In the first serial, "An Unearthly Child", Susan Foreman claims, "I made up the name TARDIS from the initials, Time And Relative Dimension In Space."

In "The Name of the Doctor", the guard watching the monitor showing the Doctor sneaking about the repair shop says, "What kind of idiot would steal a faulty TARDIS?"

Was this simply a writing error or do all Gallifreyans call them TARDISes? Assuming it is a mistake, this would mean the Doctor's TARDIS is the only "TARDIS". However, I recall that other characters had time machines referred to as TARDIS, e.g. the Rani and the Master.

Wikipedia states the TARDIS is a Type 40 TT capsule (TT meaning Time Travel). Should the guard not have stated, "What kind of idiot would steal a faulty Type 40? Also, why would other time lords and ladies call their time machines (whatever model) TARDIS?

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    Name of the Doctor isn't the only time this contradiction has come up. The writers of the Discontinuity Guide theorised that Susan was very precocious, and her made-up name caught on. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 16:50
  • @DanielRoseman If you could post the relevant paragraph from that book as an answer, I can accept it. That seems like a reasonable theory.
    – Matt
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 19:25
  • Unfortunately it's buried at the bottom of a box somewhere, along with a whole load of my f&sf books :( Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 21:49
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    "What kind of idiot would steal a faulty TARDIS." - since most of the sentence was translated from Gallifreian to English, it seems pretty safe to assume that TARDIS is a translation for whatever term they actually used.
    – Ferruccio
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 17:32
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    @Matt - You could also read "Lungbarrow". Sadly no longer available on the BBC site itself, which answered the question with the curious explanation that Susan was from an earlier Gallifreyan time-period (and tied the Pythias of Gallifrey to the Sisterhood of Karn - who stopped wearing hats and carrying weird swords and doing that hand gesture thing in "Night of the Doctor" - must have been their "Morbius" phase). Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 4:37

6 Answers 6


Do we have any evidence that a guard on Gallifrey speaks 20th-Century English?

The dialog was presented in 20th-Century English for our convenience, but I doubt that in-universe the dialog was English. (I seem to remember that the Doctor told Rose that speaking and understanding other languages is a "gift from the TARDIS".)

As long as they are translating the English for our benefit, they might as well use the word we expect.

So, my answer is that on Gallifrey they don't necessarily use the word TARDIS. It's also possible that they do use the word but it isn't an acronym in their language.

EDIT: After I wrote this, I noticed that this is basically the same as a comment by @Ferruccio below the question.


tl;dr - as the name of the ship become more well known to the general public, it became simpler to use it as a generic for all similar time machines from Gallifrey.

In the early years of the series, there was not too much use of the term to refer to other ships, mainly because there WERE no other ships like her. Only when the Meddling Monk came along did we meet another member of The Doctor's "race", who has a ship like his own. I don't believe The Monk refers to his ship as a TARDIS, I'd have to re-view the episodes.

Even once the Time Lords were introduced, The Doctor's ship is most often referred to by them as exactly that - a ship, a capsule, or a Type 40.

I'm pretty sure The Master is the first other person to refer to his ship as a TARDIS. After that, it became more common to use it as a generic by the writers.

If you want to stick with the idea that Susan came up with the name, she MAY have come up with it ON Gallifrey, before they left, and so some of The Doctor's friends knew of the nickname, and started using it, and it caught on.

But in all likelihood, it's simply a case of the name becoming so well-known that there was no need to do the "Oh, it's my ship, I call it a TARDIS" anymore.


The term T.A.R.D.I.S. has grown over the years from what it was originally meant to be. Its not a writing error it is just growth of a story has better facts create better reason and so canon is replaced and so fourth. Keep in mind in the first episode there was no such thing as Galifrey or even Time-Lords...

  • Was this based on source material? Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 1:57
  • @DVK, 50 yrs of the show and multiple books on the program.
    – rob
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 2:05

They never say Susan make the acronym on Earth, so she might have just said it in the Academy and it was then added to Gallifreyan as slang, then was just added generally to the language over time, like in America where because papers paid by the letter, ads shortened some words like colour to color.


It's quite possible that Susan did come up with the acronym TARDIS. After all, it is a TIME machine. So there's every chance it could have happened during a trip to the past at some point before the first episode. There's no guarantee of things happening in a linear fashion when it comes to time travel and the Time Lords.

This has never been mentioned, I'm not saying there is any evidence for this, but it's at least a potentially plausible explanation. At some point in the past, she seeded the name into the timeline.

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    This seems like idle guesswork.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:49
  • Of course, I mentioned that it's just a possible explanation. Since they never explained this in the show, pretty much every theory is 'idle guesswork'. The real explanation is most likely that the writers just ignored that fact later on, I'm just trying to come up with a more 'fun' explanation.
    – adimauro
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:54
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    Hello and welcome to SFF! We are a Q/A site, not a forum, and so generally require more than just speculation. If you have time please take the tour!
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:55
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    Ah! Got it! Thank you.
    – adimauro
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 16:00
  • The problem with idle speculation is that it eventually borders on Wild Mass Guessing. Maybe it was Clara Oswald. Maybe it was Harry Sullivan when the 4th Doctor was asleep, etc etc
    – Valorum
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 16:47

You have to understand the first episode was done under duress and with not a lot of for sight the original script made the doctor human from the year 3000 or something has can be seen in the tv spectial documentary "an adventure in space in time" - great to watch.

So the TARDIS is named Tardis for every body. And the doctor's one is a type 40 an old model.

It could, if we want to say that Susan is correct that she created an acronym of it to give a definition. Like I say team stand for Together Each Achieve More.

  • Do you have any sources at all for this? And it doesn't flow very well
    – The Fallen
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 14:58
  • Of course I have Watch all the episode (original) the master keeps on saying is tardis is beter than his one. The 4th Doctor as even the Tardis manuel static4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20111027104937/tardis/images/c/… Now The only person that gives a definition for tardis is the Doctor and Susan. So she could have coined the term if she say's so Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 20:37

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