This is linked with Why did the First Doctor land in a junkyard, and why didn’t the TARDIS disguise itself as junk?

The discussion’s salient points were:

”"The TARDIS had a malfunctioning chameleon circuit, at the time of the debut of the first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 it was common to see Police call Boxes in British Cities. That is why the Tardis disguised itself as a Police box, "answered Jan 7 at 18:39 DoctorWho22


"within the first nanosecond of landing its chameleon circuit analysed the surrounding area, calculated a twelve-dimensional data map of all objects within a thousand-mile radius and then determined which outer shell would best blend in with the environment.”


"thousand mile radius would take in the whole of the UK and most of Europe (as well as a large area of sea)" answered Jan 5 at 14:59 Richard

Well, given 1000 miles it is very unlikely that it would transform into anything specifically British.

However let's say it is an oversight and it is only 100 miles, or even that in a 1000 miles but the immediate surroundings are more important that the farthest ones, and that’s why it would be something specific to the UK.

Given that, and given that the English Phone Box is a cliché, is there a reason, why it is not just that?

Was it just to be a bit original since most would have expected an English box disguise used as a vessel to be a red telephone box?

  • 23
    Because the odds of a member of the public trying to get into a police box are much lower.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 22:22
  • 6
    The fact that it looks around in a 1000 mile radius doesn't mean it fails to take proximity into account when disguising itself, so it could well be more likely to disguise itself as objects which are more common nearby than objects which are more common close to 1000 miles away. Plus, the line "within the first nanosecond...", which was from the "minisode" Meanwhile in the TARDIS, was just a setup for the punchline "...and then it disguises itself as a police telephone box from 1963."
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 22:30
  • 3
    "most would have expected" -- Who exactly is "most"? Dr Who first aired on UK television in 1963. Strangely enough, the BBC weren't anticipating the expectations of non-British viewers more than 50 years later. Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 22:59
  • 3
    BTW, to scan a one thousand mile radius in 1 nanosecond would require a scanning beam travelling at least 10,560,000 faster than light, which the Doctor, in "Four to Doomsday" claims is impossible.
    – user11521
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 1:55
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    Just a note: 12 dimentions is, in a modern big-data sense, a trivially small feature set size. Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 8:21

6 Answers 6


I'm just going to throw this out there- the red telephone boxes have windows. Therefore the bigger-on-the-inside thing wouldn't work as well. It makes sense the TARDIS would choose something opaque. That might explain why the blue and not red.

  • Maybe The Doctor could have compromised. Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 15:01
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    It also helps in this practical sense that you don't go into a police box unless you very badly need help, whereas a red phone booth anyone might enter to try to make a call.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 18:07

The Tardis Handbook (which contains a collection of various period memos and internal BBC documents) records that the design was chosen in order to have a device that was "humdrum", "portable" and something that was a "recognisable symbol" without being too "science-fiction".

The original suggestion was that of a night-watchmen's shelter.


When we consider what this looks like, we are in danger of either Science Fiction or Fairytale labelling. If it is a transparent plastic bubble we are with all the lowgrade spacefiction of cartoon strip and soap-opera. If we scotch this by positing something humdrum, say, passing through some common object in street such as a night-watchman's shelter to arrive inside a marvellous contrivance of quivering electronics, then we simply have a version of the dear old Magic Door.

Therefore, we do no see the machine at all; or rather it is visible only as an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness (Inlaid, into surrounding picture). Dr. Who has achieved this "disappearance" by covering the outside with light-resistant paint (a recognised research project today). Thus our characters can bump into it, run their hands over its shape, partly disappear by partly entering it, and disappear entirely when the door closes behind them.

[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: "Not visual. How to do? Need tangible symbol"]

It can be put into an apparently empty van. Wherever they go some contemporary disguise has to be found for it. Many visual possibilities can be worked out. The discovery of the old man and investigation of his machine would occupy most of the first episode.

Apparently, a follow-up version of the document (see below) notes that BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman rejected the idea of an invisible ship as "Not visual / What do we see?" and supplemented the words "Blue Police Telephone box" after seeing one outside his office:

"Dr. Who has a 'machine' which enables them to travel together through space, through time and through matter. When first seen, this machine has the appearance of a police box standing in the street, but anyone entering it is immediately inside an extensive electronic contrivance. Though it looks impressive, it is an old beat-up model which Dr. Who stole when he escaped from his own galaxy in the year 5733; it is uncertain in performance and often needs repairing; moreover, Dr. Who has forgotten how to work it, so they have to learn by trial and error."

enter image description here

  • Haha... Thanks for the original scanned page with handwritten annotations...
    – user931
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 3:51
  • This answer shows the entire thought-process involved in deciding the appearance of the Tardis and is free from speculation. Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 12:55

Not everyone would have access to police phone boxes...only police officers. Therefore, they would be ordinary items but not something people would be attracted to. It hides in plain sight.

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    Except that in the event of an emergency, people would be drawn to a police box, either so they could contact the police or because a policeman might be inside.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 22:11
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    @Richard True, but the chances of that happening in any random 6-hour period are much less than someone wanting to use a phone in the same 6 hours.
    – paul
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 23:49
  • A police telephone box had two functions. The door on the right provided to the policeman for shelter - presumably there was a kettle / heater / other amenities for the copper on the beat. The public "face" was the white panel on the left hand door, which provided a land line to the local police station. The public would not have access to the inside of the police box.
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 13:06

Phone boxes have loads of windows so people would be deterred from urinating in them. Police boxes had no windows, concealing the insides of the Tardis from unwanted interest.

  • 2
    I'm not sure that's true. The main reason phone boxes have windows is to let light in and to alert other people that the box is in use.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 15:47
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    By extension, you're saying that people would be undeterred from urinating in the Tardis? Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 14:00
  • I would imagine any number of companions (at the minimum - I don't believe the specifics of Gallifreyan "plumbing" has been discussed much in canon) have urinated in the Tardis. Just, for the most part, in whatever toilet facilities it has (as opposed to in the Console Room).
    – RDFozz
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 20:00

You answered this yourself:

within the first nanosecond of landing its chameleon circuit analysed the surrounding area, calculated a twelve-dimensional data map of all objects within a thousand-mile radius and then determined which outer shell would best blend in with the environment.

This doesn't say that the result has to be something that might be found across that entire thousand-mile radius. That would be absurdly limiting.

You're also massively overstating the ubiquity of the red phone box design.


It's more practical:

  1. As mentioned before - red telephone boxes are see through.
  2. There's be issues with the public trying to use it.
  3. Red telephone boxes are a lot smaller - it looks a lot less dodgy if two or more people get into a police box together!

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