Paul MC Smith’s new book pulls to open the mysteries behind Doctor Who’s most enduring icon
The TARDIS Chronicles is likely not a book for the casual fan. But then, Doctor Who fandom probably spends too much time worrying about them anyway. No, this is a book aimed firmly and squarely at those of us who appreciate the difference between “All” and “Urgent” calls, and notice when the Police Box windows are the… well, an alternative size. But it strikes an appealing balance of subject matter, making it not just accessible but essential reading.
This first volume covers the TARDIS’ adventures from its arrival at Totter’s Lane in 1963 to its crashing into the surface of Karn aboard a gunship at the end of the Eighth Doctor’s life. Every Police Box prop, console, and control room set (or their major refits) receives its own section. And between, the 411 pages are organized into Landings (309 across the 196 stories.)
The TARDIS Chronicles displays an astonishing attention of detail to unearth a host of obscure and new facts
Certainly the tome devotes a portion of each Landing to exactly which button, switch and lever that’s used. It even hazards a best guess when the panel is turned away from the camera. And Smith’s super power of detailed observation, as if he was once bitten by a radioactive freeze frame, also come into play as he identifies which Police Box prop appeared in every scene, based on the slightest scratch in the paintwork or width of a sign.
But beyond that he also plays detective, exploring why a particular prop might have been chosen that day. Even the mysteries where different props or models appear within the same scene are unpicked. These diversions fascinate and impress in equal measure. And many of the revelations here will impress even those with only a passing interest. The extent to which models were used will surprise many, for instance. Forced perspective with actors and a three foot TARDIS being so effective the keenest eyes may have missed it. As will the exact reason you never saw Tom Baker’s TARDIS from behind, or why throughout the 20th century run actors had so much trouble getting the doors to close.
The highlight of the book are some truly gorgeous illustrations of all the Police Boxes and consoles of the 20th century show
Each Landing also contains a brief episode guide. These contain nothing new for most readers. But they do feature the fun twist of presenting events from the TARDIS’ point of view. So some stories are very briefly covered, such as The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. There having received their spam mail the Doctor and Ace depart the TARDIS and then, later, simply come back. While The Invasion of Time, in contrast, is an entertaining day, what with all those Sontarans running around inside her. We also get a rundown of new lore introduced on each landing, from the existence of a coffee machine in there somewhere (The Time Warrior) to the introduction of the Cloisters (Logopolis) and the HADS (The Krotons). As well as Notes poking at plot oddities, implications about the Doctor, the TARDIS and their travels and more.
The jewel in The TARDIS Chronicles’ crown, though, are those guides to the Police Boxes, Consoles and sets. That’s in no small part thanks to the simply gorgeous genius of the illustrations. They’re packed with every little detail, yet also incredibly clear and clean. For the consoles, every switch and dial is marked with what it was claimed to control over the years. The results highlighting just how delightfully random it all was. Even the set walls are lovingly illustrated. The upcycling of walls from one set to another marked with the year each wall was originally built.
An essential element of every Police Box lover’s bookshelf, The TARDIS Chronicles leaves you eager for Volume 2
The most inspired touch though, is placing each prop within the outline of a real Police Box. It deftly illustrates how the props moved closer and further away from the genuine article down the years. Plus they’re just so gorgeous to look at it, you’d be proud to hang prints of them on your wall. Though Blogtor Who can’t wait for Volume 2, covering the landings of more recent seasons. If only to see how they deal with the modern props having swollen to be bigger than the real thing.
With an introduction by Clayton Hickman, who praises it for finally existing so he didn’t have to, The TARDIS Chronicles is a book for anyone who has ever oohed or ahed over his legendary TARDIS tweets. Or indeed anyone who’s ever been thrilled by the glimpse of TARDIS blue on a street corner out of the corner of their eye. And it’s destined to sit on fans’ bookshelves for decades to come, as the ultimate reference guide to Doctor Who’s one true constant.
The TARDIS Chronicles Volume 1: Before the Time War
For decades the TARDIS has taken the Doctor and friends – including us – to locations around the world throughout its history, and to every corner of the universe. The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan once revealed the Ship kept a record of its journeys: The TARDIS Chronicles is that log. Every trip, every planet, every passenger – everything this incredible vessel has experienced during its travels. As well as charting the TARDIS’s journeys, the Chronicles contain complete details of which controls are used and what they do. Everything we learn about the Ship’s functions and abilities; analysis and discussion of its operation and landings; and facts about how the marvels of the TARDIS were produced using props, sets, models and effects – debunking a few myths along the way.
Plus there are accurately illustrated histories of each Police Box prop, control room set and control console, covering their design, construction and many modifications. The TARDIS Chronicles tells you everything there is to know about the real star of Doctor Who. Volume 1 covers the TARDIS’s travels before the Doctor enlisted in the Time War, from his flight from Gallifrey to a gunship crashing on Karn