Over the last month, a tall, blue curiosity slowly took shape in Michael Thompson’s carport: a plywood box that looked like a telephone booth to the inexpert eye but which any sci-fi fan instantly recognized as a TARDIS, the space- and time-traveling ship immortalized by “Doctor Who.”
Building an 8-foot prop might seem extreme even for Thompson, 37, whose enthusiasm for the Doctor runs so high that he once made his own Time Lord collar – an elaborate costume piece that resembles an Egyptian headdress from another dimension.
But this TARDIS project carried special meaning. On Saturday, Thompson will marry Molly Kirkham, an equally avid Whovian, and he wanted a proper wedding decoration for a romance kindled by adventures of a humanoid alien.
“It’s something I never expected,” said Kirkham. “But it’s definitely been fun.”
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For the uninitiated, “Doctor Who” first aired in 1963 in a black-and-white episode that showed the Doctor with checkered trousers, cane and a monocle – a cross between an Oxford don and Ebenezer Scrooge. But through five decades, 12 different actors played Doctor Who, including David Tennant as the 10th incarnation, which brought spiky hair and Converse All-Stars to the role.
And for all those 800-plus episodes, the TARDIS – an acronym for “Time and Relative Dimension in Space” – remained largely unchanged, at least on the outside. On the inside, it’s an expansive, multi-room ship that many fans consider a living being.
The 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, explained the TARDIS thusly in 2010:
“It’s disguised as a police telephone box from 1963,” he said. “Every time the TARDIS materializes in a new location, within the first nanosecond of landing it analyzes its surroundings, calculates a 12-dimensional data map of everything within a 1,000-mile radius and determines which outer shell would blend in best with the environment. And then it disguises itself as a police telephone box from 1963.”
Thompson actually built a cruder version of the TARDIS years ago. “I was going to build it out of a refrigerator box,” he said.
Once he settled on plywood, his creation traveled the state in the back of a truck, making an appearance at a sci-fi convention near Atlantic Beach, where friends propped it on the beach at Fort Macon, and at a wedding at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. The TARDIS earned its own Facebook page, and during the show’s 50th anniversary, it appeared on Thompson’s West Raleigh lawn.
“A burlesque group stopped by and asked if they could borrow it,” he said.
Last year, Thompson and Kirkham attended the Wizard World Comic Con on their first date, where Tennant’s Dr. Who character drew a longer line of fans than William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame.
Then in May, they got engaged at Raleigh’s Animazement, an anime and costume-player gathering that drew more than 14,000 people and included a “Doctor Who” photo shoot. That event required a TARDIS upgrade.
Thompson and his parents, Mark and Wanda, slaved over the beefed-up structure as passers-by either scratched their heads or rolled to a stop to ask, “Is that a TARDIS? I knew it!”
Just like its counterpart on the show, Thompson’s TARDIS is small on the outside, appearing no larger than a motel shower, hardly big enough for two. But also like its fictional twin, the TARDIS contains an expansive world on the inside – space enough for a young couple to step inside and travel, hands linked, to whatever world they chose.