Thu
Jan 6 2011 4:25pm

Why a Madman is Always Better if He Has a Box

Steven Moffat, our beloved Who showrunner, has been quoted saying this in regard to the Doctor's beloved TARDIS: “I don’t care where the Doctor came from or why he travels around the universe. I just want him out of those TARDIS doors and having adventures. Us kids want Narnia, not the wardrobe.”

That's all well and good, but I think there are a fair few among us who might disagree. Like those of you who spent your childhood locked in your closet, hoping against hope that if you pressed the back wall hard enough it might give way to something magical. Maybe it never did, but the time you spent in that closet was still very special. Those are the parts of childhood that shape a person, the moments where magic has the potential to become reality.

The TARDIS is an iconic symbol in pop culture. It is probably more recognizable around the world than any piece of clothing the Doctor has ever worn, any logo the show ever assumed in the opening credits. Every Who fan loves her, claptrap that she can be at times; she is the ultimate call to adventure, more so than even those legendary words, “I am the Doctor.” The sound of the TARDIS in your backyard means that something perilous, unbelievable, and wonderful is about to take place.

One and CrewThe TARDIS has gone through nearly as many makeovers as our dear Doctor. She often changes to suit her current pilot, and we've seen interiors that go from sparse white to retro-future to the more organic theme that we now see today (and so many styles in between; one of my personal favorites was the Third Doctor's retractable James Bond bed in the console room). However, she always seems to match the Doctor perfectly. In this way, though it may seem a little silly, I always kind of think of the TARDIS as the Doctor's daemon, ala Philip Pullman's Golden Compass trilogy. She is, in every possible way, a reflection of his soul, a part of him. She's old and wise, a bit wobbly and beat up, a little flighty and perplexed, but the only thing you can count on in the whole wide universe.

In fact, one could argue that she is responsible for most of the adventures we witness on the show: how many little problems start up because the Doctor means to go one place and the TARDIS takes him somewhere else? Again, the old girl seems to understand the Time Lord better than he understands himself. No matter how often he claims he is going to take his companions somewhere nice and lacking in danger, she knows that's not really what he wants. Whenever a companion wants to go home, she always makes it a bit harder than it should be because she knows that the Doctor doesn't really want to give that person up. Sarah Jane doesn't end up in Croyden. It takes all sorts of missteps and entirely botched landings (though the Doctor always thinks he has made it there) before Tegan ever sees Heathrow Airport.

Even at the end of last season, Amy is capable of bringing the Doctor back from oblivion—after he has been essentially erased from history—not because she initially remembers him, but because she remembers the TARDIS.  That beautiful brand-new-but-old blue box that he “borrowed” from his people.

I think it's a testament to how much character the TARDIS has that you nearly always see someone cosplay as the TARDIS at various sci-fi conventions. She is a rightful character and deserves all the respect and love she garners. In the end, it exemplifies the human imagination; who could have predicted that a 1960s English police box would go down in history as one of the greatest ships in all of science fiction?

So Steven Moffat may think that we want Narnia and not the wardrobe, and in a way he's right—an entire season spent on the TARDIS would not be all that much fun. But if we got to see a little bit more of this 'whole world inside a box,' I don't think anyone would complain. After all, I do want to know where the swimming pool ended up this time around.


Emily Asher-Perrin has told all her friends and family that if she ever hears that telltale sound of the TARDIS landing nearby, she is diving on board with no warning. The Doctor will have to give her a month-long tour before she sets foot on an alien planet. She promises to document all of her adventures on twitter when it happens.

This article is part of The Twelve Doctors of Christmas: ‹ previous | index | next ›
23 comments
Nonstop89
1. Nonstop89
"The TARDIS is an iconic symbol in pop culture."

First time I ever heard of it. Doc Who though, I recognize from DVD-covers and weirdly clad fans.
Irene Gallo
2. Irene
And it makes for a paper-craft that truly anyone can build.
Nonstop89
3. Dr. Cox
Well, there wouldn't be access to "all of space and time" without the box. Or not so interestingly, anyway! :)
Nonstop89
4. ROBINM
I always wanted to have a swim in the pool too. I just know that there a closets and bedrooms full clutter from previous companions who didn't have a chance to pack before they left. The nitro-9 in Ace's room is really unstable by now but he might need it someday.
Ruth X
5. RuthX
@1 really? Not by name, but by site even? I didn't watch Doctor who until a few years ago (and what glorious years those have been) but I've recognized the blue box for the last 10+ years...though I couldn't have recognized a Doctor until I started watching. To each their own, I suppose, but I think she's justified in calling it iconic.

I'm also fiercely desiring that TARDIS bookcase mentioned in a previous post in the series. I think the two fit so well together, since a bookcase is often full of stories!
Ruth X
6. RuthX
sight* (ugh, I'd blame my dyslexia but I don't think it counts for this.)
Richard Dickson
7. DailyRich
"She is, in every possible way, a reflection of his soul, a part of him. She's old and wise, a bit wobbly and beat up, a little flighty and perplexed, but the only thing you can count on in the whole wide universe."

Which is why there are very persistant theories among some fans that River Song is actually the TARDIS somehow made sentient.
Nonstop89
8. Rowanmdm
I agree that the sound is definitely iconic. I've woken up from sleep several times thinking I head the TARDIS landing. One day, it actually will.

@ 7 I hadn't heard that theory about River Song before, but I kind of like it, though how the TARDIS could function without what's basically her soul would be problematic...but it's an interesting theory.
Nick Abadzis
9. Nick_Abadzis
The very distinctive TARDIS sound effect, created by Brian Hodgson of the legendary BBC radiophonic Workshop, is actually copyrighted as a piece of music by Aunty Beeb herself. Apt, as it was created by scraping a front door key up and down an old piano harp and then treated via Mr. Hodgson's gizmos. As a child, I used to yearn to hear that sound, signaling a materialization nearby whereupon the Doctor would rescue me from my humdrum life.
Nonstop89
10. Dr. Cox
Maybe River Song built the TARDIS? Engineering specialist as well as archaeologist? Hmmm . . . .
Ian Tregillis
11. ITregillis
This, yes. Yes to everything you said.

There's a Tom Baker episode where the Doctor & Company are chased through the TARDIS by -- I think? -- a Sontaran. I *loved* that episode. The classic series occasionally gave us glimpses of the TARDIS beyond the console room, and I lived for those. Who doesn't yearn to see beyond the edge of the map?

Sure, nobody wants an entire season set inside the TARDIS. But I think Moffat is being a little heavy handed. There are so many wonderful stories that could take place entirely within the TARDIS that dismissing the possibility out of hand is a crying shame. I've been waiting for the new series to do an exploration-of-the-TARDIS episode since 2005. I'm amazed they haven't done one yet.

(And I'm so pleased to see I'm not the only person who spent his childhood listening for the TARDIS to land nearby.)
Nonstop89
12. Nentuaby
Personally, I'm pretty certain that the Tardis is the mastermind behind the whole series. She drops the doctor someplace "random," he winds up saving the whole universe there. Rinse and repeat!

There's got to be something more to that than some vague semi-sentient glimmering. The smartest person in the room, it seems, is the room!
Ashe Armstrong
13. AsheSaoirse
I adore that blue box and when Matt Smith opened the doors after it'd repaired itself and said, "Oooh...look at you, you sexy thing," I grinned hard and agreed fully.
Jacy Clark
14. Amalisa
For those of us who multi-task our obsessions, the TARDIS = Bela. And, yes, that's Bela with one "L"... ;)

@12 and 13... couldn't agree more!

Mr. Moffat, you've confounded canon and dissed companions... but don't mess with the big blue box!! That would be going too far! :D
Warren Ockrassa
15. warreno
@7: There was a story arc in the Who novels (during the time the show was off the air) that featured a character becoming a TARDIS. She began as humanoid, and actually transformed.

So this River Song thing may not be so farfetched. Hell of an idea.
Nick Abadzis
16. Nick_Abadzis
That was Compassion, in the Eighth Doctor Adventures. But I think it was Lawrence Miles who invented the idea of TARDISes camouflaged as living beings in a really quite excellent novel called Alien Bodies... they were Type 90s or something.
Chris Greenland
17. greenland
Oh wow, River Song revealed as a manifestation of a TARDIS? I never thought of that bit. That would explain quite a lot.

We've got a TARDIS cookie jar in our house that makes the landing noise whenever you open it. We, of course, keep the tea in there. HIGHLY recommended.
Nonstop89
18. MatthewD
Ah, the TARDIS, what a dear old thing she is :~)

I very much believe she's as much a character in the show as the Doctor himself is. More subtly so, she doesn't speak...at least not in words. But you're very right about the TARDIS having a mind of her own. And, I would imagine, very strong opinions concerning the Doctor, his companions and the trouble they constantly get themselves into

I know it's already been mentioned in these comments, but I think while the romantic in me is secretly hoping that River Song does turn out to be Romana (hidden by some sort of device or changed by her time in E-Space or whatever bit of hand-waving that's believe) after all, the idea of her being the TARDIS made manifest is ultimately more interesting. Who else would he ever really tell his true name to? (Though that way lies madness when you think of scenes of River piloting her)

Regarding showing more of the TARDIS' interior, I liked the way they showed hints and bits of it and there over the classic series. A laughably large boot cubbard here, a companion's bedroom there. And yes, even a swimming pool. Though personally I think "The Invasion of Time" showed TOO much. Anyway, I'd like to see more of the same in the new series. Perhaps a story that involves getting lost or trapped in the TARDIS, or hunting for a hidden enemy inside it?
Nonstop89
19. David-s
"But I think it was Lawrence Miles who invented the idea of TARDISes camouflaged as living beings in a really quite excellent novel called Alien Bodies"

I remember that. The one really lovely thing I recall from that is that this particular TARDIS also had a damaged chameleon circuit and was stuck in the form of a British 1960s police woman!
Nonstop89
20. Sihaya
I don't think Moffatt's entirely shut the TARDIS out of the story; I mean, "Amy's Choice" spent alot of time inside the TARDIS. And the TARDIS has been The McGuffin a few times this year, in a way. The Doctor has to get the TARDIS back - with Amy inside - in "The Lodger," and it was the very center of the universe's destruction in"The Big Bang." Just because Moffattt doesn't want the Doctor and company to sit inside and debate world politics for the whole hour doesn't mean that he's got no respect for the TARDIS's importance in the series, I think.

But I entirely agree with you about your characterization of the TARDIS. You're 100% spot on.
Warren Ockrassa
21. warreno
Nick @16: Right! Compassion - thanks for that. I could not remember her name!
Nonstop89
22. DragonRose
Chamelon Circuit did a great song about the TARDIS.
Tim Nolan
23. Dr_Fidelius
It would be wonderful to see an episode that explored the TARDIS in more detail. I think Tom Baker has been quoted as saying that if it's bigger on the inside, it ought to be really big.
Hence, the one thing I enjoyed in the McGann movie.

If Moffat's not keen I guess we won't see any TARDIS-centric episodes any time soon, but they can't be worse than The Edge of Destruction.

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