The TARDIS is the Doctor’s most faithful companion, and a character in its own right. But which are the best stories featuring the Time Lord’s trusty phone box?
5) The TV Movie
Also known as ‘The Enemy Within,’ the Doctor Who TV movie from 1996 showed the TARDIS as we had never seen it before. Prior to this, the Doctor’s faithful Type 40 capsule had (for the most part) been a white-washed, laboratory-like chamber, festooned with roundels and bathed in bright lights.
But the TV movie showed the TARDIS in a whole new light. This was the biggest console room the Doctor had ever used, and indeed it was more akin to a stately home than a time and space machine.
The aesthetics notwithstanding, the TV movie also gave viewers a tantalising insight into how the TARDIS worked. There were hints that it actually had a personality of its own; its console reacted when the character of Chang Lee leaned against one of its girders, and the Master commented that the TARDIS really seemed to like him. This may have been because he was a human being, a species that the TARDIS seemed to favour. Indeed, the TV movie also revealed that the machine’s power source (also known as the Eye of Harmony) required a human to open it.
The Fifth Doctor’s first story ‘Castrovalva’ is really a tale of two halves, and its opening episodes are set almost entirely within the TARDIS itself. This is because the Doctor is recovering from a traumatic regeneration and isn’t able to control his machine – although this is partly down to the interference of the Master who, with the help of Adric, is sending it back to Event One, otherwise known as the Big Bang.
The majority of the action in these first two episodes is contained within the TARDIS corridors with the Doctor desperately trying to locate the elusive Zero Room – an isolated space which is cut off from the rest of the universe. The idea is that the Doctor can use the Zero Room to recuperate and block out the interference that is plaguing his still-regenerating mind.
Alas, the Zero room gets destroyed in ‘Castrovalva’ as the Doctor is forced to jettison one quarter of the TARDIS in order to provide the necessary thrust to escape from the Big Bang. Interestingly, this is something we have never seen the Doctor do before, and indeed it’s seldom mentioned again, save for a passing reference made by Peri in ‘Vengeance on Varos’ when she berates the Doctor for accidentally jettisoning three quarters of the storage hold!
3) The Edge of Destruction
‘The Edge of Destruction’ is a thrilling First Doctor adventure set entirely within the TARDIS. Spread over two episodes, it features just the regular cast of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan as they try to figure out what has gone wrong with their faithful machine.
Interestingly, ‘The Edge of Destruction’ lays the groundwork for many of the Doctor Who stories that would follow. It has parallels with ‘Castrovalva’ as, like with the Fifth Doctor serial, the TARDIS is on a journey back to the start of the universe. Moreover, there are hints that the TARDIS has some kind of rudimentary personality; all throughout the adventure, it is trying to warn the confused travellers about the danger they’re in.
“A machine that can think for itself?” asks Ian. “Is that feasible, Doctor?”
“Oh, think not as you or I do,” the Doctor replies, “but it must be able to think as a machine. You see, it has a bank of computers.”
But was the Doctor entirely right? Subsequent adventures would suggest otherwise, and indeed there are clues that the TARDIS is far more than just a “bank of computers” in ‘The Edge of Destruction.’ For example, one of the ways it tells the travellers about their looming destruction is by taking time away from them – and by melting a clock, no less! Even Windows Updates don’t go that far…
2) The Doctor’s Wife
It’s fair to say that ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ changed the TARDIS forever. This Eleventh Doctor story brought the Time Lord’s machine to life in the form of a woman called Idris. Simply put, the TARDIS’ core was extracted by a being known as House and transplanted into Idris’ body, meaning that she was finally able to talk to the Doctor face to face. And what a relationship they end up having. It’s not called ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ for nothing!
In this episode, the Doctor’s inability to properly control his machine is addressed, something for which the Doctor blames Idris. “You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go!” he snaps. “No,” she replies, “but I always took you where you needed to go.” The TARDIS, it seems, has been influencing the Doctor’s travels from the moment he first stole it.
Another interesting aspect of this episode is that it finally shows off some of the TARDIS’ other rooms. Of course, some of these had been showcased in the Classic series, but this was the first time New Who had properly taken us out of the main console room (apart from a brief scene in the TARDIS wardrobe in ‘The Christmas Invasion.’) On this occasion, the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory are lost in its labyrinthine corridors which have been taken over by House, who is manipulating space and time to try and unnerve them.
In the midst of the confusion, we learn that the TARDIS has the ability to archive console rooms – even ones that haven’t been used yet. Indeed, Amy and Rory find themselves in the console room of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and Idris later reveals that she has archived 30 so far .
1) Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Two years after ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ we find ourselves back in the TARDIS corridors, but this time it’s an altogether more epic adventure. Loosely inspired by the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth, this 2013 story sees the Doctor, Clara and a space salvage team lost within the TARDIS’ passages. The Eye of Harmony makes a return appearance, although it’s a bit different from the TV movie; here, the Doctor reveals that it is an exploding star which has been frozen in its final moments before turning into a black hole.
And as with ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ there is a considerable amount of time distortion in the TARDIS corridors, with the Doctor and his friends being stalked by mysterious zombie creatures which turn out to be… well, that would be telling. The Doctor also pays a visit to the TARDIS’ engine room, which has been completely destroyed – although the TARDIS has saved itself by locking the room in a time stasis as a safety measure. Nifty.
We also get to see a number of other TARDIS rooms – the oft-mentioned swimming pool, an observatory, and a mysterious library which contains a complete history of the Time War and a number of other strange ‘documents’ which are stored in liquid form (plus the Seventh Doctor’s umbrella – no, not that one!) Then there is also the unusual architectural reconfiguration tree made up glowing orbs which, according to the Doctor, can reorganise matter according to a person’s wishes.
Simply put, when it comes to TARDIS stories, this Eleventh Doctor adventure is the ultimate. Few stories have shown off the Doctor’s machine in such detail, although 1978’s ‘The Invasion of Time’ comes close – worth a watch if you fancy seeing a Sontaran trip over sun-lounger! Other honourable mentions include ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ and ‘Full Circle’ for a visit to Romana’s bedroom.
But which is your favourite TARDIS story? And would you like the Doctor to explore its corridors again in the future? Let me know in the comments below.