|Plot element from the Doctor Who television series|
|First appearance||An Unearthly Child (1963)|
|Function||Travels through time and space|
|Specific traits and abilities||Can change its outer dimensions and inner layout, impregnable, telepathic|
The TARDIS[nb 1][nb 2] (//; "Time And Relative Dimension In Space"[nb 3]) is a time machine and spacecraft that appears in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who and its various spin-offs. Due to the significance of Doctor Who in popular British culture, the shape of the police box has become associated with the TARDIS far more than its real-world inspiration.[nb 4] The name and design of the TARDIS is a registered trademark of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), despite the fact that the design was originally created by the Metropolitan Police Service.
The TV show Doctor Who mainly features a single TARDIS used by the central character the Doctor. However, in the series, other TARDISes are sometimes seen or used. TARDISes are built with a chameleon circuit, a type of technology that changes the exterior form of the ship to blend into the environment of whatever time or place it lands in. The Doctor's TARDIS always resembles a 1960s London police box (which were very common at the time), owing to a malfunction in the chameleon circuit after the events of An Unearthly Child, the pilot episode of the show (although it was temporally repaired in Attack of the Cybermen, which ends with it returning to the form of a police box). However, in the revived series (since 2005), it has been stated that despite the broken chameleon circuit, the TARDIS is able to generate a "perception filter", so that it is ignored by anyone not already aware of its presence. The Doctor had also stopped trying to repair the circuit around that time as he had become fond of its appearance. The other TARDISes that appear in the series have chameleon circuits that are fully functional. While the exterior is of limited size, the TARDIS is famously "bigger on the inside", with the interior being a whole separate dimension containing an infinite number of rooms, corridors and storage spaces, which can all change their appearances. Once the Doctor claimed that there was a swimming pool, and we sometimes see a changing room. The Doctor once claimed "the weight of the TARDIS would bring down the planet!" The TARDIS also has the ability to translate various languages to English. Whilst every TARDIS has a consciousness of sorts, the Doctor's TARDIS is notable in that it has a distinct personality. While it is unable to conventionally communicate with living beings, the Doctor is shown to have conversations with the ship on several occasions. It is also able to act independently of the Doctor, often taking him to places it deems he needs to be rather than he wants to be, and refusing to carry out his instructions if it considers them "wrong".
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 the outside resemble a police telephone box: this appearance was explained as being as a result of the mechanism, a "chameleon circuit", that changes the outside appearance of the ship the millisecond it lands (in order to blend in with its environment) being faulty, and thus it caused the TARDIS to be stuck appearing as a police box. The First Doctor explains that if it were to land in the middle of the Indian Mutiny, it might take on the appearance of a howdah (the carrier on the back of an elephant). Within the context of the series, the TARDIS's faulty chameleon circuit has been rationalised as one of its familiar characteristics. Despite being shown several times trying to repair it, the Doctor claims to have given up the attempt as he has grown accustomed to its appearance.
The idea for the police-box disguise came from a BBC staff writer, Anthony Coburn, who rewrote the programme's first episode from a draft by C. E. Webber. While there is no known precedent for this notion, a November 1960 episode of the popular radio comedy show Beyond our Ken included a sketch featuring a time machine described as "a long police box". In the first episode, "An Unearthly Child" (1963), the TARDIS is first seen in a scrapyard in 1963. It subsequently malfunctions, retaining the police box shape in a prehistoric landscape.
One of the designers for the first episode, Peter Brachacki, created the first Tardis. Nevertheless, one story has it that the box came from Z-Cars, while Doctor Who producer Steven Moffat has said that the original TARDIS prop was reused from Dixon of Dock Green, although this is explicitly contradicted by the research cited on the BBC's own website. Despite changes in the prop, the TARDIS has become the show's most consistently recognisable visual element.
The dimensions and colour of the TARDIS props used in the series have changed many times, as a result of damage and the requirements of the show, and none of the BBC props has been a faithful replica of the original MacKenzie Trench model. This was referenced on-screen in the episode "Blink" (2007), when the character Detective Inspector Shipton says the TARDIS "isn't a real [police box]. The phone's just a dummy, and the windows are the wrong size."[nb 5]
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 spaceship, 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. When employed in the series, the sound is usually synchronised with the flashing light on top of the police box, or the fade-in and fade-out effects of a TARDIS (see "Controls" below). Writer Patrick Ness has described the ship's distinctive dematerialisation noise as "a kind of haunted grinding sound", while the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips traditionally use the onomatopoeic phrase "vworp vworp vworp".
In 1996 the BBC applied to the UK Intellectual Property 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.
The word TARDIS is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The sound of the Doctor's TARDIS featured in the final scene of the Torchwood episode "End of Days" (2007). As Torchwood Three's hub is situated at a rift of temporal energy, the Doctor often appears on Roald Dahl Plass directly above it in order to recharge the TARDIS. In the episode, Jack Harkness hears the tell-tale sound of the engines, smiles and afterwards is nowhere to be found; the scene picks up in the cold open of the Doctor Who episode "Utopia" (2007) in which Jack runs to and holds onto the TARDIS just before it disappears.
Former companion Sarah Jane Smith has a diagram of the TARDIS in her attic, as shown in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Invasion of the Bane" (2007). In the two-part serial The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith (2008), Sarah Jane becomes trapped in 1951 and briefly mistakes an actual police public call box for the Doctor's TARDIS (the moment is even heralded by the Doctor's musical cue, frequently used in the revived series). It makes a full appearance in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (2009), in which the Doctor briefly welcomes Sarah Jane's three adolescent companions into the control room. It then serves as a backdrop for the farewell scene between Sarah Jane and the Tenth Doctor, which echoed nearly word-for-word her final exchange with the Fourth Doctor aboard the TARDIS in 1976. It reappears in Death of the Doctor (2010), where it is stolen by the Shansheeth who try to use it as an immortality machine, and transports Sarah Jane, Jo Grant and their adolescent companions (Rani Chandra, Clyde Langer and Santiago Jones).
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.
His best poems are like Doctor Who's Tardis, the solid streetcorner police box, which actually contains a sidereal spaceship.