-TARDIS PROP HISTORY-
Researched by Anthony Sibley
THE EDWARD THOMAS BOX (2005-)
Just after the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who in late 2003, the BBC announced to the world that the long awaited return of Doctor Who as a television series would soon be arriving on our screens in the early part of 2005.
As such, a number of independent effects and model production companies contacted the BBC in the hopes of gaining commissions to service the programme. One such company was "Unthinkable" who were bidding for the TARDIS prop build, their past experience in the arena of design and manufacture for Doctor Who related merchandise put them in a favourable position and talks with the corporation continued unabated for many months. The spec sheet that they submitted with images of their previous TARDIS builds would later feature in many magazines, as well as the BBC's own official Doctor Who website.
Because the TARDIS would undoubtedly be a Police Box, this was the one sure thing that they knew would be required and suggested that the prop could be built as early as possible, however, because the Art Department wouldn't be fully crewed until late March at the earliest, nothing could be put into action at this stage, though conversations surrounding this item continued.
In April 2004, Unthinkable drew up a set of full and detailed build schematics and nearly two months later took them along to the BBC Art Department in Wales for a meeting, along with the mock up model. The reception to their proposal was enthusiastic and it was here that the build approach was discussed, Unthinkable suggesting that the TARDIS should be bigger than its earlier counterparts, more bulky and in line with the more traditional (and taller) Metropolitan Police Boxes.
Five identical full sized props were required, one for the studio set entrance, two hero versions and two light weight copies. As time passed, Unthinkable were working on other projects and eventually explained to the Art Department that due to the small nature of the company and the fact that 5 props would be required in such a small space of time, they would need to have at least two months lead on the construction, which at this point the Art Department could not grant. Eventually Unthinkable bowed out of the proceedings, leaving the BBC just weeks to design and build the props their selves.
With Unthinkable having left "the negotiation table" and taken their work away with them, Edward Thomas and his crew were left to start the design and build of the new TARDIS prop from scratch. Some of Unthinkable's ideas were retained, making the TARDIS bigger, but the rest of the design of the new prop was given a radical overhaul and designed very simply to allow for a quick manufacture.
If anything, the new prop looked like an enlarged version of the TARDIS as designed by Barry Newbery, albeit much taller and wider, giving it quite a chunky, rugged look to its outer appearance. Just like the earlier versions of the TARDIS prop, this new version (and its doubles) were built with timber clad over a ply wood backing, however, they had no back doors and broke down into their component parts slightly differently; base, roof, four corner posts, four illuminated "Police Public Call Box" sign boxes, three walls and the two front doors. Two new additions to these props were included for the first time ever, the windows could now be illuminated with special concealed light boxes that fitted directly to the back of the windows so that outwardly the box could look like it had internal lighting, but when the doors were opened, it was actually dark inside. During the recording of each episode, the rear wall was often replaced by a back lit "translite" (a translucent photographic blow up of the interior console room set) that would in some scenes give the impression that the TARDIS really was bigger inside as you could see right into the console room within.
The corner posts were now simplified as the quarter round beading on the outer edges were omitted in favour of routered out "step" (much like the TARDIS packaging of Product Enterprise's talking Tom Baker doll ) and the tops were left with an open cavity that showed the hollow box tube nature of these new style posts - very much like the original season one (1963) prop. The corner post cap detail was now just a simplified piece of cladding stuck to the first tier of the two stepped stacked roof.
As for the walls, these were constructed out of standard width (4" / 10cm) timber stock and because they were wider and taller than the original props (6' 10" / 210cm, rather than the usual 6' 6" / 200cm), the windows and the recessed panels below had to follow suit and become proportionally larger, which in turn made them more square. This feature was compounded when the inner edges were routered out to form the bevelling, making them larger still.
When the first two props were constructed and the phone panel, which had been copied directly from the existing replica version that was currently on the remaining 1980s fibre glass TARDIS back at Television Centre in London , a problem arose. The rectangular graphic was not proportional to the new style square recessed panels and so the first prop's phone panel door framework was made wider at the sides than at the top and bottom which made the construction look uneven. This was corrected on the second prop's phone panel by making the graphics more square to sit better within the now even framework.
At some stage after the completion of these first two props, it was decided that the windows and panels did look a little on the wide side and so the two further prop builds would have this issue addressed by making them narrower on the door fascia only, thus making them look slightly different from the wall panels and it was these later two builds that became the "Hero" props that were used for all the main shoots. This narrowing issue was also carried over to the Police Box doors that were housed on the entrance to the console room set.
Other detailing around the props were also simplified. The three stepped door jamb restraint above the doors were omitted in favour of a single stepped jamb that ran above the doors and down the two sides, which again was transferred to the walls for symmetry. The lamp was now a slightly modified garden candle lantern, bought from a DIY store, as the fresnelled navigation beacons were by this point hard to come by due to their antique nature - something that also affected the pebble effect hammered glass which went out of production in the early 1990s. To substitute the pebbled glazing, textured perspex was used instead, the type that is often commonly found on shower room doors. In a radical departure, the H frame of the windows were now thin pieces of beading, glued directly to the surface of the glazing and on each of the windows two lower, outer panes, a second layer of glazing was added to mimic the slightly opaque nature of the originals here.
Possibly due to the spec sheet that Unthinkable had left with the Art Department, which had replicas of the season eighteen prop featuring predominantly, certain elements from this styling had been transferred into the new TARDIS prop design, notably the roof stacking, the positioning of the handle above the lock on the right hand side door and the full width "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics, though here they were switched to white lettering on a black background, rather than blue. The font was also changed to a more narrow variety.
Although the phone panel was copied from the existing one back on the original prop at Television Centre in London , this panel was actually a replica based on the graphics that used the "incorrect" wording, first seen on the redressed Newbery prop that featured in Peter Davison's first adventure as The Doctor in Castrovalva. So in essence, it was a copy of a copy, complete with the two differing fonts, one serifed and one sans serif. This time around however, the message was written in black text and printed onto a metal plate that had been sprayed a dull silver colour, which in turn was screwed directly onto the phone panel door - the panel itself being hung with hinges on its left side and a brass D handle on the right of the outer framework. To give the impression that it was aged and weathered, the outer edges of the panel plate had the silver paint removed with a grinder to reveal the shiny silver metal underneath.
Part of Russell T. Davies' script stated that all "1950s Police Boxes" were made of wood, though in reality they were concrete, however, this was taken on board and during the construction of the props, part of the ageing treatment resulted in the timber being scorched and wire brushed to raise the wood grain to make it very prominent. The props were then painted up in various shades of blue and then tested in different light conditions to see how the finish would look on screen and as a result of these tests, the paint was changed to address the issues that arose from this. The final application was created using approximately seven shades of blue, with washes of green and black added into the mix before a final glaze was applied to finish off the look. The props were then ready for filming.
There is one scene in "Rose" that harks back directly to the 1963 pilot episode in which we see the characters stepping from the Police Box exterior directly into the console room interior beyond. This was during the scene where the TARDIS was parked in the back yard of the restaurant and Rose enters the ship for the first time. The main action was shot out on location with one of the two Hero TARDIS props, but when she ran to the doors we cut to the studio Police Box doors which allowed her to open them and enter, revealing the interior studio, thus cementing the outside to the inside in the viewer's imagination.
Paul Cornell's script called for the Doctor to return to his TARDIS alone, open the doors and discover that the inside of his ship had gone, leaving just the bare Police Box interior. On the face of it, this would have been fairly straight forward to achieve, but the director seemed to not want to show the genuine interior of the prop because it was uninteresting, flat, black painted ply wood with plastic sheeting stuck over the backs of the window holes. Not the most attractive of sights.
Instead, what they did was to essentially turn the walls inside out. For the wide shots looking over the Doctor's shoulders into the box, the back wall was turned around so that we saw the blue outer fascia - windows with their frames, recessed panels and centre door divide. Then for the shots where the camera was inside the box looking out as the Doctor stood in the door way, the back wall was completely removed and the two side walls were turned around with their outer fascias facing inwards. It is also in this scene where the option to have the corner posts built as separate units from the walls showed just how rickety this had made the prop's structure, as Christopher Eccleston (playing the now panicking Doctor) moves about inside the TARDIS, the whole prop wobbles by a considerable amount. Had the corner posts been an integral part of the walls, this movement would not have been so noticeable.
Quite early on in the recording of this first series, the props sustained a certain amount of damage. During the recording of each story, stage hands could often be seen touching up the paint work before the cameras rolled, however some things could not be hidden. The soft nature of the type of timber used to build these TARDIS props resulted in cracks appearing as a consequence of them being continually rigged and de-rigged, to the point where one of the Hero props not only had the front of its base split on the right hand side corner, but also the first step of the roof began to crack quite considerably. Noticeable scruffs and chips were also appearing on the top of the sign boxes where the roof would be slid over them to get it into position.
Directly after the completion of the first series, the two Hero TARDISes were given a bit of an overhaul, where as the two "original build" props seem to have been forgotten about and never actually used on screen - though they had been utilised for promotional appearances. First of all, all the cracks and scuffs were filled and repaired and the open ended corner posts were blanked off, filling the viewable void when viewed from above. Both were completely repainted.
A lesson learnt during the production of series one was that wooden constructions are very heavy to move about, even when split down into their component parts and so one of the Hero props were used to create a set of moulds for a new build - a light weight version cast in fibre glass.
The Christmas Invasion
Aired on Christmas day, 2005, this was the first full adventure to star David Tennant as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor. One particular sequence of note was at the start of the adventure when the TARDIS crash lands on Earth, literally plummeting through the sky and bouncing off buildings, before it unceremoniously came to rest amongst a gathering of industrial sized dust bins.
To achieve this remarkable sequence, the majority of it used a computer generated model of the TARDIS (no physical models were used for this series or the last), though a fibre glass casting from the newly created moulds was also used, but only the lower half had been cast for this scene. This "half TARDIS" was then hoisted into the air by a crane to allow it to be swung through the location. Finally the scene cut to one of the main wooden hero props as the Doctor and Rose emerged.
As soon as anymore information becomes available, this history will be updated. Watch this space folks.