Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TARDIS Tree Topper & Garland

There are those who argue that a TARDIS is not built, it is grown. I'm here to say that, no, it's a fairly straightforward matter to build one. A and I wanted something unique for the top of our Christmas tree, which already features the Captain America tree skirt and other ornaments. I've always wanted to build a TARDIS and I had some plans burning a hole in my hard drive, so we figured out what it would take to make a real, light-up TARDIS for our Christmas tree. This is the brief(er) version of that story.

I'm a member of a great little forum called TARDIS Builders. There, you can find reference pictures, discussions, sources for materials, advice, and encouragement on any TARDIS build you can imagine, from the first one to the current model. A and I are shameless Tennant/10th Doctor enthusiasts, and so the decision was simple: the 2005 model used throughout Eccleston and Tennant's run on the show would be more than sufficient. (I think the Smith/11th TARDIS is too square)

So, working from some excellent plans of Bill Rudloff's from TARDIS Builders, I was able to scale the model down to 3/4" = 1'-0" (1:16) scale, resulting in a final TARDIS that stands under 8" tall and something over 3 1/2" wide. The next step was streamlining the design to make it somewhat easier to manufacture. I adjusted some dimensions to account for materials I knew I would be using. (For example, foamcore comes in 3/16" thickness. There exists 1/8" and 1/4" foamcore, but utility dictates 7/32" being rounded to 3/16") I set AutoCAD and my own sanity to a limit of 1/32" accuracy and while there is a slight difference in the "real" TARDIS between its front doors and side panels in dimension, they are more than close enough for my purposes to make one template and call it good. All that having been said, I invite you to examine the finished product for yourself to see if my fiddling still translates into a useful representation of the TARDIS.

The plans were broken down into a list of measurements for the 60-something parts needed for this little beauty. A combination of foamcore, matteboard, thin packet cardboard, and cardstock were used for the body of the TARDIS, while jewelry wire, clear plastic, and the body of a gel pen make up the details.

And one googly eye.
The construction involved building templates from cardstock and transferring all of my measurements via thumbtack to prevent needless repetitive measuring. A lot of dry-fitting and double checking kept the majority of weirdness creeping in.


The whole unit was painted black (even the black parts) so that the blue layer would lay the same on everything. I did one coat of blue, intending to go back and apply a second, but it looked pretty good after one, and the brush strokes remind me of the wood grain present on the original, so I decided to let this one work in my favor.

Little known fact: The Doctor had a serious goth phase.
I keep expecting a tiny man to open the door for tiny adventures.

The signs are printed from the pdfs themselves (so credit to the folks who worked that out for me) and glued on. The lighting is accomplished via a $2 string of Christmas lights for miniature trees (20 lights in all) with a flicker bulb installed to control the blinking. The cord snakes down to connect with a custom garland. "Wait, a custom garland," you ask? Read on, MacDuff.

The Garland
The garland was conceived and constructed a few days before things really got underway for the TARDIS. We knew it was gonna be there, just not how, or how big, or any of that. But TARDIS garland was a go from the beginning. Ever since childhood, I've preferred blue lights on Christmas trees. A and I went for big white ones on the tree, but we had a string of blue lights that were sadly decorating a window while we were discussing making a garland for ourselves. Various fluffy fabric versions appeared in our search and then we saw it: a garland made around a string of lights. Double duty!
So, blue lights were in. We interpreted our garland as a sort of "wake" for the TARDIS, spinning madly up to the top of the tree like the contrail off a jet. To that end, we bought two fabrics: a half yard of a blue cotton faux-batik and a half yard of a mottled light blue flannel, both for relatively cheap. This was our first mistake. The yardage, that is, not the price. I'll defend our success in doing these things cheaply to my grave, but an effective garland like this would use at minimum twice as much fabric. For maximum fluffiness, I'd argue that a yard and a half sounds right. So, lots of cheap blue fabric. Also, a spool of 50% off silver ribbon. Ours had the wire edges, which wasn't necessary, but it did.
 The fabric was ripped into strips about an inch wide and about nine inches long. When the war broke out and rationing kicked in, I was measuring the width and snipping the lengths in half. Ribbon lengths were similar, about 8 inches. Take your strips and knot them between the lights. In your carefree and spendthrift version where there's no end in sight to the fabric, wedge as many as you want on there. We had to go back and untie half and spread them out more when it became clear that our method would only cover about half the string of lights.

Alternate colors. To save on ribbon and to keep it from getting too sparkly, I started going through two cycles of alternative blue knots to one silver. When things got desperate later, it went up to six blue knots to one silver ribbon. Ultimately, switching between the longer strips and the shorter ones resulting in a more organic-looking variation in lengths and colors and I would advise mixing it up yourself if you make one of these.

I cannot defend the scraggledy tail part. I'm very, very sorry.

Naturally, the garland isn't TARDIS dependent, and could just as easily be strips of reds and maroons with a gold accent or whatever matches the color scheme for your holiday decor. But for us, the swirl of blue and silver winding up to the TARDIS ties the whole tree together.

In the next few days, I'll be compiling by blueprints and construction notes on the TARDIS (EDIT: which is right here!) and releasing it as a pdf for the folks at home to make one themselves. I'd offer to make you one, but I'm not sure I've got another spare three days in the height of the craft season to bang one out with everything else on the bench that needs some love.

If there are portions of this build that you know for sure you want extra pictures or explanation on, let me know now so that I can focus on those in my notes. Email us directly or chat about it below. Once again, thanks for tuning in!


  1. "I cannot defend the scraggledy tail part."

    Neither can Kasa.

  2. Beautiful job!!!! I wish I had time to make this. Thanks for sharing your work!! Amazing.