Doctor Who has never been shy about tipping a hat to other science fiction franchises. The 2014 Christmas special “Last Christmas” owes a heavy debt to Alien, with its face-hugging alien parasites. Several Star Trek references have beamed onto Doctor Who stories, including the Starfleet-esque crew at the start of another Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol.” The world of comic book superheroes, particularly stories starring Superman, clearly influenced “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.”
Unsurprisingly, Doctor Who and its spinoffs have also acknowledged the most popular sci-fi franchise of the past several decades, Star Wars. Nerdy kid Clyde drops several Wars mentions in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and the Eleventh Doctor compared himself to Yoda in the short “Meanwhile in the TARDIS.”
But for the adventures of the Fifteenth Doctor, played by Ncuti Gatwa, the Star Wars nods are getting much more subtle. Speaking with Doctor Who Magazine, senior art director Crissy Howes, who worked on the new TARDIS with production designer Phil Sims, reveals her longstanding habit of paying tribute to the great space opera. “On every production I’ve done since Event Horizon, I’ve followed the tradition of hiding a bit of R2-D2 in plain sight. Just saying…” she revealed.
In other words, Howes’s hint means that the lovable droid is referenced some place in the newly-reimagined time machine. With only one full episode under Fifteen’s belt, the Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road,” viewers haven’t had too much of a chance to poke around the Doctor’s new digs to look for Artoo. But your theories are welcome in the comments.
Could he be referenced someplace on the jukebox, the most prominent addition to the new TARDIS? Is he someplace around the control panel, camouflaged among the buttons and lights? We all know that R2 loves plugging into control panels.
As a respected art director, Howes probably takes a much more nuanced approach to integrating Artoo into the TARDIS. The floor pattern seems like the most likely place where Howes has hidden this Star Wars reference. The blue box pattern around R2-D2’s head would make for some fancy floor tiling, wouldn’t it? If you look at the tiling around the control panel at the center of the TARDIS, it sure does resemble that pattern but in gray instead of blue. Have a look at the picture at the top of this article and compare with top of Artoo’s dome.
That’s one theory, anyway. Then again, given that no one has found the R2-D2 references in Howes’s other projects, which include Avengers: Endgame and Casino Royale, it might be the truth may be harder to find than a Second Doctor serial.
Annoying? Maybe. But as C-3PO has made clear time and again, R2D2 loves to annoy people. It’s a quality the droid shares with the Doctor.
Fortunately, we’ll get to see the excellent new TARDIS again very soon and compare notes. Series 14 (or season 1, if you prefer the new numbering) premieres in May on the BBC in the UK and Disney+ everywhere else. Series 15 is currently in production and will reportedly introduce us to a new companion.