I'm relatively new to the Doctor Who fandom. I've always had friends who loved the show, but I never got hooked, despite a couple attempts over the years. Back in December 2013, I read this post from Jason Snell and I was inspired to try again, taking his advice to begin with Series 5 of the modern program. As it happened, my two-year-old daughter Penelope was hanging out with me the day I started The Eleventh Hour. Penelope doesn't sit still for much at this point, and live action television or movies can rarely hold her attention for more than a minute. Despite those overwhelming odds, she sat next to me for the entire episode, not even flinching when Prisoner Zero flashed its teeth or the weird giant eyeball (Atraxi) ship was staring The Doctor in the face.
It's been a wild ride in the two months since that first viewing. We watched all of Matt Smith's up to current, then returned to Christopher Eccleston's debut and watched right through David Tennant.
Penelope is just starting to talk, and she started referring to the show as Blue Box. Most days, she greets me at the door when I get home from work. Since we got hooked on The Doctor, that greeting has frequently been:
"Hi Daddy, watch Blue Box please?"
As we moved through the episodes, I started trying to think of a way to make Penelope's experience more than just a bunch of couch potato time with Daddy. One day a few weeks ago, I was moving a big wardrobe box to the garage when it hit me--this box is just about the right scale to be a toddler's TARDIS. I spent a couple weeks thinking about how I wanted to make it work, and ultimately it came together an hour or so at a time over the course of the last three weekends. The steps below aren't the exact order we followed, but now that it's done I think this would have been a more logical way to go.
- 1 Standard Wardrobe Box
- Tempera Paint (White; Blue; Black)
- 2 cabinet handles
- 4 sheets cardstock
- Double-sided tape or Craft Adhesive
- Empty Container for Top Light (I used an empty OxiClean tub)
- Packing Tape (for box assembly)
- Blue Painter's Tape
- Paintbrushes (big for blue coverage, smaller for black sign background, and a fine brush for lettering)
- Utility Knife
- Straight Edge (I used a 48" carpenters level, but a yard stick or other similar thing would work)
Supplies for Bonus TARDIS Key Project:
- Keys (The Hillman Group Axxess+ Model 71 (Yale Lock) for Eleventh Doctor's key)
- Sandpaper (Multiple grits for hand-sanding keys, I used 80, 120, and 220)
1) Prepare the wardrobe box for painting. My box was already assembled and taped, so I left it that way and just wiped the dust off. If you have a brand new box, you may want to paint it first since water-soluble paint and packing tape don't mix well. (More on that later)
2) Paint! And if you're doing this with/for your little one, get them painting as well. I decided right away that this TARDIS didn't need to be perfect, it just needed to be fun for Penelope. After all, she would have had plenty of fun with a plain empty box.
TIP: If your box has logos on it like ours did, attack those first. Load your brush up with a lot of paint and lay it on thick. Kid-friendly paint isn't the best for coverage, so you'll probably need multiple coats on these areas. We decided only to worry about full coverage on the side that would become the front doors.
3) Stop and watch and episode of Doctor Who while the paint dries
4) Flip the box and paint the other side
TIME CHECK: This is where we stopped for the first day - About 1 hour of actual work.
5) Take a look at your work after a day or so and decide if another coat of blue paint is needed. Our first paint dried WAY lighter than it looked, so we actually bought a darker shade of blue and did another full coat. If we had started with dark blue, I don't think we would have needed it.
5b) If you decided to finish the blue paint before assembling your box, put it together now using a strong packing tape.
6) Once your blue paint is done, you can proceed with your "Police Public Call Box" sign. Using your black paint, coat a two-inch area at the top of the box on the front side (the door side). The real TARDIS has the sign on all four sides, but we just did the front.
7) After you have good coverage with the black paint and it dries, you're ready to put the "Police Public Call Box" lettering on. I could have printed this, but I decided to pencil it by hand, based on reference images. I wanted to preserve a more whimsical, handmade quality wherever practical, and I'm happy with the final product. Outline your lettering in pencil first, then come back in with a fine brush and your white paint. If you'd like a silver "keyhole", now would be a good time to mix a little black and white paint and brush it on.
TIME CHECK: This is probably a great stopping point for day two. Steps 5-7 are about another 60-90 minutes of work depending on the number of coats of paint.
8) Once your sign paint is dry, you can get ready to cut the doors. Take your pencil and straight edge and mark a line down the middle of the front side of the box.
9) Using your utility knife, cut slowly down your pencil mark, taking care to ensure you are penetrating all the way through the cardboard. This may take multiple passes depending on the quality of your utility knife. Cut horizontally at the bottom of your "Police Public Call Box" sign and again at the base of the box.
10) Take a few minutes to slowly break in your newly-cut doors. You will want to form a nice crease in the corners where the hinges would be if this were the real thing. Remember, the TARDIS doors open inward.
11) Installing the door handles is super quick. Take your cabinet handles and the shortest screws they come with. Since this is just cardboard, you can line up the handles and then simply punch the screw right through the door. I recommend pushing the screw through from the outside to make your hole, that way you have a clean hole on the visible side. Then, to install the handle, push the screw through your hole from the inside, screwing into the holes in the handle. NOTE: Normal cabinet handle screws will be longer than you need. You can find shorter screws at your hardware store, but I decided to go on the cheap and use what came in the package.
TIME CHECK: That's about another 45-60 minutes of work, and the remaining steps are more boring and detail-oriented. Definitely way too boring for a two-year-old. We opted to wait for nap time for the rest so we could surprise Penelope with the finished product.
12) Now for the printing. I took the time to make my own files for the front door sign and windows. Here are those files:
TARDIS Front Door Sign
I didn't spend much time messing with typography, so if you want to make your own door sign instead, just know the fonts are Times New Roman, Gill Sans, and VAG Rounded Light, in that order.
Print two copies of the window design, one door sign, and one
St. John's Ambulance logo.
Trim and prep with double-sided tape or craft adhesive. Place on the doors and press firmly to get a good stick.
13) Finally, it's time to make the light. My lovely wife has an eye for shapes and went on a mission to find a container in the house we could re-use. As it turned out, the small plastic tub of OxiClean was just about perfect scale. She transferred the remaining detergent and ripped off the label, leaving me with an empty white tub and a yellow lid. I screwed the lid on, flipped it over, then proceeded to wrap the top and bottom with several layers of blue painter's tape. I cut narrow strips of tape to make the vertical lantern outlines. Some additional craft adhesive and painter's tape attached the "light" to the roof of the TARDIS.
14) One final step I took was to cover any pesky seams or other stress points with a couple layers of painter's tape, followed by a final layer of packing tape. This preserved the blue color while making the final product sturdy. Tempera paint also has a tendency to flake off when stressed, so the final layers of tape can save you some cleanup later.
TIME CHECK: Final steps took about an hour since I wanted to get those last elements just right. Although, that included a fair amount of searching on my part for the final print elements. Hopefully I've saved that time for anyone reading this.
Bonus Project - TARDIS Keys
An additional inspiration for me was this recent post over at io9. I love the idea of creating my own replicas of classic props, but I don't have a Savage (Adam) level of dedication to making something perfect. A key seemed very doable. A quick search on Home Depot's site led me to a listing for their in-stock version of Yale brand keys. At less than two bucks a pop for the keys, I thought I could take a crack at it for less than ten bucks total, even after buying a few sheets of sandpaper.
1) Start with a key in one hand and a square of 80 grit sandpaper in the other hand. Rub one against the other. Don't worry about scratches from the rough grit, we will fix that later.
2) Keep rubbing. Don't give up, you'll start to see the nickel finish rub off, and eventually the logo, texture, and model number of the key will wear down.
3) Keep going. Don't stop using the 80 grit paper until all the unwanted features are gone. For me, this not only included the logo and texture, but also the outer lip on the rounded part of the key. I was determined to end up with a smooth overall surface of consistent thickness.
4) Okay, you finally have the extra bumps, words, and edges removed. Now grab that 120 grit paper and start rubbing all over again. Use the 120 to make sure you've got a pretty uniform color. Some of that thin layer of nickel will hang around if you aren't thorough, especially on the shaft of the key. You still don't need to worry about scratches or weird patterns from the grit of the sandpaper. We are about to fix that.
5) Once your surface is the right color, now you're ready for the 220 grit for finish work. The 220 is fine enough to act like a buffer. You'll smooth out any weird patterns from the larger grit paper at this point. When you like the look of what you've got, take a few more passes. Then stop--you're done.
Could you go up to a 300 or 400 grit? Yes, and feel free to--but I wanted something not quite perfect, like the TARDIS itself.