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TARDIS Props

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-TARDIS PROP HISTORY-
Researched by Anthony Sibley

THE PETER BRACHACKI BOX
(Season One to Thirteen)

Due to the fact that this particular prop was in service to Doctor Who for thirteen continuous years, and the fact that it was made of timber, this has resulted in the most changes, repairs and alterations to any of the Police Boxes props used in the show. As such, this section of the history is by far the longest.

 
SEASON ONE:

The Pilot Episode: An Unearthly Child

There are three popular myths surrounding the creation of the first TARDIS / Police Box prop for the series Doctor Who. Those being that a) The prop came from stock left over by the police drama Dixon of Dock Green, b) The pilot episode TARDIS prop was replaced by another, much sturdier version for the re-recording of this episode as part of the full, four part adventure and c) The roof was cut off and lowered after the recording of the pilot episode because the prop was too tall for the scenery lift that led into the studio. Neither of these are true.

Originally it was intended that the TARDIS would change its outward appearance with every adventure, but this obviously would prove to be too costly a concept and so the idea was dropped in favour of it remaining in the one form. It was decided that this should be a Police Box.

Although a visit by the production team to the Ealing Studios took place in the search for a stock Police Box prop, nothing suitable was found and so one was constructed especially for the show. However, the end result was very much different from the look of the real Mk II Metropolitan Police Boxes, on which it was based, that dotted the streets of London at the time. It was much narrower and considerably shorter with a single stepped and pitched roof, and unlike its genuine street corner counterparts, the TARDIS sported two 6' 6" inward opening doors with two more of the same height at the rear that opened outwards. This meant the four cast members could fit inside the prop at the same time, as well as secretly walk through the rear during the scenes in which they were required to step in and out of the craft - something that the stock props wouldn't have allowed them to do. Police Boxes had only the one door that opened outwards, its height was 6' 10" and it was situated on the right side of the front wall.

In terms of colour scheme, the TARDIS was fairly spot on - even though it had been painted gloss blue and the "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics had white lettering stuck to the surface of a translucent dark blue, almost black cobex background, rather than the traditional mid tone blue glass. At this juncture the right wall was missing a set of these graphics and had been blanked off.

The window frames, which had the ability to tilt inwards, were painted white, as was the framing of the phone panel - which even went as far as to allow it to open by hinging it on the left hand side. The graphics here were also reproduced authentically by using blue lettering on a piece of white backed glass - just like the originals. Finally to top it off, under the window of the right hand door, a basic, rudimentary representation of the St. Johns Ambulance badge had been included as well.

In the lead up to the main recording of An Unearthly Child, on the 13 th of September 1963, a day of experimentation was held in Lime Grove Studio D to devise the effect for the ship's materialisation and dematerialisation and it was at this point that it became apparent that the prop was in deed too tall for the scenery lift, resulting in the Scene Hands having to tilt it to make it fit through the doorway. One week later, the prop was taken to Stage A at Ealing where several short film sequences were recorded as inserts to be used within the main serial.

These included the wide establishing shot of the TARDIS standing on the barren landscape as the shadow of a caveman appears in the foreground, as well as the shot of the TARDIS dematerialising - which would be used at the end of episode four, should the series go into full production. At this point, the TARDIS's phone panel had a white handle, but it was removed after this session, causing a minor continuity error later in the recording and on the full four part version.

Uniquely to the pilot episode is a shot where in one movement, the camera tracks in directly from the exterior Police Box entrance to the inner control console room beyond as Barbara forces her way in, while Ian struggles with the Doctor outside. This was included to cement the idea that the TARDIS really was bigger on the inside than out. According to the studio floor plans for this episode, a set of Police Box doors were situated on the edge of the TARDIS interior set, just in front of the main inner double doors, however we can discount the idea that a secondary set were made just for this.

These Police Box doors were in fact the whole front wall section of the main prop. We know this because "they" are identical - right from the opening windows and phone panel to the erroneous drill holes that are located on either side of the centre divide, as well as the removable door lock on the left door. Bearing in mind that money was tight, there would be no reason for duplicating them down to such minute detail.

An Unearthly Child
Having viewed the completed pilot episode, it was decided that it should be remounted for transmission due to a number of technical faults and fluffed lines by the actors that deemed it unsuitable for broadcast.

By this point, the TARDIS had been permanently sealed together, all the "Police Public Call Box" graphics were now present, a wash of matt blue paint had been applied as well as a covering of matt black to dirty it down. This was supplemented by heavy distressing to the overall paint work to give it a more weathered feel, as the original paint work made the prop look too pristine - as if it had just been built. As such, one sequence had to be reworked; where Barbara forces her way into the TARDIS. Rather than seeing through the Police Box exterior doors to the interior set beyond, it was now a straight cut and shown in two shots, one outside and one inside - the reason being that the TARDIS prop no longer came apart, making this special shot impossible to achieve.

This serial also reused the filmed inserts that were recorded on the 19th of September at Ealinng, which resulted in a continuity error surrounding the look of the TARDIS prop. In the majority of the serial it is heavily weathered and distressed, but in the establishing shot of it standing on the barren landscape at the end of episode one and the beginning of episode two, as well as its dematerialisation shot in episode four, it reverts back to its pristine condition; gloss blue paint and a door handle on the phone panel, though due to the programme's 405 line, black and white video tape nature, it wasn't terribly noticeable.

The Daleks

By the start of recording for this serial, the TARDIS had undergone its final change before its major refit in 1966. The weathering carried out for the previous serial had been judged as too harsh, so it was toned down somewhat and in the process, an uneven coat of artex was applied before painting to give it texture.

As a result of this, the white framework of the phone panel had now changed to blue and the windows (that had been removed for preservation during this change) were now replaced, but in a different order than before; those that had been on the doors were now situated on the right wall panel, the left wall panel windows were now on the doors and so on.

 
SEASON TWO:

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Although no changes were made to the prop, it did appear without its roof lamp whilst out on location and also for the first time, we see both windows on the right wall fully open. Several shots of it without the rear doors fitted during the studio pick ups are apparent in the first episode, though by the conclusion of the serial, they have been replaced. The prop received damage to its front sign housing when debris from the collapsing bridge hits it, this resulted in a major split occurring on its left side.

The Romans

The full sized prop does not appear at all in this adventure, instead two stand ins were called into action. Firstly, an approximately one fifth scale model is used for the sequence in which the TARDIS materialises precariously on a cliff edge and subsequently topples over it, and secondly, a one third scale version was used to illustrate the TARDIS, covered in foliage and debris, in its final resting place at the bottom of the cliff.

The reasoning behind the use of the larger scale model was due to the fact that the camera had to zoom right in to a full close up of the TARDIS to allow for dramatic impact as the serial's caption card title was overlaid to introduce the story. At this scale, it still stood up relatively well to convince the viewer that it was the full sized prop rather than a model.

This is the first time that these models were used, though they do make subsequent reappearances throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Most notably, the smaller of the two goes on to be photographed for the opening title sequence as used between 1974 to 1979 during Tom Baker's tenure as The Doctor. As an aside, this model was auctioned off during the Christmas period of 2005 at Christie's Auction House in London and fetched an amount just shy of £11,000.

The Web Planet

The last time that the full sized TARDIS prop is seen with its original round capped, fresnelled navigation beacon style lamp was in The Rescue (immediately prior to The Romans), however by now it had been replaced by a much simpler version - possibly due to loss or damage of the original. The new lamp was made from a white tube and the cap was now square, though retaining the shallow dome. Surrounding the tube were four upright struts that supported the cap and for this story only, the lamp assembly was sat atop an approximately 3 inch high base, but after The Web Planet, it reverts back to it's original one inch high base, possibly due to height restrictions in the studio access areas.

 
SEASON THREE:

The Massacre

Due to the nature of the recording process for Doctor Who at this time, it was fairly common for multiple shoots to be taking place at any given moment, and this story was no different. Actress Jackie Lane had joined the regular cast as Dodo Chaplet, the latest member of the TARDIS crew, when her character enters the ship thinking that it is a genuine Police Box in the closing scenes set out on location on Wimbledon Common.

However, even though the TARDIS prop was required out on location for this scene, it was also needed back in the studio for some other shots and so the decision was made to split the prop apart. The front wall section would go out on location as a series of mid and close ups were planned, while the rest of it remained back at base for the wide shots. Turning the prop back to front meant that it was impossible to tell that a panel was missing.

Because these were Jackie Lane's first scenes to be recorded and a publicity shoot had been arranged to promote her arrival, a set of mock up pieces were constructed to "complete" the TARDIS - this included a set of very basic (and highly inaccurate) walls, a base and an oversized roof, obviously all constructed on the hoof at minimal cost.

The Celestial Toymaker

In addition to the standard TARDIS prop, two further full sized props were built, albeit simplified mock ups with reduced detailing for the scene in which Steven and Dodo had to choose which TARDIS was in fact the "real" TARDIS. One of these appears again in season six's The Mind Robber.

The War Machines

Possibly as a result of splitting the TARDIS prop apart for The Massacre, a major refit was initiated in response to the show's ever increasing requirements for location filming away from the confines of the studio. OB recording now being commonplace meant that transporting the prop in its complete form was difficult and knowing that it would be required at the bottom of a cliff on the Cornwall coast for the next story The Smugglers - the refit would ensure that the TARDIS could now be disassembled and flat packed for transportation.

Having completed its duties out on the streets surrounding the recently completed Post Office Tower in London, the TARDIS prop was brought back to base for the refit before it was required in the studio, a fact that would later cause another continuity error.

Due to the crude construction of the prop, bearing in mind that the show wasn't expected to run further than 52 weeks (let alone get past the recording of the pilot episode), certain measures had to be taken to keep it structurally sound whilst giving it the ability to be flat packed down into six sections; the front and rear door panels, complete with full corner posts, the two side wall panels, plus the base and the roof elements.

To this end the four corner posts were completely pulled apart and shortened. The innermost quarter round detailing on each of the pillars, where they met with both side walls, were removed and the four inch wide main body section of the posts on the two side wall fascias were replaced with new, but thinner depthed, four inch wide replacement sections that now enabled the two side wall panels to be bolted directly onto the rear of the main body of each pillar.

This then resulted in not only pushing the left and right side walls further out, but also narrowing both side façades which in turn changed the whole geometry of the box, making it no longer square in plan view, but slightly rectangular. As such, the two modified housings for the "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics on either side were now shorter (widthways - as the two end caps were completely removed which then allowed us to be able to see its internal construction) making the "P" of Police and the "X" of Box partially obscured.

Another knock on effect to this was that the roof now had to be remade slightly wider, otherwise it would have left open cavities that would have been visible on screen. In its new form, the roof now over hung at the front and rear, while it under hung on the two sides. Not only that, but the roof could now no longer be locked into position and instead it was just balanced on the top of the structure.

It was this, in all probability, that was the cause of it supposedly falling in on actress Liz Sladen's head during the recording of season thirteen's The Seeds of Doom - when the prop made its last appearance in the show.

As well as this change, the four wall panels were shortened by several inches (in keeping with the reduced height of the corner post pillars), which in turn was possibly a response to the fact that as it stood originally, it was too tall for the scenery lift.

All of the windows had their hinges removed and were subsequently fixed permanently in position, however the two on the front doors were completely replaced with new "thicker set" versions that didn't have the secondary bottom bar detail. Lastly, the door lock was moved from the left door to the right and the entire prop was repainted blue, including the window frames and it's here that the St. John's Ambulance sign is also painted over, practically obliterating it from view.

The refurbished prop was then brought into the studio to record the pick up shots for the rest of the introductory scene of episode one in which the Doctor and Dodo discuss their return to London and the fear that something evil is present within the Post Office Tower. When edited together, the TARDIS prop causes a continuity error mid scene due to its different states for both the location work and the studio pick ups - most notably, the window frames switch from white to blue.

 
SEASON FOUR:

NOTE:
Because very little visual material exists for this season and the next, it is difficult to determine exactly when further changes occurred and due to the unimportance of such minor alterations, no paperwork was ever created to record this information. So for this season and season five, changes are noted by evidence presented purely from photographs and what footage is currently available.

The Evil of the Daleks

By the recording of this story, the TARDIS has had its two front doors refurbished due to damage caused to the bottom of them through taking the prop apart and reassembling it.

The damage was sawn off, making the doors physically shorter, so that neither the windows, nor the recessed panels below them, lined up with those that are on the side walls. A knock on effect of this was that the doors now weren't tall enough to reach the three stepped door restraint above them, which had previously prevented them from coming too far forward (and therefore snapping the hinges) when being closed.

To resolve this issue, two new vertical two inch long clover leaf topped "guards" were added to the bottom step of the original door restraint, on either side of the centre divide. In the process of the doors being refurbished, the phone panel was mistakenly refitted (with no hinges) to the panel below the window of the right door, rather than the left door - as it should have been.

The front and rear "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics had also been amended and replaced for reasons currently unknown, as such they both had a slightly different font from the originals. On the front side, the lettering was transparent with a frosted flood background, while the rear side version retained the lettering stuck to the surface of the frosted cobex.

Over the years, this frosted flood background suffered from fading (caused no doubt by UV exposure), so that by the time the series moved into colour, this background looked a pale green - grey which suggests that originally it may have been blue when this repair had been carried out.

 
SEASON FIVE:

Tomb of the Cybermen

The TARDIS only appears right at the very beginning of this story and is in fact the third scale model and not the full sized prop.

The Abominable Snowmen

Further damage to the TARDIS is now in evidence; the centre divide on the right wall has been snapped off approximately 18" from the base, in level with the top edge of the lowest recessed panels.

 

The Ice Warriors

In episode one, the TARDIS materialises sideways and for logistical reasons, the rear face of the prop is now seen for the first time as the crew exit the prop via the outward opening doors. Had it been laying on its back, the inward opening doors would not have been able to close with gravity pulling them open. It is here where you can clearly see how poorly the prop was constructed, the corner posts are hollow and the walls and doors are simply plywood, clad with timber. The roof is kept in place with brackets on both side panels.

Fury from the Deep

The one third scale model was used for the TARDIS's arrival where it descends onto the surface of the sea, a helicopter was employed to hoist the model into position for this sequence.

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SEASON SIX:

The Dominators

The mistake with the phone panel on the full sized prop was finally rectified and was returned to its correct position under the left hand side door window for this adventure, which opened the season. The painted over St. John's Ambulance symbol had also been completely removed. Again the third scale model was drafted into action for some of the sequences.

The Mind Robber

Five variations of the TARDIS appear throughout this story. The third scale model at the start of episode one as it gets enveloped in lava, a white full sized mock up with limited detailing (one of the two last seen in season three's The Celestial Toymaker) when the TARDIS appears in the white void, the main TARDIS prop, a photographic blow up of a real Police Box plus a smaller model used for when the TARDIS is seen to explode.

The Invasion

The TARDIS was now fitted with two silver handles, one on the left side of the phone panel and one on the right door - previously to this, the cast members had to pull the door shut by holding onto one of the door rails (the cross members).

The Seeds of Death

The original phone panel was now, for some reason, completely replaced by a simplified version which had no frame work around the edges. It was now hinged on the right side and given a much smaller handle on the left side, in keeping with how it was previously in The Invasion. The graphics themselves were now in a sans serif font with white lettering on a blue background and "Free for the use of Public" is written on just two lines, rather than spread over three. "Pull to Open" was italicised.

For this story, the rear wall and front fascia of the rear corner posts are missing, possibly due to damage, but return after this adventure.

 
SEASON SEVEN:

Spearhead from Space

This story marks the first time that the prop was seen in colour and it's now very clear how chipped the paint work is due to the soft nature of the artex coating which was being revealed underneath. It was also the last time that the TARDIS was seen with its original chamfered and now ill fitting base. Clearly by now the prop was also starting to show its age and fragility, especially during the opening scene in which the Doctor exits the TARDIS, collapsing to the floor. In the process of doing so, Jon Pertwee snags himself on the closed left hand side door which flexes far too far forward - resulting in the entire prop twisting remarkably out of shape at this point.

By the time the prop was brought inside for the scenes set within the laboratory, the original base had been "replaced" with a new temporary mocked up version - produced by standing the entire prop on stage rostrums and covering the sides in thick black paper - making the base look somewhat oversized. The prop is not seen again until the start of the next season.

 
SEASON EIGHT:

Terror of the Autons

Although the prop had been given a temporary base which had been mocked up for the laboratory scenes at the start of the previous season's opening adventure, by the start of this season a new permanent version had been constructed that finally concealed the four castors that enabled the prop to be rolled into position. However, although the original base had chamfered edges, this one did not. During the photo publicity shoot that surrounded this story, the base was left off for reasons unknown.

 
SEASON NINE:

The Curse of Peladon

A totally new paint job is given to the TARDIS to tidy it up after many years of neglect. The new phone panel (introduced three years earlier in The Seeds of Death) was repainted too, now with the white lettering on a slate grey (almost black) background - the same slate grey was also used on the lamp housing.

The Time Monster

During the scenes in which the TARDIS has been knocked onto its side, as the victim of the exploding Doodle Bug bomb, it is missing the "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics in the left wall's sign housing, you can also clearly see the unpainted underside of the base, resplendent with its four castors.

 
SEASON TEN:

The Three Doctors

A repair to the bottom edge of the right wall was carried out by sawing off the damaged rails and stiles and replacing them with a single, much larger and deeper kick rail. Unfortunately it's too big and not only makes this piece flush with the corner post pillars, but also considerably reduces the height of the bottom two recessed panels, making them very different from the rest on the prop.

Further to this, the centre divide cannot be repaired (due to the new kick rail being in the way) and was subsequently left as is - still snapped off, 18" up from the base. The back doors also have been re-hung. Instead of opening outwards, they now open inwards just as the front doors did.

The Carnival of Monsters

Although broadcast directly after The Three Doctors, The Carnival of Monsters was actually recorded first, between the 30th of May and 4th of July, 1972.  The Three Doctors, however, was recorded from the 6th of November to the 12th of December 1972.  As a consequence of this fact, in the broadcast order the TARDIS suddenly reverts back to its unrepaired state for this adventure and the following,The Frontier in Space, then for Planet of the Daleks it reverts back to its newly repaired state and it is here that it is seen for the final time this season.

 
SEASON ELEVEN:

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

Although a memo, complete with a sketch, had been forwarded with regards to a new refurbishment for the TARDIS, not all of the suggested alterations had taken place. In deed the interior had been repainted black, the window panes were renewed and the front doors were re-hung, however, the "Police Public Call Box" sign graphics had been left in their current state and the base was clearly not re-clad in hardboard either, nor was any other structural cladding carried out. Evidence of this can be clearly seen during season twelve as much of the original woodwork is suffering from severe damage and in some places, dry rot - with the tell tale "greying" of the exposed materials, including the base.

 
BBC Memo about Season Eleven Prop renovations (click to enlarge)

 
SEASON TWELVE:

Robot

By now, the original TARDIS prop was showing considerable signs of wear and tear and looked almost as if the production team have given up on trying to maintain it. The paint work was visibly thick with dust and grime and much of the wood was cracked, splitting and generally falling apart, especially around the sign boxes, roof and base.

The squared housing around the lamp had disappeared, leaving just the white tube with its slate grey domed cap. Half hearted attempts at concealing areas of the damage with patches of new paint is in evidence, made all the more noticeable because the paint used is black. The prop is seen only twice more within this season, during The Ark in Space and then not again until the end of the final story, Revenge of the Cybermen.

 
SEASON THIRTEEN:

The Android Invasion

For the final time, the TARDIS undergoes another refurbishment as much of the damage around the roof and sign housings is patched up and filled in. As a result, it receives another coat of paint, this time a slightly glossy dark blue with patches of black mixed in to assist with the weathered look. A new door lock is also fitted at this point that enabled the prop "ankh" shaped door key to be inserted as requested by the script. The old Yale lock is still present, but like the silver door handle, it has been painted over.

The Brain of Morbius

The roof lamp is fitted with a new, round cap.

The Seeds of Doom

Episode 6 is the last time the original TARDIS prop is ever used. Over the course of thirteen years of service to the Doctor Who series, it had been packed and unpacked countless times, continually damaged and patched up, refitted to become a flat pack prop, had numerous additions, component part changes and paint jobs.

By now, the structure was unsound and all in all it was tired and could no longer be serviced to a safe degree. The prop was retired for good.

 

 
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