How does the TARDIS reflect the Doctor? (Part 2)

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Guest contributor Richard Elliot analyses what the TARDIS console room says about each Doctor (Part 2).

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I was extremely humbled by many of the responses to the article I wrote recently, “How does the TARDIS reflect the Doctor?”; a piece in which I discussed how each TARDIS control room over the years has reflected some of the core character traits of the incumbent incarnation at the time. Thank you all for your interest and your feedback, it really did blow me away and I feel extremely grateful to you and Doctor Who TV for the chance to write such an article.

One thing that kept cropping up, though, was my omission of the War Doctor’s TARDIS, something which I, too, consider one of my favourites and feel deserves consideration. In actual fact, in an early half-forgotten rough cut of the article, the War Doctor’s did make an appearance although it soon became obvious to me that the words would be better put to use discussing the more mainstream control rooms. Seeing as there seemed to be some interest, I decided to write out the piece about the War Doctor’s TARDIS in full, as well as the others I had considered…

The War Doctor’s Control Room

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One might think that due to the nature that this set was constructed there must be little to say about how it can reflect the War Doctor, but to paraphrase Irene Adler in the BBC’s “Sherlock” – no matter how hard you try it’s always a self-portrait, really.

This set is a mixture of repurposed TARDIS parts. The console is from 2007, from a little known “Doctor Who Roadshow” that travelled Wales during Tennant’s era. Wondrously, it featured its own console room! A replica of the screen version albeit smaller with cardboard façade walls. The console and coral pillars, however, were built by the same chap who built the TV counterpart, and so are of very good quality, though smaller by about 30%. The roundel walls are from Hartnell’s control room from “An Adventure from in Space and Time” and are not green-screen as is commonly thought (This can be confirmed as one roundel is actually missing and you can see the studio floor behind!). The floor remains the only newly-constructed set piece.

Whilst on one hand the mix of styles, old and new, is clearly a measure to bridge the gap between Classic and Modern Who it still reflects the character in other ways. The console is coral and dirty, it has none of the flourishes of the McGann variant and none of the decoration of the Davison one. It’s almost as if it was built in a hurry with no thought as to where certain controls should be placed, navigation controls may be feet away from each other, for example, and there’s no effort at comfort. Exactly what we’d expect from a Doctor who is trying to fight a war, who does not allow himself to relax or who is trying to rid himself of many habits of his past, but has still had to make do with that he already has, old components or old templates, just to keep the ship running.

Tennant’s console (incidentally my favourite console, seeing as that seemed to be a discussion topic in the comments before!) has also undergone a few alterations since the Roadshow. The coral is dirtier and there are metal plates around the console panels as opposed to the later coral rings. This is more functional, the TARDIS isn’t growing at its leisure, and not being allowed to become beautiful, but simply needs to do a job and is feeling the effects of that severely. It, too, is almost crying out in desperation “NO MORE”. Much like the War Doctor, this TARDIS is likeable and beautiful on top, a really interesting character in itself, but it screams pain.

Season 27 Control Room

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Ah, the one some of you may not have seen or even heard of! There’s a reason for that – it never existed! Discussion of this needs context:

During the late 1980s it was no secret Doctor Who was failing. Ratings and audience appreciation were down, the show seemed to have lost its sci-fi roots, one Doctor had been disgracefully treated and the current one was barely allowed any choice in his own characterisation; the latter perhaps the biggest mistake possible when producing Doctor Who. Nevertheless, in 1988, and certainly by 1989 something strange happened: suddenly Doctor Who was good again! Stories like “Remembrance of the Daleks” and “The Curse of Fenric” reinvented what Doctor Who was for that era, whilst less-loved storied such as “Battlefield” honoured the past in great ways whilst allowing McCoy to stretch his legs and really take the Doctor in his own ground-breaking direction. It is small wonder, then, why there is so much bad feeling towards the BBC during that time. It is one thing to cancel a failing show, it is another entirely to axe a show that is making a startlingly quick comeback in both ratings and appreciation.

Had this new Doctor Who continued, a new control room would be needed. The old one was pretty much useless now (ever wondered why it looks strange in “Battlefield”?) and the new show needed distance from recent past. The Season 27 control room was an original idea that both honoured the old and celebrated the new. It was relatively small, with small roundels and walls that bowed outwards. The main door was made more of a feature, as was the back door, inviting the audience to wonder what else this ship contained. The console was a symphony of intricacy and engineering, a full-length rotor stretching into the ceiling and suspending the futuristic panels 2 feet off the floor.

It’s difficult to tell how this relates to the Season 27 7th Doctor, we never saw him, but we can guess from his direction in 26: He’s once again becoming more thoughtful and calculated, the room is less comfortable, whilst the console position and controls immediately boggle the mind of anyone who are not up to the task of understanding the underlying principles of flying the ship. It’s a dark room, almost claustrophobic and intimidating with its sharp pillars, grey walls and Gallifreyan heritage, but it’s also deceptively light and spacious. The lights in the ceiling provide welcome relief from the heavy atmosphere and it’s mainly because of the angle of the walls the room looks so small. All in all then, whereas the Doctor has started to become more calculating and more of a trickster than before, manipulating his enemies but still retaining that soft and humorous centre from earlier on, the TARDIS likewise puts on a show, looking less approachable than it actually is and retaining the old good nature at heart.

Shalka Control Room

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Probably not canon unless you like to consider this some sort of alternate universe, the control room from “Scream of the Shalka” featuring Richard E. Grant as an alternative 9th Doctor from 2003 is nevertheless unique and worthy of consideration. It’s perhaps the best example of a TARDIS resembling its Doctor.

The room is dark and uninviting. How big it truly is we don’t know, it seems almost like a tunnel stretching up into darkness with a magnificent spiral staircase leading the way up. The console is on a raised dais and is ugly in a beautiful way; dark and with a tall time rotor, it has angled panels full of manual controls and gears, it’s more steam locomotive than TARDIS. A ruined Victorian/Jules Verne theme is evident: red and green carpets and brass abound.

Just like this room, the Shalka Doctor is unfriendly. We don’t know him, how far he will stretch. He screams refinement in his voice and appearance but seems to have more in common with Dracula than Victorian fancy. Everything about both characters is intimidating and unlikable, yet they are both still recognisably the Doctor and The TARDIS, and neither seem beyond salvage. The Doctor’s unfailing morality and kindness and the TARDIS’s grandeur ready to be revealed at the flick of a light switch do not fail to endear either of them to the beholder. Although they may seem far-gone now, one day they will both come back, yes, they will both come back.

So there we have it, my ramblings on 3 more of the control rooms I considered for the original article. I tried to be a bit more meaty here with more room to work with and I hope it lead to some interesting discussion! I have no doubt that Peter Capaldi will be a fantastic new Doctor – bring on August 23rd!

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