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Last Updated: Friday, 25 March, 2005, 01:18 GMT
New Doctor, same old Tardises
By Joe Boyle
BBC News

Thanks to Doctor Who, blue police boxes topped with flashing police lights became a national icon during the 1960s.

A police box on the corner of Buchanan Street and Gordon Street, Glasgow
There are 237 Police Call Boxes on Ordnance Survey maps

The Time Lord used his box, or Tardis (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), as a vehicle for travelling through time and space.

The function of the real-life blue boxes was slightly more prosaic - a telephone box connecting you to the local police station.

Hundreds of the boxes sat quietly on street corners around the UK for the first half of the 20th century.

But just when the BBC's Time Lord began gallivanting in his Tardis, the blue boxes fell victim to technology.

They were phased out as portable radios and a profusion of ordinary red phone boxes made them superfluous.

This, however, was not the end of the line. According to the Ordnance Survey, there are still 237 Police Call Boxes (PCBs) marked on their maps.

But Paula Good, the organisation's spokeswoman, says their function has changed over the years.

"The locations of the former PCBs now have many different uses. In some cases, coffee stalls have been built into the original structures."

Billie Piper (left) and Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor
The latest series of Doctor Who begins this week...

She says a box in Newport, south Wales, has been turned into a shrine to the cult sci-fi figure, being decorated with a painting of his scarf.

Local enthusiasts in Scotland have been restoring and preserving Tardis-style police boxes.

Antony Wainer, of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, declared himself "very excited" when he saw the boxes.

"I was up in Edinburgh and I saw some police boxes that had been reused as cafes and things like that - there were more in Glasgow," he said.

Perhaps more exciting is the possible return of the boxes to the UK's streets serving something close to their initial purpose.

The Metropolitan Police Authority in London has agreed in principle to re-establishing the boxes - but they would be information points for the public rather than Dixon Of Dock Green-style call boxes.

But hardened Doctor Who fans should not hold their breath because the new boxes will not look much like the old ones.

William Hartnell, who played the Doctor from 1963 to 1966
... The first began in 1963

An MPA spokeswoman said: "In terms of the appearance of the new boxes, I don't think it's likely that we'd make them the same as the Doctor Who ones - technology has moved on a bit since then."

Another problem for the police is that they no longer hold the rights to the design of the old boxes.

The Met launched a six-year battle with the BBC over the copyright of the boxes. But they lost.

The case ended in 2002 when the patent office ruled the public is more likely to associate the boxes with Doctor Who than they are with the police.

Such is the power of the Doctor.

BBC wins police Tardis case
23 Oct 02 |  Entertainment


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