Tardis BBC Television Center.jpg
TARDIS prop used between 2010 and 2017.
Plot element from the Doctor Who television series
First appearanceAn Unearthly Child (1963)
Created by
GenreScience fiction
In-story information
TypeTime machine/spacecraft
FunctionTravels through time and space
Specific traits and abilitiesCan change its outer dimensions and inner layout, impregnable, telepathic

The TARDIS[nb 1][nb 2] (/ˈtɑːdɪs/; "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.[6][7]


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".[citation needed]

Conceptual history

The Doctor's TARDIS as it looked between 2005 and 2010 on display at BBC Television Centre
The Doctor's TARDIS as it looked between 2005 and 2010 on display at BBC Television Centre

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[8] 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).[9] 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.[10][11] 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.[12] Nevertheless, one story has it that the box came from Z-Cars,[13] while Doctor Who producer Steven Moffat has said that the original TARDIS prop was reused from Dixon of Dock Green,[14] although this is explicitly contradicted by the research cited on the BBC's own website.[15] Despite changes in the prop, the TARDIS has become the show's most consistently recognisable visual element.

The TARDIS's main console room (2014–2017), filmed in Roath Lock, Cardiff
The TARDIS's main console room (2014–2017), filmed in Roath Lock, Cardiff

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,[16] and none of the BBC props has been a faithful replica of the original MacKenzie Trench model.[17] 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]

Police box mounted with a modern surveillance camera outside Earl's Court tube station in London
Police box mounted with a modern surveillance camera outside Earl's Court tube station in London

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.[19] 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",[20] while the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips traditionally use the onomatopoeic phrase "vworp vworp vworp".[21]

In 1996 the BBC applied to the UK Intellectual Property Office to register the TARDIS as a trademark.[22] 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.[23][24]

Other appearances

The word TARDIS is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.[25]


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.[citation needed] 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.[26] 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.[27]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ TARDIS is an acronym of "Time And Relative Dimension(s) in Space". Generally, "TARDIS" is written in all uppercase letters—this convention was popularised by the Target novelisations of the 1970s. However, the use of "Tardis" is equally correct (it was used in the Dr. Who [sic] films) and is consistent with current British press style, in which acronyms that form pronounceable words are spelled with only the first letters capitalised (for example, Bafta), while acronyms requiring each letter to be read out (also known as "initialisms") are capitalised in their entirety (for example, BBC). Many examples of the form Tardis are found in media and, occasionally, licensed publications (in the 2005 series episode "World War Three", the caller ID of the TARDIS is displayed on Rose Tyler's mobile phone as "Tardis calling"—this capitalisation of only the initial letter being the default setting for Nokia mobile phones). The OED has the word "Tardis" capitalised as such with a first appearance from the Times in 1969.[1]
  2. ^ The word "Tardis" first appeared in print in the Christmas 1963 edition of Radio Times[2] and this BBC (until 2011) publication has often[additional citation(s) needed] italicised it to connote a ship's name.
  3. ^ There is some disagreement over whether the "D" in the name stands for "dimension" or "dimensions"; both have been used in various episodes. The first story, An Unearthly Child (1963), used the singular "Dimension". The 1964 novelisation Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks used "Dimensions" for the first time and the 1965 serial The Time Meddler introduced the plural in the television series - although the script had it as singular, actor Maureen O'Brien changed it to "Dimensions".[3] Since then both versions have been used. It is singular in Frontios (1984), and in "Rose" (2005), the Ninth Doctor uses the singular (although this was a decision of actor Christopher Eccleston[4] the line was scripted in the plural).[5] The Tenth Doctor uses the singular in "Smith and Jones" (2007). The plaque set on the TARDIS console in the 2010–12 design also uses the singular form. In the 2011 episode "The Doctor's Wife" the TARDIS herself uses "Dimension". In "The Zygon Inversion" (2015), Osgood mentions hearing "a couple of different versions" of what TARDIS stands for. The Twelfth Doctor responds with a new acronym: "Totally and Radically Driving in Space".
  4. ^ A Grade II-listed police box in Newport, Wales is now commonly known as the Somerton TARDIS and has been painted with a scarf resembling that of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor.
  5. ^ The episode's writer Steven Moffat confirmed that this line was an in-joke aimed at fans on "Internet forums".[18]
  1. ^ "Tardis, n.". Oxford English Dictionary. June 2002. His best poems are like Doctor Who's Tardis, the solid streetcorner police box, which actually contains a sidereal spaceship.
  2. ^ "Article introducing Episode 1 of 'The Daleks' ("The Mutants"). From the Radio Times. Volume. 161. Issue No. 2093". The Doctor Who Cuttings Archive. 21–27 December 1963. Archived from the original on 19 June 2006.
  3. ^ Pixley, Andrew; Morris, Jonathan; Atkinson, Richard; McGown; Hadoke, Toby (27 January 2016). "The Time Meddler: Production". Doctor Who: The Complete History. Vol. 5. Panini Magazines/Hachette Partworks Ltd. p. 134.
  4. ^ Pixley, Andrew; Morris, Jonathan; Atkinson, Richard; McGown, Alistair; Hadoke, Toby (10 February 2016). "Rose: Production". Doctor Who: The Complete History. Vol. 48. Panini Magazines/Hachette Partworks Ltd. pp. 57–58.
  5. ^ Pixley, Andrew; Morris, Jonathan; Atkinson, Richard; McGown, Alistair; Hadoke, Toby (10 February 2016). "Rose: Pre-production". Doctor Who: The Complete History. Vol. 48. Panini Magazines/Hachette Partworks Ltd. p. 37.
  6. ^ UK Trade Mark no. EU000333757 filed 25 July 1996; Classes 9, 16, 25, 28, and 41. See https://trademarks.ipo.gov.uk/ipo-tmcase/page/Results/4/EU000333757.
  7. ^ "Case details for Trade Mark 1068700". UK Patent Office. Retrieved 28 January 2007.
  8. ^ Howe; Walker (2003), p. 23
  9. ^ "The Doctor Who Transcripts – The Time Meddler". chakoteya.net. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  10. ^ Howe; Walker (2003), p. 15–16
  11. ^ "Doctor Who fan in tardis replica plan for Herne Bay". BBC. 16 May 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  12. ^ Sibley, Anthony. "TARDIS prop history". Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  13. ^ Stewart, Robert W. (June 1994). "The Police Signal Box: A 100 Year History" (PDF). University of Strathclyde. p. 16. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  14. ^ "Doctor Who boss not worried by budget squeeze". BBC News Entertainment. BBC. 23 March 2010.
  15. ^ Howe, David J; Walker, Stephen James. "Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide: An Unearthly Child". BBC. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
  16. ^ Brooks, Will (4 March 2020). "The Props". Medium. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Doctor Who A History of the TARDIS Police Box Prop and its Modifications". Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  18. ^ Pixley, Andrew; Morris, Jonathan; Atkinson, Richard; McGown, Alistair (23 March 2016). "Blink: Pre-production". Doctor Who: The Complete History. Vol. 56. Panini Magazines/Hachette Partworks Ltd. p. 57.
  19. ^ "Interview: Doctor Who's Brian Hodgson on creating the sounds of the Tardis and Daleks". Radio Times. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  20. ^ Ness, Patrick (2013). Tip of the Tongue. London: Puffin Books. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-405-91213-6.
  21. ^ Butler, David, ed. (2007). Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who. Manchester University Press. p. 38. ISBN 9780719076824. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  22. ^ "Case details for Trade Mark 2104259". UK Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved 17 January 2007.
  23. ^ Knight, Mike. "In the matter of Application No. 2104259 by The British Broadcasting Corporation to register a series of three marks in Classes 9, 16, 25 and 41 and in the matter of Opposition thereto under No. 48452 by The Metropolitan Police Authority" (PDF). UK Patent Office. Retrieved 17 January 2007.
  24. ^ "BBC wins police Tardis case". BBC News. 23 October 2002. Retrieved 17 January 2007.
  25. ^ "'Sonic screwdriver' to be added to the Oxford English Dictionary". Radio Times.
  26. ^ "Doctor Who Tardis 4-Way USB Hub". Firebox.com. Archived from the original on 5 February 2007. Retrieved 31 January 2007.
  27. ^ "Miniature Tardis sells at auction". BBC News. 15 December 2005. Retrieved 19 April 2006.
  28. ^ "Company Website, January 1, 2015". Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  29. ^ "TarDisk: MacBook Storage Expansion That's Bigger on the Inside". tech.co. 18 February 2015. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  30. ^ "Tardis Environmental UK". Tardishire.co.uk. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  31. ^ Searle, Adrian (16 February 2009). "Let's do the time warp again". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
  32. ^ Jury, Louise (2 February 2009). "Reflective Doctor Who Tardis on show at Hayward Gallery". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 23 February 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
  33. ^ "A Beginner's Guide to the TARDIS". BBC. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
  34. ^ Dominic Cavendish. "The almost-definitive guide to Monty Python Live (Mostly)". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  35. ^ "Monty Python's back, thanks to the 'retardis'". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  36. ^ "Doctor Who: the brief cameos that are definitely canon". Den of Geek. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  37. ^ Sorin (17 June 2013). "Doctor Who .. Happy Birthday coin for its 50th anniversary – Niue Island – TARDIS | Collectibles News". News.allnumis.com. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  38. ^ "Radiohead - Up on the ladder lyrics". Genius Lyrics. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  39. ^ Joseph Knoop (17 March 2022). "Fortnite gets Doctor Who's TARDIS and a bundle of themed modes". PC Gamer. Retrieved 8 May 2022.