Non-Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who
TARDIS: Type 40 Instruction Manual

(2018) Richard Atkinson, Mike Tucker & Gavin Rymill, BBC Books, £14.99 / Can$31.99 / US$19.99, hrdbk, 159pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94377-5


This is a handy little book for those wanting to know a little more (but only a little) about the TARDIS.  Apparently the Time Lords simply call them Time Travel Capsules but when the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan named theirs the TARDIS (for Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space) the name stuck and even the Time Lords now use it colloquially for all their TT Capsules.

Whilst this book concerns the specific model of the TARDIS used by the Doctor, it does not in any way tell you how to actually work it, let alone how to build or repair one. As an instruction manual, it is therefore a little lacking. But that is not really the point, is it?

The manual gives a certain amount of information about the various incarnations of the Doctor though, not being a biography, it does not make any mention of his history or background. It provides illustrations of the many internal layouts, especially of the Control Room, chosen by the Doctor at various times. The version we first saw was basically the default design. As well as the users being able to change the design a TARDIS can do so for itself, especially as after a while the telepathic circuits become attuned to the user. The manual also makes mention of some of the other models, some earlier and more limited whilst others are later and more versatile. The Type 40 remains a very serviceable vehicle with a long life.

The manual includes a number of case studies, each being a very short account of one of the Doctor’s adventures in terms of its affects on the TARDIS or how the TARDIS had to be used.  These were useful reminders of past stories.

Something I have often noticed is that the abilities of the TARDIS seem to vary from story to story, much as if the scriptwriter needed to encounter or overcome problems. Sometimes the Doctor might explain that nothing can get through into the TARDIS yet another time an attacker gains access; it might even simply materialise inside. Sometimes a TARDIS must be on the ground yet other times it can fly; sometimes the doors must be kept shut in space (and cannot even be opened) yet other times they can open the doors and admire the wonderful sights. I have long put this down to scriptwriters not knowing what previous script writers had said, that there was insufficient lore for newer writers to study, let alone adhere.  However, the manual neatly explains that the TARDIS is an amazingly adept machine and is capable of many, many things, dependent on the mode it is in - most of them strictly against the rules or severely advised against. Often ‘cannot’ means ‘ought not to’ and it is noted that the Doctor routinely breaks almost every rule.  It is consideredthat the frequent breaking of rules might even have meant that his particular TARDIS has had to develop abilities it ought not to have. It should, after all, be remember that a TARDIS is sentient, that it is as much grown as it is built.

But above all, the manual warns, the TARDIS must be treated with respect and be kept well maintained. It most certainly should not be used in the cavalier fashion that the Doctor enjoys!

Peter Tyers


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