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How does the TARDIS reflect the Doctor?

Guest contributor Richard Elliot analyses what the TARDIS console room says about each Doctor.

Series 8 Full Length Trailer

We live in uncertain times: next month Peter Capaldi will truly become the incumbent Doctor, yet we still know nothing about him! We are told he will be “snarling” and “dark” and his questioning whether he is a “good man” or not lends to some nice moral ambiguity; however beyond that we know very little about his character and traits. In this article I plan to take each TARDIS console room and reflect on what it says about the character of the incumbent Doctor, finally winding up with an analysis of the control room as it will stand as seen in the recent publicity image.

Hartnell Control Room

tardis-console-originalThis was sterile white, roundels covered the walls and towards the back a huge information bank displayed the status of TARDIS operations. There was very little homely quality about it, the bedroom simply an annex with hard resting stations; food was dispensed as unappealing butter-like blobs. However, the Doctor did add touches of some comfort, notably his chair and the brass columns around the room.

This fits the First Doctor through and through. It is sterile, everything has a purpose, it’s harsh and scientific, just like him. It’s still more Gallifreyan than anything else, distant, cordial but not friendly. However the Doctor’s inner playfulness and softness shines through in his creature comforts, a welcoming prospect on a sea of alien attitude. You don’t often see it, but it’s always there, an integral part, just like an integral part of the Doctor at this point is his soft centre!

Troughton Control Room

patrick-troughton-tardis-consoleAn odd one here: due to the set having to be continually assembled and reassembled it was rarely the same shape. The bones of the original room were always there, but it was smaller, darker and less inviting than the white sterile scene of the first control room. Likewise, the Police Box becomes ragged and dirty.

This reflects the way that the Second Doctor is a haphazard traveller more than anything else. He’s friendly, bubbly, but why would you need comfort in that life? He travels without bothering to look after his clothes, his TARDIS or himself; a proper adventurer! This leads Jamie to protest in “The Two Doctors”, but such is the Doctor’s appetite for adventure that he pushes ahead with “one meal a day is quite sufficient” before returning to his investigation gleefully.

Pertwee Control Room

pertwee-jo-tardis-consoleThe room once again becomes lighter. The console receives repairs which add some colour, and a large screen at the back makes for a rather more exciting version of the original information panel. The console is light green and the walls are lit softly.

This reflects the Third Doctor’s penchant for sophistication whilst also his more colourful nature also reflected in his dress. The room is clean, as is the Doctor! But now rather than being stark white it’s a softer and more relaxing environment. The colours in the console, once a harsh white, now give a bit of refinement, whilst the intricacy still references his ultimate role as a scientist.

T. Baker Wooden Control Room

secondary-console-room-tardisSomething of an anomaly, this room had wood panelling, stain glass windows, a tiny console with typewriter-esque controls, brass railings and was very small. Technically, this is the “secondary” control room.

The advent of this room coincided with the Doctor becoming more human – the Fourth Doctor was more at home making a joke than in a lab and the room left him by the Third really did not suit his new carefree attitude. There’s a sense of grandeur here, of comfort and heritage, but nothing too large, quite understated. Science and intricacy are not the primary feature of this Doctor or this room, it’s almost a conscious attempt to distance himself from Gallifrey by immersing himself in the culture of another planet.

T. Baker Primary Control Room

tbaker-tardis-consoleBack to the previous theme, but with a twist! The console has been revamped to include coloured panels and controls, the roundels light up with a soft orange glow, the doors open with a welcoming hum and a scanner reveals the exterior bright and large! A secondary door gives a tantalising glimpse of more of the ship.

The Doctor in his latter stages becomes far more alien. He is withdrawn, often bad tempered, but still retains his friendly disposition and love of banter. The room in an interesting mix of the two, with original alien styling making a comeback but the intricate and sterile nature of alien science replaced with a less complex console and comforting lights. The Doctor may still be an alien, but he’s come a long way from that strange old man we first met!

Davison, C. Baker and McCoy Control Room

mccoy-tardis-consoleThis console room had greater emphasis on a futuristic image rather than an alien one. The roundels and scanner remain similar, the Greek columns become more square and regimented, and the new large console blinks with life and light and movement.

This control room is something of a show-piece. The console is over-flashy, and as we are shown in “The Five Doctors” it is a piece of the Doctor’s own making. Moreover, it’s a bit boring! There are no levers to pull, no panels to open. It’s beautiful and colourful and comfortable, yes, but as the square columns show this is a machine and a home, a piece of incredible engineering to be used, and not something that should be prioritised over the adventure. As such, we see less and less of this room as time passes, not only for production reasons, but because the Doctor has little interest in it over his travels.

McGann Control Room

movie-tardis-consoleThis is a shocker! The biggest control room ever, it fuses elegance with technology, intrigue with excitement. The console is wooden beauty set in a metal frame, annexes and shelves hint at culture and past travels. Timelord symbols retain an alien nature whilst comforts such as arm chairs and tea keep us at home!

The Eighth Doctor, as a concept, is British. He’s an “Alien in New York”, a foreigner of country, not planet, and the room reflects this. He has a taste for luxury, a good story, industrial hints and far reaching hopes and thoughts that are displayed in the magnificent dome that covers the room. There’s something daunting and deep about him, a history, but what is more pressing is the adventure of the present and the console’s frequent shudders and malfunctions keep us in the action!

Eccleston/Tennant Control Room

day-of-the-doctor-tv-trailer-(37)An exciting fresh start, a coral dome with aquamarine console set beneath glowing roundels and graceful pillars. Wires, lights and grating surrounds, reminding us that this is a machine. The frequent movement and lurches most effectively create excitement, whilst the glowing panels suggest powerful life.

At the beginning, this console room is cold. It’s hard, the grating creates terrible noises as the Doctor strides across, the slap-dash controls on the console hint at past adventure and a sense of exhaustion, but the light, the “heart” within correlates with the often flippant and playful Doctor.

As the Tenth Doctor takes over the room becomes lighter, more orange in hue and the console becomes more cluttered, showing marks of more adventures. Now, the banging of the grating suggests movement, life, and speed.

Smith Control Room

InsideTardis2010Lights! Colour! Movement! Coral! Stairs! Roundels! Multiple stories! This room is perhaps the most unique of them all. A large console sits on a raised plinth whilst roundels pulse with happy light and stairs lead off to other interesting parts of the ship, and to the underbelly of the console unit.

This room is magical, it’s silly, and stupid, and ridiculous, and lovable, just like the Eleventh Doctor! The column under the console allows the Doctor to show his prowess as a scientist, too, perfectly matching the incumbent pilot!

Smith/Capaldi Control Room

tardis-interior-2012-snowmenAs the previous Doctor’s mood darkens his ship becomes more mechanical, serious, and less fun. There is less room for movement and cold lights suit the darker tone. It’s not a nice room, but it’s highly functional and there is real power in those lights – exactly what the Doctor needs.

Series-8-TV-launch-trailer-(6)As Capaldi takes over, this room remains, already laying the foundation for a thoroughbred dark and harsh traveller with a purpose. However, has he mellowed? We can see from the photo that the lights have become amber, a hint of warmth in an otherwise cold room, much like Hartnell’s original setup. On the upper gantry some creature comforts appear, a grand bookcase, a chalkboard and easel, all with a distinctly Victorian décor, Moffatt’s go-to era. This suggests refinement and culture, a hint of pride and of warmth, potential to defrost a bit from the Doctor’s dark attitude of late. Maybe we won’t see it quite so soon but I have no doubt this is the way the Doctor’s winds will eventually turn!

Step back in time...

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116 comments
PaulMorris7777
PaulMorris7777

Hartnells was the best. You can't really comment on the Pertwee console, as the photographed one only lasted ONE episode!

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Great article! Never thought about this before, it's very interesting and it makes sense for the TARDIS to choose an interiot in accordance with the Doctor's current regeneration.

TheIdleIdol
TheIdleIdol

I'd all but forgotten about the Tom Baker era secondary control room - looking back, I really quite like it. When compared to all the other Classic control rooms, which each have their characteristic nuances whilst broadly trying to imitate one another's core design, it almost feels as if it was the precursor to the post-revival approach toward the TARDIS design: making each one visually/aesthetically unique. It wasn't a total fresh start, like we've had during the NuWho makeovers (you still had the "round things" adorning the walls, the same shape of console, etc), but the wood and stained glass was in such contrast to the sterility of the other console rooms of its time that really does ooze personality. By and large though, I don't think the TARDIS interiors, for the most part, were a great reflection of their current inhabitant until at least the movie. That seems to be the point when they really started trying to give the room some real personality and to try and match it to the current inhabitant - the grand, gothic library was was the perfect match for a lonesome, aging 7th Doctor, and a good fit for the 8th considering his style of dress. Then we got much more alien again with Eccleston, which the Coral look couldn't have been more ideal for, and Smith gets his weird, asymmetrical labyrinth, which suited him to a T. Really makes me wish that hadn't redesigned the TARDIS again so late into Smith's era, as it means that like Tennant, Capaldi will have to make do with a TARDIS that, to me, was clearly designed with the previous Doctor in mind. I want to see what they'd be able to come up with if they were starting afresh to design a purely-Capaldi TARDIS control room. 

drjakeyoung
drjakeyoung

I've been waiting for an article like this, so well done! Also, it's a shame that you didn't do the war doctors console.

NewWho2012
NewWho2012

I think the latest console that was introduced to Matt's Doctor is purposely designed as a juxtaposition to his character. Yes I know he can be dark and evil sometimes, but he was quite a loving, energetic and childish Doctor even when he had Clara as his companion so the dark lighting of his new console room was like a juxtaposition to his character for me. Same with Capaldi, how we have bright orange lighting, it's juxtaposing his character of a dark and stern Doctor instead. 


My favourite console is the 2005-2010 one because I grew up with it, literally, it's just my era of the show and the TARDIS I was always used to. As much as I've liked the successor designs, they still haven't lived up to the 'original' for me.

floppy_who
floppy_who

I think the bottom line is that the TARDIS interior design reflects each era's technical and design zeitgeists. The point about the 1983-89 console being flashy but boring...pretty much sums up the whole 1980s (except perhaps musically!), and the pale green colour of the 1972 Pertwee console is carried over from the original 1963 to 1970 console- it was colured green as it appeared as a brighter shade of white on black and white VT.. purely a practical design choice!

Interesting no mention is made of the extensive modifications that were made to the "T Baker Primary" console for the first two Peter Davison seasons (the "boring" console didn't appear until The Five Doctors) as this would indicate not only something about the 5th Doctor's attitude to the TARDIS (a lot of his stories were highly TARDIS-centric in terms of location) but also the BBC's attitude to not spending a huge amount on the show during the 1980s..(indeed the console room's final appearance in the classic series, the wall was literally a cardboard cut-out as the set had perished in storage).

For trivia fans...It's worth noting that the modified T Baker console used by the 5th Doctor in 1983 is the control panel seen in the Day of the Doctor trailer when we see the 3rd Doctor sword fighting with the Master..!

(Did I mention I was a design geek?)

Clara Laurinda
Clara Laurinda

A fascinating perspective on the Doctor and a very informative and enjoyable red, thank you so much!

The_Doctor_
The_Doctor_

Apparently the new TARDIS has book shells and a chalkboard, I like the sound of it to be honest,

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

Not bring restricted by BBC TV centre to having a flat studio space, more suited to a domestic sitcom, has made a real difference to the feel of the TARDIS. I love the sense of depth both of Matt's consoles have had, the way you can go underneath the centre console makes it seem so much more of a 'proper' spaceship.

Richy Woo
Richy Woo

My Favourite console is the console from Doctor Who The Movie. I am not sure if its McGanns or McCoys Console, so from now on i will refer to it as the McConsole.

ilyootha is back in home Universe
ilyootha is back in home Universe

The Third Doctor's TARDIS actually changed quite a lot, ranging from the one with large bowl-like roundels (the scanner being one of them) to something like a remake of the First Doctor's TARDIS to that weird one with a blue passageway at the door!

My personal favourite is the TV movie version (spacious but very cosy and mysterious), followed closely by the current one (finally a proper sci-fi design!). Although I have a nostalgic soft spot for the classic roundels: I literally applauded when Ten and Eleven said how they loved "the round thinds"! Although it then felt very awkward because I was the only one in the cinema who did so...

floppy_who
floppy_who

Just a quick line to point out that the console room in the picture was only used for one story (The Time Monster)- the walls were replaced from the Three Doctors onwards and were kept almost unchanged until the secodary control room was unveiled in The Masque of Mandragora.

:-)

LucasW
LucasW

As much as I love Smith's second console room (and I do, it is a wonderful fusion of the classic and new series), I sort of wish the show had just jumped from his first, colourful console room to Capaldi's, just to give the Smith era a feeling of completeness. It's the same thing with Matt's series 7b costume, it might just be my favourite new series costume, but it makes Matt's era feel very disjointed instead of a consistent whole.

I also dislike the War Doctor's console room for one reason: it feels anomalous. I'd always thought of the cold, clinical classic console room feeding into the warmer, wooden and metal TV movie console room and that bleeding into the coral console room. The rooms were therefore becoming more elaborate as the TARDIS aged. But suddenly, in the middle of this progression, we have a step back to the "round things". I love the round things, I really, really do and I miss them in the recent control rooms, but they just felt so out of place. If the McGann movie had never happened then yes, it would be a natural progression from classic to new, but it feels like a step back.

Oh yeah, and seeing as Hurt regenerated in that room but Eccleston was freshly regenerated in Rose but also fully acquainted with the coral control room, when did it change? When he was getting dressed?

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

I never really thought the console room belonged to a Doctor as it changed more frequently and more to do with practical reasons.  I do laugh how often objects required for the plot would magically turn up in the console room.  The Mind Robber dot uk site has an interesting article on the history on the TARDIS interior.



Andrew_Swallow
Andrew_Swallow

If you are looking for symbolism do not forget the outside of the Tardis.  It looks like a police box.  So it shows it is British, helps people in trouble, brave, camouflage - has secrets and does not carry a guns.

Awqwapwnics
Awqwapwnics

You skipped War's room! That one looked stripped down and dingy- wires strewn all over the place and simply there to connect bits of electronics together. A bare minimum console room, but also back to basics, and with a monitor right beside the console so he can pay attention to what's going on in real time without playing things by ear. The War Doctor was operating with a simple console room that was convenient for battle, not elegance. It looked almost kitbashed together. So I suppose War wanted something tried and true that he was sure would suit him well as it had before.



MJJ
MJJ

Where's Hurt's control room in this article?

Oodkind
Oodkind

I like Nine/Ten's room, but I agree with Wilf-- it could be cleaner. Smith's first seemed to fit him perfectly, though it strikes me as a bit cluttered. I like the concept of Smith's second, because it is similar to the originals, giving a sense of polish and machine, but still has the awe of the modern rooms, but I never did like how dark it was. The new lighting makes it look very promising! I'll have to see it more before making a firm decision.


So what will Twelve be like, based on the room? Well with all those bookcases, I'm guessing he will have more of a professor quality. The lighting suggests he will be a bit more laid back as well, which would fit with his age.

JLS1138
JLS1138

Am I the only one who thinks the red console lights in 12's console room are more menacing than "adding some warmth"?


And since everyone's doing it...my favorite has to be 11's first console room. It really felt "bigger on the inside"

Skylord Maldon
Skylord Maldon

I like the series 7b tardis, it has a wonderful scientific look to it while being cold and serious. I would love to stand in that tardis just for a moment and take it all in :)

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

Since everyone is listing their favorites... mine's the Tennant one. :) 

I very much prefer it to the others and, whatever 5th might have to say about it, I think it is most certainly better than than the leopard print! :P




Liana21
Liana21

I love the old Matt's console room, it was just beautiful and lovely. And I like what they done for Capaldi, the shelves look great and add comfort to the, in my opinion, colder console of the New Who.

The One Eyestalk
The One Eyestalk

What about the War Doctor's control room? "Ahh! The round things!" "I love the round things!" "What are the round things?" "No idea."

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

I like the eleventh doctors ones they were very nice

Polyphase
Polyphase

I always thought the Tardis interior was created by the Tardis itself as a reflection of the Doctors personality and I think the 9th Doctors is the best looking. Having said that I wouldn't say no to any of them :)

Tardis Stowaway
Tardis Stowaway

@LucasW  I think the design of the War Doctor's console room was born more out of a desire to hark back to older TARDIS designs and to acknowledge the fact that the roundels were a big part of classic TARDIS designs. From a production point of view as well, this interior had so little screen time it didn't need to be a big-budget build, and every part of the set, with the exception of the floor, was recycled - the roundels were simply borrowed from the AAISAT set, which had just finished use. In case anyone's wondering, the console and 'ceiling' supports were a mock-up used on a tour years ago, just repainted a bit. From my point of view, I quite liked them for the nostalgia they would have created - I'm not a massive classics fan but I really appreciated their significance and enjoyed seeing them, but I do see your point about it being a bit of an anomaly in the progression of the interior designs.

Amy says Peter Davison is the Thirteenth Doctor!
Amy says Peter Davison is the Thirteenth Doctor!

"Oh yeah, and seeing as Hurt regenerated in that room but Eccleston was freshly regenerated in Rose but also fully acquainted with the coral control room, when did it change?" -Well, we don't actually know that Nine was recently-regenerated in "Rose". He had already picked out his new outfit, he wasn't undergoing any post-regenerative trauma, and he was in the middle of an investigation by the time that we saw him. Yes, I know there was the mirror scene, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of anything; anybody can look in a mirror and make some remark about their appearance - I do it all the time and I've only ever had this one face. Nine may still have been getting used to his, but that doesn't mean it was truly fresh out of the box. In fact, the ages mentioned in "The Day of the Doctor" suggest that Nine lived to be about 100 years old, but we certainly don't see that in his televised run, so one would imagine that he wandered around on his own for a while before "Rose". I like to think that while doing so, he tried to save as many innocents as he could from big historical events (Krakatoa, the Titanic, JFK) as a way to atone for what he'd done in the war, and that he simply couldn't bear to face himself in the mirror that whole time, out of shame and grief, and so he would still have only seen his face fleetingly (if at all) during those 100 years.


YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@LucasW Um... I think that was one of the points of the War Doctor's console room - It was anomalous. 

He wasn't part of the Doctor's natural progression as an imaginative ancient adventurer and traveler. It makes sense to return to a more functional set up under his hands, since he was an anomaly, a detour. Or, at least... that's what he is at first glance. 

When considered more thoroughly, I see the central part of his Tardis console room as particularly telling - it, unlike the rest of the room, DOES look like it's a part of "the natural progression". It's similar to the 9th Doctor's, but it also has something of a Victorian/Edwardian steampunk feel to it. 

In that respect, the room could be said to symbolize both the Doctor's attempt to turn away from his true nature... and his ultimate inability to do so. In the end, even when things are darkest, he IS the Doctor.

Clara Laurinda
Clara Laurinda

@LucasW Hi Lucas! I actually ENJOY disjointed! LIFE is disjoimted and is rarely a consistent whole, so why not Matt's era, especially since he goes through quite a lot over a very long period before regwnerating?

TheIdleIdol
TheIdleIdol

It makes me sad when people call it "the Tennant one". :( I know he used it too, but... poor Eccleston. He finds a brilliant new desktop theme, and his successor gets all the credit.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

@The One Eyestalk I thought it was a great edition and well put together.  A mixture of the classic series and the new. 

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@Clara Laurinda @MJJ We saw it in Day of the Doctor. There are pics. The central area is similar, but not identical, to the 9th/10th one, but the walls are brightly lit and white and include the classic roundels.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@TheIdleIdol Actually, it was a conscious choice on my part to refer to it that way, despite 9th being my favorite of the New Doctors. It was in reference to this part of the article: 

At the beginning, this console room is cold. It’s hard, the grating creates terrible noises as the Doctor strides across, the slap-dash controls on the console hint at past adventure and a sense of exhaustion, but the light, the “heart” within correlates with the often flippant and playful Doctor.




As the Tenth Doctor takes over the room becomes lighter, more orange in hue and the console becomes more cluttered, showing marks of more adventures. Now, the banging of the grating suggests movement, life, and speed. 

I had never noticed the slight differences between the Eccleston era and the Tennant one, until I read this article. After reading it, I reaized that of those two halves of the Tardis's stint at looking like that, I find I DO prefer the slightly lighter Tennant look.





chmayer
chmayer

I suspect 10 didn't care, couldn't be bothered. I also think he could have made some changes if he wanted to.

TheIdleIdol
TheIdleIdol

Yeah that's perfectly fair - the difference in lighting really does alter the mood. But ultimately the set itself didn't change, which is the only reason I tend to think of it as Eccleston's TARDIS even despite Tennant's longer stint in it. Both are valid though, I don't intend to criticise.