In A Nutshell
Doctor Who is a beloved children’s character who travels through time in a spaceship called the TARDIS. The London Metropolitan Police is, well, a police force. In 1996, the latter launched a legal battle against the show, claiming the BBC had stolen the design for the TARDIS. The case dragged on for six years, cost taxpayers an absurd amount of money, and wound up with the Police being fined £850 ($1,350).
The Whole Bushel
If you’re on the Internet in 2013, you’ve probably at least heard of Doctor Who. The world’s longest-running sci-fi show has spent 50 years following the adventures of The Doctor, a maverick alien who travels through time and space in something called the TARDIS. From the get-go, producers had wanted this magical ship to look as mundane as possible; so the production team “borrowed” the appearance of the blue police boxes the London Metropolitan Police then had on every corner. For over 30 years, the TARDIS remained a fixture on TV. Then suddenly, in 1996, the London Met decided enough was enough. They were going to sue Doctor Who.
The case came about when the BBC tried to trademark the image of the police box, specifically when used as a spaceship. What should have been a routine application instead turned into a circus when the Met unexpectedly deployed all their lawyers. And we mean all: At one point, the Ministry of Defence was strong-armed into helping the UK’s biggest police force sue a children’s show. Their case, when it reached court, rested on the fact that members of the public might be “deceived” into thinking the TARDIS was a real police box—presumably because the Met secretly has access to both time travel technology and whimsical adventures.
In the end, the lawsuit dragged on for six years before a judge ruled in favor of The Doctor, fining the police £850 and leaving them with stratospheric lawyers’ bills . . . all of which had to be covered by the taxpayer. As a kind of sequel to this story, another claim has now popped up from a man named Stef Coburn, who claims to have held the rights to the spaceship since 1977. No word on how the Met will feel if a lanky chancer succeeds where their government-funded police force once failed.
Show Me The Proof
BBC: BBC wins police Tardis case
The Independent: Who owns the Tardis? Son of man who invented Doctor Who’s time machine is challenging BBC over breach of copyright