In an episode before Hell Bent,

Clara dies and the doctor is teleported away, leaving the Tardis behind.

We see the Tardis graffitied (presumably by Rigsy) with flowers and a picture of Clara.

In Hell Bent,

The Tardis reappears, graffiti and all, just outside the "diner" where the doctor is talking to Clara

At the end of the episode,

He leaves in it, and all the paint peels off and stays behind

Why didn't that happen when it moved to that location in the first place?

I am ignoring the matter of how it got there - I wouldn't have left Ashildr alone in either tardis myself, but perhaps Clara was able to summon it

Is this symbolic of what he has shed from himself? Is there any reasonable in-universe explanation?

  • 6
    "Setting aside the issue of how the artist(s) knew her connection to it" - the artist was Rigsy! We saw his talent for graffiti back in Flatline, and saw him stepping away from the newly graffitied TARDIS at the end of Face the Raven.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 7, 2015 at 14:10
  • @randal'thor excellent, edited, doesn't change the underlying question though :-) Dec 7, 2015 at 14:18
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    The TARDIS is quite capable of making up her own mind. She's sentient, sapient, and emotionally bonded to our protagonist. She is perfectly aware of what the Doctor is leaving behind. She is giving him her support. In addition to and along with the mementos, she is also leaving behind the very same thing as the Doctor. That's as much Watsonian explanation as I need for the obvious Doylist symbolism. Dec 7, 2015 at 19:20
  • "I wouldn't have left Ashildr alone in either tardis myself" well the Doctor did give her the key in the episode before and we know what the TARDIS is like, teaching a psychopath who had just killed him how to fly it
    – Memor-X
    Dec 7, 2015 at 23:44
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    Asking for internal logic in a Moffat episode has become a wild goose hunt. With literally the whole of the plot arc and the final resolution making absolutely no sense whatsoever, a bit of flaking paint is very minor. One might also ask how the memory wipe managed to affect all the Doctor's friends who have who knows how much information about Clara, deleted the pictures of her from his and everyone else's phones (and UNITs database) Or, for that matter, why the Dr in a room with a status chamber, a teleport bracelet and 2 immortality chips couldn't have saved Clara from the ridiculous bird!
    – Nagora
    Dec 8, 2015 at 7:14

3 Answers 3


Of course it's symbolic.  It also happens to make perfect sense, given what we know about the characters. 

The graffiti is in remembrance of Clara.  The mundane world probably thinks of Clara as missing, but Rigsby knows that she is dead.  He decorates the TARDIS as a memorial, since he's the only one left behind who knows he has something to remember. 

At this point, the Doctor also remembers Clara, but he wasn't left behind.  He was trapped for uncounted billions of years before he could even try to rescue her.  He survived those aeons and did attempt to rescue her.  During those aeons, he refused to leave her behind. During that attempt, things change. 

Part of the rescue attempt would involve making Clara forget about the Doctor.  She is unwilling to lose those memories, even at the cost of her own life.  She sabotages the memory-altering device.  Knowing the sabotaged device was unpredictable, the two agree to use it.  As a result, instead of Clara forgetting the Doctor, the Doctor ends up forgetting Clara. 

The Doctor is aware that he's forgotten something.  He spends time talking to a stranger (who happens, unknown to him, to be Clara herself) while he tries to decide whether to chase the missing memories or simply leave the forgotten person behind.  In the end, we suspect he decides to leave the lost memories unexplored. 

He doesn't say this out loud.  He simply hops in his TARDIS and vanishes. 

The TARDIS is a character.  She's sentient, sapient, mentally connected and emotionally bonded to our beloved protagonist.  She is able to think and act on her own behalf and in her theif's best interests. 

Prior to this moment, the TARDIS preserved the mementos.  If the Doctor had decided to chase these memories, the TARDIS would likely have continued to preserve them.  Why not?  It's easy enough for her to keep them inside her integrity field. 

Of course that she doesn't is symbolic.  We've seen Clara escape the end of her own story several times.  The writers had to give the audience some signal that says "her story is over -- and we really mean it this time".  From a Doylist perspective, the symbolism is unavoidable. 

The reason that it works is that the TARDIS is a character.  The Watsonian perspective makes sense.  When we see that the mementos are left behind, we understand that the TARDIS agrees with the Doctor.  Maybe the Doctor leaves Clara behind by accident, but the TARDIS leaves her behind on purpose.  She is supporting his decision.  Because the graffiti is left behind, the audience understands that from the TARDIS's perspective Clara's story has (finally) ended. 

The TARDIS leaves behind mementos of someone that she agrees that the Doctor shouldn't try to remember.  Before that, she kept them around because she hadn't made up her mind or even considered the question.  The only explanation I need is that the TARDIS is doing, at each moment, what she feels is best. 

  • That's a brilliant interpretation. +1
    – tilley31
    Dec 8, 2015 at 0:06
  • 1
    An excellent answer from both Watsonian and Doylist perspectives, and notwithstanding my own grumbling about inconsistency between episodes I'm happy to give this one my upvote. And just to be clear, I wouldn't upvote mine even if I could :p
    – Darael
    Dec 8, 2015 at 0:44
  • Ok I love this explanation, and it's what I felt at the time, but can someone explain what Doylist and Watsonian mean. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr John Watson are the only links I can see but even that is a strenuous link to Dr Who, unless there is some cultural nuance I've missed over the past couple of decades?
    – MrDobilina
    Dec 8, 2015 at 9:56
  • 1
    This is stack exchange - questions are good :) (if they are good questions). More seriously for anyone else wondering the same thing a proper Q&A lets them find it rather than having the answer buried in a comment in a completely unrelated question.
    – Tim B
    Dec 8, 2015 at 12:15
  • 1
    @TimB I've started a question here
    – MrDobilina
    Dec 8, 2015 at 14:27

Warning: speculation.

The Doctor's TARDIS need not have dematerialised to get there. If Clara had previously materialised "her" TARDIS around it, she could have brought it with, and had it separated from the Doctor by an interior wall in the scene in the diner. When she later dematerialised hers, leaving the Doctor behind, she could have left his TARDIS too. Only when the Doctor's TARDIS dematerialised, this time under its own power, did the paint fall off.

Of course, this is still inconsistent with some other instances of things sticking to the outside of the TARDIS while it was in flight. Jack Harkness hitched a ride that way once, and there's been an instance where the TARDIS was covered in flyers, which caught fire but stayed attached. Then again, Stephen Moffat's inter-episode continuity has always been spotty at best.

  • 3
    Clara hitched a ride on the outside one time as well, in The Time of the Doctor Dec 7, 2015 at 14:59
  • Perhaps the TARDIS can simply decide for herself what she wants to stay on her outer shell. She extended the shields around Clara to protect her in the vortex. Pulling them in a molecule thick around the shell would flake the paint off.
    – Roger
    Dec 7, 2015 at 15:01
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    Jack's a stubborn bastard. He was also dead when they landed.
    – Roger
    Dec 7, 2015 at 15:16
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    @Roger granted, but what we see in Hell Bent is the paint simply being left behind, rather than damaged in the Time Vortex. If the TARDIS could have done that to Jack, she wouldn't have needed to struggle so.
    – Darael
    Dec 7, 2015 at 15:19
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    In either case, I agree with your idea that Clara simply carried it in the diner-TARDIS and left it behind when she dematerialized.
    – Roger
    Dec 7, 2015 at 15:26

It would seem to me that the original now painted Tardis was transported inside the other Tardis, and therefore it retained the paint job because it was merely an object being moved inside a Tardis, and not performing the time travel itself. We see the Tardis shed a number of flyers that were affixed to it way back in the days of Rose, when it leaves from near her apartment in one episode.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Do you have any evidence for this theory? Is the TARDIS ever shown to carry a mock-TARDIS?
    – DavidW
    May 26 at 22:27

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