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There is already a question asking: Has the TARDIS's chameleon circuit always been broken?

The consensus seems to be 'Yes'. The question I'd like know, is how did it break?

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tl;dr: It is never stated how the chameleon circuit broke, only that it's broken and that The Doctor has no real intention of fixing it. Four claims that he actually stole an already-broken TARDIS from the shop and it's been that way ever since.

Interesting note: the outside of the TARDIS does change form on occasion (out-of-universe, as they replace the props :); it simply keeps changing into different forms of a police box. The shape of the lamp changed on several occasions, the shade of blue got deeper, the color and shape of the "instructions sign" has changed, etc. This matches up with what Eleven tells Amy is the problem: when it lands, the TARDIS performs a complex analysis of its surroundings to determine the best shape to take, then re-disguises itself as a 1960's police box every time.

We do know a little bit about when it broke. Of course, this is Doctor Who, so we obviously have contradictory information about when it broke, depending on what you consider canon.

TV Information

The very first time we see the TARDIS, in the pilot episode, it has taken on the form of a 1960's police box. This implies that the TARDIS was working when it landed in 1963 London, since police boxes would have been a legitimate disguise, and broke soon afterward. From that point forward, it is stuck in that form. Both The Doctor and Susan claim they don't know what's wrong with it, and it seems to distress One quite a bit, but the whole matter is largely dropped.

Later, during The Fourth Doctor's run, we learn a bit more. Four claims that it was broken when he stole it, and that he basically hijacked a TARDIS from the repair shop. He also seems much less worried about repairing it, though he implies that he knows exactly what's wrong with it and how to fix it. (It's not clear why it would choose to look like a 1963 police box while in the repair shop on Gallifrey...)

During Attack of the Cybermen, Six did manage to "repair" it temporarily, but in actuality he made things worse, and it quickly reverted to its police box form.

Much later on, Nine and Eleven each imply to his respective companions that he could fix the circuit, if he wanted to. Eleven tells Amy that he hasn't gotten around to it yet, but I think Nine was the most honest when he tells Rose that he has just grown attached to its shape, and wants it to stay that way. Donna also begins to tell Ten how to fix it, before he brain fries.

Also of interesting note is that several other Time Lords, including the Master on more than one occasion, have stolen and made repairs to the Doctor's TARDIS, and none of them have ever bothered to fix the circuit.

Supplemental Material

A quick perusal of the TARDIS wikia also turns up some audio or printed stories that involve the chameleon circuit, though of course some of it contradicts the TV canon. There are stories from the First Doctor's pre-TV adventures where it was working, partly contradicting Four's story that it was broken when he stole it. It's possible that the broken circuit "sort of" worked until it got stuck as a police box, and hasn't worked since.

In one of Five's audio stories. Nyssa actually repairs it completely; it subsequently turns into a whale and forgets that it's a TARDIS, and The Doctor is forced to re-break it to get things back to normal. This, again, implies that it could be fixed, if The Doctor really wanted to.

  • Regarding the Doctor's (any Doctor's) claims of being able to repair the chameleon circuit; You forgot rule #1: The Doctor lies. – bitmask Oct 24 '12 at 23:13
  • Most of this is just on the wiki... – AncientSwordRage Oct 24 '12 at 23:20
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    @Pureferret true, but I've also seen most of the TV episodes on the wiki (everything from 9, 10, 11, and the bulk of 4 when I was younger), so I can at least confirm that it seems to have all the details right :) – KutuluMike Oct 24 '12 at 23:55
  • @MichaelEdenfield good to have that check! – AncientSwordRage Oct 24 '12 at 23:56
  • It's been a long time.... But I thought I remembered the Block Transfer computations that the Master interrupted on Logopolis being related to fixing it... Anyone remember that detail? – K-H-W Oct 26 '12 at 23:25

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