The star of Doctor Who is one of the most incredible characters on television. He is the nameless guardian of Earth, the savior of worlds, the dread of the Daleks, and the bane of the Cybermen. The Doctor is a member of an alien race, the Time Lords of the planet Gallifrey, and they have become the masters of time and space through the utilization of something truly spectacular: the TARDIS. This magnificent machine is The Doctor’s key to the universe. It has been the chariot for our many-faced protector for eons, weaving throughout time and space to bring The Doctor where he needs to be at exactly the right time (for the most part).
This iconic piece of equipment is arguably a greater companion to the Doctor than his actual companions, of which there have been many. Moreover, The TARDIS has been a more consistent character than the Doctor himself, who has the ability to alter and regenerate his body 12 (now 13) times instead of dying. Since the ’60s, the TARDIS has retained its image to be that of a blue police box, occasionally getting somewhat noticeable face-lifts along the way. The purpose of this list is to fill in the blanks about this iconic space-time machine and give you the top 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The TARDIS.
15. TARDIS Is An Acronym Of Unknown Origins
The name of the TARDIS is actually an acronym that stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Most people who watch the show, and even those who don’t, know this. On some occasions it is referred to as a TT Capsule, but is referred to as a TARDIS an overwhelming majority of the time. It’s generally believed that the acronym was first created by the Doctor’s original companion, Susan Foreman. Susan claimed she thought of it the first time she travelled on such a ship. Despite this, there is no decisive explanation on the origin of the term, TARDIS.
In the early years of the show, there were some Time Lord colleagues of the Doctor who referred to the time machine as the TARDIS, while having no prior notion of the term from Susan. Even members in the Sisterhood of the Karn, a more radical group within Time Lord society, were familiar with the term without any prompting from Susan. It would seem that despite Susan ‘creating’ the term TARDIS, the true origins of the word appear to be lost in time. Perhaps it is the result of a ‘Bootstrap Paradox’, a paradox which delves into the concept of how time travel influences original thought.
14. There Was A Patent War For The TARDIS
The TARDIS is a blue police box that travels the whole of space and time. It was also designed after the blue police boxes that once lined the streets in London. However, as technology progressed, the police box became obsolete and fell into the abyss of uselessness. This initiated a phase where the blue police box became more synonymous with Doctor Who than the Metropolitan Police, who first introduced the concept of the box back in 1928.
In 1996, BBC applied for a trademark on the blue police box to take advantage of a merchandising void that had existed for quite some time. Naturally, the Metro Police objected to this trademark. Given the sheer volume and wide array of TARDIS merchandise that has flooded both the UK and US markets, we’ll give you one guess as to who won this patent war. In 2002, the Patent office ruled in favor of the BBC, giving it exclusive rights of the blue police box design, and giving the people the freedom to buy TARDIS Chia Pets and TARDIS Snuggies. What a world we live in!
13. It’s Bigger On The Inside
This is the phrase spoken by all mere mortals who first step foot in the TARDIS, and a phrase the Doctor very much looks forward to hearing. These are the words that all fans and lovers of Doctor Who desperately want to utter in real life. It means you’re on an adventure, and you’re about to hurdle through time and space alongside one of the universe’s greatest heroes. The TARDIS, disguised as a little, blue police box on the outside, is quite literally another world on the inside.
Dimensionally transcendental are the words used to describe how and why the TARDIS’ interior is larger than its exterior, and this is made possible through transdimensional engineering. In The Robots of Death, the fourth Doctor explained to his companion, Leela, the principle behind this dimensional transcendentalism by using the analogy of how a larger cube will appear to fit within a smaller cube if placed at a distance. The ability to capture both ‘cubes’ in the same space was a monumental discovery for the Time Lords. Rory puts this more simply by describing the inside of the TARDIS as ‘another dimension’, and that’s exactly what it is. Existing in its own little world, the TARDIS is essentially infinite, and can delete and create rooms in an instant.
12. The TARDIS’ Sound Is A Great Accident
The wheezing and whirring, groaning and moaning sound that you hear when the Doctor is ‘flying’ the TARDIS has become synonymous with that of a trumpet heralding the arrival of the Doctor wherever he may go. His enemies fear this sound and flee, and his allies rejoice when they hear it. Those who do not know the sound and mean to do harm to others will learn to dread it. That sound did not used to exist, however.
When viewers watched the first Doctor activate the materialization of the TARDIS, there was nothing but silence. This clearly didn’t wow the audience, and a search for a materialization sound promptly began. Enter Brian Hodgson. Hodgson ‘struck a chord’ when he took an old house key and ran it along a cluster of broken piano strings. It wasn’t until the second season when the TARDIS made the earliest version of the famous wheeze. There were many consequent evolutions and samples of the sound, and in the 10th Anniversary Special, The Three Doctors, fans heard the finalized version of the sound.
In The Time of Angels, River Song suggests to the Doctor that the TARDIS makes the unforgettable whirr because he’s left the parking break on. Regardless, we’ve seen other Time Lords make the same sound in their TARDISes. So shut up, River!
11. There Are Many Types of TARDISes
The original designation of TARDISes was for the exploration, research and observation of the universe, as well as the alien races within it, throughout all of time. Witnessing the birth of a star and its subsequent death in an instant; beholding galaxies collide and slowly fold into themselves; observing the genesis of alien life on other planets. This is just a day in the life of a Time Lord with a TARDIS.
The first TARDISes ever made were dangerous vehicles, as they were prone to malfunctions due to poor design. Some of the early generations of the TARDISes became aware of themselves and their capacity, and had a tendency to ‘run away’ to explore the universe. Doctor Who’s TARDIS is technically a Type-40 TARDIS, and it was already very outdated from the time he borrowed ‘her’. Being a Type-40, outdated TARDIS, there are limitations to her capabilities. For example, a Type-70 could break through the temporal distortion grid, the boundary between dimensions, and the Doctor once claimed that his Type-40, could not handle such an arduous journey. The fact that the Doctor’s TARDIS is something of a relic makes her all the more lovable.
10. The TARDIS Is A Fortress
Having the ability to dematerialize and rematerialize at any point in time and space throughout the universe makes the TARDIS one of the most valuable items in the universe. The combination of The Doctor and his TARDIS is nothing short of the most effective weapons system known to man. He would get very upset at us for suggesting he’s a weapon, but the stats speak for themselves. Even the TARDIS’ core power systems are powerful enough to destroy the universe, should something happen to it. Given this, the TARDIS is jam packed with all of the most advanced and sophisticated security systems Time Lords could conjure.
To start, it is neigh impregnable when undamaged. The TARDIS is equipped with a force field, rendering most weapons in the universe obsolete against its exterior. The TARDIS is also very sensitive to danger, and will transport itself to safety if it feels that it is at risk. One of its very coolest defense mechanisms is its ability to actively mold and shape itself into a living labyrinth, trapping any individuals of ill-intent who came aboard in an infinite maze of despair. The thought of endlessly searching for a way out of a ship designed for infinite exploration of the universe is like something out of a Greek tragedy.
9. The TARDIS Exists In Our Solar System
Astronomy is one of the most fun professions in existence, because it’s one of the few remaining occupations where you are given the ability to name whatever it is you discover! Naming something you discovered in space is a significant way to secure your legacy. Our friend Brian A. Skiff did just that when he discovered Asteroid 3325 TARDIS.
On May 3, 1984, Brian Skiff discovered this asteroid within the asteroid belt of our solar system, and named it after the most famous time machine in space, the TARDIS. Naming the asteroid on behalf of the TARDIS was actually rather fitting, given the Doctor Who mythos surrounding asteroids. For starters, in Image of the Fendahl, it is said that our very own asteroid belt was once orbiting Planet 5, and the Time Lords moved it to our solar system 12 million years ago, where it became the asteroid belt we have today. Once it was moved to our solar system, it served as a jumping off point for space pioneers and frontiersmen. Knowing this, the naming of 3325-TARDIS serves as a further commemoration to the spirit of Doctor Who, and the further exploration and understanding of the universe.
8. It Doesn’t Have to Look Like A 1960’s Police Box
As TARDISes were designed for Time Lords to explore the universe in order to further their understanding of it, it makes sense that they would wish to remain neutral and hidden throughout their journeys. So the Time Lords developed chameleon circuits that were built into the TARDIS’ systems, allowing it to instantly blend into its surroundings the moment the ship materialized in a time and place. For instance, if a TARDIS were to land in ancient Rome, it would could take the form of a statue or column. This feature is comprehensive and effective, but it does not work for the Doctor’s TARDIS.
The chameleon circuit on the TARDIS has been broken since the Doctor visited 1963 London, and the TARDIS took the form of a blue police box. It has remainedin that same cherished blue box form ever since. There was a moment when the Doctor was able to temporarily fix the chameleon circuit in his TARDIS, but, upon materialization, the TARDIS would take on inappropriate disguises, causing it to stand out like an even greater sore thumb then a 1960s London police box. The Doctor also once played what can only be described as a Time Lord prank on the Monk by modifying his chameleon circuit so it would look like that of his own TARDIS, a blue police box.
7. The TARDIS Doesn’t (Or Shouldn’t) Fly
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Doctor Who, you’ve seen the opening credit sequence that pictures the TARDIS flying through the Time Vortex, getting struck by lightning, and spinning at a rate that would make even Neil Armstrong himself lose his lunch. This depiction of the TARDIS doing its thing is technically not an entirely accurate one. Even in the 2006 Christmas Special, the Doctor notes that, for a spaceship, the TARDIS does oddly very little flying.
The TARDIS is designed to dematerialize at one point in space and time, travel through the Time Vortex, and re-materialize at another point in space and time neigh instantaneously. Very little, if any, time is spent traveling when the TARDIS is being used properly. Extended travel of the ‘spaceship variety’ puts a significant amount of strain on the TARDIS’ systems, and leaving it in a vulnerable position. But this is the Doctor we’re talking about, and following the rules is not his forte.
6. Designed To Be Operated By 6 Time Lords
The Doctor began his journeys by sneaking into the repair room and ‘borrowing’ the TARDIS. Ever since, he’s been gallivanting about the universe, saving planets and preventing calamities. The Doctor has done all this without the aid of any other Time Lord, which is rather impressive given that the TARDIS, and all TARDISes, for that matter, was designed to be flown and operated by six Time Lords at once. Throughout the tenure of the show, the TARDIS has only been operated by six individuals on one occasion.
In the final episode of the fourth series, “Journey’s End”, the Earth has been stolen from its position in time and space by Davros, creator of the Daleks. The Earth is placed in a location adjacent with other planets lost in time and space in order to harness their energy to power a ‘reality bomb’, which is designed to destroy all reality. Davros is eventually defeated by two Doctors (the second regenerated from the severed hand of the OG Doctor), his companion, Donna, who had become a hybrid Time Lord/Human, and his old companions Sarah, Rose, Martha, Mickey, and Jack Harkness. The Earth, however, was locked out of place, and the Doctor needed the help of 5 other people familiar with the TARDIS in order to fly it back to Earth. So Sarah, Rose, Mickey, Martha, Jack, and the Doctor pilot the TARDIS in what was the apparently the smoothest expedition the vessel ever undertook.
5. The TARDIS Is Biologically Linked to The Doctor
As we’ve already mentioned, Gallifreyan technology is very thorough and comprehensive, so as to prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on the keys to the universe. For a TARDIS to become a fully functioning space-time machine, it must first be primed with the biological imprint of the Time Lord that will captain it. This imprint is typically a result of the first time a TARDIS is piloted, and it comes from the Rassilon Imprimatur.
In The Two Doctors, the sixth Doctor stated that TARDISes and other Time Machines must be primed with a Rassilon Imprimatur for Time Lords to travel safely with them. The Rassilon Imprimatur is a link to the symbiotic nuclei of a Time Lord’s cell structure, and this allowed them to withstand the molecular stresses of time travel. This link also connected the Time Lord’s mind to their TARDIS, allowing for the psychic connection between a Time Lord and his or her TARDIS. The most significant outcome of the Rassilon Imprimatur, and the subsequent symbiotic nuclei, is that it enabled the Time Lord’s ability to regenerate. It would appear that, in addition to being Lord President of Gallifrey, Rassilon did a lot for the advancement of the Time Lord race.
4. There Have Been Many Attempts At Knock-Off TARDISes
Holding the Key to the Universe and not sharing it with other species and races seems a little selfish. It’s understandable when you’ve had the chance to view these other species as they war with themselves and each other, however. Regardless, there have been many attempts at creating other versions and renditions of the infamous TARDIS.
In The War Games, a renegade Time Lord operating under the name War Chief delivered his own bastardized version of the TARDIS to the War Lords, who, as the name may suggest, wished to advance their conquests. The Time Lords promptly halt the War Chief and the War Lords.
In The Chase, the Daleks first created the ability to travel through time and space with their aptly named ‘Dalek Time Ship’ (referred to as the DARDIS by fans). It was created for the sole purpose of hunting down and ‘exterminating’ the Doctor and his companions. According to the first Doctor, the DARDIS was generally comparable to the abilities and limitations of the TARDIS. Regardless of who is developing these time machines, they are consistent in that they lack the elegance of the TARDISes and come off as rather cheap imitations. This is evident by the fact that every civilization outside of the Time Lords is always desperately trying to steal themselves a TARDIS.
3. TARDIS Is A Word In The Oxford Dictionary
Oxford has been adopting words created from science fiction and fantasy for decades. Only the words that have left a significant and lasting effect throughout the world are added to the growing Dictionary. Among this list are Star Wars’ ‘Jedi’ and Star Trek’s ‘Klingon’. In 2002, before the return of our beloved hero to the television screen, the good folks over at Oxford deemed the word TARDIS worthy of introduction to the dictionary. The definition of TARDIS reads as follows:
1. A time machine 2. A building or container that is larger on the inside than it appears to be from the outside
The inclusion of TARDIS to the esteemed Oxford Dictionary is a testament to the fans of Doctor Who, who managed to keep the term relevant for the many years it was off air. It is also further evidence of the importance of the fantastical, and how significant of an impact it leaves within our world.
2. The TARDIS is Sentient
Throughout the series, the Doctor will often be caught talking to, yelling at, and pleading with the TARDIS. On some rare occasions, you could get a sense that the ship was responding somehow, whether through movement in the center console or, when she’s feeling spunky, by throwing some sparks out in the Doctor’s face. There is a history of TARDISes even mourning the death of their Time Lords, and ending their existences by flying into a star or launching itself into the Time vortex. Even when the first doctor took to the skies in his TARDIS, he was unsure of the level of consciousness the organically grown (range free) key to the universe was capable of.
In “The Doctor’s Wife”, we learn without a shadow of a doubt that the TARDIS is a sentient machine. While trapped on a bizarre planet-esque place on the furthest reaches of the universe, the soul of the TARDIS was stolen and placed within a humanoid named Idris. During this episode, the Doctor spends time helping the TARDIS (Idris) get back to his actual TARDIS, and discovers that she maintains an element of free will. As she exists throughout all time and space continuously, she is aware of where she needs to take the Doctor, and she explains that the navigational issues the TARDIS was experiencing was actually her taking the Doctor to where he “needed to go“, not where he wanted to go.
1. The TARDIS Was Grown
That’s right, folks. The TARDIS, and all other TARDISes, was grown, not manufactured. The Time Lords are the most advanced and powerful race in the Universe, and as such, they developed the technology to grow space-time vessels, naturally. Since computers were incapable of enduring the stresses of dimensional change and reality space-time warping, TARDISes required protoplasm and unstable organic matter in order to withstand the rigors of such travel.
In “The Impossible Planet”, the Doctor implies that the TARDIS could not function if Gallifrey did not exist anymore, suggesting that the source of the TARDIS’ power is intrinsically linked to his home planet. We are shown the source of this forgotten power source in The Deadly Assassin. In this episode, the Doctor actually discovers that the key power source of the TARDIS is the Eye of Harmony, the nucleus of a black hole captured by the legendary Time Lord, Rassilon. This Eye of Harmony had fallen into myth and believed to not exist until the Doctor and his arch nemesis the Master rediscovered the ‘soul’ of Gallifrey.
Did we miss any of your favorite TARDIS-related facts? Please let us know in the comments!