Bonhams 2011 Auction: 7th Doctor TARDIS Key.

It seems to be a yearly event in these times that the auction house, Bonhams (of London) hold a sale of Doctor Who props and costumes.  Last year, or maybe the year before, there was a huge event dedicated to the show with many items up for grabs, something that I felt at the time was rather short sighted as we all knew about the new “Experience” exhibition that was due to open.  The outcome of this sale was that many key props and costumes were lost forever as they ended up in private hands, making it highly unlikely that they would never be publicly displayed again.  From what I hear, the organisers of this new exhibition weren’t best pleased about this either – but anyway, it’s too late now to cry over spilt milk.  They’re gone now and we have to deal with that.

This year we have another sale of items, not many (about 5 or so pieces) and so they have been included in a general entertainment sale.  What’s on offer, in my book, just isn’t too much to get excited over; a cape that Jon Pertwee wore for promotional spots (big bloody deal), an old script, a model TARDIS that was originally made for the Longleat exhibition, a poster or two, a Mona Lisa prop (not bad actually) and a couple of not very memorable background costumes.  I’m sure that someone will want these, but I certainly wouldn’t want to own any of these pieces as they are simply nothing special.  That said…

There is one small item that I would like to have and that is the TARDIS door key as “used” by the 7th Doctor.  If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you will have read that I briefly spoke about this a few postings back in the topic, The murky world of original props.  Well here I am finally getting around to talking about what I originally had wanted to. 

Here’s the Bonhams listings page (as always, click to embiggen):

Right then, this comes with a letter of authenticity from The Model Unit (ie. Mike Tucker, the talented man who created it for the show back in 1988) that states that this resin cast key was one of a number that were made for the programme at the time.  Two things that spring to my mind are;

1/  This is one of a number of copies made in 1988.
2/  The estimate, £2500 to £3000. 

As I’ve said before, the key was used fleetingly in two stories, Ghostlight and Survival and in both instances, they were only seen for a few seconds on screen and not once in close up.  Now, keep in mind that screen used props command the higher prices, so how can we justify the estimated value for this copy when there is no way in hell to determine whether or not this was actually one of the props that was seen to be used as part of the televised adventure?  Again, let’s not forget that other owners of such copies claim/state that theirs are the screen seen versions… so at most, all we can say about any of these are that all of them are definitely copies that were made from the original moulds back in 1988, but only one or two of them could possibly be the screen used item if we suggest that two different copies were used over the course of recording those two stories.  Obviously then, some of the copies must be the non screen used duplicates, but which is which?  Surely then, because of this confusion, their collective value would have to be considerably less than previously forwarded, maybe a couple of hundred quid at best for each unit.  I guess what I’m saying here is that if you believe that you have the screen used prop, prove it with screen caps that match up to what you have – my betting is that this can’t be done in reference to these keys.  I am, however, willing to be proven wrong, but I certainly wouldn’t accept a Certificate of Authenticity as proof as that could be given to all (and of course any) of the copies.

Let’s just say that this particular key goes for its lower estimate, £2500.  Would you seriously be satisfied with paying that much for it, knowing that you just can’t be sure whether or not this is “the one” from the telly?  Thankfully the listing doesn’t say that it is – which again begs us to question the valuation, but more seriously, it’s made of cast resin, is one of many and is tiny.  We’ve all seen much larger and more prominent one-off props going for less money – even a screen used TARDIS prop went for £10,000 and that got loads of screen time in a full series of 13 episodes… plus it’s huge!  The sale then, and the valuation, just doesn’t add up to me and smacks slightly of over eagerness. 

If it does go for this price or more, then I hope that the recipient is over the moon with their new purchase.  I’ll be interested to see how this one pans out.


Years and years ago, Doctor Who Magazine (issue 176, August 1991) published a picture of one of these keys and it kind of created a bit of an urban myth; that this key was bronze in colour.  Truth is, it wasn’t, it was actually grey, you can see this in the auction image above.  When photographed, the resulting image of the prop always tended to either wash out slightly because of the satin finish or show it as being pretty much jet black, thus giving it a false colour register.  However, the DWM image had a further issue to contend with; it wasn’t correctly coloured balanced and had shifted over towards the red end of the spectrum, making it look bronze – well, sort of, more of a yellowy-brown really…  Since then, replicas have appeared for sale (or in people’s collections) in a bronze colouring, which as we know, isn’t right. 

Have a look at this picture.  For this illustration, I’ve modified the scan that I made of the image from the magazine that I posted (un-cropped and un-colour corrected) on the TARDIS Rebuilders site back in 2003, 10th of June, according to my page print out files:

To the left is the image as it appeared in the magazine and to the right is a very quick colour correction that shows the true nature of the prop as being grey with a silver chain, rather than a bit bronze with a yellow(ish) chain.  Speaking of replicas…

One thing that seems to elude everyone (more or less) is the answer to this question – what does the key look like on the back?  From what I gather, those in possession of the keys don’t want us to know, which is understandable to an extent because letting this information out into the big, wide world opens the flood gates for really accurate replicas to be produced – which in turn could either affect the value of the original or give someone the wear-with-all to pass a replica off as an original.  Neither is very good, depending on your point of view.

If you really want to know what’s on there, I’ll tell you.  It’s ostensibly completely flat with a new style of star system engraved into the surface.  Here’s a picture:

I have to confess to you here that I haven’t looked at my thumbnail reference sketch of one of the original key castings for well over a decade now as it’s buried in one of my many boxes of paper notes, in what I laughingly refer to as my Prop Reference Archive.  One day, I really must sort all that stuff out!  Anyway, it looks more or less like the picture above. 

For some reason, I have it in my head that there were seven stars in reference to the fact that the Seventh Doctor used this version of the key.  Now I could go and dig out that sketch to make sure, but seeing as this is only an illustration, combined with the fact that only a handful of you guys read this blog, it’s not really worth my time going upstairs and spending several hours searching through various boxes in the many cupboards that we have… I can think of slightly better things to do with my time, if you don’t mind.  :)

Well, thankfully we’ve come to the end of this blog entry, so I’ll see you next time.  

Over and out friends.


UPDATE:  29th of June, 2011:

Two things…

Firstly, I’ve just looked at the results of the Bonhams auction and shock of shocks, the TARDIS Door key prop didn’t sell.  All the other Doctor Who items did, just not this.  I wonder why – could it be the rather ‘enthusiastic’ estimate?  Probably.  Luckily, I’m not the type to gloat, but I do believe that this was far too much and I seem to have been proven right.


To the members of the RPF prop building website.

Today and yesterday, I noticed a spike in traffic to my little blog and in particular to this page about the key.  A quick look at my dashboard shows where that traffic originated from:

Now I’m not a member, so I can’t quite tell what’s going on, but I’m assuming that it must be connected to the drawing that I made of the fabled star system that’s on the reverse of the key prop.  There are two things that I really want to stress here.

1/  The drawing (done in Paint) is from memory of the first key that I was shown around 1990, give or take a few years.  I made a sketch, took notes and a few details about it, then that original drawing ended up somewhere in my files – this is why I had to do the recreation drawing from memory, it may not be 100% accurate.  As I said earlier, my original sketch is in a box somewhere and I’m a little too lazy to go searching for it.  Sorry about that.

2/  From what I understand about the original key props, the star system was added to the individual castings once they had been popped from the mould – it didn’t appear to be part of the mould itself.  The stars themselves were probably done using the tip of a drill to create the indented holes and a scribe for the joining lines.  Each key’s star system is based on the same design, but they seemed to vary between themselves – this was confirmed several years ago when I was shown pictures of one from someone’s collection, which is quite possibly one of the ones on that collectors’ website.  This particular version followed the general pattern, but the placement of the ‘stars’ were less evenly spaced and some of the lines in between them were in a different position. 

It’s this fact that I’ve seen two slightly different star systems that makes me believe that the design was added after each key was cast, it’s really the only plausible explanation that accounts for the variation.  You could argue that one was original and the other wasn’t, well the fronts of both were identical, right down to the mis-shapen Seal of Rassilon, it’s slightly bowed in the top left hand quarter of the circle, and the inner detailing of the recessed block had the exact same pattern of fine strips.

Hopefully this hasn’t confused the issue, though I really have no clue as to what you guys are talking about on that RPF thread, so my guess as to why you have come here may be entirely wrong.  Whatever is the deal, I do hope that you all found my blog of some use.

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~ by PurpleBlancmange on June 18, 2011.

21 Responses to “Bonhams 2011 Auction: 7th Doctor TARDIS Key.”

  1. I wouldn’t mind a in detail in depth accurate pic of the back :)
    Nice to see indeed
    again prices someone will pay it more money than sense ,a fool ad his money ? who knows
    Its rare to see these things but nice to know the true colour as it fits better with the yale key and the pertwee/ baker variant
    interesting post ill go look on the web site

  2. Hi Purp,

    I was amazed how much your sketch looks like the Pleiades ‘Seven SIsters’ star cluster:

    Maybe we should get t-shirts printed up which say ‘I went to the Pleiades Star Cluster and all I got was this shoddy mould of a Gallifreian key”. :)

    • Yeah, I thought that too when I looked at it after quickly drawing this – hope I’m not mixing it up, though I know it wasn’t they system that was on the back of the Pertwee / Baker version.

      T-Shirt sounds like a fun idea!

  3. Thanks for the post, Purple! Although I’d love to see the sketch, as you said, it’s a niche market of interest… and in some ways, maybe it’s best the info be kept from being public. There’s enough info for people to start coming up with some new interpretations, but not to the point where the fan made replicas start ending up being billed as the real deal.

    It’s actually inspiring me to have a go at putting one together with layers of acrylic to see if I can get a metal one made, would beat the one I bought from eBay a while back which has now been revealed to me to be a pretty well known recast run.

    Love the blog, and your Sonic Screwdriver work!

    • Well, glad you like the post and the blog, so thanks for your comments!

      The key props (both of them) have always been one of those things that I’ve wanted to make myself and while I have loads of clear references for them, I’ve just never gotten around to doing anything with this project, which is a pity because it’s just so simple.

      I gather you are “Kingpin” (going by your email address) and that net name rings a bell to me – but where do I know you from?

  4. Either here:

    Or here:;u=450

  5. I post as Kingpin on the TARDIS Builders forum, no relation to the Psychic Circus character obviously… didn’t even know there was a character with that name until just now!

    • Were you there while I was the Admin? I left about 18 months to two years ago – after a decade of running the sites. If not, do you post on Gallifrey Base? I lurk there somewhat.

      • Probably not, I signed up June of last year (wow, been there a full year now!), but I do remember seeing plenty of references to you being the former Admin. I’m presently not a member of Galifrey Base.

      • Oh well, maybe I’ve seen reference to you in one of Bill’s emails to me. Sometimes he kindly sends me “captured” pages of stuff from TARDIS Builders that he thinks I may be interested in. Failing that, it’s probably just the Greatest Show in the Galaxy connection that I’m recognising.

      • I think I emailed you his replica of the McCoy umbrella.

      • The one made from clear acrylic rod? That’s it!

      • Yep, that’s me. I’ll be resuming work on the new one hopefully tomorrow, see how far I can get with it by London Film and Comic Con… I had intended to get it finished before then, but an ankle sprain knocked that plan off the tracks.

  6. £2500 to £3000 estimate?!?! are they mad!!!?? complete lunacy.

    I have always loved this TARDIS key and dearly wanted a replica but one never appeared my way :( A lovely little prop.

    • Yes, it is a great little prop, but I do think that a certain quarter of the Doctor Who prop collectors clique are to blame for the unusually high prices tagged to these trinkets. Like I said, it’s up to them what they spend their money on and how much they decide to fork out, but if it were me, I’d like to see value for my money. £2500 for a tiny piece of resin just doesn’t cut the mustard.

      I’m sure these types of people will cry that we are jealous because we ‘can’t afford’ this kind of stuff, but I say this to them; I’m certainly not jealous in the slightest – it’s the price justification that I can’t approve of. It is lunacy of the highest order as you so rightly said. A Picaso painting can go for millions of pounds because the man is world famous, renowned, revered and his works have universal appeal – rather crude and ancient Doctor Who props are the polar opposite with a very limited appeal.

  7. Im certainly not jealous. Id much prefer a good replica than paying stupid money for a rough looking resin cast that will always have me wondering if it’s the `real` thing or not. At least with a good replica i know where it came from, i know what it is and i know how much i paid for it and i didnt pay through the nose for it :D. Infact i think i have a really rough resin cast of this key somewhere…cant remember where i got it from but god only knows who painted it!

  8. I strongly suspect it probably won’t end up selling.

    And it is a rediculous price, even if it was known to be THE key, it’s still not worth £3000, that’s a pricetag I’d put on the 5 Doctors TARDIS console at the Experience, because at least that is more justifiable.

    • You could well be right about the key, let’s await the outcome.

      The console would be better for that price – now if only I could make a start on restoring mine, thing is, it’s too big to do anything with and the switches are still so expensive, as is the rotor cover. One day… and I’ve been saying that since time began!

  9. Dear sir,
    Holy Gallifrey, your prop work is amazing. I have a very simple question that I can’t seem to find the answer to on tardisbuilders and I was hoping you could help. I’m decking out my bedroom to rather much resemble Tennant’s TARDIS, and that’s going to include painting shelves and other items to resemble the ribs of the TARDIS. I gather I’m going to need to do some texture spray, not a problem, but in the end I need to know what paint colour to use overall. Or paint combination, that’s fine. I just need to know what colours to buy to avoid making a huge mistake. Thank you! Don’t know if you can see my email, but I’ll set the follow-up comments to be emailed to me just in case you can’t.

    • Hi. I guess we’re talking about the old style console room (2005 to 2009). The textured ribs were a sandy colour and the walls were actually grey with patches of the sandy colour on them – over all of this was a wash of a very watery brown to give the effect of dirt and grime. Having said that, the set was often dramatically lit with coloured gels (filters) and that would affect the colour that we saw reflected back, as would the fact that what we saw as broadcast was colour graded during the edit, so again the true colours were altered. Most of the time the whole room had a sort of orange glow to it. I’d suggest you search on-line for images of the set, get as many as you can and make your final choice based on what you think is the best solution.

      Hope this helps in some small way.

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