A police box — or police public call box — was a telephone kiosk that could be used by the police to call into a station (TV: Logopolis) or by members of the public wishing to get help from the police. (TV: "Bell of Doom") They were typically placed on streetcorners. (TV: Boom Town)
Unlike telephone booths, a police box phone was on the outside of the structure, in a little compartment that had an exterior instruction plate. (TV: The Empty Child) According to Tegan Jovanka, who once read aloud the instructions on a TARDIS disguised as a police box in the Borough of Barnet, the instructions were:
- Police Telephone
- Free for Use of Public
- Advice and Assistance Obtainable Immediately
- Officers and Cars Respond to Urgent Calls
- Pull to Open (TV: Logopolis)
Function and physical characteristics
Police boxes were about the size of a large cupboard, and could provide shelter to those police officers who had the key. (TV: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe) Inside were kept a writing desk and stool, and often an electric heater, (AUDIO: The Eternal Summer) as well as materials relevant to the conduct of police business — such as clipboards, writing utensils and forms. (TV: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe)
As the Ninth Doctor once pointed out, there was enough space in a typical police box to temporarily house a prisoner. He indicated that a typical usage was for a policeman to pop an arrested individual into the police box and lock the doors until transport to a police station could be arranged. (TV: Boom Town)
Real life incidents and appearances
In the time before telephones and modern policing, a culture of art and prophecy developed around "the blue box", appearing in religious stained glass windows, (TV: The End of Time) paintings, (TV: The Pandorica Opens) and ancient prophecy. (TV: The Fires of Pompeii) This lead to the inspiration of the design of the police box as a place one could find help. (COMIC: Prisoners of Time, Hunters of the Burning Stone)
In Foxgrove on 18 August 1951, Sarah Jane and Luke stumbled upon a police box. They thought that the Doctor had arrived to help them, but realised it was an ordinary police box when PC Ferguson popped his head out. (TV: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith)
During a trip to London in 1966, the Ninth Doctor appreciated the fact that it was one of the rare occasions the TARDIS' police box exterior was "any cop as a disguise". Rose Tyler noticed the TARDIS had landed next to a genuine police box and asked if they normally came in pairs. (COMIC: The Love Invasion)
The Doctor's TARDIS materialised around the Barnet Bypass police box, whereupon Tegan Jovanka entered the Doctor's TARDIS shortly thereafter, mistaking it for the genuine police box. Later, the TARDIS dematerialised, leaving the nearby policemen with the normal police box. (TV: Logopolis)
The Barnet Bypass police box was mistaken for the Doctor's TARDIS by Prince Genei, who immediately abandoned his plans to conquer Earth. Shortly afterwards, the police box — the last of its kind in England — was taken away, as it was considered useless. (PROSE: Useless Things)
The Fourth Doctor was aware that police boxes were being phased out in the late 20th century, leading him to tell one of his temporary companions to stay on the lookout for police boxes if they ever wanted to travel with the Doctor again, as any blue box they spotted would likely be the TARDIS. (PROSE: The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book)
In 2006, Bridget Sinclair showed LINDA slides of the Doctor's TARDIS, which she described as looking like "a faux police box". In fact, she only had photos of various real police boxes. (TV: Love & Monsters)
Attempting to feign ignorance as regards the TARDIS, DI Patricia Menzies told the Sixth Doctor in 2010 that she thought that they only had police boxes in Scotland. (AUDIO: The Crimes of Thomas Brewster) According to Sam Bishop, police boxes in Scotland were mostly converted into coffee shops. This led Sam to believe the Ninth Doctor would serve him coffee and pastries out of his TARDIS. (AUDIO: Way of the Burryman)
When Alexei found the TARDIS on London's South Bank, Mahler mentioned an embarrassment on Earl's Court, implying that they'd earlier attempted to raid the actual police box stationed there. (TV: The Bells of Saint John)
The Doctor's TARDIS
On multiple occasions, ships, mainly TARDISes, had taken the shape of actual police boxes.
DI Billy Shipton was familiar enough with real police boxes, or had conducted enough research into them after finding the Doctor's box at Wester Drumlins, to recognise the TARDIS as a counterfeit in 2007. (TV: Blink)
Early in the First Doctor's travels, the TARDIS assumed the exterior shape of a police box during a stopover in 1963 London. Due to a malfunction in its chameleon circuit, the TARDIS became locked into that shape. (TV: "The Cave of Skulls", Boom Town, Utopia) The Eleventh Doctor had in fact purposefully destroyed the chameleon circuit, to inspire the look of the police boxes by spreading it through human history and culture. (COMIC: Hunters of the Burning Stone) The Eighth Doctor once claimed though that he removed his TARDIS' chameleon circuit, leaving it stuck in the likeness of a police box, to hide the Hand of Omega, though as he was tricking the Daleks, the validity of the statement is unknown. (AUDIO: The Shoreditch Intervention)
On a visit to London in July 1966, the Doctor solved the potential problem of local policemen mistaking the TARDIS for a genuine police box and trying to use it, by hanging an "OUT OF ORDER" sign on its doors. However, Dodo pointed out to him that not even the police would be able to open the door and, if they did, Scotland Yard could be "whipped off into time and space". (TV: The War Machines)
On 28 February 1981, as part of a complex plot, the Master materialised his TARDIS around a real police box on the Barnet Bypass. The Doctor's TARDIS, still disguised as a police box, materialised around the Master's TARDIS, also disguised as a police box, creating a dimensional anomaly and a trap for the Doctor. (TV: Logopolis)
To defeat a group of Death Squad Daleks, the Thirteenth Doctor reconfigured her spare TARDIS into a police box, using a hologram of herself to make the Daleks think it was her ship. (TV: Revolution of the Daleks)
Behind the scenes
- The British Broadcasting Corporation holds a trademark to the British design of the police box as used on Doctor Who.
- Although the TARDIS is depicted and referred to as resembling a wooden box on a number of occasions in the series, the exact design of police box the TARDIS is based on was built of concrete. Earlier models were indeed made of wood.
- The production team planned to feature the Barnet Bypass police box in the series in Logopolis, only to discover that it had been vandalised shortly before the filming dates. The series' spare police box prop was refurbished and pressed into service to stand in for the actual box.
- The first of six five-minute featurettes broadcast as part of the repeat showing of Planet of the Daleks in November/December 1993 was Bigger Inside Than Out, which was a history of the police box, narrated by Colin Baker. Because this featurette made extensive use of newsreel footage that would be very expensive, if not impossible, to clear for commercial release, it is unlikely to appear as a DVD or Blu-ray extra in the foreseeable future.
- As a gag, the invalid narrative webcast What's inside the Doctor Who LEGO set? featured the nonhuman character of Lady Estelle mistakenly assuming that police boxes were weapons, designed to be dropped on criminals from a great height.
- Metropolitan Police - History of the police box
- The Police Box page - from Ian McPherson's Kiosk Korner
- The Police Signal Box: A 100 Year History - 1994 paper by Robert W. Stewart (PDF format)
- The Great Edinburgh TARDIS Quest - Flickr set devoted to tracking down remaining Edinburgh police boxes.
- PoliceBoxes.com- Catalogue of model police boxes
- Police Box of Delights - A Brief TARDIS History - Detailing the various designs of Police boxes used throughout Doctor Who