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Does the TARDIS represent the Doctor’s personality?

The TARDIS: the ever faithful, longest serving companion of the Doctor. This alien traveller and his ship have a very special bond that's apparent throughout the show’s history. But exactly how close are they? Could we go as far as to say that the TARDIS directly reflects the Doctor’s personality, and perhaps that it also exemplifies his feelings and character traits? Well…let’s see.

It is fair to say that nearly everyone has an understanding of what the TARDIS is, whether it be the most basic “that blue box,” or a more experienced “Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.” But for something that is so integral to the entirety of Doctor Who lore, I feel it is somewhat lacking in coverage. There are very few episodes of the show which explore the TARDIS in detail as a central focus, and yet there is so much to discover.

Naturally, a greater understanding of the TARDIS can be garnered from re-watching episodes of Doctor Who with an analytic and perceptive view. While it may not be the main focus of many episodes, it is nonetheless present. Such an abundance of information lies in the connotations of the TARDIS’ appearance, and overtime I have come to notice that both the TARDIS interior (that magnificent console room) and exterior (the blue police box that has influenced popular culture for so many a year) represent the core being; the fundamental feelings of the Doctor. Who exactly is this mysterious travelling man in his current incarnation? What are his key personality traits? What lies at the core of his being? The TARDIS tells us all.

To present my point, let us cast an eye at ‘Nu-Who’ (The 2005-present day era of Doctor Who).

It’s the 26th of March 2005, and on TV screens across the nation, an Auton Mickey is chasing the Ninth Doctor and Rose. In need of a safe-haven, the Doctor nonchalantly disappears into a distressed blue police box, we, like Rose, are astounded–“YOU CAN’T HIDE INSIDE A WOODEN BOX!” But, with nowhere else left to turn, she follows the Doctor inside.

And that’s where we first see the infamous TARDIS console room. It looks undeniably gorgeous; however it is rather…raggedy. This TARDIS is mismatched and looks to have a “make-do-and-mend” attitude to its appearance. It’s a war-torn survivor, the last of its kind; and shows its scars in its physical form. The lighting (which is the primary connotation of the Doctor’s emotions through series one to four) is sparse and murky. Whole areas are hidden, consumed by darkness; and the only major light source is the green alien glow that pulsates from the time-rotor and center console, the figurative heart and mind of the TARDIS. This is a reflection of the Ninth Doctor’s character. Like his ship, he too is a war-torn survivor, shaped and scarred by his battles, and the last of his kind. He has darkness within him and is plagued by a melancholy of guilt, following his part in the last Great Time War. He is, or so he thinks, the killer of his own people. And he despises himself for it.

Yet there is still hope, and for the Doctor this is Rose. As time goes by, and the series develops, we see the relationship between them blossom, she is (almost quite literally) the light of his life. She heals him, comforts him, teaches him to be stronger than his demons, and so we sense the darkness within him beginning to wane. During this time, the lighting within the TARDIS softly, slowly but surely, brightens. It mimics the Doctor's brightening attitude thanks to the companionship of Rose.

The regeneration from the Ninth to Tenth Doctor brings little change to the structural aesthetics of the TARDIS. The interior is lighter than it was in Nine’s tenure, and the police box exterior appears slightly more well-kept, but beyond that not a lot has changed. This is largely due, once again, to the presence of Rose and the consistency-of-character of the Doctor in her company. She transforms the Ninth Doctor into a better, less angry, happier man, and upon his regeneration the Tenth Doctor physically embodies what Rose achieves. The Doctor is, both inside and out, the man he wishes to be, and has achieved some description of peace with himself. The Tenth Doctor’s final words prior to regeneration sum this up adequately...“I don’t want to go.”

Tragically, at the end of series two, the Doctor loses Rose, whom he has grown to truly love. They are ripped from each other’s grasps and sealed in parallel universes. The Tenth Doctor is grief stricken by this, and the plague of guilt and sadness returns to him for losing Rose and not keeping her safe. It is something from which he never fully recovers. The TARDIS once again reflects this; we see lighting in the console room becoming weaker, murkier, and areas are once again thrown into darkness and shadow.  And over the rest of the Tenth Doctor’s life we see the TARDIS’ condition, the light levels in particular, bounce to all levels, in concurrence with the Doctor’s emotions. But it is never again as consistent and stable as it was with Rose on-board.

There is but one occasion on which the TARDIS surpasses the state it was in with Rose aboard, and that is during the series four finale. This is when the Doctor’s “family” (Rose, Jackie, Mickey, Jack, Sarah-Jane, Martha, Donna, and Ten-too) are all aboard, piloting the ship together.

The arrival of the Eleventh Doctor marks the biggest changes in Nu-Who history. We have a new incarnation of the Doctor, a new head writer, the infamous Steven Moffat, new companions, a new sonic screwdriver, and with all this came of course...a new TARDIS. The most obvious reflection of the Doctor in the TARDIS at this point is that when he regenerates, she does too. Both of them undergo a complete remodel.

The Eleventh Doctor is far more positive than his previous two incarnations. He seems to have handled his guilt (or at the very least put it to the back of his mind) and is able to move on. He’s visibly younger, more energetic and positive. Yet a running theme of the Eleventh Doctor is secret keeping; he even hides things from his closest friends. Not once have we seen a series with this Doctor where he has not been hiding something. In series five, he hides Rory’s existence from Amy, in series six he hides Amy’s bizarre pregnancy from her and Rory, and in series seven he hides the enigma surrounding Clara from her. As he says in his own words…“Rule One: The Doctor lies.”

The newly regenerated TARDIS is clean-cut and well-kept on the outside. The police box has been given a fresh lick of paint; the windowpanes are tidy, no longer tarnished and yellowing. The inner console room is bright and warm and welcoming. Soft light radiates from all corners and it no longer has that “grungy” make-do-and-mend appearance we came to expect with the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’. The TARDIS is now uniform and presentable, with the obligatory flare we have come to expect from the Doctor, as we can see taps, typewriters, etc. on the console. However, beneath the controls, at the center of the room, we see a pool of thick, dark liquid. And beyond the console room there is a winding, unpredictable labyrinth of corridors. These elements of the TARDIS connote the Eleventh Doctor’s erratic, energetic behaviour. Moreover, his darker side, and his desire to prevent certain things from being found, to keep them shrouded in mystery, are also connoted by this.

Midway through series seven, the Doctor experiences a radical personality flip, and the TARDIS reflects its master’s feelings once again. The Doctor is aggrieved because he’s lost both Amy and Rory, and he feels angered. Because, despite all of the help he provides the universe, he does not feel he has received any in return when he needs it the most. He’s constantly tormented by memories of the two of them and reminded of his inability to keep promises and to keep those for whom he cares safe. This guilt-ridden existence drives him mad, and he becomes cold and depressed. Alone, he resorts to hiding and watching the world pass by. The TARDIS once again reflects these feelings, and we see version 2.0 of the Eleventh Doctor’s faithful ship. Inside it is stone-like in appearance, cut and angular, reflecting his sharp, abrasive nature at this time. It gives off the impression of coldness and a desire to hide away...exactly like the Doctor. Furthermore, and perhaps the most heartfelt, yet tragic feature of this version of the TARDIS is that above the time-rotor sits three rotating dials. Engraved upon them we can see the names of each of the Doctor’s previous companions. These engravings show the extent to which the Doctor is affected by the people who pass in-and-out of his life. It also shows how much he treasures, and misses, each of them - particularly at this moment, his Ponds: Amy and Rory.

Nonetheless, both the TARDIS and Doctor experience a change when they meet Clara. The Doctor has now found a purpose in his life and he’s determined to keep her safe and well. His eagerness to accept this new purpose is made immediately apparent by his relighting of the TARDIS when he first brings Clara in. The Doctor has a new light and he begins to brighten from the core, and so does the TARDIS as we see a brighter than usual light radiating from the pillar at its core, light gradually fills the darkness of the TARDIS (like the Doctor's existence) once again. Moreover, the Doctor is so determined to keep Clara safe that he hides truly how much he knows, and what he suspects, about her. He keeps this information hidden away within him (yet another secret). The hidden chests on the lower level of the console reflect this trait.

During the Eleventh Doctor’s period, we’re also introduced to the War Doctor: a previously unknown, unmentioned incarnation of The Doctor. He existed between the Eighth and Ninth personalities, but is distinct from the rest due to him forsaking the name of The Doctor. This incarnation acts as a bridge between the classic series and Nu-Who, and it is made apparent through things such as his sonic screwdriver (an older case model, reminiscent of that used by the Third Doctor and onwards, fitted with a light emitting diode at the tip, much like the screwdrivers of recent years), and in particular, his TARDIS. The console room is again an amalgamation of old and new. We recognize the infamous roundels, which were a staple of TARDIS infrastructure throughout the classic series, and also the silver, space-age architecture of the floor and panels on the center console. From more recent years we recognize the organic coral pillars and time-rotor seen in the TARDIS of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.


Unusually, for the War Doctor his character traits are personified more so by the exterior of his TARDIS than the interior. The War Doctor is old and withered; he speaks with a gravelly, stoic voice, and wears aged, distressed leather combat gear. This battered state extends to the police box. It is a battleship and bears the scars of multiple confrontations - we can see numerous marks left by explosions, scorch marks adorn the panels, and the broken windows are yellowed and swathed with ash.


This fact alone is interesting as it highlights the complete distinction of this incarnation from his other selves. He is the one Doctor that seems to be unlike any other, and so his TARDIS reflects his nature on its outside, rather than the inside. Delving further, by the end of his appearance, the War Doctor has once again reclaimed his title of The Doctor. So, in theory, one could say that his warrior persona was merely an exterior appearance, and he was still the same man within all along. Once again the TARDIS has amazingly appeared to reflect this, being recognizably the same on the inside, but having a noticeably different exterior.

The latest version of the Doctor, whom we have been privy to since the 2005 resurrection of the show, is the Twelfth Doctor. He's brash and curmudgeonly, but perhaps the most balanced of the incarnations we've seen in recent years. Due to having been alleviated of his burden of guilt following the events of “The Day of The Doctor,” we see him asking existential questions concerning his morality. “Am I a good man?” being the one consistently consuming him.

Whilst in many ways being similar to the Eleventh Doctor’s second TARDIS, including the same base structure, the Twelfth Doctor’s TARDIS has many differences that connote the deeper nuances of his character. A vast library of books adorns the walls of the console room’s balcony, and further piles of books cascade down the stairs and onto the floor. Other pieces of academic equipment can also be seen, such as a desk, multiple blackboards and a myriad of scientific apparatus; and the Doctor himself is often seen perusing a book, or rolling a stick of chalk between his fingers, constantly researching, questioning, discovering and learning. These elements of the TARDIS reflect the Twelfth Doctor’s questioning nature, and his desire to discover things (whether that be about himself, or the universe around him) – and furthermore, as much of this Doctor’s work is done with his mind and his intellect, we can see this theme of cognitive functions again being displayed by the TARDIS. The telepathic flight interface is commonly seen as a primary way of piloting the TARDIS over the Twelfth Doctor’s first series tenure.

This Doctor also has a tendency to exhibit completely opposing personality traits. For a man who is so wildly intelligent, always desiring to research and learn more, he is also incredibly ignorant, for example, of Clara and Danny’s ongoing relationship; and furthermore, he can also at times be incredibly cold natured (One such quote highlights this perfectly – from the episode ‘Into the Dalek’: “She cares so I don’t have to.”), and yet he can be equally warm, passionate, understanding, such as when he helps Clara to locate Danny despite her having intended to betray him, throwing all seven TARDIS keys into a pool of boiling magma. The lights seen within the TARDIS highlight these oppositions once again – roundels on the wall are lit in a deep blue (to reflect the Doctor’s coldness) and bright orange (to reflect his warmth), two colours which juxtapose one another, like the elements of the Twelfth Doctor’s personality.

Now, unfortunately, the adventures of the Twelfth Doctor are as far as we can venture thus far when exploring the emotional link between the Doctor and his TARDIS. That being said, there's no doubt in my mind that this link will continue to exist in Doctor Who for as long as the show continues.

--by Harry Walton

I would like to thank you all for reading my first article on the AbbyShot blog. My name is Harry, and I am a practicing actor and filmmaker based in England. If you enjoy my writing and would like to hear more from me regarding my work, daily life and future projects, then please do follow me on social media.

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