No, the TARDIS isn’t gone

There’s been a bit of a controversy lately over a theory that it is the TARDIS that the Doctor kisses goodbye in the season 11 trailer — and fans don’t like it. But it’s not very likely.

It should go without saying that if you want to avoid spoilers you should stop here, but nothing I’m going to say isn’t either my personal opinion or publicly available information.

Let’s start with where we left off at the end of the 2017 Christmas special: the Doctor regenerated, and the TARDIS exploded, dumping her out the door and hurtling towards the ground. So immediately, she’s without the TARDIS.

Add to that the fact that new showrunner Chris Chibnall has talked about basically creating all new everything, even down to insisting that there will be no old monsters — including the Daleks — and some people began speculating that when Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor sadly blows a kiss in the trailer, it was because the TARDIS was gone, or dying, or otherwise leaving us.

And that was before Chris Chibnall wrote in the Radio Times, “The TARDIS – the Doctor’s unmistakable space and time machine – exploded and disappeared just as the 13th Doctor slammed into life on Christmas Day last year. Who knows where it is now. Maybe we’ll find out!”

Fans were not pleased. Many expressed the opinion that should the TARDIS disappear, they would too.  Some even suggested that the BBC and Chris Chibnall were TRYING to do away with the show by driving away viewers.

But let’s get real here. The TARDIS isn’t going away. Not for long, anyway. Not that there aren’t reasons she could conceivably be missing for a while.  Some of them are practical, like cutting budget, as was the case when Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor was “grounded” in the early 1970’s and spent a year solving earthly problems with UNIT before regaining his ability to travel.

Some, however, are more about good writing.

Let’s review what we know. Chibnall has chosen writers who are not just writers, and not just experienced. They include a Children’s Laureate and BAFTA and Writers Guild nominees.  And Chibnall himself is no slouch, given the success of Broadchurch.

We’re talking about some serious writing chops here.

So how does missing the TARDIS figure in? Well, in all likelihood, the first story, “The Woman Who Fell To Earth,” is going to be very much “stranger in a strange land”.  She’s in a new body, and in a new gender. That kind of vulnerability is excellent for generating “feels”, but Chibnall has gone on record saying that when the scripts were written, the writers still thought the new Doctor would be a man, so that vulnerability has to be shown without playing on the gender change.

Without the TARDIS she has no “safe” space and has to find her way very much on her own, and as a character who is always running, not being able to run is a terrific source of narrative tension.

Plus you get to focus on the character herself, and really get to know her, and feel for her because she IS so vulnerable, but she’s STILL the Doctor, and she’s STILL going to be the hero(ine).  

Once you get to know her, THEN we bring back the TARDIS back and things go back to normal. It’s a good way of making sure we focus on the Doctor before we start obsessing over details of what the TARDIS looks like, and getting some opportunities for some great character development while they’re doing it.  

But make no mistake, the TARDIS will be back.  We’ve already seen the new exterior, and there have been rumors about the new interior.

When will it be back? Probably at the end of the first episode. Why do I say that? Because everything we see in the trailer that doesn’t have Jodie Whittaker in Peter Capaldi’s costume seems to be in a different place or time.  Also, there are 10 episodes, and we can account for at least 5 of them:

  1. The Woman Who Fell To Earth
  2. A 16th Century adventure with Alan Cumming as King James
  3. A visit to Rosa Parks
  4. Kandoka’s Moon
  5. Something that looks like a western (with horses in the trailer)

So given that we have at least 4 episodes that are not set on current day Earth, that means we have a maximum of 6 episodes to get the TARDIS back. Which means we’d get it back in the middle of the season, which makes no sense from a story arc perspective, and goes against his Chibnall’s statement that “The series is made up of ten standalone stories – every episode is a complete story.”  And that means no long running story arc about missing the TARDIS.

Most convincing?  The synopsis for episode 2, “The Ghost Monument“, has just been published, and it says “Still reeling from their first encounter, can the Doctor and her new friends stay alive long enough, in a hostile alien environment , to solve the mystery of Desolation? And just who are Angstrom and Epzo?” Which means that unless they’re getting kidnapped by aliens, the TARDIS has to be back before they get into the swing of episode 2.

Besides, Chibnall has said that he wants there to be “no barrier to entry” for viewers to jump on with the first episode of Season 11, which means that he’s got to introduce them to the TARDIS in that first go, even if it’s at the end of the episode, so that they get the true Doctor Who experience.

But whenever it comes back, rest assured, it will be back.