I mean, they're both time traveling phone booths.... Doctor Who obviously predates Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but was also possibly quite obscure for Americans pre-Internet.

  • 3
    Notably, certain Bill & Ted fans at the time dubbed the phone booth time machine the "Retardis"
    – Stephen R
    Jan 20, 2020 at 17:49
  • I find it highly doubtful that they'd reference the very thing they're ripping off...
    – tilley31
    Jan 20, 2020 at 18:35
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    Dr. Who wasn't that obscure in 1989. Many PBS stations had been broadcasting it for at least a decade by then. For that matter, the Internet already existed then also (but was mostly only available at college campuses and a few tech companies).
    – The Photon
    Jan 20, 2020 at 18:47
  • 2
    Similar question on M&TV: Was the TARDIS an inspiration for the time-traveling phone booth?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 21, 2020 at 11:40

2 Answers 2


Co-writer Chris Matheson claims that neither he, nor co-writer Ed Solomon nor the film's director Stephen Herek (who suggested the phone box) knew anything about Doctor Who.

“Rufus was originally their friend,” reveals Matheson of Bill and Ted’s time-travel mentor, played cooly by comedian George Carlin. “He was a 27-year-old high school junior and he had a dog named rufus. He drove them through time in his 1969 Chevy van. That got changed along the way, basically because of Back to the Future. Director Stephen Herek had the idea of a phone booth and all of us were so clueless and knew nothing about Doctor Who,” laughs Matheson. “It turned out to be pretty good idea. It worked.”

"It really was quite a beautiful experience" - The story of how Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure became a cult classic

Ed Solomon also addressed the fan-theory that the script was recycled from an earlier Doctor Who script (noting that the Doctor Who film was also produced by the same studio) and made into Bill and Ted.

Q: Is there any truth that original concept for B&T started out originally as a doctor who movie? Can’t remember where I got that idea but the phone booth / time seems to at least factor in the slightest bit. Rufus as a time lord makes me smile

Ed Solomon: No - none at all. The phone booth came later (via the director, Steve Herek, when the studio told us we had to get rid of the van so it didn't seem too much like Back to the Future, which had just come out).

Via Twitter

  • The notion that they would think a van is too much like back to the future so they changed it to a phone booth which resembles the Doctor's TARDIS is very odd. Jan 20, 2020 at 18:29
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    @DJSpicyDeluxe - It resembles it, inasmuch as it's a time machine that's also a phone box. It doesn't resemble it, inasmuch as it's a different design, different colour, not larger on the inside, has a 'circuits of time' phone book, has an antenna on the top and disappears into the floor when it timeshifts.
    – Valorum
    Jan 20, 2020 at 18:32
  • And I don't believe them.
    – tilley31
    Jan 20, 2020 at 18:35
  • The entire film is full of reference to then-current (and some past) pop culture. I think it unlikely that someone, somewhere wasn't aware of the Dr Who connection. That said, the connection is truly superficial, so it is not without reason to say "no way" without mentally adding "but yeah, of course it evokes it the idea".
    – Dúthomhas
    Jan 20, 2020 at 20:04
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    Meh. You can choose to believe them or not. They're open about their other influences so there's little reason to lie about this
    – Valorum
    Jan 20, 2020 at 20:17

The writers and director claim that they didn't know about the TARDIS. To decide whether that is plausible or not, it is worth considering the differences between the two:

  1. The Doctor's TARDIS is not a public phone box - it is a British Police box. The time machine in Bill & Ted is based on a regular public phone box.

  2. The telephone on a Police box is located on the exterior of the box and cannot make public calls - it is a direct line to the police. The interior of a Police box was "for use by police officers to read and fill in reports, take meal breaks and even temporarily hold detainees until the arrival of transport." (from Wikipedia) There was no phone inside it.

  3. The telephone on the exterior of the TARDIS is not in any way used to pilot it through time. In fact, it wasn't even suggested that the phone had any function at all until way after the first Bill & Ted movie emerged. In contrast, the phone in Bill & Ted's time machine is the means by which they select the time they want to go to.

  4. The TARDIS is "bigger on the inside", whereas the Bill & Ted movies derive a lot of humour from the fact that they squeeze so many people into the tiny phone box.

Although I completely agree that many people would succinctly describe the Doctor's TARDIS as "a phone box" and that this promotes a superficial similarity between the two, there are clearly more differences than similarities which makes the claim of the writers that there was no intended reference plausible.

  • “there are clearly more differences than similarities which makes the claim of the writers that there was no intended reference plausible” — I'm not sure the differences between Police boxes and telephone boxes really swing it. Surely an American phone box is the nearest American equivalent to a British police box? Like if they were trying to make a reference (and I'm not saying they were), it's difficult to imagine what American thing they would have chosen other than a phone box. Jan 21, 2020 at 17:40
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    As an American, I've always referred to those as a Phone Booth rather than a Phone Box. Something that looks much more like a British Police Box, would be a porta-potty. Jan 21, 2020 at 21:37
  • @PaulD.Waite No, the nearest British equivalent to an American phone booth would be a British phone booth. We do have public phone booths, though there are fewer around now. The Police Box that the TARDIS was based on was not primarily a telephone box anyway - police could actually use the interior to detain somebody, the phone was on the outside and a direct line to the police. They fell from use a very long time ago.
    – Astralbee
    Aug 18, 2020 at 8:53
  • @Astralbee: sure — that's why I said "the nearest American equivalent to a British police box", which is the relevant thing given that Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is very specifically set in Southern California. Aug 18, 2020 at 9:35
  • @PaulD.Waite Equivalency doesn't work like that. Let's say your starting point is Japanese sushi made with raw fish, and you ask what is an equivalent dish in western cuisine. You might say 'smoked salmon' because it is raw fish. But flip that around and ask what is the closest thing to smoked salmon in Japanese cuisine, you could say 'sushimi', because that is raw fish without the rice used in the preparation of sushi. America doesn't have police boxes, so you're seeing a phone and making the nearest connection, but from an English point of view, the two are not that similar.
    – Astralbee
    Aug 18, 2020 at 9:43

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