Dr. Who is a Timelord, a renegade
member of that ancient, time-traveling alien race, who just happens to
think that his people should be out in the universe fighting Evil, instead
of home on Gallifrey watching Eternity decay. His timeship, the TARDIS,
was stolen (sorry, "borrowed") from Gallifrey eons ago by the rebellious
Doctor, and is a creaking but lovable mess. The ship's "Chameleon circuit"
is damaged, so the ship that was once built to blend innocently into the
local environment of whatever planet it lands on is now forever frozen
into the shape of a 1960's British Police callbox.
Dreams of Futures Past
three decades on the BBC in England, the Good Doctor traveled the cosmos,
exploring, learning and, well...meddling in the passage of
Time. Legions of fans love that ramshackle old TARDIS, and I am one of
them. The Time And Relative Dimensions
vehicle is one of the really enduring cult TV icons. Fifteen-plus
years ago, a close friend and wargamer said, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool
to have a TARDIS console?" Sonic screwdriver in hand, I took up the challenge.
After many travels of its own, it today rests in my basement. And if it
weren't for the limitations of 21st Century Earth technology, my friend,
I'd be off this rock by now! (Just kidding!)
In The Beginning...
actors have played the Doctor over the lifespan of the TV show and in the
movies. It is said you always prefer the first Doctor you saw, and for
me, my favorite was the show's most prominent version, Tom Baker. Clad
in that long, floppy scarf and goofy hat, and with that lovable toothy
grin, he will always be the Doctor to me. So it is understandable that
my Console was based on the "Baker configuration" that was used during
his stint on the show.
Today, reference materials are only a Dogpile search away, but back
then, all I had was some official Who book printed by the BBC and endless
hours of video tapes of the Baker episodes. The original goal of the Console
project was actually to make a wargaming prop for the Dr. Who Roleplaying
Game, with the intent of making gamers demonstrate exactly what controls
they were setting to cause effects in the game. With my wild interest in
anything that blinks and beeps, the project took on a life of its own.
Hand Me That Sonic Screwdriver
TARDIS Console is about 48" wide, and the main table without base or Time
Rotor is 12" tall, which made it just fit the back of my old Horizon hatchback.
The support surface of the Console is a six-sided polygon of 3/4" plywood.
I built a raised center section slightly larger than the Time Rotor casing
in the center of the table, and used matching plywood to make six sloped
fins radiating out from the center of the device. These fins support the
six cover panels, which were cut from 1/8" thick laminated bathroom paneling
and painted white.
At the Core of it All
part of the design lay in the Time Rotor mechanism. The original TARDIS
(Type 40, purists will remind you) was built to oscillate up and down per
the moving display to your right, but that kind of machinery was far beyond
the means of my poor workshop. I solicited advice from a dozen engineers
where I worked, and the results were beyond bizarre. "Compressed air!"
one insisted. "Nonsense! Hydraulic piston!" another replied. In the end,
sad to say, my only hope to conquer the engineering problem was to use
a Plot Device; this TARDIS was an experimental Type 39-X, and the Time
Rotor would have to really rotate, rather than go up and down.
exterior shell of the Rotor is a hexagonal terrarium, donated by my gaming
friend. The next layer in is a cylinder built from 6" diameter plastic
rings, rescued from the scrap bin of a local plastics store. I glued them
together in a 12" column and attached them to a ball bearing turntable
in a sort of flashy "top hat" format, and added some dayglow red stripes
to highlight the Rotor. This "top hat" spins around, driven by the tiny
120 volt motor from an electric razor. The innermost gizmo is a cylindrical
plastic aquarium, sanded lightly to make it diffuse light. I added some
crystal rods from some junked Spencer Gifts toy logic puzzle and some red
vertical fins from the scrap plastic bin, and lit it from the inside with
a string of large Christmas tree lights.
Gadgets and Gizmos
I began the Console, like any cinematic props department, I began to look
for free odds and ends that could look flashy and impressive. Some major-league
scavenging and some kind donations gave me all I needed. Incorporated into
the Console are such oddities as a Radio Shack voltmeter, a junked car
clock, wooden core pieces from 36" printing rolls, clear and colored thumbtacks, and
even the plastic shipping box from a children's' travel game. A Leggs'
clear plastic egg provides the display dome for the Celestial Beacon, and
an Equal tablet pocket carrier serves as the Emergency warning device.
(The keenest-eyed of those viewing this may recognize that the Dimensional
Stabilizer is, in fact, the plastic case from an Early Pregnancy Test!)
You may also note that the main drive switch is that oddball lit rocker
switch from a Mr. Coffee machine!
electronic guts of the beast were scavenged from far and wide. The original
powerplant that drives all the 5V+ and 12V+ devices under the hood was
from an Adam Computer (ask your Dad, kids!) and several strings of Christmas
tree lights provide the flashing, blinking glow. I built some simple LEDpacing
circuits to provide some motion on the panels. I also found a cool gadget
at Wal-Mart; they make a tiny device that flashes ten LED's randomly that
is used to light "Christmas Tree" sweatshirts. At the time, the flasher
was about $4.95 and I bought a dozen to be used in the TARDIS and other
projects. "Grab bags" from Radio Shack and other electronics houses provided
me with dozens of switches and lights, and the rest is history.
I wired a Atari 400 computer and floppy drive into the system, outputting
through a small black-and-white TV. The console is hardwired to two oldstyle
keyboards (one from that junked Adam computer) and a 12-key data pad, as
Atari used to work, running a compiled Atari Basic program that played
sound effects and responded to user input with a simple Eliza-like AI program.
At one point, I found some code that used the joystick ports on the computer
as I/O lines, activating two external relays, so I could turn on the Rotor
motor and other wall lights through the computer.
years of storage in my basement have corrupted the original program disk,
so the main program won't be seen again. Still, I have hopes to one day
build a better Console with a PC for the guts, so there is some hope of
my writing a new version of the Core software. I have found some articles
on the Net about hardwiring switches attached to the printer port that
would really be cool, and let Visual Basic control external devices on
the Console. Oh well...maybe one day.
Going 'Round in Circles
I found that some odd-shaped white plastic inserts that came in the ends
of huge industrial paper rolls would nicely mimic the round doohickeys
on the walls of the Baker TARDIS control room. I collected 200 or so of
them, and mounted them on 4' x 6' plywood panels. At one time, each plastic
form had a working Christmas light under it, and rippled in one of eight
interesting patterns, but decay claims it all, and only some of those lights
Present and Future Tense
The Console has survived a couple of long-distance trips to Toledo, and
one to downtown Cincinnati for a Whovian get together, but that is all
the space travel it has seen. What does the future hold? I would love to
build a full-scale 6' diameter Console, with full wood construction and
a Celron-driven PC under the hood, but life gets busier everyday. If I
could really get it working, boy...I would have someplace to put all my
junk, and maybe have enough hours in the day to get a good night's sleep!
(I tell my friends it does time-travel, but it is only moving forward
in time on 1:1 scale, so you can't tell! ;) Maybe I'll find the time. But
whatever the future holds, I'm still one of the very few who can honestly
say "I've got a time machine in my basement!"
you arrived via the Time Ring, Visit my Homepage!
This Doctor Who Time
Ring site owned by Andrew Bartmess.
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