned"), and falls of several miles ("The Satan Pit"). In The Curse of Peladon, after the TARDIS falls down the side of a cliff (and is later found to be undamaged), the Third Doctor remarks that it "may have its faults, but it is indestructible." This clearly doesn't apply when facing certain extremely-advanced weaponry, often created after the Doctor's Type 40 TARDIS, such as Dalek missiles ("The Parting of the Ways"), for which the TARDIS requires additional shielding. Another piece of advanced Dalek technology which comes near to destroying the TARDIS is the heart & power source of the "Crucible" in Journey's End (2008). Furthermore, in Frontios (1984), the Fifth Doctor believes the TARDIS to have been destroyed in a meteorite bombardment, apparently contradicting the earlier claim of indestructibility. In 2007's Christmas special Voyage of the Damned, the TARDIS is hit in mid-flight, creating a large hole in the interior wall, although its shields are down at the time. The Doctor later activates some controls and the TARDIS again becomes able to withstand an atmospheric reentry.
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. According to the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Gallifrey Chronicles by Lance Parkin, it previously belonged to a Time Lord named Marnal, who was, like the Doctor, something of a renegade. By the time of The Pirate Planet, the Doctor has been flying it for 523 years.
There were originally 305 registered Type 40s, but all the others had been decommissioned and replaced by new, improved models (The Deadly Assassin). However, the changing appearance of the primary console room over the years and the Second Doctor's statement in 1972's The Three Doctors ("Ah! I can see you've been doing the TARDIS up a bit. I don't like it.") suggests that the Doctor does upgrade the TARDIS's systems on occasion, though it has been implied that the ship's ability to reconfigure its interior architecture applies to the console room too. In the 2007 Children in Need special "Time Crash" the Fifth Doctor complains to the Tenth Doctor that he had "changed the desktop theme!". This implies that the TARDIS interior can be changed at whim to various different appearances.
The TARDIS was already old when the Doctor first took it, but exactly how old is a matter of conjecture; the spin-off media have, on a number of occasions, had the TARDIS wait around for the Doctor for decades and even centuries in relative time. In "The Empty Child" (2005), the Ninth Doctor claimed that he has had "900 years of phone box travel". In the unfinished TV serial Shada, fellow Time Lord Professor Chronotis said that the Type 40 TARDISes came out when he was a boy, which showed how old he was considering that he was on his final incarnation.
The Doctor attempts to repair the circuit in Logopolis and Attack of the Cybermen, but the successful transformation of the TARDIS into the shapes of a pipe organ and an elaborate gateway in the latter serial was followed by a return to the status quo. The circuit was also repaired during the Virgin New Adventures novels, but again the TARDIS's shape was eventually set back to a default police box shape. In "Boom Town" (2005), the Ninth Doctor implied that he had stopped trying to fix the circuit quite some time ago because he'd become rather fond of the police box shape — a claim the Eighth Doctor likewise made in the 1996 television movie.
Cosmetically, the police box exterior of the TARDIS has remained virtually unchanged, although there have been slight modifications over the years. For example, the sign on the door concealing the police telephone has changed from black letters on a white background to white on black and white on blue at various times. Other modifications include the continual jumping back and forth of wording on the phone panel from reading "Urgent Calls" to "All Calls". The "POLICE BOX" sign was wider from Season 18 onwards and for the 2005 series, but not for the television movie. Early in the programme the TARDIS also had a St. John Ambulance badge on the main doors, but this eventually disappeared. "The Empty Child" revealed that the telephone cupboard could be opened and actually contained a telephone, but that this device is non-functional because it is not connected to any telephone lines.
Despite the anachronistic police box shape, the TARDIS's presence is rarely questioned when it materialises in the present-day United Kingdom. In "Boom Town", the Doctor simply noted that humans do not notice odd things like the TARDIS, echoing a similar sentiment expressed by the Seventh Doctor in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), that humans have an "amazing capacity for self-deception". Various episodes, notably "The Sound of Drums", also note that the TARDIS generates a perception filter to reinforce the idea that it is perfectly ordinary.
In the 2005 series, the keys are also remotely linked to the TARDIS, capable of signalling its presence or impending arrival by heating up and glowing. The TARDIS keys have varied in design from an ordinary Yale key to an ankh-like key embossed with an alien pattern (identified in Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke's 1972 book The Making of Doctor Who as the constellation of Kasterborous, Gallifrey's home system) from seasons 11 to 13, after which it reverted to the Yale key design. The ankh-like key was also used in the 1996 television movie. In Ghost Light and Survival a different design, featuring the Seal of Rassilon was used. The revived series uses the Yale key version, most notably shown in "Blink" (2007), when the Weeping Angels attempt to gain access to the TARDIS using a stolen key.
The key is also able to repair temporal anomalies and paradoxes, including death aversion through its link to the TARDIS (somehow).
The TARDIS lock's security level has varied from story to story. Originally, it was said to have 21 different "holes" and would melt if the key was placed in the wrong one (The Daleks, 1963). The First Doctor was also able to unlock it with his ring (The Web Planet, 1965) and repair it by using the light of an alien sun refracted through the ring's jewel (The Daleks' Master Plan). In "Utopia" (2007), the TARDIS was shown to have an internal deadlock; once thrown, it would prevent entry even for authorized users with authorized keys. The keys were also shown in "The Sound of Drums", when the Tenth Doctor used three of them (his own as well as Martha's and Jack's) as part of a plan to avoid the Master.
The changing design of the TARDIS keys also suggests that the Doctor changes the lock system every now and then, and that it does not always work the same way. In Spearhead from Space (1970), the Third Doctor said that the lock had a metabolism detector, so that even if an unauthorised person had a key, the doors would remain locked. This security measure was also seen in the New Series Adventures novel Only Human by Gareth Roberts, which called it an "advanced meson recognition system." The Ninth Doctor claimed that when the doors were shut, even "the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan" could not enter ("Rose"). In "Doomsday" when the TARDIS is confiscated, the Doctor claims, "You'll never get inside it." That being said, several people have managed to just wander into the TARDIS without any problem over the years, including some who became companions; since the TARDIS uses keys, it could easily have been left unlocked. Despite the TARDIS's apparent infallibility in its security some of the instruments inside or the interior itself have been breached and remote controlled. In the serial The War Games, the Time Lords manage to breach the inside of the TARDIS while in mid flight and landing in order to erect something similar to a forcefield. In "Utopia", the Doctor was able to lock the TARDIS to the co-ordinates it had previously visited from outside using the sonic screwdriver.
In the 2008 episode "Forest of the Dead" the character River Song (an apparent future companion of the Doctor) says to the Doctor that she knows he would be able to open the TARDIS doors with a snap of his fingers. Although the Doctor dismisses this as impossible, at the conclusion of the episode, he opens and closes the doors by doing just that, eschewing the need for a key.
The doors are supposed to be closed while materialising; in Planet of Giants (1964), the opening of the doors during a materialisation sequence caused the ship and its occupants to shrink to doll size. In The Enemy of the World (1967), taking off while the doors were still open resulted in rapid decompression, with the villainous Salamander being sucked out of the TARDIS. The Second Doctor and his companions managed to cling to the console, and the crisis passed when Jamie managed to shut the doors. In Warriors' Gate (1981), the doors open during flight between two universes, admitting a Tharil named Biroc, and allowing the time winds to burn the Doctor's hand and seriously damage K-9. In "The Runaway Bride" (December 2006) and "The Stolen Earth" (2008), however, the doors can be opened safely while the ship is in vacuum, as the TARDIS somehow protects its occupants (see the "Defences" section below).
There is evidence that objects clinging to the outside of the TARDIS may be carried with it as it dematerialises. In Silver Nemesis (1988), an arrow is fired at the TARDIS and is embedded in its door. The arrow remains in the door throughout the serial and through several dematerialisations before being removed at the story's conclusion; this is repeated in "The Shakespeare Code" (2007), and the arrow is subsequently removed in the following episode. "Utopia" presented, for the first time on screen, a circumstance in which a character travels on the exterior of the TARDIS during a flight, when Jack Harkness is somehow able to grab hold of the TARDIS as it began to dematerialise and hold on to its destination; the episode does establish, however, that a normal person would not have survived the trip as Harkness is "killed" by the experience, but due to his immortality, soon revives.
In the Seventh Doctor audio drama Colditz, a character was killed by being halfway inside the TARDIS when it dematerialised. As usual for Doctor Who, the canonicity of non-television stories is unclear.
The exterior dimensions can be severed from the interior dimensions under extraordinary circumstances. In Frontios (1984), when the TARDIS was destroyed in a Tractator-induced meteor storm, the interior ended up outside the police box shell with various bits embedded in the surrounding rock. The Doctor eventually tricked the Gravis, leader of the Tractators, into reassembling the ship. In "Father's Day" (2005), a temporal paradox resulting in a wound in time threw the interior of the ship out of the wound, leaving the TARDIS an empty shell of a police box. The Doctor attempted to use the TARDIS key in conjunction with a small electrical charge to recover the ship, but the process was interrupted and the TARDIS was only restored after the paradox was resolved.
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 ancillary power station), a greenhouse, a bathroom with a swimming pool (which was jettisoned by the Seventh Doctor in Paradise Towers after it sprang a leak), a medical bay, several brick-walled storage areas (all seen in The Invasion of Time, 1978), and a secondary control room (with ornate wood panels, and was used for a time by the Fourth Doctor) . Portions of the TARDIS can also be isolated or reconfigured; the Doctor was able to jettison 25% of the TARDIS's structure in Castrovalva to provide additional "thrust".
Despite a widespread assumption that the interior of the TARDIS is infinite, there are indications that it is not. In Full Circle (1980), Romana stated that the weight of the TARDIS in Alzarius' Earth-like gravity was 5 × 106 kilograms (5000 tonnes). This presumably refers to its internal weight, as the external part of the TARDIS is light enough for it to be lifted or otherwise moved with relative ease (although most real police boxes were concrete and hence quite difficult to move): several men lift it up in Marco Polo, a group of small blue maintenance workers on Platform One push it along the ground in "The End of the World", and a quartet of Weeping Angels are able to rock it back and forth in "Blink", to name a few. If the exterior of the TARDIS is moved, the movement is transmitted to its interior.
In the tie-in novels, the interior of the TARDIS has been known to contain an entire city (Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible), used to encompass an entire parallel Earth (Blood Heat), and is big enough to dwarf Gallifrey itself when turned inside out (The Ancestor Cell). It is also seen to exist in multiple timelines.
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 (1968), Logopolis, Castrovalva (1981), Arc of Infinity (1983), Terminus (1983), and Attack of the Cybermen (1985). 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 panelling, 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.
Other rooms seen include living quarters for many of the Doctor's companions, although the Doctor's own bedroom has never been mentioned or seen. The TARDIS also had a "Zero Room" — a chamber that was shielded from the rest of the universe and provided a restful environment for the Fifth Doctor to recover from his regeneration in Castrovalva — which was among the 25% jettisoned. However, the Seventh Doctor spin-off novel Deceit indicated that the Doctor rebuilt the Zero Room shortly before the events of that novel. In some of the First Doctor serials, a nearby room contains a machine that dispenses food or nutrition bars to the Doctor and his companions. This machine disappears after the first few serials, although mention is occasionally made of the TARDIS kitchen.
Although the interior corridors were not seen in the 2005 series, the fact that they still exist was established in "The Unquiet Dead", when the Doctor gives Rose some very complicated directions to the TARDIS wardrobe. The wardrobe is mentioned several times in the original series and spin-off fiction, and seen in The Androids of Tara (1978), The Twin Dilemma (1984) and Time and the Rani (1987). The redesigned version, from which the Tenth Doctor chooses his new clothes, was seen in "The Christmas Invasion" (2005) as a large multi-levelled room with a helical staircase. Designer Ed Thomas has suggested that more rooms may be seen in coming episodes. The Doctor also mentions in "The Shakespeare Code" that the TARDIS has an attic.
The most often seen room of the TARDIS is its console room, where its flight controls are housed. The console room was designed by Peter Brachacki and was the only set he designed for the show. It was built on a shoestring budget and a tight schedule, which led to Brachacki leaving the show due to disagreements with the production team and possibly a feeling that he had been given an impossible task. Despite his leaving the show and mixed reactions as to how the set looked (producer Verity Lambert liked it but director Waris Hussein did not), the basic design of the hexagonal console and wall roundels has persisted to the present day.
The TARDIS has at least two console rooms: the primary, white-walled, futuristic one most used throughout the programme's history and the secondary console room used during Season 14, which has wood panelling and a more antique feel to it. 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 New Adventures novels and later in the Big Finish Productions audio plays) or another one entirely.
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.
In the 2005 series, the console room became a dome-shaped chamber with organic-looking support columns, as well as the aforementioned lack of interior doors. How this configuration came about is explained in "Time Crash" by the Fifth Doctor as a mere changing of "the desktop theme" to "Coral" (he also indicates that a "Leopard Skin" theme is also available, but he dislikes it). Other preceding theories involve the fact that the TARDIS interior was severely damaged by a cold fusion explosion in The Gallifrey Chronicles. Several episodes of the revived series, such as Army of Ghosts and the end of The Unicorn and the Wasp, reveal that there is a storeroom of some sort directly underneath the console room, as the Doctor is shown periodically obtaining equipment from this area, accessing it via a panel in the floor.
The Virgin novels introduced a tertiary console room, which was described as resembling a Gothic cathedral (Nightshade by Mark Gatiss). Another novel (Death and Diplomacy by Dave Stone) suggested that the "native" configuration is so complex and irrational that most non-Time Lords who witness it are driven mad from the experience.
The arrangement of the controls implies that the console was designed to be manned by more than one person. One piece of fan continuity, used in the spin-off media, and also mentioned by the current production team, is that the intended number of operators is somewhere between three and six. In "Journey's End", the Doctor confirms that the intended number is six; Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, Mickey Smith, Jack Harkness and the Doctor man the controls, and the TARDIS runs far more smoothly during that brief period than it normally does. This also explains why the Doctor tends to do a lot of manic running around the console while he is piloting the TARDIS, as well as the occasional difficulty he has in controlling it.
The console can be operated independently of the TARDIS. During the Third Doctor's era, he occasionally detaches the console from the TARDIS to perform repairs on it. In Inferno (1970) the Doctor rides a detached console into a parallel universe.
The central column is often referred to as the "time rotor", although when the term was first used in The Chase (1965) it referred to a different instrument on the TARDIS console. However, the use of this term to describe the central column was common in fan literature, and was finally used on screen to refer to the central column in Arc of Infinity (1983) and Terminus (1983). The current production team uses the term in the same way. It has also been called the "time column" in Logopolis (1981).
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.
The new series console has a much more thrown-together appearance than previous consoles, with bits of junk from various eras substituting as makeshift controls, including a glass paperweight, a small bell, and a bicycle pump, the latter identified in the Tenth Doctor interactive mini-episode "Attack of the Graske" as the vortex loop control. Three other controls — the dimensional stabiliser, vector tracker, and the handbrake — were also identified, but although the stabiliser had been mentioned before in the series, the canonicity of the mini-episode is also unclear. As seen in "World War Three", there is also a working telephone attached to the console.
Precisely how much control the Doctor has in directing the TARDIS has been inconsistently portrayed over the course of the series. The First Doctor did not initially seem to be able to accurately steer it, but over time subsequent Doctors seemed to be able to pilot it with more precision (for example, in Logopolis, the Fourth Doctor is able to make a "short hop" to the exact coordinates when he initially lands the TARDIS 1.6 metres off target). The Tenth Doctor also turned the TARDIS 90 degrees after landing with the doors against a wall in "Fear Her" (2006). However, writers continue to use the plot device of having the TARDIS randomly land somewhere, or imply that the TARDIS is "temperamental" in its courses through time and space, also the Doctor has confessed he failed a sort of driver's test for the TARDIS (The Shakespeare Code). The Tenth Doctor managed to pilot the TARDIS with such precision in "The Lazarus Experiment" as to have it land inside Martha's bedroom the morning after he had originally picked her up.
Following the Key to Time season (1978–79), the Doctor installed a randomiser to the console which prevented the Doctor (and by extension the evil and powerful Black Guardian) from knowing where the TARDIS would land next. This device was eventually removed in The Leisure Hive (1980). In the 2005 and later series, the Doctor is shown piloting the TARDIS at will, although he still makes the occasional error, such as missing his intended mark by a century (1879 instead of 1979) in "Tooth and Claw" (2006), making the mistake of 12 months instead of 12 hours in Aliens of London (2005), or getting the correct time but landing on the wrong continent (London instead of New York) in "The Idiot's Lantern" (2006). He can also choose to "set the controls to random" as in "Planet of the Ood" (2008).
In "Boom Town", a portion of the TARDIS console opens to reveal a luminescent vapour within, described by the Doctor as the "heart of the TARDIS", harking back to the description in The Edge of Destruction. In "The Parting of the Ways" (2005) it was shown that this is connected to the powerful energies of the time vortex.
The 1996 television movie was the first appearance of the central column being attached to the ceiling. However, a new design for the TARDIS console room was conceived after season 26, which featured the console being suspended from the ceiling via the central column; this design was never built, because the show was cancelled before a 27th season was produced; however, the set was used in a Doctor Who night presented by Sylvester McCoy, where a miniature was built and McCoy was superimposed into it.
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 have been frequent plot devices throughout the show's run, creating the amusing irony of a highly advanced time machine which, at the same time, is an obsolete and unreliable piece of junk.
It has been theorised that either the Doctor was lying to Sutekh or the isomorphic feature is a security feature that the Doctor can activate and deactivate when convenient. The Eighth Doctor does just this in the Big Finish Productions audio play Other Lives (2005) to allow his companion C'rizz to operate the console. In "Utopia", the Master has little trouble stealing the Doctor's TARDIS, which is most likely due to him being a Time Lord, although the Doctor "fuses the coordinates" of the TARDIS so that it can only journey between its two most recent journeys — the year 100 Trillion on Malcassairo, and England in the 21st century (with about eighteen months leeway due to the TARDIS's unpredictable nature).
Apart from the sound that accompanies dematerialisation, in The Web of Fear (1968), the TARDIS console was also seen to have a light that winked on and off during landing, although the more usual indicator of flight is the movement of the central column. The TARDIS also possesses a scanner so that its crew may examine the exterior environment before exiting the ship. In the 2005 series the scanner display is attached to the console and is able to display television signals as well as various computing functions and occasionally what the production team has stated are Gallifreyan numbers and text.
The 2005 series also sees the addition of the tribophysical waveform macro kinetic extrapolator to the TARDIS in the episode "Boom Town". This control was originally an intergalactic 'surf board' taken from the Slitheen. In the 2005 episode "The Parting of the Ways", Captain Jack Harkness uses it to rig up a force field that defends the ship from Dalek missiles. The Doctor uses it again in the Christmas 2006 episode "The Runaway Bride", to jar it a few hundred metres off course when being dragged back to the Empress of Racnoss, in a similar maneuver to one he used in The Web of Fear with another extra device he plugged into the console. In the last appearance, the TARDIS coral has begun to grow over the extrapolator, implying that the TARDIS is in some way starting to absorb it into its own systems.
In the television movie, access to the Eye of Harmony is controlled by means of a device that requires a human eye to open. Why the Doctor would program such a requirement is retroactively explained in the Big Finish Productions audio play The Apocalypse Element, where a Dalek invasion of Gallifrey prompts the Time Lords to code their security locks to the retinal patterns of the Sixth Doctor's companion Evelyn Smythe.
The TARDIS came with an instruction manual that the Sixth Doctor claims to have started reading but never finished.(Vengeance on Varos) Tegan Jovanka could not make sense of its contents, and Peri Brown later found it propping open a vent. Despite its complexity, some companions with exceptional intelligence, such as Nyssa, or familiarity with technology, such as Turlough and Jack Harkness, have been depicted as assisting the Doctor with TARDIS operations.
It was shown conclusively, in the 2008 Series, fourth season finale Journey's End that the TARDIS requires six pilots positioned at various stations around the central console, in order to be piloted properly. On that occasion, the six pilots were: Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, Mickey Smith, Jack Harkness and the (cloned) Doctor.
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, 1968). The force field is still on the TARDIS, as seen in The Runaway Bride, when the Tenth Doctor and the Bride, Donna Noble, are trying to escape the Empress of the Racnoss; however, the force field may simply have been insufficient to deal with the Dalek weaponry being fired at it, as the Daleks would presumably have sufficient weaponry to pose a threat to the Time Lords during the Time War. In Journey's End, the Doctor states that the Daleks created and led by Davros would have no problem breaching the TARDIS defenses. Another device, a Tribophysical waveform macro kinetic extrapolator, is installed to generate a force field in the episode "Boom Town" and to protect the ship from Dalek missiles in "The Parting of the Ways".
The TARDIS's Cloister Bell is a signal used in the event of "wild catastrophes and sudden calls to man the battle stations" (Logopolis).
The interior of the TARDIS is said to be in a state of "temporal grace" (The Hand of Fear, 1976). The Fourth Doctor explains that, in a sense, things do not exist while inside the TARDIS. This has the practical effect of ensuring that no weapons can be used inside its environs, though like many of the TARDIS's functions it is ignored when dramatically convenient. Weapons have been fired in the console room in Attack of the Cybermen, Earthshock (1982), "The Parting of the Ways" and "Last of the Time Lords", among others. When confronted by Nyssa on this contradiction in Arc of Infinity, the Doctor responded, "Yes, well, nobody's perfect." In The Invasion of Time, a guard's patrol staser will not function, even though K9's nose laser does. The Doctor explains on this occasion that the staser will not work within a relative dimensional stabiliser's field (such as that found in the TARDIS), perhaps explaining the inconsistent nature of weapon usage within the ship. In the audio story Human Resources, when a character mentions the temporal grace function, the Eighth Doctor says that his TARDIS "hasn't done that in years".
The TARDIS also has another shield which keeps it from interacting with other objects in the time vortex, namely other TARDISes. When the Doctor forgets to restore these shields after the events of "Last of the Time Lords", he ends up merging his TARDIS with that of his fifth incarnation. After successfully separating the two, the bow of the Titanic smashes through the inside wall of the TARDIS before he can raise it again. The damage is repaired however when the Doctor reverses time, pulling the Titanic back so the breach never occurred.
The TARDIS can be programmed to execute automatic functions based on certain conditions. It was programmed to return to the Doctor upon the insertion of one of Sally Sparrow's DVDs in "Blink." "Emergency Program One" will send Donna Noble back to her own time period if she is left alone in the TARDIS for more than five hours, which will send a signal to his sonic screwdriver. Originally, the Ninth Doctor used Emergency Program One to send Rose home in "The Parting of the Ways", although he triggered the program manually by using his sonic screwdriver.
The TARDIS also grants its passengers the ability to understand and speak other languages. This was previously described in The Masque of Mandragora (1976) 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" (2005). In "The Christmas Invasion", it was revealed that the Doctor himself is an integral element of this capability. Rose is unable to understand the alien Sycorax whilst the Doctor is in a regenerative crisis. In "The Impossible Planet" (2006), it is said that the TARDIS normally even translates writing; in that episode, the TARDIS is unable to translate an alien script, which the Doctor claims makes the language "impossibly old". In the Ninth Doctor Adventures novel Only Human, the telepathic field includes a filter that replaces foul or undesirable language with more acceptable terms. In "The Fires of Pompeii," it is shown that if a speaker speaks something in the native language of the area, the translation circuit renders these words back into the speaker's own language (for example, if an English speaker speaks Latin to an ancient Roman, the Latin speaker hears English - or, as he or she would recognise it with his or her frame of reference, "Celtic" or Welsh). However, the TARDIS does not translate Gallifreyan, as seen in "Utopia" when the Doctor was reading Gallifreyan numbers from the console monitor to tell where the TARDIS was going.
The TARDIS is able to tow another ship away ("The Satan Pit", 2006), or chase a ship or a transmission through space and time ("The Empty Child", 2005, and "The Stolen Earth", 2008). In "Journey's End", the TARDIS (assisted by the Rift Manipulator situated at Torchwood Three in Cardiff and the supercomputer Mr Smith) is able to tow the Earth across space.
At times the TARDIS appears to have a mind of its own. It is heavily implied in the television series that the TARDIS is "alive" and intelligent to a degree (first in The Edge of Destruction), and shares a bond with those who travel in it; in the television movie the Doctor calls the TARDIS "sentimental." In "The Parting of the Ways," the Doctor leaves a message for Rose when he believes he will never return, asking her to let the TARDIS die. In the same episode, Rose claims that the TARDIS is alive, echoing the Doctor's earlier statement in "Boom Town". The Doctor's TARDIS is also explicitly said to have died in the episode "Rise of the Cybermen," though the Doctor is able to revive it by giving up some of his life energy (reducing his life expectancy by a decade in the process). Other abilities the TARDIS displays include creating snow via "atmospheric excitation" ("The Runaway Bride") and through a "chameleon arch", engineering an almost witness protection-style relocation by making its Time Lord another species and placing them in a new fabricated identity with new memories somewhere else in space and time ("Human Nature", "The Family of Blood", "Utopia").
In the novels, a portion of the TARDIS could be separated and used for independent travel. This was featured in two Virgin novels, Iceberg by David Banks and Sanctuary by David A. McIntee. This subset of the TARDIS, resembling a small pagoda fashioned out of jade, had limited range and functionality, but was used occasionally when the main TARDIS was incapacitated. The sentient characteristics of the TARDIS have been made more explicit in the spin-off novels and audio plays. In the Big Finish audio play Omega, the Doctor meets a TARDIS which "dies" after its Time Lord master's demise.
Other TARDISes have appeared in the television series. The Master had at least two TARDISes of his own, each a more advanced model than the Doctor's. The chameleon circuits on these were fully functional, and his TARDISes have been seen in various forms, including a fully functional spacecraft, a grandfather clock, a fireplace, an Ionic column, a lorry, and an iron maiden. In the reconstructed Shada, the Time Lord known as Professor Chronotis has a TARDIS disguised as his quarters at Cambridge University. His was the only TARDIS ever seen in the TV series that was older than the Doctor's (or would have been had the story been finished as scheduled).
Other Time Lords with TARDISes included the Meddling Monk and the Rani. In The Armageddon Factor, Time Lord Drax has a TARDIS, but it is in need of repair. The War Chief provided dimensionally transcendent time machines named SIDRATs (Space and Inter-Dimensional Robot All-purpose Transporter, according to the novelisation of The War Games) to the alien race known as the War Lords. In the script for The Chase, Dalek time machines are known as 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 Eighth Doctor Adventures 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), and she was seen to have enough firepower to annihilate other TARDISes (The Ancestor Cell). Compassion and other humanoid timeships appear in the Faction Paradox spin-off material.
In the Big Finish 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. In Unregenerate!, the Seventh Doctor and Mel stopped a secret Time Lord project to download TARDIS minds into bodies of various alien species. This would have created living TARDIS pilots loyal to the Time Lords and ensuring that they would have ultimate control over any use of time travel technology by other races. Those created before the project was shut down departed on their own to explore the universe.
Since the destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords as stated in the 2005 series, the Doctor believes that his TARDIS is the last in the universe ("Rise of the Cybermen", 2006). The removal of Gallifrey — and by implication the Eye of Harmony — may also be why the TARDIS in "Boom Town" needed to refuel using radiation from a space-time rift. In "Rise of the Cybermen" the Doctor also states that the TARDIS draws power from "the universe", but is unable to do so while in an alternate reality.
The 28 October 2006 Radio Times, in an image of the Torchwood Three headquarters, identified a piece of large coral on Captain Jack Harkness's desk as the beginnings of a TARDIS. John Barrowman, who plays Jack in Torchwood and Doctor Who confirmed that "Jack's growing a TARDIS... It's probably been there for 30 years. I suppose in 500 years he'll be able to begin the carving process".
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, book ends, key chains, and even a police-box-shaped bottle for a TARDIS bubble bath. The 1993 VHS release of The Trial of a Time Lord was contained in a special edition tin shaped like the TARDIS.
With the 2005 series revival, a variety of TARDIS-shaped merchandise has been produced including a TARDIS coin box, TARDIS figure toy set, a TARDIS that detects the ring signal from a mobile phone and flashes when an incoming call is detected, TARDIS-shaped wardrobes and DVD cabinets, and a USB hub in the shape of the TARDIS. The complete 2005 season DVD box set released in November 2005 was issued in packaging that resembled the TARDIS.
One of the original model TARDISes used in the television series' production in the 1970s was sold at auction in December 2005 for £10,800.
The TARDIS has frequently appeared or been referred to in popular culture outside of Doctor Who. The TARDIS has also appeared in many Doctor Who spoofs and parodies over the years.
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