What is the TARDIS?

Uncover the secrets behind the Doctor’s time travelling machine.

The TARDIS is undeniably iconic. Over sixty years, the blue police box has become synonymous with time travel. But what is the TARDIS, really? Why does it look the way it does and what is it capable of? Where did it come from? Here’s everything you need to know about the Doctor’s blue box. Just pull to open…

What is a TARDIS? What does it do?

The TARDIS is a machine that can travel through space and time. An invention of the Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor stole their own version to escape from their home world and travel the stars. In a universe full of weird and wonderful technology, the TARDIS stands out – it’s no ordinary spaceship. Bigger on the inside than on the outside, thanks to dimensional engineering beyond human comprehension, the TARDIS is a marvel that could prove utterly destructive in the wrong hands.

Throughout the Doctor’s travels in the TARDIS, they have journeyed from the dawn of the universe to the end of time, and everywhere in between! It's transported them to alien worlds, parallel universes and even to Sheffield! Potentially the last of its kind, the TARDIS is impenetrable to anyone without a key, and keys are only given to a select few. The true size of the TARDIS is unknown, but there’s a seemingly infinite number of rooms within. Taking the form of a 1960s police box on the outside, its unassuming appearance allows it to blend into any surroundings, concealing its true nature from prying eyes.

A living organism, the TARDIS has the ability to telepathically interact with its passengers. It can even translate alien languages directly into minds, enabling the Doctor’s companions to understand any foreign tongue. And it can also play DVDs.


TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, which refers to its ability to fold one space inside another, thereby allowing it to be bigger on the inside. This acronym was supposedly invented by the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, or so she claimed. Given the term’s widespread use among the Time Lords, the authenticity of her claim remains ambiguous.

When did it first appear?

The TARDIS made its debut in the first ever Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, in 1963. Unaware that Susan was an alien, and perplexed by her superior intellect, her concerned teachers Ian and Barbara decide to visit her address. There, they discover a junkyard, and inside, the TARDIS!  Despite the protestations of Susan’s curmudgeonly grandfather, they manage to force their way onboard, and that’s where the adventure begins! 

Back then, the TARDIS’s main control room was white and clinical, almost like a laboratory. With its hexagonal console and abundance of roundels adorning the walls, this version of the TARDIS paved the way for all its successors. With just a flick of a switch, the Time Rotor would whir into action and the room would vibrate with that now-familiar vworping sound, as the Doctor and his companions were hurtled towards their next adventure.

How does it work?

Grasping exactly how the TARDIS functions would require more than a few classes at the Time Lord Academy. In terms of operation, the pilot typically inputs multi-dimensional space-time coordinates into the central console. The TARDIS then vanishes from its current location and rematerialises at its inputted destination (hopefully!). This journey involves a trip through the Time Vortex, a chaotic tunnel-like realm intersecting time and space.

At the heart of the TARDIS lies its power source, although exactly how it works is a bit of a mystery. Some accounts suggest that the TARDIS is powered by the Eye of Harmony, an artificial black hole. Others propose that the heart of the TARDIS itself, an area beneath the central console filled with ‘vortex energy’, is the power source. This energy is what enabled Rose to transform into the Bad Wolf and eliminate the Daleks from existence. It also once regressed Margaret Slitheen into an egg and contributed to stopping the Flux. An example of how multifaceted the TARDIS can be!

Why is it a police box? 

Despite being an ultra-sophisticated machine capable of traversing all of time and space, the TARDIS’s external appearance is relatively unassuming. Typically, a TARDIS can alter its exterior to blend in with the surroundings of whichever planet it lands on –  an automatic process achieved with something called a chameleon circuit. However, when the First Doctor landed on Earth, his chameleon circuit malfunctioned, leaving the TARDIS stuck as an old 1960s police telephone box. In theory, the Doctor could fix this, but the TARDIS’s look has become iconic! Plus, it’s definitely grown on the Doctor over the years.

What are the TARDIS’s faults?

The TARDIS is known to be quite unreliable, often not taking the Doctor where they intended to go. It was designed to be operated by a crew of six; although the Doctor mostly pilots it solo, resulting in some less-than-smooth journeys. The TARDIS’s unpredictable nature has led to situations like the Ninth Doctor returning Rose home a year into her future after their initial adventures, leaving her family and friends to believe she was missing! Similarly, when the Eleventh Doctor attempted to take Clara to Las Vegas, they found themselves on a Soviet submarine during the Cold War instead! 

The TARDIS has a terrible track record for getting the Doctor where they want, but it always takes them to where they need to be.

Also, the door says “Pull to Open”, but everyone seems to push!

What else is inside?

Generally, the first thing anyone sees when walking into the TARDIS is the control room, but the front door can be rerouted to lead anywhere in the ship! The TARDIS is a labyrinth of corridors and rooms filled with strange items and mementos from the Doctor‘s adventures. It also houses a cavernous wardrobe with myriad clothes, enabling the Doctor and their companions to blend in with any time period. There’s a library and a swimming pool (which once merged after a particularly tumultuous journey), an observatory, multiple storage rooms and bedrooms for companions. The Doctor might even have a bedroom, though it’s never been seen.

Does anyone else have a TARDIS?

Since the Last Great Time War, TARDISes have become a rare sight in the Doctor’s universe. For a while, the Doctor assumed their TARDIS was the last in existence. However, when Gallifrey was saved in pocket universe, the Master was able to escape with a TARDIS of his own. Last seen in The Power of the Doctor, the Master’s TARDIS mimicked the Thirteenth Doctor’s police box, albeit replacing its signage with his signature maniacal laugh. It’s unknown what became of this TARDIS after the Doctor and her friends defeated the Master.

Companion Clara Oswald and the immortal Ashildr also possess their own TARDIS. Like the Doctor’s, their TARDIS was stolen from the Time Lord Citadel and it took the appearance of a 1950s American diner. Who knows where it could be now?

What makes the Doctor’s TARDIS special?

The TARDIS is the closest thing that the Doctor has to a home. Over the years, it has undergone many regenerations of its own, changing its internal appearance while retaining its police box exterior. Grown rather than built, the TARDIS is alive and the Doctor knows theirs perhaps better than they know themselves. It’s their one constant companion.

Once, upon landing on a junkyard asteroid, the TARDIS’s matrix was extracted and transplanted into a human woman by a malevolent entity that fed on the energy inside TARDISes. The Eleventh Doctor found himself face to face with the TARDIS as a living, breathing person and was able to speak to it for the first time. Unfortunately, the human body of Idris was unable to sustain the TARDIS’s soul, although she did last long enough to say how nice it was to meet the Doctor.

Where is the TARDIS now?

Generally, the TARDIS is wherever the Doctor is! The Doctor’s TARDIS was last seen during the Thirteenth Doctor’s swansong in The Power of the Doctor. In her final moments, the Thirteenth Doctor travelled in the TARDIS to a beautiful cliff overlooking the sea before an electrifying regeneration into the Fourteenth Doctor. Who knows where the TARDIS will take this new Doctor? Whatever happens, it seems that Donna Noble will once again have a part to play…

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