How we turned a bedroom door into a TARDIS.

My daughter is an amazing little creature, as anyone who knows her (and isn’t a complete bozo) will tell you: bright, sassy, creative, funny, sweet, and blessed with impeccable taste. This means, among other things, that she’s a fan of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who.  This fact makes me inexpressibly proud. Of course, whereas my first and best-loved Doctor was the FourthTom Baker (he of the bugged-out eyes and ridiculously overlong scarf), hers is Matt Smith, the Eleventh and current Doctor. She’s written a fan letter to Matt Smith, complete with a handmade card depicting the TARDIS in flight, and has now successfully watched most of the new episodes 2005-present. (The general consensus among those of us responsible for her viewing privileges is that the Weeping Angels are perhaps a bit much for a six-year-old to handle.)

Like most kids, she’s also quite keen on incorporating the stories into her play. She has a few different Whovian toys (including a plush Dalek, of all things), and she’s spent a fair bit of time at her mother’s house building a TARDIS out of a refrigerator box and various bits and bobs. When I heard about this, it set me to thinking. I wanted her to have a TARDIS here in Seattle, as well; however, neither her bedroom nor the common living areas of the house are really set up to accomodate a large cardboard box.

This led to an obvious solution: why not make her bedroom door into the TARDIS?

I brought the suggestion to my wife, and she agreed that it sounded like an insanely cool idea, so I started researching.  (Actually, I’d already started researching. I’m a bit of a compulsive researcher. And by “a bit,” what I mean is “diagnosable.) It should come as no surprise to anyone that hundreds of people have had this idea before me, so we benefitted from their painstaking research and efforts in getting our project under way.

The Eleventh Doctor's TARDIS, with Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) and Matt Smith (The Doctor).

The Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS, with Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) and Matt Smith (The Doctor).

Through the years, though it’s maintained essentially the same form factor — a blue police call box — the TARDIS has actually changed quite a bit in size, configuration, and even color. As such, one of the most common recommendations I’ve heard from TARDIS builders is to pick which TARDIS you want to build, and tailor your choices to that model. Of course, the Girl is an Eleven fangirl, so we modelled ours loosely after his TARDIS, which hearkens back in many ways to the very first TARDIS, including details like decals, signage, and color. I say “loosely” because there are a wide range of colors that could be fairly called “TARDIS Blue.”  For prop-builders, the online consensus is that Behr’s Sapphire Lace and Jazz Blue are the way to go for Eleven’s TARDIS, but they’re a bit dark for the end of the house where her bedroom door is located.  Thankfully, the general consensus for the non-prop-builders among us is to find a color you like, based on the TARDIS model you’re emulating, and go with it. We found a Benjamin Moore color called Paddington Blue at our local hardware store which struck a nice compromise between the current TARDIS, the classic TARDISes of my youth, and the desire not to turn the end of the hallway into Gloom Corner.

I did a quick search online and found several good images of the TARDIS’ iconic door sign (the one reading “POLICE TELEPHONE FREE FOR USE OF PUBLIC”, etc.), but none good enough to print out at size. However, it was incredibly easy to recreate in Microsoft Word and print out — Times New Roman and Arial for the win! — so that’s what I did.

The St. John Ambulance decal was just as easy, though it required a little guesswork. St. John Ambulance is a real organization with trademarked iconography, so I couldn’t simply purchase a sticker. However, some kind person put a relatively high-resolution picture of the original decal online, which printed out quite nicely once I found it.

Seal of the St. John Ambulance service, as seen on the door of the First and Eleventh Doctor's TARDISes.

Seal of the St. John Ambulance service, as seen on the door of the First and Eleventh Doctor’s TARDISes.

We acquired sheets of balsa and strips of basswood, of the sort used to make radio-controlled airplanes, from Michael’s Arts and Crafts.

Then, with materials in hand, we started putting the whole thing together.

The bedroom door is a pretty standard hollow-core interior door — light, cheap, and easy to take down. We removed the doorknobs, laid the door on the dining room table, and cleaned it. My wife measured out the door and came up with the optimal arrangement of the balsa slats to simulate the moulding of the door, and I laid out the balsa pieces that were going to be kept full-length and taped them into place. Once everything was taped down, I laid out the cross pieces, one at a time, and trimmed them with an Xacto knife to fit in place between the full-length pieces.

Balsa sheets laid out in place with painters' tape.

Balsa sheets laid out in place with painters’ tape.

Once the slats were taped down, we flipped the table over and Meg scored a hole in the balsa for the doorknob. This was a little tricky and painstaking, as it required working around the doorknob’s internal hardware. (We chose not to remove the hardware, as that would’ve been more work that just working around it.) Then we flipped the door back over and she finished cutting the aperture along the scored lines.

Doorknob aperture cut into balsa.

We stuffed a paper towel into the hole to keep the hardware from turning blue.

Then, we went over the door from bottom to top and glued down the balsa slats. This is a little finicky, as it requires using enough-but-not-too-much glue; too much, and it squishes out and gets all over everything, but too little and the balsa is loose, which means it’s likely to come away from the door and break. So, again, tricky and painstaking. After gluing, we noticed the slats starting to curl up from the door, so we weighed them down with most of the canned goods in the house.

Pressing the balsa down with most of the house's canned goods.

You can totally tell we do this kind of thing all the time, right?

We left them for a full day, then came back and untaped everything except “holes” for the windows.

Door with balsa glued down, minus tape.

We’re just lucky we had that case of canned olives hiding in the pantry.

The next step was painting. We used brushes, rather than rollers, which gave the whole affair an appealingly vintage look. The balsa took the paint effortlessly, but the door itself required two coats to give it a flat, even surface

Door after first coat of paint.

This is what the door looked like after the first coat of paint. Clearly, a second coat was indicated

We also painted the door jamb moulding, taping the walls to keep them from turning TARDIS Blue as well.

Door frame, first coat of paint.

The door frame after the first coat of paint.

Using primer on the already-painted surfaces probably would’ve helped, but things turned out quite well enough without that step.

Door after second coat, and the beginning of window framing.

The door after a second coat of paint. Also, the beginning of window framing.

The last major step was the windows.  At first, we agonized a bit over how to create them, as we weren’t about to saw holes in a hollowcore door and install them!  (Not this time, anyway.)  Then, Meg hit on the idea of using basswood strips painted white to create the window frames in the door.

Window-framing in progress.

Window-framing in progress. Not shown: glue drips, soggy cotton swabs, me swearing profusely.

We found (again, at Michael’s) some heavy cardstock with a glossy, glittery surface which took our fancy, to simulate some sort of cosmic vortex timey-wimey energy… stuff.  (Not necessarily canonical, but fun.) We glued them to the surface of the door, then glued the basswood strips down over that. The final product was, I think, worth all the finicky work.

The finished windows.

The finished windows.

We raided the canned goods cabinet again and weighed the window framing down to ensure solid, even adhesion.

The following night, we laminated the door sign and the St. John Ambulance logo (using self-adhering laminate sheets) and affixed them to the door using double-sided tape left over from assembling our wedding invitations. We also printed out a long black strip for the “POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX” sign and affixed it, unlaminated, to the top of the door frame moulding.

And then, finally, we rehung the door, put the doorknob back on, and removed the painters’ tape…

The finished door.

…VWORP VWORP VWORP…

…and discovered that we had a TARDIS in our hallway.

Close-up of the door sign and decal.

A close-up of the door sign and decal.

We also printed out and laminated a maker plate, which we tacked to the wall just inside the door, above the light switch.

Maker plate.

TARDIS maker plate, as seen in the Season 5 episode “Amy’s Choice.” Why, yes, I am a little OCD.

And that’s pretty much that. A lot of work, and if I had to do it over again I’d do a few things differently, but as I said earlier, the final product   came off pretty well.

A view from inside the TARDIS.

A view from inside the TARDIS.

· · · · ·

Well, okay, there’s a postscript.

We finished the project on a Friday night, just before the Girl was due to arrive for the Thanksgiving week.  I’d had an idea a couple of weeks before that it might be fun to show up at the airport in costume as Matt Smith’s Doctor.  I’m really not a cosplayer, but with a little bit of effort (and a lot of me swallowing my pride), we knocked together a pretty good Matt Smith outfit: tweed jacket, striped shirt, burgundy bowtie and suspenders, dark trousers.

I’m sure I just looked a little old-fashioned (and possibly strange) to most of the airport crowd, but I caught one or two people checking out my outfit with a look of recognition. The Girl got it immediately, of course. Walking up the jetway, she caught sight of me and came to a dead stop, head cocked to one side.

“You’re the Eleventh Doctor!” she said incredulously.

I took her hand and replied, “Come along, Pond,” and she gleefully bounced along after me.

Then we got home, and she saw her bedroom door.  Again, she came to a standstill, and when she realized what she was seeing, the look on her face was incandescent, like the Fourth of July in Las Vegas.  It was one of the most purely joyful expressions I’ve ever seen, and it made every second of work we put into the door utterly and completely worth it.

Then she opened the door, walked through it, and exclaimed, “It really is bigger on the inside!”

And that was the moment my heart exploded.

27 thoughts on “How we turned a bedroom door into a TARDIS.

  1. Pingback: This is simply wonderful

  2. Awwww that’s so sweet and completely and utterly awesome!
    To make my tardis door i just painted it blue and blu-tacked on all the stuff 😛

    • Thank you so much! We had a lovely time putting it together, truth be told, and my little Pond still loves it a few months on, so it was quite worth it. 🙂

  3. I found this while trying to find “signage” to make my four year old daughter a Tardis inspired dress for a comic con tomorrow (nothing like the last minute, eh). This bought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful idea! What a lucky little girl

  4. First of all, that was so incredibly sweet! Second, my boyfriend and I have been thinking about turning our bedroom door into a Tardis and your detailed instructions have just showed the way -St. John Ambulance icon included. Today’s the day to get started allons-y!!

  5. I had intended to paint a tardis on to a hardboard sheet and pin it to a door but this is so much better as it saves me trying to pain the joints and windows ty so much

  6. Found this while looking for Tardis colour for my front door. Brilliant blog, ending made me cry, what a brilliant brilliant thing to do. I too have an Eleventh Doctor mad daughter who would love this too. Thank you for sharing.

  7. im so glad to find this. my 13 yo and I (old-bag-47) are both <3ers of Dr Who. I, just this minute, had the idea to make her tiny wardrobe bigger and more useful, and it would just look perfect with double tardis doors. I knew there would be forward thinkers whose interweb brains I could pick, so thank you 🙂
    I asked her what she thought and she just about jumped on top of me. Thank goodness for the Dr.
    and @ Jilly – I get ya!

  8. I believe they call that ‘parenting the right way’!!! Well done, your daughter is a very lucky wee girl. You’ve just inspired me to finish off my son’s T.A.R.D.I.S. cupboard, thanks for the unexpected nudge! Trace in New Zealand 🙂

  9. Hi I was wondering if you would be able to tell me the balsa wood pieces measurements/ size of door if it is not to much trouble. I really want to make this for my girlfriend!!!!! She is a big Whovian and I have been trying to figure out how to make one for her. Even if you have it written down and could just take a oic that would be amazing!!!!

    • Hi, Scott! Honestly, I have no idea what the exact measurements were, but the balsa pieces are roughly three feet long, and perhaps three or four inches across. We found them at our local big-box craft store. Best of luck! ^_^

  10. First off, You are an amazing father. I am re doing my room this summer and was wondering what the total cost was since I am rather on budget but would love this to make my room perfect! (And to make my younger sister and brother jealous when they come around) This is truly marvelous, please give your daughter props for her first comment, very true whovian!

    • Thank you so much! ^_^ I don’t have the receipt anymore, but I recall the craft supplies being relatively inexpensive, perhaps US$20 or so. The wood glue, we had on hand, but a small bottle of that isn’t too costly. The greatest cost was the paint, which can be quite dear. We found a reasonably-priced paint, but bought rather more than we needed. If I recall correctly, the large paint-can was about $40 or so, but you should be able to buy in a smaller quantity for less. Best of luck!

  11. Oh that is just brilliant! I found your post while looking for suggested paint colors to turn my 8-year old son’s room into a TARDIS! He and I are Whovians and we like this a lot. Your postscript gave me some warm and fuzzy feels. Great job!

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