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Gallifreyan technology

Place of Origin:


First Seen In:

An Unearthly Child


A TARDIS key was the key to the exterior door of a TARDIS. They could be found in a variety of shapes and designs which could be customised by the owners. Whatever the key’s shape and size, and whatever form the TARDIS’ outer plasmic shell, the key would fit a lock somewhere in the structure.

Use of a TARDIS key enabled entry to a locked TARDIS in the manner of other types of keys, and was not limited by the reconfigurable shape of either the key itself or the outer plasmic shell of the TARDIS. Different TARDIS shells had different locks, whether obvious or hidden, and a TARDIS lock would accept its key even if it was physically larger than the lock. (Interference – Book Two)

Because of a metabolism detector behind the lock, (Spearhead from Space) unauthorised people who stole The Doctor’s TARDIS key usually found themselves unable to open the TARDIS doors without The Doctor there. (The High Price of Parking, Spearhead from Space) Nevertheless, companions were often able to use The Doctor’s key without The Doctor around, (The Jabari Countdown, Lucie Miller) and many had their own keys to the TARDIS. (The Sensorites, Aliens of London)

The keys changed shape, just as the TARDIS did. (The Alchemists)


The Doctor possessed a TARDIS key which they used throughout their lives for various functions, primarily unlocking the TARDIS. Sometimes, they also possessed a spare key. According to the Tenth Doctor, the key maintained a symbiotic link to the TARDIS that could be used to pinpoint the craft within a hundred years. (The Forgotten)

When on Destination, The Master blackmailed the First Doctor for his TARDIS key, stealing the TARDIS and abducting Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. After the schoolteachers had overpowered The Master and returned to Destination, they presented the key back to a jubilant Doctor. (The Destination Wars)

The Doctor sometimes also left their own key with one of their companions. On one occasion when the Third Doctor thought he was soon to die, he gave his TARDIS key to Jo Grant, so it wouldn’t be lost along with him. (The Tyrants of Logic)

In some cases, The Doctor simply needed their companion to retrieve the TARDIS and get them all out of danger, such as when the Seventh Doctor temporarily gave his key to Roz Forrester. (The Jabari Countdown)

The Eighth Doctor once left his with Tamsin Drew as a statement of trust, in the hopes that she would leave The Monk and rejoin his side of the fight. (Lucie Miller)

In his many meetings with The Doctor, Winston Churchill often made attempts to steal The Doctor’s TARDIS key. He once succeeded but Amy Pond noticed the theft and took it back. (Victory of the Daleks)

When the Tenth Doctor regenerated, (The End of Time) he kept the key on his person. Seeking shelter from the Atraxi, the Eleventh Doctor tried to use it to enter the TARDIS but his ship barred him access until she repaired herself, the key glowing when it was done. (The Eleventh Hour)

At the onset of the Siege of Trenzalore, the Eleventh Doctor surrendered one of his TARDIS keys to Tasha Lem when she sent him and Clara Oswald down to Trenzalore to investigate the mysterious message. Having since shaved his head out of boredom, the bald Doctor had concealed another key in his wig, using it to summon the TARDIS around him and Clara, saving them from a nest of Weeping Angels. (The Time of the Doctor)

After the Twelfth Doctor regenerated, the TARDIS console room exploded due to the damage it took from the intensity of the regeneration energy. The newly born Thirteenth Doctor was thrown out of the TARDIS from the explosion, causing her to free fall to the Earth’s surface. (Twice Upon a Time) As she fell, she lost her TARDIS key along with everything else in her pockets. (The Woman Who Fell to Earth) When she reunited with the TARDIS, she explained the loss of her key, causing the ship to open its doors of its own volition. (The Ghost Monument)


The barrier on The Doctor’s TARDIS, a Type 40, was a double curtain trimonic. As such, the Chancellery Guard needed the model’s cypher indent key to gain entry without the actual key, as opposed to other methods of forced entry. (The Deadly Assassin) In its police box disguise, entry was allowed by inserting a key into the lock, just like a real police box. (The TV Movie, Rose and others) However, the locking mechanism did not respond to police-issued keys. (Blink) According to Susan Foreman, the lock had a defence mechanism in which there were twenty one different holes inside the lock, one being the right place and other twenty being wrong. If a mistake was made, the whole inside of the lock would melt. (“The Survivors”) The Brigadier was prevented from opening the TARDIS in the Third Doctor’s absence, because of the metabolism detector on the lock. (Spearhead from Space) Nevertheless, there were occasions on which strangers were able to successfully use The Doctor’s key, suggesting either a flaw in the metabolism detector or a choice on the part of the TARDIS. (The War Machines, The TV Movie, Blink)

The Eighth Doctor’s TARDIS key and lock, the actual lock hidden behind the “Yale” lock. (The TV Movie)

The lock could be manually secured from inside the TARDIS, preventing even authorised individuals from using the key to unlock the doors from the exterior. (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Utopia) At some point shortly before the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration, the TARDIS had a system that allowed him to lock the TARDIS remotely using a fob (as a joke, the TARDIS roof light flashed and a alarm chirp sound was heard, similar to that used on vehicles on Earth). He was also able to open the door remotely. (The End of Time)

There were occasions on which The Doctor or their companions needed to use the key to lock the doors, (“Strangers in Space”) While on others (Spearhead from Space, The Christmas Invasion) the act of merely closing the doors locked the TARDIS. It was evident that the TARDIS’ lock could be set to secure either automatically or manually.

However, a key was not always needed to open a TARDIS. During The Doctor’s first encounter with River Song (from his point of view), she remarked that she had witnessed his future self open the doors of the TARDIS by snapping his fingers. The Tenth Doctor reacted with disbelief, but later successfully opened the doors in this fashion. (Forest of the Dead) After regenerating into his eleventh self, The Doctor again opened the TARDIS by snapping his fingers, demonstrating that this method had become a reliable way for him to do so. (The Eleventh Hour) The Doctor did, however, continue to make regular use of his key to unlock the TARDIS. (The Time of Angels, Flesh and Stone) After losing the key in their thirteenth incarnation, The Doctor simply told the TARDIS what had happened and she opened up on her own. (The Ghost Monument)


The key to The Doctor’s TARDIS took several forms, as the key was able to change shape with the chameleon circuit. (The Alchemists)

At some point in his third life, The Doctor began experimenting with new designs for his key, coming up with several alternative designs before settling on a spade-shaped silver key. After his regeneration, the Fourth Doctor experimented with even more radical designs, which included a double-helix apparently made of plastic, before eventually going back to the spade and Yale styles. (Interference – Book Two) The Yale key was also used by the Fifth Doctor. (Four to Doomsday)

The Seventh Doctor used yet another design, incorporating the Seal of Rassilon with a fan-shaped motif. (Ghost Light) The Seventh Doctor eventually went back to the spade key, which the Eighth Doctor initially continued to use. (The TV Movie) At some point, the Eighth Doctor returned to using the Yale key. (The Crooked World, History 101)

The Ninth, (Aliens of London, Father’s Day) Tenth, (42) and Eleventh Doctors (The Eleventh Hour) used Yale-type keys in a gold/brass colour as opposed to earlier Doctors’ silver-coloured Yale keys.


Beyond simply unlocking the TARDIS doors, The Doctor’s TARDIS key has often displayed other uses and characteristics.

The Doctor’s TARDIS key could be used to open TARDISes other than his own. (The Mark of the Rani)

The TARDIS key glowed and grew warm when the TARDIS was about to materialise nearby (Aliens of London) or when an incapacitated TARDIS had finished rebuilding itself. (The Eleventh Hour)

When the TARDIS fell through a wound in time, the key was hot and glowed, indicating that it was still connected to the TARDIS, leading the Ninth Doctor to use the key in order to call the TARDIS. The Doctor warned that if the key was touched by anything, it would cause the now-re-materialising TARDIS to disappear. After Rose Tyler came into contact with her younger self, it caused a Reaper to emerge which consumed The Doctor. As it tried to fly away, the Reaper touched the key which destroyed it and caused the TARDIS to disappear. (Father’s Day)

As a part of the TARDIS, keys had low-level perception filter properties. The Tenth Doctor was able to tune the keys into the psychic network created by The Master to extend these properties to an individual wearing a key. (The Sound of Drums)

The key could remotely lock the TARDIS from a distance, similar to some car keys. (The End of Time)

The key could be used to place the TARDIS one second out of sync with the rest of the universe, preventing it from being seen. (The End of Time)

The key could be modified to track and locate the TARDIS, allowing The Doctor to find the TARDIS if it was within a hundred years of his position. (The Forgotten)

When Sarah Jane Smith left the key in the lock without opening the door, it cancelled the pause control. The TARDIS travelled to its set coordinates on Earth, instead of remaining in the copy of Devesham created by the Kraal. (The Android Invasion)

The Eleventh (The Time of the Doctor) and Twelfth Doctor (Death in Heaven) were able to summon the TARDIS to him using the key.

The keys were very resilient to damage, to the point that Clara Oswald believed they could only be destroyed by being dropped into lava. (Dark Water)


The Doctor usually had their TARDIS key on their person at any given time. There were numerous other known copies of that key.

A spare key was made by the First Doctor to replace one Marco Polo had taken away. Marco took away the spare as well and later returned both. (Marco Polo)

Susan’s first key was destroyed by The Doctor whilst shorting out static electricity production in the Dalek City. Just before he destroyed it, he promised to make her a new one. (“The Ordeal”) Susan’s second key was seen when Susan locked the TARDIS aboard a human spaceship in proximity of the Sense Sphere. (“Strangers in Space”) Later, knowing she would likely never see the TARDIS again, she intentionally abandoned this key in the dirt on the bank of the River Thames, after her grandfather helped her decide to start a new life in the 2160s by locking her out of the TARDIS. (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) Susan later recovered her key. (Lucie Miller)

A key that fell from The Doctor’s cloak was picked up by Ben Jackson and he was able to get inside the TARDIS with Polly Wright when they tried to return it to The Doctor. (The War Machines)

During their travels with the Fifth Doctor, both Tegan Jovanka and Nyssa were given their own keys to the TARDIS (Hexagora) as was Peri Brown. (Fascination) Peri still had her key when travelling with the Sixth Doctor. (House)

A spare copy of the spade-type key kept by the Seventh and Eighth Doctors was stored in a secret compartment in the TARDIS’ outer shell. It was used by the Eighth Doctor when Chang Lee had stolen the original from his possessions. (The TV Movie)

Charlotte Pollard had a TARDIS key. (Time Works)

The Eighth Doctor intended to give Lucie Miller a TARDIS key with a Christmas-themed musical ringtone as a Christmas present. (Relative Dimensions)

Helen Sinclair had a TARDIS key by the time of the TARDIS’s restoration. (Dead Time)

Sarah Jane Smith took a double-helix shaped key, apparently made of plastic, with her when she left the TARDIS. (Interference – Book Two)

Anji Kapoor was given a Yale design key, (The Crooked World) as was Rose Tyler, near the start of her travels. (Aliens of London) Jack Harkness’s key, (The Parting of the Ways) Martha Jones’ key (42) and Donna Noble’s key (The Sontaran Stratagem) were of the same design. Martha and Jack’s keys were briefly modified into perception filters. (The Sound of Drums)

The Ninth Doctor kept at least one copy of his key, the one he gave to Rose Tyler, on a long metal chain with a D-shackle at the end. (Aliens of London) Adam Mitchell was briefly in possession of Rose’s copy of the key, which was nearly stolen by the Editor. This further proved to The Doctor that Adam was unfit for companion life. (The Long Game) The Tenth Doctor opted to keep one on a cord of twine that the Weeping Angels stole off him While transporting him to 1969. (Blink) The Eleventh Doctor, by the end of his life, wore a copy on a cord around his neck, which he gave up to Tasha Lem. When he and Clara needed to escape the Weeping Angels on Trenzalore, he produced another key that he kept underneath his wig to summon the TARDIS around the two- “the old ‘key in the quiff’ routine.” (The Time of the Doctor)

A spare key was worn on a choker by Romana II. (Shada)

The Claw Shansheeth attempted to conjure a copy of the Doctor’s TARDIS key through use of a memory weave on Sarah Jane and Jo Jones’ minds. Sarah Jane and Jo overloaded the device and the partially created key disappeared. (Death of the Doctor)

Clara Oswin Oswald received a copy of the key, although she lost it when the ice sculpture governess pulled her out of the TARDIS. However, The Doctor returned it to her while she was dying. (The Snowmen) At some point farther into their adventures than with other companions, The Doctor gave the original Clara Oswald a key to the TARDIS. (The Time of the Doctor)

To Clara’s knowledge the Twelfth Doctor had seven keys in his possession, hidden in different places inside his TARDIS. Clara attempted to steal them and blackmail The Doctor into saving Danny Pink, but The Doctor outwitted her and helped her regardless. (Dark Water) At this point in time she did not appear to have her own key, as none was produced by her during her blackmail attempt; she subsequently reacquired a key (Sleep No More) which she still possessed after her extraction from the trap street as she was later able to enter The Doctor’s TARDIS before returning it to him. (Hell Bent)

River Song was in possession of a TARDIS key, which she frequently used to steal away the TARDIS for her own adventures without The Doctor’s knowledge. (The Husbands of River Song)


The Chancellery Guard on Gallifrey had cypher indent keys, which were TARDIS master keys of varying shapes under the control of the Castellan’s office. Some of these worked by being inserted into the keyhole, some worked by simply being held near the lock. Cypher indent keys were specific for each model of TARDIS. (The Deadly Assassin, The Invasion of Time)


The Rassilon-style key was designed by Mike Tucker.
The prop used for the TV movie was a BBC-licenced replica of the classic spade key, sold at the time by now-defunct American memorabilia catalogue 800-TREKKER.
The 2005 key was a standard nightlatch key made by UK lock manufacturer ERA, and it was the real key to the working lock on the TARDIS prop. Spares were stored in a secret compartment inside the TARDIS prop.
The original spade-type TARDIS key was designed by Jon Pertwee and began use in Season 11.
When Pertwee left, he kept the original prop. Two new slightly different keys were made for Tom Baker’s first season.
The Rassilon-style key was designed by Mike Tucker.
The prop used for the TV Movie was a BBC-licenced replica of the classic spade key, sold at the time by now-defunct American memorabilia catalogue 800-TREKKER.
The 2005 key was a standard nightlatch key made by UK lock manufacturer ERA, and it was the real key to the working lock on the TARDIS prop. Spares were stored in a secret compartment inside the TARDIS prop.

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