Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/30/dr_who_a_brief_history_of_the_tardis/

The TARDIS through the ages

Talkin' about My Girl

By Ian Harrison

Posted in Bootnotes, 30th November 2011 11:00 GMT

The TT Type 40, Mark 3 – it sounds like a motorbike made by BSA. But it is, as any fan will tell you, it is the model of the Doctor’s TARDIS, in which he departed without permission from Time Lord homeworld Gallifrey between 700 and 900 years ago – though we space-and-science-fiction nerks only got to start tuning in in 1963.

Like Bruce Wayne’s Bat Cave, or Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street opium den, you couldn’t have Doctor Who without his Time-And-Relative-Dimension-In-Space trans-temporal runabout with its roundel’d control room, hexagonal console and optional hat stands.

Quite apart from the dramatic necessities of getting from A to B, think of all those enduring USPs: the priceless initial reactions of mind-blown earthling companions, the none-more-evocative time travelling sound of housekeys scraped down the strings of a knackered piano, the unique frisson of seeing actual corridors, the TARDIS swimming pool and the portable Zero Room from Castrovalva. Or when the Doctor called it “Old Girl".

The classic wooden control room

For years, the programme simply stated the obvious. It was stuck looking like a police box, bigger on the inside, travels in time and space, indestructible, erratic - and drip-fed the mindwarpery. Appearances were deceptive, however.

The first time the TARDIS dematerialises in debut episode An Unearthly Child is when the refreshingly narky First Doctor effectively kidnaps nosey parker teachers Ian and Barbara, who both pass out during the over-amped takeoff.

Nine episodes later, in one of the original all-time mad stories, cheapo two-parter The Edge Of Destruction, was when the first mention of the TARDIS's sentience was made. Here the TARDIS itself seems to turn against its passengers, who become disorientated, paranoid and can’t recognise each other; clocks melt, the water dispenser breaks down and Time-Granddaughter Susan freaks out and threatens Ian with some scissors. Having sustained a headwound, the Doctor suspects them of deliberate sabotage. Imagine the Tenth Doctor, Mickey, Rose and Donna doing that. And of course, it was all because a single spring on the ‘Fast Return Switch’ (the name’s written on the console in pen, look) was busted!

Hand-written Fast Return Switch

It wasn’t until the Beatle-mopped Second Doctor’s farewell The War Games in 1969 that we actually found out where he and the TARDIS came from, whereupon the Time Lords exiled the Doctor to Earth in 1970. Conveniently, the TARDIS came too, albeit in decommissioned form.

The Third Doctor was Earthbound and trying to repair it until early 1973, except for the odd jaunt elsewhere like 1970’s brilliantly weird Inferno, wherein the Doctor makes it onto a parallel Earth using just the TARDIS console stored in a shed. There he finds Britain has become a Fascist state, the Brigadier’s got a scar and an eyepatch and they’re about to drill into the earth’s crust and release energy source ‘Stahlman’s Gas’, but first find a green slime-virus that turns its victims into blue-faced, homicidal "Primords".

“I’m not wild about computers myself,” says the Doctor at one point, always ahead of the game, “but they are a tool.” Word.

Briode nebulisers and painted Welsh dressers

Fascists run a parallel Britain in 1970.

Years would pass with only fragments of information about the TARDIS. The mention of the (no laughing, please) “briode nebuliser” in 1985 and the Fourth Doctor’s brief adoption of a wood-paneled console room set the theorisers stroking their chins. Speculation continued across the years – why did the Sixth Doctor fix the TARDIS’ ‘Chameleon Circuit’ only for it to look like a painted Welsh dresser and a church organ? – but always while adding to the mystique.

The 2005 reboot brought a flash and enormous new flight deck, though that season’s conclusion The Parting Of The Ways almost sought to the reduce the TARDIS to the status of the humdrum. When Rose literally opened the box, ingested TARDIS-power and became a time goddess, what might have been a top ruck with the Daleks was deus ex machina’d out of existence to allow more time for smooching.

(God knows what they were thinking when they decided Captain Jack should be brought back to life as an immortal. Add to this his neat-o time bracelet, which pretty much does what the TARDIS does, and his ability to actually ride on the outside of the TARDIS in 2007’s Utopia and it looks rather like flicking the V’s. Just saying).

Home-made Zero Room

After the Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS blew up in sympathy in the midst of his hilariously OTT regeneration in The End Of Time in 2010, the Eleventh Doctor’s wheels – with its egg whisks, swanee whistles and sink plungers – was arguably a little too steampunk-inspired for the hardcore. But deny it if you can, the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure has seen some outstanding stories about Time gone mental and the TARDIS itself.

Among the corkers were The Girl Who Waited’s Old versus Young Amy, the mini-episodes Space and Time where the TARDIS materialises inside itself, and best of all, The Doctor’s Wife, which delivered the hardened TARDIS watcher with all the essence rare they could wish for. With the TARDIS incarnated in the humanoid form of Idris, the Doctor gripes that she never took him where he wanted to go. When Idris counters that she took him where he needed to go, we get one of those super-panoramas that goes back to a scrapyard in Shoreditch in 1963, and brings everything that’s happened since into greater focus.

The Tardis as a Welsh dresser...

But this is no time for complacency. A new film version aimed at America has been mooted, with the BBC’s collaborators (who made the Harry Potter films) declaring that nothing is sacred. So expect the TARDIS to appear as a full-time attractive policewoman, partnering a Doctor who can never be killed and who carries a shooter. Write to your MP now, because it has the potential to make the two-men-and-a-baby episode where the Cybermen are holed up underneath the British Home Stores look like a classic. ®

Ian Harrison also writes about pop music and will miss Ceefax.

Read Verity Stob's history of computers in Dr Who and read how touchy-feely Doctors threaten the very fabric of the Who universe.