Regardless of what you might think, there is only one star in Doctor Who. Oh she may have been sidelined for a couple of years in the 1970s, you might have seen her wearing a different dress now and again and youâ€™re more than likely mesmerised when you see her.
Hers isnâ€™t a conventional beauty and she occasionally refuses to cooperate â€“ but itâ€™s usually for the best. The Doctor treats her like an old aunt and the companions find her a welcome relief each time the step back on board. The TARDIS is the true star of Doctor Who â€“ not the errant Time Lord and his bunch of flighty fillies. Not convinced?
The relationship between the Doctor and his Type 40 capsule is one which has developed constantly over the years â€“ in fact one might say (regeneration aside) that the only real character development in the Doctor has been in his relationship with the spaceship. As early as the third story (a two-parter The Edge of Destruction) the TARDIS was making attempts to communicate with the Doctor via a form of disturbed imagery-based telepathy that he shared with Susan. It might have only been a jammed spring on the fast-return switch but it was life and death to the TARDIS, hurtling towards the big bang. Thankfully, she managed to warn the occupants and off they went again on their travelsâ€¦
We also know that the TARDIS creates a low intensity telepathic field and that the Doctorâ€™s companions understand alien languages due to the this telepathy, as seen in The Masque of Mandragora and more recently in the Ninth Doctor adventure End of the World.
So we established early on that the TARDIS can communicate, and it was during the First Doctorâ€™s era that it became apparent that the Police Box exterior wasnâ€™t normal for a craft such as this â€“ surely another case of the star (who has appeared in 4 sets of opening titlesâ€¦) choosing her own “costume” as the post-regenerative Doctor is wont to do.
It is also established in later years that the TARDIS is not only a communicator â€“ she is sentient. She brings the Doctor “home” to begin his third regeneration in Planet of the Spiders and actively involves herself in the resolution to 3 adventures â€“ she swallows the Master and revives Grace and Chang Lee (Enemy Within/TV Movie)(although this could be the temperamental “state of grace”), she regresses “Margaret” Slitheen into a pod in Boom Town and of course assists Rose in rescuing the Doctor and Earth from the Daleks in Parting of the Ways. This would all indicate that the TARDIS will act to protect both herself (when threatened.) and the Doctor.
But what other proof is there that the “frankly magnificent time ship” should be considered an individual intelligence? We should consider the closeness that must develop between a telepathic machine and an intelligent creature such as a Time Lord. This symbiosis is mentioned often in the novels, and serves to link the Doctor and his craft in such a way that it makes it very difficult to imagine him without her.
When the Doctor was stranded in his third incarnation with a TARDIS he couldnâ€™t operate, he did everything he could to bypass the blocks imposed by the Time Lords, even though he knew it was ultimately futile. The TARDIS is far too complicated for a single Time Lord using Earth resources and tools to repair effectively â€“ in fact, bearing in mind how complicated she is, itâ€™s a wonder she has never spokenâ€¦
The TARDIS contains life support features such as an oxygen supply (that probably replenishes itself at opportune moments on appropriate planets) and medical supplies, as well as console room-based various computer systems, the time-space visualizer, the mercury fluid links, the telepathic circuits, a ticker-tape output, a brake and various destination controls and monitors as well as the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) which was seen in The Krotons and The Keeper of Traken. There are various other defence systems, including a force field (Parting of the Ways)
Iâ€™m not just talking about the time rotor controls either. Rooms for instance include a boot cupboard (apparently a lounge with a single pair of boots), a power station, a swimming pool (The Invasion of Time), various bedrooms and libraries and laboratories. Thereâ€™s also a cloister room as well as the room in which the Eye of Harmony (Enemy Within/TV Movie) resides (although this may have reverted back to being beneath the time rotor column).
If we consider that our planet Earth is to some degree intelligent and take into account the vastness of the ecosphere and all of the entities that play a part in its (un)balancing, then it isnâ€™t too much of a leap of faith to suppose that the TARDIS which is supposedly infinitely huge within her Police Box costume is also intelligent.
After all, she chose to hang around with the coolest alien in the Universe, so she certainly isnâ€™t stupid.
Illustration by Andrew Skilleter