“It’s supposed to be a bit like the cupboard to Narnia,” says Arwel Jones as Radio Times steps through the doors of Doctor Who’s brand-new Tardis for the first time. “We’ve added side walls to the entrance,” the designer, who has previously worked on Sherlock and Keeping Faith, proudly explains.
Creating a mini-corridor leading into the Tardis might seem a minor detail, but it’s emblematic of the care and attention that have gone into the first full redesign of the ship’s interior since the 2012 version (designed by the late Michael Pickwoad) used by Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.
With its time-travel capabilities, the Tardis is the central driving force in the world of Doctor Who and provides a home for our heroes. “Being a part of this, you do appreciate what a big deal the Tardis is to so many people,” says Jodie Whittaker. “It’s a part of Doctor Who history – and this one’s all mine!”
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In Whittaker’s Tardis, instead of the dusty bookshelves of the Capaldi years, the grunge-y dome of David Tennant’s ship or even the lablike white of the pre-millennium Doctors, the walls have disappeared. The new Tardis seems to shift, dissolve into the darkness and stretch on for ever.
“I wanted to play with the dimension part of the Time And Relative Dimensions In Space acronym,” says Jones, “and not give it actual outer walls. It’s infinite on the inside, which gives it a far more epic scale.”
To help with this effect, the traditional “roundels” of the design have been replaced by glowing infinity mirrors, while some of the walls themselves are movable, creating an everevolving space from episode to episode.
The core of the new ship has also had a rethink. The entire Tardis is built around a powerful golden “time crystal” that protrudes through the central control console, and is actually threaded throughout the entire set.
When Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, the set had coral-like pillars, and references were made to the time machine being “grown” – and while Jones loved the idea, he felt that its potential was never fully realised.
“To actually move through space and time you’d need an incredible amount of power,” he explains, “so we’re harnessing the power of this time crystal – it’s what actually now drives the Tardis.”
Overall, Jones says he couldn’t be happier with how the design came off the page. “It’s very unusual on something of this scale – especially in TV, on our kind of budget – for the end product to be that close to your original idea.
“Although we’re still adding more to the console – it’s a state of flux, really,” he adds, while his team fire up deafening power tools to attach a new microscope and some lights to the set. “Every story, every script tends to throw up something new.”
In fact, look closely and you can spot a spinning, translucent Tardis attached to the console. “The beauty of a 3D printer!” Jones says. “We tried it and it looked so cool that I got the guys to put it on a revolve in the Tardis. It’s quite hologram-y when you’re looking at it.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed too much is the blue-box exterior of the space/time machine, although it has had a bit of a facelift – including a new door sign and paint job. “There’s something about the aspect of that box – doesn’t matter where you put it, inside, outside, on a cliff edge, in the middle of a desert, anywhere – it just looks cool.”
And when the new captain first took the helm of her new ship, she couldn’t have agreed more. In fact, the finished article was almost a bit too much for its new owner.
“Just walking into it the first time was amazing,” Whittaker recalls. “It was just me, [executive producer] Matt Strevens and [showrunner] Chris Chibnall. They’d already seen it but after I stepped in, I immediately had to go off and have a little cry. I had a real moment. It was surprisingly emotional.”
So, what do the 13th Doctor and her companions think of the Tardis?
Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor)
Jodie Whittaker (Richard Grassie)
“Honestly, the new Tardis is amazing. The first one I worked on was Peter Capaldi’s, for the regeneration in last year’s Christmas special and I knew there was going to be a change — and I knew everyone was working hard to get it right — but I was still blown away when I walked onto it. My favourite part is the pedal I can push and a custard cream falls out! It’s an Arwel Jones special!”
Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair)
Toisin Cole (Richard Grassie)
“I felt like a little kid again, walking into the Tardis for the first time — so exciting! I wanted to try everything: ‘What does this do? What does that do?’
“My favourite thing about it is the movable walls and panels. They seem very futuristic and give it a feng shui sort of vibe. I don’t know why they move, they just do! They’re like computer screensavers, they keep changing, and I feel totally hypnotised by them.”
Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan)
Mandip Gill (Richard Grassie)
“The Tardis is actually much smaller than I thought it would be — and then you get the cameras in and there’s really no space! It’s epic, though.
“I like the hourglasses on the console. You have all these buttons that look really mechanical and complicated and sci-fi, and then you’ve got a little sand timer. And they’re not decoration — Jodie actually uses them to fly the ship!”
Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien)
“I’d never been in a Tardis before, obviously, because I’m not a real time traveller. But this one is magnificent. Having watched Doctor Who as a child during the Bill Hartnell and Pat Troughton years, I’d say Arwel Jones and his team have done the most fantastic job.
“My favourite feature is the door and the little corridor you now go through to get into the Tardis — walking through them was thrilling. And there it is — massive inside. It’s just wonderful.”
Doctor Who next airs Sunday 21st October at 6.55pm on BBC1