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The Real Reason TARDIS Is A Police Box In Doctor Who

Regardless of what kind of science fiction you enjoy, chances are that the BBC's "Doctor Who" has an episode for you. The show originally ran from 1963 to 1989, and has been on air with a rather more impressive special effects budget since 2005. Though ostensibly a sci-fi adventure drama, during its many decades "Doctor Who" has dabbled with virtually any genre you can name, from detective mystery to straight-up horror. What's more, the Doctor's regenerative ability means that the main character — and, with them, often the entire central cast — changes on a semi-regular basis, effectively giving the show a periodic soft reboot. 

Still, while all of this might make it seem that "Doctor Who" is always changing, the show is always recognizable by a few central concepts. Regardless of whether the main character is Peter Capaldi stern, detached Twelfth Doctor or Jodie Whittaker's joyful Thirteenth Doctor, the character's heroic quality remains. The Doctor nigh-invariably has at least one (usually human) companion, faces a combination of monsters of the week and recurring enemies — and, of course, travels in time and space with the famously "bigger on the inside" TARDIS.

Along with the iconic theme music and Daleks, TARDIS is far and away the most instantly recognizable thing about "Doctor Who." A lot of this has to do with its iconic — and often anachronistic — appearance: Regardless of the time and location the Doctor visits, the vessel remains in the shape of a blue police box. Here's why.

The TARDIS is stuck in its form due to a malfunction

The police box shape is not the natural form of the TARDIS, as you might expect. Per The Telephone Box, the shape imitates a particular type of phone box that debuted in Britain in 1929, and was essentially a combination of a public phone and a police officer's method of communicating with the precinct while patrolling. The reason TARDIS takes the form of this obscure structure is simple, and extremely believable for anyone who's had to wrestle with complicated technology: A malfunction. 

The very first episode of "Doctor Who," 1963's "An Unearthly Child," introduces both the First Doctor (William Hartnell) and the TARDIS. Unfortunately, the incredible vessel promptly breaks its chameleon circuit — the technology that allows it to change its appearance to fit its surroundings. Since TARDIS happens to be impersonating a police box at the time, it's been stuck in this form ever since. 

Luckily for the whole "bigger on the inside" thing, the malfunction only affects the craft's exterior. Otherwise, things might get pretty cramped, and the control room makeovers the TARDIS tends to get whenever the Doctor regenerates would likely be considerably less impresssive.