How does the TARDIS reflect the Doctor?
Guest contributor Richard Elliot analyses what the TARDIS console room says about each Doctor.
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
This 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
An 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
The 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
Something 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
Back 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
This 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
This 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
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
Lights! 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
As 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.
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!