In the Angels take Manhattan The doctor, River and Amy, all jump in a car to save Rory.

In the The Snowmen he uses the Tardis to rescue Clara from the snow and then bring her back into the house.

I don't understand why he wouldn't use the Tardis to save Rory and at least they would be safe from the angels while in transit and then have the Tardis nearby.

Apart from plot, are there some limitations on how and when he can use the Tardis?

  • KHW's answer is definitely correct for that episode, but also note that more than once, The Doctor has left his TARDIS behind when facing an enemy that he doesn't want getting their hands on it, and the Weeping Angels are near the top of that list.
    – KutuluMike
    Nov 14, 2013 at 16:08

6 Answers 6


The TARDIS is unreliable.

We know that the Doctor has always had trouble getting the TARDIS to do exactly what he wants. The justification is sometimes that she's old and banged-up, sometimes that she's willful, and sometimes that he's just a bad driver, but the consistent effect is that relying on the TARDIS to get you exactly where and when you want to go is a gamble under the best of circumstances (which Angels Take Manhattan certainly wasn't).

Although the Tenth Doctor blamed his bad driving on needing more people to properly fly the TARDIS, and "Sexy" claimed the TARDIS took him where he needed to be, rather than where he wanted to be, these are both very flimsy:

  • The idea that a TARDIS needs multiple pilots is downright laughable --as is River Song's claim that the VWORP noise is due to leaving the brakes on-- since both the Master and the Rani flew different TARDISes with only a single pilot without any of the reliability problems the Doctor experiences, but with the VWORP.
  • Sexy's claim is the more supportable, but it doesn't justify the many times that the TARDIS's unreliability has been a major hinderance to the Doctor being where he truly needed to be. It's useful to remember that the entire first season story arc of Doctor Who was based on the idea that he had no clue where or when the craft would go when he used it.

The TARDIS is especially unreliable over short distances. Sometimes.

This varies depending on production team and the needs of the plot, but the TARDIS is frequently depicted as being bad at short hops. She's designed to run through all of space and time, so moving a couple miles in the same time frame is rather like using a backhoe to organize your silverware. The Doctor has mentioned this repeatedly since the 60s (Second Doctor era at least), and while he sometimes says that he's getting better at short hops, it usually regresses again quickly.

This is one reason the TARDIS can also move like a more normal flying object: it's easier to pinpoint your destination that way. The TARDIS flew through physical space in normal time at the opening of the 1968 story Fury From the Deep, and several times later in Old Who (including at least part of the crash which caused Six's regeneration into Seven).

A common analogy is the Enterprise, which has warp drives for her primary movement option but also has regular thrust engines to make small adjustments. However, the TARDIS's "normal" movement option is very... attention-grabbing... and the Doctor doesn't seem to be a very good driver in that situation either (he bangs about quite a bit and causes un-Doctorly collateral damage).

  • 3
    In "The Doctor's Wife" (Episode 4 of Season 5) the personality of the Tardis gets trapped inside the body of a woman (Idris) and this way the Doctor and the Tardis can talk to each other. The Doctor complains abou the unreliability of the Tardis, but the Tardis replies that she doesn't take him where he WANTS to go, because she takes him where he NEEDS to go.
    – UwF
    Nov 14, 2013 at 6:57
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    @UwF Hence "sometimes she's willful." Sexy's glib remark as part of their banter explains some of the TARDIS's actions, but a) can't justify a lot of the TARDIS's inaccuracies, and b) is only one of many explanations that the show has given over the decades.
    – BESW
    Nov 14, 2013 at 7:01
  • The TARDIS can be very reliable, the Doctor just doesn't know how to (or doesn't want to) steer it properly, probably because he doesn't care or it's "more fun" that way. In the season 4 finale we learn that you'd usually have a crew of 6 (IIRC). In a later episode River lands the TARDIS, the Doctor complaining that couldn't be, because it didn't make the whole "WHOOOSH thing", and River explains that he just never releases the brakes. That, plus the TARDIS' mannerisms (as mentioned be UwF above). But we've seen more than one occassion where it appeared exactly where it had to reappear.
    – Mario
    Nov 14, 2013 at 9:59
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    @Mario The "crew of six" and "brakes" things are explicitly in conflict with other examples of TARDIS continuity, including the fact that every other TARDIS in Old Who behaved exactly like the Doctor's both in sound and in piloting requirements, but were not as unreliable as his. There's no simple answer here, and that's why I talked about the conflicts in continuity and the general sense we get of the TARDIS's capacities, rather than citing specific examples. Every specific example has a counter-example.
    – BESW
    Nov 14, 2013 at 11:41
  • 1
    The Doctor was a decent driver in the Run Away Bride, when he chased down Donna on the motorway.
    – Xantec
    Nov 14, 2013 at 12:29

I haven't watched the episode since it aired, but as I recall, he had trouble even GETTING to where/when Rory was in Manhattan, due to the temporal turbulence the angels had generated at that location & time.

The first trip, as I recall, bounced, and he had to leave something farther back in time to use to calibrate the trip. (I believe he wrote something on an ancient Chinese vase.) Even so, getting there was almost impossible, and that factors into the plot later as part of why

Amy going back to Rory would be a fixed point in time that the Doctor could never undo.

See the Doctor Who wiki for more info.

  • I missed the beginning of that episode.. I didn't think of that.. tyvm
    – user62892
    Nov 14, 2013 at 3:31

In addition to everything else that's been said, in The Bells of St. John, the Doctor says

Doctor: I don't like to bring the Tardis into battle.

Clara: Because it's made of wood?

Doctor: Because it's the most powerful ship in the galaxy and I don't want it falling into the wrong hands.

In other episodes he also says he can't use the Tardis to go back in time in the same sequence of events because it would interfere with his timeline.

  • .. and when he says he can't, he means he won't. Because he can go back to the exact same time and place; see Father's Day for an example. That ended very badly though.
    – Mr Lister
    Mar 1, 2015 at 22:00
  • True, although that wasn't interfering with his own timeline, only Rose's. More telling is the episode when they go to Trenzalore to visit his grave, the TARDIS itself resists going there
    – childcat15
    Apr 13, 2015 at 19:49

In a previous incarnation, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), grew very fond of using Bessie, his yellow car. Grant you, at the time, he was locked out of his TARDIS, but he grew fond of the conveyance and continued to use her even after he could travel in time and space again.

As others have stated,

  • the Doctor is concerned that the Tardis could fall into the wrong hands (The Bells of Saint John)
  • The Tardis was forced to be unreliable in order to avoid Omicron (after the season 'The Keys of Time')
  • The Tardis chooses where the Doctor 'needs' to go, as much as where he wants to (The Doctor's Wife)
  • The Tardis' chameleon circuit has been broken for a long time (fixed briefly under the Sixth Doctor), and thus the Doctor is accustomed to hiding her. That takes more time than is necessary with otherwise conventional modes of transport.
  • Travelling anywhere in the TARDIS makes it more likely that he will accidentally hit his own timeline, and that is something that is avoided whenever possible (Father's Day)

Finally, imagine this question: You have an airplane, a semi-tractor trailer, and a motorcycle that could all convey you to the corner store. Which are you going to take? Probably the motorcycle. Why? Because it is best scaled to the distances involved.

  • But that's because it can take an hour or more of preparation to go even the smallest distance with a plane, and also the plane and the trailer cost more in fuel, whereas I don't think the Tardis has such a high overhead.
    – b_jonas
    Nov 15, 2013 at 9:15

Just to add, the TARDIS is apparently also capable of "regular" travel, i.e. flying in the air and the Doctor uses this sometimes, most notably in The Runaway Bride where he actually gets into a car chase with it.

This episode also provides a very good explanation on why the Doctor doesn't use this more often - it was clearly not designed to be used this way (he had a lot of trouble piloting it) and the whole thing left the TARDIS heavily damaged.


Which would the Doctor rather say...

"OH Amy let's ride the TARDIS to save River and let some nice Daleks or Silents take it" OR "The TARDIS is one of the most powerful weapon in the galaxy we can't possibly let anyone or anything take it!"

See common sense.

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