by Gene Turnbow
In February at the 23rd annual Gallifrey One convention held in Los Angeles, there was a significant TARDIS sighting. In this case it was the TARDIS console from the only American-made TARDIS, used in the 1996 made-for-TV movie starring Paul McGann. We spoke with its owner and the men who restored it to be better than new at its exhibit hall at the convention.
The film was the first attempt to revive Doctor Who, following its suspension in 1989. It was intended as a back-door pilot for a new American-produced Doctor Who TV series, and introduced Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in his only televised appearance as the character. Although a ratings success in the United Kingdom, the film did not fare well on American television, and no new series was purchased. The series was later relaunched on the BBC in 2005.
The TARDIS console is owned by Paul Salamoff, a Doctor Who fan and veteran of the film industry who has worked variously as a writer, producer and film executive after getting his start as a practical FX and makeup artist.
Salamoff obtained the TARDIS console in 2006 after being put in contact with the owner of the Vancouver prop company that had originally built it for the movie. At the time the owner was keen to get rid of it – it seems it was useless as a rental, since it didn’t resemble anything other than what it was – a TARDIS console. He simply gave it to Salamoff – he didn’t even ask Salamoff to bring his own truck. He just dropped it off at Salamoff’s shop in Burbank.
Although the console was in pretty decent shape with all the lights working, the Time-Rotor was gone and some of the switches were missing including the large hand crank. All the feet on the base were broken at the ankles and had been quickly hot glued back together. Salamoff remarked that the controls were about 85% there, but interestingly, all the lights still worked.
When Salamoff and his friends Brian Uiga and Bob Mitsch learned that the cast and crew of the 1996 movie would be coming to the 23rd annual Gallifrey One convention held in Los Angeles, they decided to attempt a full restoration of the console. Since obtaining the console, Salamoff had already recreated the all important Time-Rotor.. The trio got busy not only replacing all the broken switches and repairing all the broken parts, they also rigged the time rotor with lights, and replaced all the original lights with modern LED (“light emitting diode”) lights that consumed far less power and generated far less heat. The original lighting used tungsten-halogen lamps, and could only be left on for about five minutes at a time before the console began to smoke. They replaced the hand crank as well, restored the three clocks and rigged the rest of the controls so that they could do what they did in the movie.
They didn’t stop there. They added some control logic to make the lights flash and sequence appropriately, and added digital playback units and amplifiers so that the console makes the familiar sounds of the TARDIS in transdimenional flight.
During our interview, Paul Salamoff offered the fact that Brian had just finished refinishing his kitchen with bamboo flooring, and the TARDIS console needed a base so that they could more easily move it around and display it – and it just happened to match the original flooring in the movie set fairly closely – so they made a pedestal from the bamboo flooring. There remained the problem of how to hide a lot of the machinery and electronics that make the rest of the console operate, so they decorated the equipment box to look like a toolbox full of the Doctor’s equipment. Brian machined a number of parts and recreated props from the movie to put in the top of the box, as well as the sonic screwdriver that is usually displayed on the console’s counter.
The Console was brought to the convention and given a room of its own where conventioneers could have their photo taken with the console and share the experience. Said Salamoff, “I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was five years old. I used to watch it on WGBH in Boston. I grew up watching Tom Baker, and then John Pertwee, and I’ve been a fan my whole life. I want the fans to know that this is in the hands of somebody who loves the show. To me it’s like owning the Captain’s chair from the Enterprise. We spent three months restoring this when we found out that all the cast of the 1996 movie were going to be here.”
Brian Uiga works with a collection of TV and movie cars called Star Car Central, and owns a fully rebuilt and restored “Herbie the Love Bug”, built from bits and pieces of the original movie cars from the Disney movies. He had made an animatronic car so that children with long term illnesses in hospitals can meet Herbie and interact with him; he used his experience building Herbie to fix the broken controls and add missing features to the console. He had seen it in the Doctor Who movie when he was fourteen years old and was thrilled to be able to work on its restoration. Brian said that it was important to him to recreate the memory of what the film was like, and not the relatively nonfunctional prop that it actually was.
“When people come to see this,” said Uiga, “you can see their excited inner twelve year old taking over. That’s the reason we did this. Because we feel just the same way.”
A full six-part report on the complete restoration can be found at Bob Mitsch’s blog. 1 2 3 4 5 6
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