‘Tardis’: meanings and origin

The British-English noun Tardis has various significations—especially the following ones:
– something with a larger capacity than its outward appearance suggests; in particular, a building, etc., that is larger on the inside than it appears from the outside;
– something with more to it than appears at first glance;
– something seemingly from either the past or the future;
– a means of apparently travelling through time.

This noun is from TARDIS, acronym from Time And Relative Dimension (or Dimensions) In Space, the name—in the science-fiction BBC television series Doctor Who (first broadcast in 1963)—of a time machine outwardly resembling a police telephone box, yet inwardly much larger.

The earliest occurrences of the noun Tardis that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the Coventry Evening Telegraph (Coventry, Warwickshire, England) of Saturday 28th September 1968:

Meet Joe, your new TV hero

ALL those who were thrilled by the adventures of “Thunderbirds” now have a new hero. For tomorrow (5.30, ATV) sees the first story about a nine-year-old boy called Joe. Here he is (right) sitting in the machine which sets him off on his adventures.
There will be 30 half-hour instalments about Joe, an ordinary boy who loves adventure and has a father who is a brilliant electronic engineer. His father creates a machine—something like the Tardis in Dr. Who—knowns [sic] as Big Rat, standing for Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record and Transfer, which can transfer other people’s powers into young Joe.
The World Intelligence Network snaps up Joe to work as Secret Agent No. 90. Joe can thus become a brain surgeon, military expert, astronaut, motorist, underwater swimmer or mathematical genius. Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it?

2-: From the Runcorn Guardian (Runcorn, Cheshire, England) of Thursday 28th May 1970:

The pub with a difference

VISITORS to the Bears Paw, Frodsham, never fails to be fascinated by one corner of a room, where, looking strangely out of place—like Dr. Who’s “Tardis”—is a post box.

3-: From the Irvine Herald (Irvine, Strathclyde, Scotland) of Friday 9th March 1973:

Living up to its name

Alone in its glory while the building around it has been demolished stands the strong room of the former British Linen Bank in Bridge gate. It looks as if it is about to take off through time and space, like Dr Who’s tardis.

4-: From the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Tuesday 23rd April 1974:


A kiosk like the Tardis spacecraft used by TV’s Dr. Who is being built as a noise machine at Salford University, Lancs.
Volunteer car drivers who sit inside will be bombarded with engine sounds to test their reaction to road noises.

5-: From a story about the official opening of a new building at Crieff Golf Club, published in the Strathearn Herald (Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland) of Saturday 4th May 1974:

It’s hexagonal […] and comprises a vast shop area, a fitting room which would do any outfitter’s proud, an office, workshop, storeroom, match secretary’s office, caddy car store—oh yes, and a toilet.
In fact, it’s like the tardis (Dr. Who’s mobile), deceiving the eye from the outside.

6-: From a story by Tom O’Carroll about Sundew, a juggernaut owned by the British Steel Corporation, published in the Leicester Chronicle (Leicester, Leicestershire, England) of Friday 21st June 1974:

Having climbed the ladder to board Sundew, it is rather like being on the bridge of a ship, particularly when you lean over the rail and look down on the massive anchor chains of the dragline.
Leaving the sunshine behind, I followed driver Mr. Tansley Huffer into a dark passage, flanked with walls of heavy steel plating, and after several bends, plus branching passages on either side, we finally emerged into an engine room so cavernous it was hard to believe the outside dimensions could contain it, big as they were—like Dr. Who’s ‘Tardis,’—it was much bigger inside.

7-: From a story by Hamish MacKay about the opening of a whisky distillery complex at Auchroisk, in Banffshire, Scotland, published in The Press and Journal (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) of Friday 19th July 1974:

On a press visit to the distillery, I was dazzled by the technology employed in the whisky-making process—huge control panels with an array of gadgetry like “Dr Who’s” Tardis. The malt mill machinery even had windscreen wipers!

8-: From Golf, by Peter Dobereiner, published in The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 5th January 1975:

Women without a voice

THE reputation of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club has been thoroughly compromised in recent years. Not so long ago we were justified in seeing the granite fortress of St Andrews as a kind of Tardis. Step through the door and you were transported back in time to the early twenties into a world populated by jute barons and lairds of Fife. These tweedy figures administered a game called golf with a fine let-’em-eat-cake disregard for the realities of life.

9-: From Cottage with some cellar!, by Mike Currie, published in the Evening Chronicle (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England) of Monday 31st May 1976:

A LONELY “farm” cottage on the North Northumberland moors holds the key to the air defence of Britain.
For the cottage, with its flower beds and chimney pot is the entrance to bunkers which contain the most advanced radar equipment in Western Europe.
A foot in the door and it is like entering the Tardis in television’s Dr. Who.
An iron revolving door with security guards in front and behind is at the end of the room where a farmer once sat with his family.
Once through the revolving door, after a security search, it is a different world.
Long narrow white passages, steps leading further underground, busy uniformed figures flitting back and forth, the hum of generators.
For we are 70 feet below ground in the “mole” world of RAF Boulmer.

10-: From Home for a lie down after being a Christmas postman, by Bob Phillips, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Thursday 23rd December 1976:

It was the best part of elevenses-time before we finally shouldered our loads, mounted our bikes, and pedalled off in to the drizzle. For those, like me, who always imagined that letters found their way from the four corners of the globe to the appropriate front doors as if transmitted by some Tardis-like magic device devised by a Dr. Who in the Postmaster-General’s office, it was a revelation to discover what goes on before the mail goes out.

11-: From an advertisement for the Selectronic, a washing machine made by Servis, published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Wednesday 20th September 1978:

It’s the Tardis
Like Dr. Who’s ingenious machine, the Selectronic is slim outside, big inside. It will take a full 9lb wash load, yet it’s only 22¼” wide by 22¼” deep—a triumph of design that saves you valuable kitchen space.

12-: From the television programmes, published in the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) of Monday 6th November 1978:

9.30 The Body in Question: Jonathan Miller begins his fascinating journey into the unknown by asking folk to name their parts and reveals that, like Dr Who’s Tardis, our body is bigger inside than we think.

13-: From Every day: the page for women, by the British journalist and broadcaster Beryl Ann ‘Bel’ Mooney (born 1946), published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Wednesday 31st January 1979:

Inside the Tardis—at Number 10

I KNOW it’s silly, but I do like to feel important. And on Monday I got what I’ve always wanted—an invitation to Number 10.
It was a lovely drink-up with the PM and his wife to celebrate the International Year of the Child. I did my best to look as if I was used to it—but I felt like a kid on her first date. And things went wrong.
As I swept into Downing Street, my mucky little Fiat slid into the back of a Rolls that was unloading its well-wrapped occupant.
Go inside, and the little place opens up like Dr Who’s Tardis, haunted by Time Lords like Heath and Wilson, with sinister ministerial Daleks behind every door.
So you see—l really had to have all those big gins to keep up my courage.
You feel daft, don’t you? But one thing I noticed—this time there was positively NO champagne.

14-: From Paying a visit to Downing Street, by ‘Uncle Tom’, in Junior Times, published in the Rugeley Times (Rugeley, Staffordshire, England) of Saturday 17th March 1979:

I paid a visit to our capital recently and had the chance of looking at the Prime Minister’s residence. I was assisted by several helpful comments from one of the policemen stationed outside the door and beneath the famous lamp.
Unlike you and me he has had the opportunity of having a look inside the house and he was quick to point out its very size. No. 10 has more than 100 rooms and offices, he told me, quite out of proportion to its simple front.
I suppose it’s a bit like Dr. Who’s “Tardis”—small on the outside but massive inside!

15-: From the column Motoring, by Malcolm Starbrook, published in the Southall Gazette (London, England) of Friday 8th June 1979:

IT IS a bit like Dr. Who’s Tardis—you won’t believe just how big the car is inside until you get in.
The car is the Volkswagen Golf.

16-: From the review of the Fiat Strada, by ‘M. E.’, published in the Whitstable Times (Whitstable, Kent, England) of Friday 22nd June 1979:

The width of room inside is unbelievable—a bit like Dr. Who’s Tardis. Leg room is ample, both front and rear, and the front seats have head restraints.

17-: From the following advertisement, published in the Saffron Walden Weekly News (Saffron Walden, Essex, England) of Thursday 16th August 1979:

Offers around £40,000. DUXFORD. Just like Dr Who’s Tardis! Extended in recent years to give 5 good bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, kitchen, bathroom and hall, of course. Part heating. Private, well stocked gardens backing on to open fields.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.