Lazy Luddite Log

19.11.13

Console Rooms

I’m writing within a week of the screening (both on big and small screens) of the Doctor Who Fiftieth Anniversary story. I’m getting rather excited but to share all my comments and speculation would be a breech of etiquette so I will herein simply discuss a rather mundane and safe topic – that of the TARDIS console rooms to date.

Mostly console rooms change as a result of deliberate refurbishment by the Doctor (known whimsically as “changing the desktop” in the revived series). However in the regeneration of the tenth to the eleventh Doctor (Tennant to Smith) we notice that the TARDIS alters the console room of its own accord and this got me thinking of fitting particular console rooms to particular Doctors in terms of personality and the resonance of the eras in which they are set. So once more I’m altering the time-line to match particular console rooms to each incarnation of the Doctor and finding this website useful in jogging my memory of this very long-running TV show.

William Hartnell (1963-1966)

The original console room is a classic which in many ways is reminiscent of so many 1950s science fiction movies in its depiction of futuristic technology. It also has many of the characteristics that have been preserved ever since. There is the hexagonal console with its central time rotor. There are the roundels set into the walls. There is the monitor (hanging from the ceiling). There is an overall impression of whiteness. There are also some wall-set computers and translucent panels that have been omitted from later and simpler designs. This all works well for the first Doctor.

Patrick Troughton (1967-1969)

The original console room or parts thereof was utilized till the end of the 60s but I feel that a somewhat later console room so much better fits the second Doctor. A console room only seen in one 1972 story (the set was accidentally damaged) has the innovation of these bowl-like roundels that look like something made by Tupperware. This room is so ‘Swinging Sixties’ and would have worked nicely for the second Doctor era with its kilted and mini-skirted companions.

Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

It barely matters which console room to allocate to the third Doctor. He spends much of his time in exile on contemporary Earth and is often seen working in his lab at UNIT headquarters. The Police Box sits in a corner. Sometimes the console itself (now in colour transmission and seen to be an odd pastel green) is sitting in the lab and I wonder how it was removed from the TARDIS. For those times the Doctor is free to travel I think the Tupperware room would have done fine.

Tom Baker (1975-1981)

The fourth Doctor had by far the longest tenure so it is tempting to let him have console room changes. The room that he did have which by far and away fits him best for me is the auxiliary console room of 1976-77. It is specifically stated to be a separate chamber. It has all this wood panelling and brass railings and even a few stained-glass roundels. It introduces columns between wall panels which became a standard for the rest of the original series. Its console is markedly smaller and lacks a time rotor (the only thing it lacks I feel). Another innovation is that the console is on a platform (apparently this was to make life better for camera operators) which is something that has only returned in the revived series. I love this timber console room which so nicely fits the Bohemian eccentric that is the fourth Doctor.

Peter Davison (1982-84)

A fresh-faced fifth Doctor warrants a shiny new console room but possibly the phrase “everything old is new again” is relevant here. I think the console room that the fifth Doctor inherited works well for him. The classic white walls look is preserved but there are changes. The roundels are now translucent fixtures set into the walls (rather than depressions). The columns are there. The monitor dominates most of one wall. The console itself is back but with more standard white and silver science fiction livery. The time rotor has a lovely pinkish glow.

Colin Baker (1985-1986)

The sixth Doctor is all showy and glitzy and the changes introduced in the Twentieth Anniversary special fit him particularly well. The key change is to the console itself. Its base and time rotor are more complex and decorative but what draws the most attention is just how very busy the controls on all six panels are. This was the 80s and we had entered the digital age. The Twentieth Anniversary console reflects this. The mishmash of levers and dials and lights have been replaced by a tidy yet complex array of keypads and readouts. Sometimes science fiction makes the mistake of presenting contemporary advances as futuristic. Still it is very of its era and I’m happy for the sixth Doctor to have this.

Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

Now I intend to do something different and borrow a console room from another Timelord altogether for the seventh Doctor. The Rani had a tastefully designed console room of stone walls and a rounded console with a time rotor of optical illusion rings. I think this would nicely fit the combination of intrigue and reassurance represented by the seventh Doctor. The only significant change I would make would be the items displayed on the various stands arrayed around the room – replacing the macabre specimens of the Rani with more savoury curios collected from history by the Doctor.

Paul McGann (1996)

So much of what we now think of as the hallmarks of the revived series debuted in the 1996 telemovie. But what are now celebrated as innovations relevant to Twenty First Century audiences were back then dismissed as Americanizations in this Transatlantic co-production. But I digress. One of the new things in the telemovie was a much bigger and darker console room.

It seems to be ‘open-plan’ with corners of the space serving different functions from conservatory to library alcove. The console itself emulates the original hexagon but its fixtures evoke imaginings of the Time Machine by H G Wells (which indeed the Doctor is reading in the movie). This retro look is accentuated further by the ironwork supports flanking the console. Finally the time rotor extends into the ceiling. In lots of ways this was the first console room of ‘New Who’. This moody and ornate chamber well suits the poetic and romantic eighth Doctor (which is just as well since he was only seen in this one telemovie and in the retrospective ‘minisode’ Night Of The Doctor screened online only last week).

Christopher Eccleston (2005)

What we have been calling the ninth Doctor is someone who has experienced some trauma and so the revived series console room fits him well. It is dimly lit and somewhat twisted with its almost organic curling supports flanking the console. The console itself is rounded but divided into six segments so referencing the hexagonal original. The rotor once more connects to the domed ceiling from which snaking cords array. The new thing here is that the console is on a platform and one can access mechanisms below it – a metaphor possibly for what is now hidden in the past of the Doctor. I think this one worked well but I also enjoyed what came next.

David Tennant (2006-2009)

The following Doctor persisted with the same console room but – I dunno – I have a hunch this rather self-centred incarnation would have jumped at the chance for a “new desktop” and the one that was introduced later in 2010 would have fit him well. That warmly lit multi-levelled console room with curving walls and seating and bells-and-whistles is a bit of a bachelor pad frankly. And who better to have a bachelor pad of a TARDIS than this Doctor who wilfully played with the emotions of assorted companions. Put me in there and feed me some dessert wine and I too may well succumb to your alien charms.

Matt Smith (2010-2013)

In truth the most recent Doctor has gotten two new console rooms during his tenure. And I must also admit that the “warmly lit” room was in other ways a fitting setting for the family vibe that companions Amy & Rory lent to the story. But I have to press on with my rigid concept of matching console rooms to incarnations and I think the latest console room works well for the Doctor who will take us into the Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations because it is the ultimate mix of the old and new. Yes it is new and shiny and full of steel reflections and blue light. But it is also a salute to the past white console room possibly as it wished to look rather than the way it did look. The console itself nicely references the original. Here you have a setting that is arrogantly technological and suddenly you remember that the TARDIS is a spaceship. I look forward to seeing more of it in a few days. I’m also impressed that you can use Google Earth to enter a police box in London and explore this fictional setting (try it yourself in Earls Court Road)...

Cross-posted here.

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