The TARDIS Owner's Manual

One of the most indelible images from the BBC’s long-running science fiction series Doctor Who was the quirky time machine in which the Doctor and his companions traveled the cosmos, which he called the TARDIS. Its exterior was disguised as a battered blue Police Call Box, a familiar sight on London streetcorners when the show debuted in 1963. Its interior, on the other hand, was a sprawling, labyrinthine complex of futuristic design. Thanks to the wonders of “transdimensional engineering,” the ship was, in fact, larger on the inside than on the outside; one of the show’s many mind-bending concepts.

“Tardis,” actually the Latin word for “slow,” from whence we get the word “tardy,” was said to be an acronym for “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.” The Doctor’s first traveling companion, the girl known only as Susan, claimed to have made up the name from this phrase, which would suggest that only the Doctor’s ship is called “TARDIS.” However, later writers used the term to apply to all Time Lord ships, which were officially referred to as “time capsules.” I prefer to maintain the original intent, and consider TARDIS the name of the Doctor’s ship, comparable to Enterprise, Nimitz, or Titanic.

A wealth of technical information was revealed about the ship during the 26 seasons the show was on the air, and I have gathered much of this information into what might be taken as excerpts from the TARDIS owner’s manual:


The Type 40 is a self-contained research station designed for surveillance and information-gathering on alien civilisations throughout space-time. It is a transdimensionally-engineered hypercubic vehicle powered by artron energy surrounded by an all-but-indestructible shell and containing a vast complex to provide both comfort and support to the Time Lord researcher on an extended mission.

The exterior of the Type 40 consists of the three-dimensional shell topped by the Local Orientation Visualiser. The exterior can be disguised by the chameleon circuit, which is governed by the visual stabiliser unit. The transdimensional interface hatch is protected by a complex trimonic locking device, which also contains a key-operated pause-control feature, with which the operator can send the ship on to its preset coördinates without actually going inside.

The transdimensional interface hatch is linked to the main console room, but can be rerouted to the secondary control room if necessary. Additionally within the interior of the Type 40 are living quarters with food processing units, storage compartments large and small, workshops, sickbay, Zero room, indoor gardens and cloister room, swimming pool complex, holographic art gallery, and laboratory facilities, all connected by a series of corridors that provide easy access to the ship’s systems. The interior is governed by the ship’s architectural configuration system, and areas can be quickly located with the architectural configuration indicators.

The Type 40 operates through a symbiotic link with its Time Lord operator. The link is established with a component called the briode-nebuliser, which must be primed prior to operation. It is also patched into the molecular stabilisation system.

With the symbiotic link established, the Type 40’s telepathic circuits conform the patterns of the ship’s artron energy supplies with the artron energies present in the Time Lord brain. Thereby the operation of the Type 40 is influenced by the personality, imagination, and mood of its operator. A predisposition for a certain place and time on the part of the operator will cause the ship to favor that place and time in its own operational protocols. The symbiosis is made possible by the ship’s non-verbal artificial intelligence. The artron energy is used to power the ship’s hyperspace movements. The basic power supply for the ship’s systems is provided by the dynamorphic generator and moderated through the mercury fluid links.

The Type 40 contains a psionic beam communication system keyed into the ship’s telepathic circuits, regulated by the signal conversion unit. One feature of the system is that it constantly monitors and receives distress calls. The emergency transceiver allows for remote control operation from Gallifrey in the event of a crisis situation. The ship is also equipped with a “cloister bell” onboard warning system. Other safety features include: portable homing devices should the crew become separated from the ship; and in the event of a total power failure, the main door can be cranked open manually. Should the ship come under attack, the Hostile Action Displacement System can be activated, which will cause the ship to make slight adjustments in its spatial position to avoid the effects of alien weaponry. This puts a tremendous strain on the ship’s systems, however, and should only be used in the gravest emergencies. Should the Type 40 be in danger of destruction during transit, the interphasic failsafe will automatically seek out and lock onto the nearest spacecraft. The ship is also capable of generating a gravity tractor beam.

Transit is initiated by the relative dimension stabiliser (RDS), which produces the distinctive noise heard outside the ship as the exterior shifts into hyperspace. The RDS works in concert with the dematerialisation circuit. The relative continuum stabiliser (RCS) monitors the ship’s movement through time, oriented by the K-zero differential, as artron energy is fed into the trachoid time crystal. Be sure to avoid symbolic resonance in the crystal or rematerialisation will be effectively impossible! For smooth rematerialisations, be sure the multi-loop stabiliser (MLS) is engaged. The Type 40 utilises automated landing protocols to prevent rematerialisation problems.

Navigation is controlled primarily through the space-time coordinate programmer (SCP) and the time vector generator (TVG). Important components in the navigation system include the temporal drift compensators (TDC) and the lateral balance cones (LBC). The helmic regulator monitors the ship’s progress, and the synchronic feedback checking circuit should ensure a smooth journey. The Type 40 is also equipped with a movable astral map unit located in the main console room.

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During his many adventures, the Doctor often needed to make modifications to the TARDIS, since he wasn’t actually using it for the purpose for which it was designed. Wandering around the universe helping people out of jams was the furthest thing from the Time Lords’ minds when they created their fleet of time capsules. But the Doctor is something of a renegade, and so the beleaguered TARDIS has had to adapt to a more rough-and-tumble existence. Some examples:

Soon after leaving Gallifrey, the Doctor assembled and installed a “time path detector” to monitor any other time machines following the same route, as he and Susan were fugitives from the authorities. Originally intended to allow them to stay one step ahead of the Time Lords, the device later came in quite handy when the evil Daleks pursued the Doctor in a time machine of their own invention.

During the Doctor’s long exile to Earth, the Time Lords had blocked from his mind the knowledge he needed to operate the TARDIS. Undaunted, the Doctor continued to experiment, attempting to escape his imprisonment. The ship was almost completely stripped down during this period, and we learned that even minor temporal effects require energy levels on the order of a nuclear power plant.

The Type 40 is equipped with a recall circuit which can pull the ship back to Gallifrey, although this component has been used only 3 times in all Time Lord history. The Time Lords found it necessary to use this method of last resort when they came under attack for the second time by Omega, one of the Time Lords’ “founding fathers,” as it were, who was trapped in an anti-matter universe. We can assume that more criminally-minded renegade Time Lords, such as the so-called Meddling Monk, the Master, and the Rani, found ways to disable this feature on their own time capsules.

The Doctor has had to jettison one-quarter of the TARDIS interior and also lost three-quarters of the remaining storage holds, the former in a desperate attempt to escape destruction and the latter purely by accident. It is clear that the Doctor has collected various odds and ends, clothing, and furniture throughout his travels, but we have no way of knowing what may have been lost during these mishaps.

Certainly additional information about the TARDIS has been offered in the various novelizations, audio programs, comic books, and TV and theatrical movies based on the show, all of which I consider non-canonical. Therefore, the above is based solely on the episodes of the original television series.

Next: The Doctor’s Companions

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