-TARDIS PROP HISTORY-
Researched by Anthony Sibley
THE RICHARD HUDOLIN BOX
In 1996, seven years after the final episode of Doctor Who had aired on BBC 1, the good Doctor and his trusty, battered old TARDIS returned to our screens in a one off television movie produced in collaboration between the BBC and Universal Television. This movie, in media terms was a "Backdoor Pilot" - meaning essentially that if it proved popular and was a ratings winner, then it would go on to become a full blown series. Alas, this never happened.
Not only did we have a new Doctor in the guise of actor Paul McGann, but we also got a brand new TARDIS prop.
THE TELEVISION MOVIE:
British born Executive Producer, Philip Segal, was a long time fan of Doctor Who and had been seeking to produce the franchise in one form or another as early as 1989. However it wasn't until mid 1995 that he finally convinced Universal and the BBC to allow him to make his own television movie of the classic show.
Having secured the rights, arranged a budget and a team, the next thing he needed for his production was the all iconic TARDIS Police Box prop. His Art Department was provided with a set of plans by the BBC, the same ones used to create the 1980s fibre glass version, although in reality, these bore little relation to what was finally produced, even back then.
Using these plans as a starting point, Segal insisted that they be modified somewhat to hark back to the original prop as seen in 1963 when the show first started. This was duly done and the eventual design was a hybrid of the two; the season eighteen general arrangement, complete with identically stacked roof, along with cues taken from the season one prop - such as the deeper set walls and the more traditional narrow "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics. The design did however have a throw back to the Met Police Box design in that it had a much higher standing base, almost twice the size of any of the previous television props' bases.
As is always the way, what was finally built had some deviations from the plans. It also did not help matters that the plans themselves were contradicting themselves as somewhere along the lines, somebody had got their maths a bit wrong. On the page detailing the door and wall construction, the over all height says that they should be 6' 5 ½" tall, whereas on the same page where the drawings show the heights for the windows, recessed panels and in between spacer rails, the numbers add up to 6' 8".
All in all, the new prop was rather impressive, almost imposing as it looked very chunky and quite robust, especially due to its timber construction. The major deviation from the plans to the end result was in the look of the walls and doors as it appears that the wrong timber stock had been ordered. It was far too narrow (widthways) and couldn't accommodate the required size or the bevelled edges that were called for. A compromise had to be made and in the end, the windows and recessed panels were constructed slightly wider than planned and the bevels were added as a separate piece of beading with a noticeable join.
Surrounding the doors, (and again for symmetry, the walls) an extra strip of batten was applied to the inner edges of the corner posts to act as a further door restraint - much like that on the mid to late 1970s Newbery Box. For the first time ever, the phone panel also had a bevelled inner edge and this door was hung with its hinges of the right side, rather than the left - identically to how this was done on the BBC's TARDIS prop through the late 1960s and early 1970s. It even sported a tiny "finger handle" on the left side of the framework too.
In terms of the graphics for this prop, the "Police Public Call Box" signage was made to illuminate, allowing the "negative" text to show the translucent white acrylic underneath, while the black flood formed the background with the "negative" cut out text. The phone panel, on the other hand, utilised a white serifed font on a painted blue background and reinstated the original wording and spacing of the message.
As for the further detailing of this build, the corner post caps were simple blocks with no quarter round beading at its corners and the hammered window glass were no longer of the pebbled variety, but something similar with a broader texture. The norm for the placement of these textured pieces was always in the two lower outer panes, however, only the left hand door sported this formation, all the other windows had these pieces randomly positioned, sometimes on the upper level and sometimes on the lower level - some were even grouped together.
Attention to detail for this prop was very astute as a traditional fresnelled navigation beacon was found and used for the roof lamp, though for some reason, the brass surround, complete with its own four brass struts were retained, giving an extra level of new detailing for this assembly. This lamp was then built into a housing that sported a flat square cap, held in position by four wooden dowels, one at each corner, rather than three dowels holding a circular and domed cap as used in the 1970s and 1980s.
The script called for a special Yale type lock to be made for the right hand side door, where the face plate could be moved aside to reveal the "true" locking mechanism underneath, which the ankh shaped key would fit into. This was placed just above the centre position on the door rail, with a brass D handle underneath it. To finish off, the prop was heavily treated with a textured render to give the impression of the aged weathering, then a coat of mid blue matt paint was applied, washed over with thin black paint to stand in for the years of accumulated grime and filth, making the new TARDIS look darker than it actually was.
Two further TARDISes were made for this production; a 1:5 scale model for the sequences in which the ship is seen to fly through the time vortex and space (as well as in the opening title sequence), plus a full sized copy that was essentially arch shaped. Part of the narrative had a scene in which the Doctor and Grace returned to the TARDIS, but before they could enter, a motorcycle cop inadvertently rides in through the front doors, about turns and rides out again.
To achieve this stunt, they could not use the hero prop as it just wasn't wide enough to allow this to physically happen and so the "Arch Way TARDIS" was fabricated. This was identical to the hero prop in every way, except for the fact that the door way was widened considerably and when shot from a side on angle this wasn't so noticeable. Although the prop outwardly had a base section, on the front and back side of the prop, there was no base at all - looking down, all you would see would be the pavement. This is quite apparent when the Doctor and Grace step into the TARDIS after the motorcycle event as they clearly do not step up into the prop, rather they walk straight in, slightly giving the game away.
What happened to the full sized versions after the recording of this television movie is unsure, some sources say they were scrapped, while other sources say they were put into storage. Neither of these stories have been verified at this time, although it is known that the model was sold and is now in the hands of a private collector.