This week Whovian Leap explores the potential of the Doctor’s time machine.
“A police box that can go anywhere in time and space” was an utterly original concept in the early Sixties. But by the end of the Classic Series of Doctor Who in 1989, the idea was tired and taken for granted by the viewing public. More disappointingly, the writers were no longer fully exploring the potential of our beloved time machine. The Tardis would do nothing but materialise and dematerialise with the slightest of “vworp vworps” and a feeble fade in/out effect.
Fortuitously, change was afoot in 2005. RTD went and pimped up the Tardis! He gave us Tardis landings and take offs worthy of Dorothy’s farmhouse in “The Wizard of Oz”. A storm blew up, hair was ruffled and leaves were blown all over. Thrillingly, the complete Tardis sound effect from “An Unearthly Child” made a glorious return.
In the Classic Series we may have seen the Tardis spinning in the vortex, but never in a “live” action sequence. In “The Christmas Invasion” the Tardis landed, bumping into a wall, a bin and a post office van! In “The Runaway Bride” it hurtled along a motorway and rocketed up into the sky during take-off! In “Partners in Crime” we saw the Doctor and Donna waving from the Tardis, up in the night sky, doors wide open!
Let’s not forget Eleven hanging on to the Tardis for dear life over Big Ben. Or River Song falling through the Tardis doors into the swimming pool in “Day of the Moon”. The police box telephone actually “rang” in “The Empty Child” and the appropriately named “The Bells of St. John”. The Tardis landed around a Dalek in “Parting of the Ways” and dumped Sally Sparrow and Larry in “Blink”. Back in space we witnessed Amy float out of the Tardis, holding the Doctor’s hand. Rory’s Dad sat on the Tardis doorstep, drinking tea! The time machine carried Jack through the vortex in “Utopia”, but with him on the outside!
All this goes to show how writers have become more imaginative in the new series. The list goes on. Jackie ripped off the console with a tow-truck in “Parting of the Ways”, a chain joining the inside of the Tardis to the outside world, much to the fans’ delight. In the “Doctor’s Wife” we met the Tardis personified and she made us cry. In “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis” we visited the Eye of Harmony and the much missed swimming pool, but without actually going for a dip. (Grrr!)
In many Sixties books, comic strips and annuals, we would see the police box doors from inside the console room. In 2005 that fan boy dream came true in the series itself. Since then the designers’ imagination has run riot, the Tardis interior “regenerating” almost as regularly as the Doctor himself. It has been both minimalistic like the original or cluttered like Cushing’s film version. The Tardis exterior has become bulkier and more imposing in “Nu Who”. The inside can now even be seen from the outside.
But what next? Can we re-use some of the original ideas from the Classic Series? A companion holding on the console floating in space? Or some wonky parking, as in Castrovalva? We saw some in “Fear Her” where the doors wouldn’t open, the Tardis jammed between two containers. Can we take it to a new level? Landing and rolling down a mountain with the crew falling out? Splashing into the sea and the Tardis team in diving gear? Something silly, like landing on a table in a restaurant? What about giving the exterior some new features, “thinking outside the box”? What if the roof came off and the Doctor rose out, Trumpton style? Could we allow the chameleon circuit to occasionally work? The Tardis could even shoot laser beams from the small light on top!
Whatever happens, love, care, imagination and let’s not forget cash are now being lavished on our most cherished of time machines. The police box has become so much more than just a means for arriving in the midst of an adventure. The Tardis can be the adventure. We have a “meta-Tardis”, self-alluding and self-referential. In November we will see the Doctor hanging from the Tardis over Trafalgar Square in 3D! Not bad at all, for a rackety old police box we first met in a junkyard in 1963!
(This article was written prior to ‘The Day of the Doctor’)