The Old Man and the Police Box

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The Old Man and the Police Box was a children's story written by John Smith, a human persona created by the Seventh Doctor. The story, about an old English inventor who brought civilisation to a planet named Gallifrey, seemed to express memories that Smith had forgotten, though it was unclear which parts of it were true. (PROSE: Human Nature)

Writing process[[edit]]

Smith had always felt that he had a novel in him, ever since he had gone dancing with Verity by the shore in the moonlight and she had whispered something in his ear. When he finally decided to write, the first half of the story came to him easily, but he found the result annoyingly childish and decided not to show it to Joan Redfern. Smith later felt that his writing was improving, and was much happier with the second half. (PROSE: Human Nature)

Plot summary[[edit]]

An old man with silver hair lived in England in the time of Queen Victoria. He had the idea to invent a shelter for policemen, with a telephone inside that people could use to call for help. Since there needed to be room within the shelter, the old man invented a way to fit a large space inside it, and since it had to be able to chase criminals, he gave it the ability to disappear and reappear elsewhere.

The old man was clever but lonely, and so, before telling anyone about his invention, he used to it to explore the universe. He discovered a planet called Gallifrey, inhabited by a primitive tribe. They worshipped the old man as a god, but he told them not to, and instead offered to teach them new ideas. He taught them how to travel space and time, and about law and books and civilisation, and how to build police boxes.

The Gallifreyans built towers and cities, and became lords and ladies. The old man advised them on how best to make their world as civilised and law-abiding as England. However, they took his ideas too seriously, becoming dull and static. The old man invented a way for them to begin another life when they died, and gave them a second heart in the hopes that it would make them more joyful, but his efforts were ineffective. The Gallfreyans stopped having children, and their culture became even more stagnant.

The old man, disillusioned, took one of the police boxes and returned to Earth. He knew that the Gallifreyans would chase him because he had broken one of the laws he had originally introduced, but he decided that freedom was better than being in charge. (PROSE: Human Nature)

Behind the scenes[[edit]]

  • The full text of Smith's story appears in two segments within Paul Cornell's novel Human Nature, which focuses on the Seventh Doctor's time as Smith. In reality, Smith's story was plotted by Cornell's friend Steven Moffat, and represents his first licensed contribution to Doctor Who (preceding his 1996 short story Continuity Errors by a year). In the afterword Cornell said, "He's always had some radical thoughts about Who, and it was good to be able to give expression to some of them." Moffat would go on to become the show's head writer, and while episodes such as Listen and Hell Bent would include allusive hints about the Doctor's past and possible human nature, the specific ideas of The Old Man and the Police Box would not be developed further.
  • Within the context of the Virgin New Adventures, Smith's story can be seen as Moffat's attempt to engage with the Cartmel Masterplan by suggesting a secret origin for the Doctor, in keeping with Marc Platt's suggestion that the Other "may not even be Gallifreyan himself".
  • The novel's two-part television adaptation, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, also features John Smith unknowingly writing about the Doctor's adventures in his Journal of Impossible Things, but omits any reference to the origins of the Doctor, the TARDIS or the Time Lords.
  • Some of the content of Smith's story also draws parallels between Doctor Who and Victorian era colonial fiction.