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A Celebration of Theatre MSU and Directing for Stage Class Play Festivals, 1995-2024.

I graduated in 1996 from Mississippi State University. While I was there, I did a good bit of theatre. While my major was Communications Journalism, for a while I was aiming for a minor in theatre. I pretty much had enough credits for it too, except for the fact that the required scene shop class was only taught during my daily air-shift at the college radio station, and I wasn’t about to give that up. Still, I took nearly every other theatre class available, and in 1995 took a class in directing for the stage. The instructor for the class, Dr. Jeffery Elwell, was also my advisor, and he’d asked me to take the class since it was on the edge of not having enough students to allow it to be taught. I signed right up.

The goal of the directing class was to not only for each student to learn how to direct for the stage, but also for each of us to direct a 10 minute play that would be part of a festival of short plays at the end of the class’s run. Students in the class would serve as tech for the festival, and fill in roles in each others plays that weren’t cast with outside students who had auditioned.

(Funny side story: A few weeks into the class’s run, Dr. Elwell began divvying up the various tech and producing responsibilities for the play festival. He assigned one of us to be a costumer, another to sound, another to lighting. And despite the fact that the assistant to the scene shop instructor was one of the directors in our class, he assigned me to be responsible for any construction or set-building that might be necessary.

“Uh, I don’t know how to do that,” I said.

“What do you mean you don’t know how to do that?” he asked.

“I mean, I’ve never taken the scene shop class. I wouldn’t know how to build a flat, a platform, or anything, really.”

Dr. Jeffery Elwell fixed me with a stern gaze and said, “Eric, the scene shop class is a pre-requisite for taking THIS class.”

I allowed a satisfying pause, then said, “Jeff… you’re my advisor.”

Dr. Elwell blinked at this, then reassigned me to running lights for a couple of the shows. (I didn’t know how to hang lights either, but didn’t need to to run the light board.)

The play I chose to direct was called “Wild Sweet William” by Indiana playwright Madge Dishman. It was a touching and funny story about dementia and how it changes family dynamics. The title character, William, has Alzheimer’s and his wife frequently bakes him birthday cakes, regardless of the time of year, simply because they’re a happy memory for him. At that point, none of my relatives had gone through anything similar, but for some reason I was drawn to that play. Now I’ve had more than a handful of relatives and in-laws who have suffered the condition, so maybe I knew something even then. As directors, we had to contact the playwrights to get their permission and arrange any royalty payments they required. Mrs. Dishman did me the solid of not charging me her usual rate, since this was a college production.

The play turned out pretty great, even for my first directing effort. It starred William Watkins (a friend from drama camp who I knew could play a 70 year old man with ease), Melanie Hintz (a fellow Theatre MSU actor who also did aged characters well), and Julie Rathwell (who was one of my sister’s good friends, and also Canadian, so I we had to train her to stop saying “aboot” and “eh” so much). My step-mother, Myra, a former theatre professional, even helped me with props by baking three birthday cakes, provided I iced them. It was a great learning experience all around and was the first of many shows I would go on to direct in the years since.

(Incidentally, I had one of my all time worst theatrical moments as part of that festival, but it was unrelated to the play I directed. I was asked to act in a play by Dr. Jeffery Elwell himself–the title of which eludes me. It was a good play–he’s a great playwright–but our director whose name I don’t want to mention, but it was Ryan Lamar, proved a bit fickle during rehearsals in that he very often didn’t show up for them. We dutifully memorized our lines, but figured the show would just be cancelled and Ryan given an incomplete. Instead, he decided to soldier on, so most of the directing of the show happened during dress-rehearsals. One key element of the play that was missing until opening night, however, was a camera tripod on which was to be strapped a film camera rigged to a pistol. The plot involved a crime scene photographer who decides to kill himself with said rig, so that the camera will take his last photograph as the gun goes off, presumably capturing it. Uplifting, no? But we never had the tripod or camera or gun to rehearse with, and I was the actor who was assigned to come out in the dark and set it up for the scene. On opening night, Ryan brought me, not a tri-pod, but a monopod atop which was the camera and gun. A monopod, for those who don’t know photography equipment, is just a stick with a screw hole on the top. A stick. Meant to be held in place by a photographer, not to be a free-standing entity on its own. Ryan then handed me a strip of duct tape and told me that, near the end of the play, I would need to go out in the blackout before the gun scene, strap this monopod to the leg of a desk using the duct tape, and be sure to point it in the correct direction, or the play would be ruined. No pressure, right? And no rehearsal. My first time doing it was during opening night. And it didn’t work at all. Even a little bit. I went out in the dark, bent down beside the desk, tried to strap the monopod to its leg, but the duct tape wound up folding over on itself, creating a decidedly non-sticky strip of half-width tape that could be affixed to nothing. There I sat, on the floor of the pitch black lab theatre, trying to figure out what to do next. I could just sit and hold it there, and they could bring up the lights, but I had no way to silently signal the lighting person to do so. At least a minute went by in this fashion, with me trying and retrying to unstick the tape with no success. My ultimate solution, which did work, was to use the long strip of non-sticky tape as a rope which I wrapped around the leg of the desk and tied in a knot, holding the monopod in place. I exited the stage, the lights came up and fortunately the camera and gun were facing the correct direction. Now, shit goes sideways in theatre all the time, and the show must go on, so I did the job I needed to do. But to say I was livid about it doesn’t really capture my fury at being forced into this unrehearsed scenario by our less-than-frequently-present director. I let him have it afterward and told him in no uncertain terms that he would have a monopod for the second performance, because this was some bullshit. Second night out? Monopod and tape, once again. Instead of throwing the fit I wanted to, though, I just pulled up my big boy pants and made sure the tape did not fold over on itself when I went back out in the dark. We got it done. I did get a bit of revenge on Ryan, but unfortunately it was accidental. During the play HE was acting in, which fell directly after Wild Sweet William, his character is supposed to enter the room of the apartment he once shared with an ex-wife to discover she’d taken everything including the light bulbs. I was the guy in charge of removing the light bulb from the light fixture we had hanging above the stage area and I forgot to do it on the second night, leaving Ryan to stare up at a perfectly visible bulb, saying “She even took the… oh… no. I guess she left the light bulb.” I only wish I’d done it on purpose, but if Ryan ever reads this, I promise I did not.)

Jump ahead to 2024…

My buddy Joe Evans (who I did a few shows with in those college years) is taking MSU’s Directing for Stage class–I guess for poops and giggles, since I’m pretty sure he’s directed more plays than me already. He asked if I could send him some of my 10 minute plays for consideration of the students. I told him that not only would I send them, but in honor of Madge Dishman, I would not charge any royalties on them. I figured they might pick one or two. Instead, out of the 11 or 12 plays they chose, FIVE of them are mine. It’s practically a Fritzius Festival. Certainly the most of my plays I’ve had in a festival at once.

These will include my short plays, “Job Jar,” “A Tragedy at Ellis Island of Great Personal Significance and Historical Inaccuracy: 1907” (in its premiere production), “Flying Lessons over lunch, with Saint Joseph Cooper Tina” (also in its premiere production), “A Game of Twenty…” and “Aye Do”. It should be noted that Joe Evans is directing “A Game of Twenty…” And “Aye Do” is being directed by David Hintz, who is the youngest son of Melanie Hintz–the same Melanie Hintz who acted in “Wild Sweet William,” the first show I directed nigh on 30 years ago. This fact staggered me more than anything, and yet it took a while for me to even realize it. Like… weeks.

So if you happen to be in the Starkville, Mississippi, area on Monday, April 29 and Wednesday May 1, the directing class play festival will start at 5p, on the McComas Hall main stage, on the campus of MSU. Theatre MSU is also celebrating it’s 60th anniversary this weekend as well, with a production of the musical Pippin.

I’ve even heard a rumor that I might show up. (It’s a rumor I started, so I’m pretty sure it’s true. But, I mean, how could I miss out on my plays being performed on the McComas Hall stage, produced by the very directing class in which I directed my own first show?

The Brave Knight (audiobook)

The Brave KnightMy latest audiobook collaboration, The Brave Knight, by writer Diane Tarantini and illustrator Jessie Haring, has just been published via Audible and Amazon. The book is an important children’s story that aids parents to introduce heavy topics, such as bullying and abuse, to their children in an engaging and uplifting way. I’m proud to have lent my voice to it, as well as to be able to work directly with Diane on it, who was able to voice her own main character for the book.

Find it at Audible.com and Amazon.com.

Have Cipro Will Fix Links

As detailed in a recent entry Website Repairs and Podcast Reduxes, I’ve experienced a few bugs round this here website due entirely to my own devices. Discovered yet another one last night. My Medical Mission Blog from 2005 was almost entirely inaccessible due to the whole MrHerman.com/MisterHerman.com link issue. The pages were all still there, but no one could see them because the landing page for the blog itself linked to the wrong address. I’ve gone in and fixed them, as well as the photo links within.

Our adventures from Have Cipro Will Travel are once again available for reading.

REPOST: The Talkin’, Iiiiiii’m offended, If that IS your Real Name, End of an Era, Friiiiiitz Call Blues

(In honor of a reading of this story at the 2022 West Virginia Writers Conference this weekend, here’s a reposting of this Horribly True Tale.)

When I worked as a morning drive radio DJ, back in the `’`90s, frequently we would get calls from people who wished to complain about something they heard on the radio which had offended them.  Trouble was, with few exceptions, the thing they heard that had offended them had been said by an on-air personality on a completely different radio station than the one I was employed by.  Yep, whenever John Boy and Billy said something saucier than most decent folks cared for, the offended of Northeast Mississippi had no other recourse than to open the phone book, pick a radio station at random, and call me up to give me a lecture about something I had not even said.  We called these “Iiiiiii’m offended” calls.

For the past 15 years, my wife and I have experienced a different version of this sort of behavior in what we’ve come to refer to as the “Friiiiiitz” calls.  Somewhere around 2006, at approximately 3 a.m., our land line rang, waking us up.  Since 3 a.m. is outside the normal hours of telephone conversations, we naturally expected the call to be from a relative bearing tragic news.  I braced myself for the worst as I answered the phone.


(noise…  noise… labored breathing)

ME— Hello?


ME— I’m sorry, what?

CALLER— Is this Friiiiitz?

ME— Um, this is Eric Fritzius.

(labored breathing)

CALLER— Is this Friiitz… from Fritz’s Pharmacy?

ME— No, I’m afraid it’s not.  My name is Eric Fritzius.

(noise… noise… labored breathing)

CALLER— You’re not Friiitz?

ME— No. 

(noise… noise… labored breathing)

CALLER— Do you have… Fritz’s number?

ME— No.  I’m sorry, I don’t.

(labored breathing)

CALLER— I need… to call Fritz.  I’m having…  an emergency.

ME— Um…   (Looks to wife, who, at the time, was a medical resident)  She says she’s having an emergency.

WIFE—Tell her to call 911 or go to the ER.

ME— Ma’am.  I’m sorry, but if you’re having a medical emergency, you need to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

(noise… noise… labored breathing)

CALLER— I caiiint dooo thaaaat.


That was the first of at least a dozen such hour-of-the-wolf “Friiiiitz” calls we have since received.  I’m pretty sure the same lady has called us many of those times, but other folks have as well.  Folks who are experiencing what they have deemed a medical emergency; folks who then decided to phone up not their doctor or otherwise an emergency medical professional, but instead their pharmacist, Fritz, because that makes a metric ton of sense; folks who then opened their white pages to F, at 3 a.m., located a last name that shares five letters with the name Fritz—which, it should be noted, is not actually Fritz’s last name to begin with, as “Fritz” is a nickname he uses in place of his first name—and then these folks blindly phone said number in the assumption that they’ll reach their target. Because all Fritzes know one another, I guess?  The “Friiiiiitz” calls pretty much all follow the same script as above.  And every time—every single time—no matter if it’s the original lady caller or someone new, when told we are not the Fritz they’re looking for, these folks ask if we know Fritz’s number. 

No, we most certainly do not have Fritz’s number.

We have gone out of our way not to have Fritz’s number and have never even checked to see if it’s actually listed. Our reason is because if we were to look it up then we would have Fritz’s number, and the fact that we would still not be willing to give out someone else’s home number, at 3 a.m., to people who should be calling 911 to begin with, would mean we were willingly withholding said information, implicating us in their death should they pass from the medical emergency they refuse to call the proper medical assistance to assist with.  Instead, we have always been polite when such calls come in, but we always advise the callers that in medical emergencies the only number they need to phone is, in point of fact, 911.  And, frequently, they have issued the declaration of “I caiiint dooo thaaaat,” but have so far never elaborated as to why. 

In 2008, we moved, relocating from Greenbrier County to Mercer County.  There are no Fritz’s Pharmacy locations in Mercer County, though, so our “Friiiiiitz” calls came to an end.

In 2012, we moved back to Greenbrier County, got a brand new land line phone number, listed it in the white pages, and within three months of our return, right on time at 3 a.m., the phone rang.

ME— Hello?

(noise…  noise… labored breathing)


ME— No.  This is not Fritz.  This is the Fritzius residence.  We are not related to Fritz. 

(3… 2… 1…)

CALLER— Do you have Fritz’s number?

ME— No. We do not have Fritz’s number. Again, we are not related to Fritz. Our name only shares five letters with his name.

(Okay, we’re not ALWAYS polite.)

CALLER— I need to call Fritz.  I’m having an emergency.

ME— Then you need to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

(3… 2… 1…)

CALLER— I caaaiiint do thaaaat.


We’ve had a few more “Friiiiiitz” calls in the years since, some during actual daylight hours as well, most from folks other than the usual lady. However ,they’ve not been coming in at the same volume as our earlier stint in the county.

While writing this, and after 15 years of steadfastly avoiding the attempt, I finally looked up Fritz’s home number.  It’s been right there in the phone book the whole time, it seems, but the callers wouldn’t have been able to determine which number was his even if they had known his actual last name, because “Fritz”  was smart enough not to have his phone number listed under his nickname either.  Instead “Fritz” used his actual first name, which also starts with F but is also not Fritz.  In other words, the real Fritz doesn’t want these calls any more than us Fake Shemp Fritzes do. 

Alas/Huzzah, the days of the 3 a.m. Friiiiitz calls are probably at an end.  Fritz recently sold his chain of pharmacies to CVS and will no longer be dispensing meds under that name.  And I am astounded and just a little disappointed that we’ve not received even one “Friiiiitz” call due to this transition.

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: the Half-Assed Disappointment Lootcrate Paper TARDIS model (Paper TARDIS series)

I like the idea of paper TARDISes–printed paper kits that can be cut out and assembled into a model of the TARDIS. In my time collecting TARDISes, I have purchased four such TARDIS model kits. I have, however, only attempted to assemble one of them thus far and it was such a disappointment that I have avoided the other three (two of which, truth be told, are really the exact same paper model that I accidentally purchased twice).

The half-assed disappointment Lootcrate model is kind of what it sounds like. It was a paper TARDIS included in a Lootcrate shipment which I purchased second hand off of eBay. It arrived as a single sheet with perforations allowing you to easily cut out the sections of the TARDIS model itself. The half-assed part is doubly so (which I think technically should make it full-assed, but I only used half my ass in constructing it and the Lootcrate folks only used half of theirs designing it, so, really, the separate half-assed applications can’t equal a whole).

Let me start with the good. It’s a simple enough TARDIS design, consisting of an elongated rectangular square for the body, a roof housing that tab/slot inserts, and a square tab/slot lamp. Shouldn’t be hard to put together, really. It is also designed to have doors that can be opened in the front, to reveal a cartoony Peter Capaldi scowling out from within. I thought that was pretty cool. However, I have kept my doors uncut simply because I’m not sure the structural integrity will hold if they were ever cut open.

The bad. While the simple print of the TARDIS has most of the standard TARDIS elements, including Police Public Call Box signage above each side, and the TARDIS door sign, there is some inattention to detail that can be found, leading me to suspect someone other than an actual fan of the show did the graphic design. For instance, if this is truly a Capaldi TARDIS, as the Capaldi inside would suggest, where is the St. John’s Ambulance badge on the right front door? Also, why are there door handles and door sign phone cabinet handles included on each and every side? It’s almost as if whoever did the graphic design only drew the one door, copied it three more times and slapped a door sign on one of them to establish which side is the front. And while we’re talking about which side is the front, why on earth would they have designed this so that the cut seam falls right beside the left of the front of the TARDIS rather than in the back corner where it wouldn’t be so apparent?

As to my own half-assedness, I admit that my assembly leaves something to be desired. I’m sure someone else could have put this thing together in a way that didn’t look quite so jankey. I mean, I could have taped down that front left cut seam and made that look at least a little better, if I’d wanted to. What I found, though, was that this was an assembly project that took a good bit longer to accomplish and with a greater level of difficulty than I had assumed it would, but I was only willing to put in the minimum amount to get it together, but not the amount it would take to make it look its best. That said, Lootcrate didn’t do anyone any favors in the design department, so I’m giving them the majority of the blame. If I hadn’t paid $10 for it, I would probably wad it up and pitch it at the recyle bin.

I give it a rare two TARDi rating. (Would have given it a one had I not thought the Capaldi behind the doors thing was kind of clever.)

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The Hobby Lobby Model

A few years back, round about March of 2015, I spotted a very sad attempt at tapping the Doctor Who fan market while browsing in Hobby Lobby.

What Hobby Lobby did, which you can see in the accompanying image, was to repurpose a tea candle holder modeled after a red British phone box, paint it blue and slap a Police Public Call Box sign above it’s single door. Oh, I get it. I can sympathize. Someone on their merchandize creation staff was clearly enough of a Doctor Who fan to put this together. But it’s clearly just a cash grab, banking on Doctor Who fans snatching up anything even tenuously related to their favorite show. I said, “Nice try, Hobby Lobby, but you’re gonna have to try harder if you want any of my cash money.”

Well… they did.

A year later, I was walking through the same Hobby Lobby when I spied, on the shelf of their metal decorations section, their next attempt. My suspicion that someone in research and development was a fan of the show felt even stronger, because this metal TARDIS bank thing gets way too many details right to be merely a repurposed telephone booth. It’s actually a pretty sweet approximation of a Tom Baker era “Shada” model TARDIS, complete with greenish blue paint, the dark door sign, and the blue dome light on top. Someone knew their stuff and I was willing to bet that someone was about my age and adored Tom Baker’s run as much as I do.

I would have bought this TARDIS regardless, but the fact that Hobby Lobby happened to be having a 50 percent off sale on metal decorations, making it a $10 purchase, meant the sale was a lock.

It’s a high quality item, solidly built. Is it an exact replica of an on-screen TARDIS, no, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s an interpretation that knows its source material.

While they’re not an item one can rely upon finding in your average Hobby Lobby, I have seen them on and off over the years. Keep your eye out, cause it’s a good’un. Four and a half TARDi.

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The April Fool Model

(Unfortunately, in the process of attempting to photograph this on the landing of my stairwell, I managed to tip the platform my Bill & Ted Time Traveling Phone Booth was resting on, spilling the booth and its passengers down the stairs, resulting in the breaking of three of the antenna bars on the booth as well as breaking off Rick’s foot. So I guess the April Fools Day prank was on me.)

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The Funko POP! TARDIS (Full Size)

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

As one of the final entries in this TARDIS Collector’s Corner series (prior to my multi-year sabbatical from writing them), I wrote about one of my shotglass TARDISes, the Funko POP! Vinyl Keychain TARDIS. I mentioned in the entry that this particular tiny TARDIS was based on a much larger Funko POP! TARDIS toy, about which I would one day write in the future.

This is that day.

Just as I did back in March of 2018, I shall again in March of 2022 declare that Funko’s POP! Vinyl figures are a plague upon this earth, as chronicled in the book of Revelation itself. (I was almost going to do a bit here where I added a 14th verse to Revelation 8, covering the unsealing and distribution of beady-eyed plastic demon idols, then I remembered that there’s another verse in Revelations (Rev 22:18), where the author explains the fate which will befall anyone who adds to or takes away from the prophecy. So, thanks, but I’m gonna pass on my dumb joke.) Four years on, Funko POP!s are even more ubiquitous and underfoot than they were in 2018. They’re found not only glutting the shelves of nerd stores, but are now spreading to retail outlets far and wide, whether it makes any damn sense for them to be sold there or not. I continue to weep for our landfills. (*COUGH*COUGH* saysthemanwhoowns16ofthem *COUGH*!)

Regardless of my feelings about Funko POP!s themselves, I absolutely had to own the Funko POP! TARDIS in all its boxy glory. The Funko’s POP! TARDIS is squatter and wider than the real thing, as in keeping with the stumpier dimensions of the figurines, but without the creepy black eyes. While this is supposedly based on the Smith/Capaldi era TARDIS, oddly, the supports between the panes of the windows are not white as theirs were, but blue–more in line with a Eccleston/Tennant box, or just about any of those from classic Doctor Who. Funko otherwise did a good job on the details, such as the hardware on the phone cabinet door and the hardware of the TARDIS door handle itself. They didn’t go for a wood grain detailing on the surface, but they captured the beveled edges of the base and nicely detailed roof cornices. A lot of skimping could have been done, but was not.

Did I mention it has a door? Oh, it’s got a door all right. A door. A single opening door, that is. Yep. Funko only included one working door on a two-door TARDIS. (Well, I say “working.” It does open, but requires a bit of effort to do so, and is somewhat difficult to close again afterward.) Of course, if you’re only going to have one working door, the right hand door is the one to choose, as it’s the only one that tends to be seen open on the show. However, when you take a look at the noggins on the Funko POP! figurines, one starts to do a bit of mental measurement estimation and one then immediately comes to the conclusion that the only Funko POP! that’s gonna fit through the doorway is one of the keychain sized figures. That’s when Funko reveals the twist in their story.

Funko knew none of their encephalitic figures would fit through that one door passage. However, they also realized that even if both doors were allowed to be open and a figure inserted within, a collector would then be hard-pressed to close either of the doors with such a gargantu-craniumed figure inside, or for that collector to ever have a chance at closing both doors again–figure or no. What good would that do? At the same time, a collector would clearly want to be able to show one of their Doctor figures peeking around the interior edge of the left door from within. What to do?

Funko’s elegant solution was to include a feature unlike any other TARDIS release I’ve encountered: this TARDIS features not only a false bottom, but an entirely missing bottom to boot. That way, you just stand your Funko Doctor wherever you want him (and/or her) and lower the TARDIS over them, door already in the open position.

As far as TARDISes go, it’s not a bad one. It may be in an exaggerated cartoonish geometrical configuration compared with your standard TARDIS shape, but it retains a good amount of detail. While very light in feel, it is also surprisingly solid in construction and not at all cheaply made. Do I wish both doors opened? Yes. But I’m totally cool with only the one as well. I mean, really, what kid would want to play with Funko POP!s anyway? They’re among the least functional toys ever made, clearly meant for adult man-children to set on a shelf and allow to collect dust. Accessory toys don’t really require much more functionality than that. All in all, I give this a solid 3.5 TARDi.

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: Underground Toys Diecast Collectable TARDIS

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

In one of my early Collector’s Corner entries, the one on the Matt Smith/Peter Capaldi Spin & Fly 3.75″ scale TARDIS, I made note that for a few hours one afternoon, I’d convinced myself that Character Options had released a David Tennant era Spin & Fly TARDIS to accompany their 3.75″ figure line and its David Tennant figure. This conviction was based solely on a photo I found online that featured the 3.75″ David Tennant Doctor figure standing outside of a to-scale TARDIS in the style of his tenure, alongside a 3.75″ Amy Pond figure. It looked fantastic, because even if it was just a re-paint of the Smith/Capaldi box, it was one done with an eye for the details of the Tennant box. Of course, fact that Karen Gillen and David Tennant only appeared in one story together and she was not playing Amy Pond at the time, and was therefore not his companion, made the photo a bit odd. Surely they could have cobbled together a Rose figure for him, or just not used a companion at all. However, the truly odd thing about the photo was that I could find no evidence online of Character Options releasing a 3.75″ scale TARDIS in the Tennant style. Was this some sort of prototype? Turns out, not so much–at least not officially. Character Options had not produced a 3.75″ Tennant TARDIS for their 3.75″ line because this TARDIS pre-dates that line of toys. There’s a chance that it even pre-dates David Tennant being hired to play the Doctor.

No, what I was seeing in the image was actually a TARDIS released by Underground Toys in the US, and Character Options in the UK, as part of a very early line of diecast Doctor Who toys. Exactly how early is still a little bit unclear, as I’ve been unable to find an actual release date on this line. However, the fact that this line also included a couple of Daleks and a Tennant-era Cyberman as well tells me that it was likely released during or maybe a little after Tennant’s 2006 first season, as the Cybermen made their debut then. The Cybermen were likely designed earlier than that, as artist Bryan Hitch, who came up with the updated Cybus Industries design, had been hired as a designer on the show in 2004, before the first season even aired. This is born out, possibly, by the 2004 copyright date on both the TARDIS itself and its box. Still, while I haven’t found an official release date, the toys in this particular line were probably not released until 2006, after the Cybermen’s first appearance in this particular form.

Even though this was not the TARDIS I had hoped to find, it was definitely one I was interested in acquiring. Off to eBay I scurried, searching high and low for one. And I found a few, but whoah were they pricey! After all, this item was one of the earliest Doctor Who toys made available and pre-dates even the Flight Control TARDIS. Of course it would go for a pretty pence.

I bided my time, waiting and watching until one came up that remained below the threshold of what I was willing to pay for one.

And now, sitting beside my 3.75″ scale Spin & Fly TARDIS, with its accompanying Capaldi figure is my 3.70″ scale diecast TARDIS, for which I also purchased a 3.75″ David Tennant. (They would be fun Doctors to meet someday, I think.) As far as TARDISes go, visually it’s a beauty. Admittedly, it’s not particularly detailed in terms of woodgrain, but it’s diecast metal–not particularly known for fine detail. Being metal, it actually weighs about the same as the solid resin Eaglemoss TARDIS, which sits on the shelf beside it–both far outweighing the Spin & Fly TARDIS next in line. The weight, however, lends it a feel of something that should have another purpose–like maybe as a piggy bank. Visually, the paintwork has a nice dingy quality to the blue exterior, much like Tennant’s TARDIS on the show. The windows even look a bit like they’ve been splashed with mud at some point, and there is pebbled glass detailing on the outer panes of each window, giving it that TARDIS T shape on the non-pebbled panes. (Oh, so now they can do detailing in diecast?) Someone clearly tried to capture the 10th Doctor’s TARDIS. The odd thing about this “toy” is, it’s not really a great toy, per se. It has absolutely no functionality, such as opening doors (a standard in the diecast toy world), lights or sound-effects. At the same time, I’m completely cool with that. It’s an anomaly. An object of beauty for those of us who find TARDISes beautiful. I give it 3.5 TARDi.

Coming Soon…

The third book in S.D. Smith’s Tales of Old Natalia, Prince Lander & The Dragon War, is not far from publication, as is its audiobook.

Having just wrapped the recording of my narration for this, I can say that it is an exciting, moving, and worthy story that continues, and in some ways concludes, the story begun in The Black Star of Kingston. While I’m certain more adventures are in store for these characters and the world of Old Natalia, this story fills in vital details in that world’s history, making the Green Ember main series all the stronger for them.


TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The TARDIS Kleenex Box Cozy

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

One of my best friends growing up, John Underwood, was known for three things:

  • A) his extreme ticklishness along the sides of his torso, giving everyone else in the world an automatic John-Shut-Off switch should it ever be required, a power we almost never abused, almost certainly never by first shouting “That’s it, drop him!” and then attacking his sides until he was no longer able to remain upright, never in the middle of the cafeteria, in high school, and also college;
  • B) his unflagging devotion to the 1989 Michael Keaton-starring/Tim Burton-directed film Batman, (as well as it’s far lesser sequel, Batman Returns, a.k.a. Batman Sucks), to the degree that he, at one point, had a Batman ’89 shrine of collectables in his room at summer camp, and also at home;
  • and C) having a mother who put a cozy on absolutely EFFing everything.

You may think that I am exaggerating, but I tell you that, in the Underwood home, there was not a single item smaller than, say, a coffee table, that did not have a specialized cozy to cover it. Some cozies were crocheted. Some were quilted. Some were macraméd. Many were themed to whatever holiday fell during that month. The toaster had a cozy. The tea kettle had a cozy. The bread box had a cozy. The VCR had a cozy. There were picture frames in which the picture itself, while still visible, peeked out from within a cozy. In the winter, we joked that John wasn’t really wearing sweaters so much as John cozies. (And if John’s mom could place a cozied item on top of a doily, I think she got extra points, or something, cause there were a lot of those too.) Ubiquitous among the cozy-covered items, however, were the Kleenex boxes, of which there were… I’m gonna say at least 78. In my memory, there was a box of Kleenex atop every level surface in the house, and each of those boxes was clad in its own cozy. They were ever-present.

As youths, those of us among John’s friends were never super clear if all of this cozy-cladding was done out of some sort of embarrassment that visitors might be exposed to naked items sitting out on tables, or if Mrs. U just feared they would catch a chill. But if it was warm and snuggly Kleenexes that you needed, they were guaranteed to be found at chez Underwood

(I should note that Mrs. Underwood is a fantastic lady in all other respects, played a huge role in helping set me on the path to becoming the playwright and actor I am today, and always treated me as part of the family. But I made no bones to her at the time that she was in need of a cozy intervention.)

Time travel ahead 30 years.

Imagine my horror, after decades of ridiculing the cozy-wrapping practices of my betters, when I happened to be browsing Etsy one night and spied a cozy that I knew I had to both own and display. Yessir, the TARDIS Kleenex Cozy caught my eye and I was unable to prevent my finger from pressing the purchase button for longer than a week.

It soon materialized in the mail. And, I am ashamed to say, it was delightful.

The design is your standard yarn-woven-through-plastic-grid tissue box cozy, mind you, but done up in TARDIS-colored yarns, and with a keen eye for detail in terms of capturing the essential elements of the TARDIS. You’ve got your Police box sign above each side (though leaving off the “public call” part for space considerations), plus the door sign (with implied text). Even the levels of the roof are taken into account through the use of varying shades of yarn. The cozy fits over the taller, squarish tissue box in the brand and style of your choice. I really dig it and it now resides on my desk, next to my TARDIS Bluetooth speaker lamp. Mrs. Underwood would be proud and encourage you to find your own at etsy, courtesy of IrishKitten.

Of course, having learned my cozy lesson somewhat… looking around my office, I note that the number of TARDISes I own could almost kinda constitute something of a… TARDIS shrine, of sorts? Really gives one pause to consider that maybe I should also not be so cavalier in lobbing stones at the Bat-shrines of friends. Sorry, John.

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The 13th Doctor’s Electronic TARDIS

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection.) 

From the moment the BBC first released the initial promo images for Jodie Whitaker’s 13th Doctor, I took the bit of the idea of owning a 13th Doctor TARDIS toy and started chompin’. In fact, I gave it a Five TARDi rating here in advance just based on the picture of the prop. It just looked so cool, hearkening back to the classic series, with its darker color scheme, dark background door sign, yellowish windows and new lamp atop. I couldn’t wait to see it in toy form.

In 2020, the TARDIS toy was finally released. I’d already had a Jodie Whitaker Doctor figure standing among the other regenerations for weeks by then. One eBay purchase later, I had the new TARDIS on its way to me.

I knew in advance that the new toy was not going to be up to the same standards as the original Electronic Flight Control TARDIS, but none since has been, so that wasn’t a total shock. This new one would have no interior lights, but was still supposed to have takeoff and landing sounds, as well as a flashing roof lamp–standard features for most main series TARDIS releases these days. What I suspected from early pictures of the toy, though, was that Character Options had simply used the same sculpt that it had been using for their classic series TARDIS releases in the late oughts as well as the more recent B&M stores TARDIS releases (which have no sound or light functions). It would have a few few cosmetic additions to match the new prop, but this would be a classic style TARDIS. And while this further hearkened back to the classic series look her TARDIS shared, it also kind of annoyed me.

The classic series TARDIS is considerably smaller than those of the modern series in both prop and toy forms. And while I think there’s some visual evidence that Jodie’s 13th TARDIS prop is in fact slightly smaller than that of Eccleston through Capaldi, it doesn’t look that much smaller on screen as the size difference between the classic toy to modern toy would suggest.

Size RangeAnd here was the thought that bothered me: What does it say that your toy company is not willing to invest the resources to make the TARDIS replica of the first onscreen female Doctor just as large and functional as those of her predecessors? Not much good, I think. Sure, Character Options had been getting skimpier with their functionality, eliminating lights and sound in their B&M releases of the last few years, but this new TARDIS was allegedly part of the main line of toys. I would have preferred to see a modified version of the David Tennant TARDIS mold of the old Flight Control series than this modified smaller classic show TARDIS. (Check the size range in the above image, featuring 13th, 9th/10th, 7th, and 3rd variations.)

That said, nearly every TARDIS toy made by CO in the last 12 years has just been a lesser variant of the Electronic Flight Control TARDIS and the classic series TARDIS molds, so it’s not as if Jodie was being treated any shabbier than Peter Capaldi, other than her TARDIS toy was not in the same scale as Capaldi’s. Actually, there is another element of potential shabbiness I could complain about, but let’s save it for a moment.

Beyond the optics of it, though, there’s a lot to like about the 13th Doctor TARDIS toy. Character Options, while still re-using a previous mold, altered it enough to match the onscreen prop for the most part. The color scheme is great, recalling the kind of greenish blue of the Tom Baker era, as well as returning the dark background of the door sign over the phone compartment. That door sign, much like the TV counterpart, has had its hinges reversed, opening to the right instead of the left. (Or, at least, it would if the toy’s phone compartment door opened at all. No biggie. None of the classic TARDIS releases of the past five years have working phone doors anyway, nor did the last couple of models for Smith and Capaldi.) While the takeoff and landing sound effects are not as varied as those of my beloved 9th/10th Doctor TARDIS (which had two audio variations for both takeoff and landing), the sounds they chose are screen accurate and satisfying.

Where the 13th TARDIS toy falters for me is in its lack of an interior background card, which all of the previous modern series TARDISes have come with. Granted, none of the classic series style TARDISes (the mold of which this model uses) have interior background cards. For the most part, I’m okay with that, because it allows me to customize them to my liking (such as the wood-panel auxiliary control room interior I made to modify the flat-roofed 3rd Doctor TARDIS into a 4th Doctor TARDIS, as will be featured in a future entry). It just seemed wrong, though, that I had to go find and print a Jodie Whitaker TARDIS interior when CO could have just provided a higher quality one from the factory.

Again, is this the look you wanna go with for the first female Doctor, Character Options? Lookin’ at you. While I hate to do it, I have to revise my previous Five TARDi rating to a four…

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: Corgi Tom Baker Die-Cast TARDIS & K-9 Set (the White Whale TARDISes)

(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection. Find previous entries HERE.) 

I cannot say for sure where I first saw the Corgi Tom Baker Die-Cast TARDIS & K-9 set. Likely, it was one of the products for sale on WHONA.com, in the early oughts. I expect they’ve stocked it several times over the years. It was among a number of Doctor Who toys that the Corgi Company produced round about 2004, with many Doctor Who villains and characters represented. Tom Baker, however, is the only Doctor they seem to have included in the line, appearing in three different versions, all clad in his burgundy outfit from his final two seasons. They produced a free-standing 4th Doctor figurine, clutching his hat to his head; a 4th Doctor driving his car Bessie (a bit odd, as the only story in which the 4th Doctor drives Bessie is his first story, Robot, and in which he is not clad in his burgundy outfit at all; and the piece I now own, the Tom Baker clad in burgundy outfit peeking out of that door of the TARDIS. The set I bought came with a die cast K-9, which is wildly not to scale with the Doctor or the TARDIS, but whatever.

As with the above anachronistic costuming on some of the figures chosen, there’s just a lot about this particular set that also leads me to believe the Corgi crew were not necessarily knowledgeable about the show, but were just in it for the cash. Their dedication to a quality product led them to produce a TARDIS of a satisfying likeness to the actual prop, really only cutting corners with the roof lamp, which is just a cylindrical chunk of silver reminiscent of a LEGO stud, with little hint that it is supposed to be a lamp at all. But the overall shape is great. Where Corgi’s inattention to details from the show fall short, though, is that they have the miniature Tom Baker peeking out of the left-hand door of the TARDIS. By and large, in the classic and current series, if only one of the doors of the TARDIS is open, it Can't... open doors... any further. Phone... too... big.is the right-hand door. Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that the left hand door contains the telephone cabinet, which sits behind that door and collides with the interior wall of the TARDIS prop when opened. And I only think this because all of my toy TARDi with opening doors, and a phone installed behind the left door, have that issue. (Okay, I just checked and this is not entirely accurate. Of the three TARDISes I own that have working phone panel doors, only one of them really has this problem–the 7th Doctor TARDIS, which has an actual box behind the door in which a replica vintage phone sits (see photo). The box keeps the overall police box door from opening more than a little bit. The other two with working phone doors (the 9th/10th Flight Control TARDIS and the first 11th Flight Control TARDIS) have phones that hang from the backside of the door, instead of within a box, and take up less room, allowing for fully opening police box doors. (Incidentally, while we’re complaining about anachronistic and inaccurate toys, please note the mid-to-late period Tom Baker console I added to the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS.)

The Corgi K-9 diecast toy I have about as many complaints about. While Corgi got the general body shape right, there are some inaccuracies to be found. The most obvious one is that it has no ears. The head shape itself is very nice for such a small figure, but instead of the antenna ears of the actual K-9 prop, this one just has a blobby triangleish thing on top of its head, sort of like an ear unibrow. If viewed from the side, at just the right angle, it kind of implies the presence of ears and gives it the right silhouette. Looking at it from head-on, though, it looks like someone gave K-9 a pillbox hat. Other oddities include a raised section between its front “legs,” instead of a depression similar to that of its lower sides and back. There’s no hint of a tag, there is an implied collar painted the same metallic silver as the body. And the body has the name “K-9” written on both sides of the toy, instead of just the right side, with a TV screen on the left, as would have been more accurate to the prop. My guess, Corgi was given production stills to work from that only showed the prop from the K-9 side and they just assumed it was on both. (It’s a cynical view, I know, but it’s precisely what happened with many of the Dapol toys, which, as I’ve written about before, led to things like a five-sided TARDIS console, a Davros with two arms, a green K-9, and a Tom Baker with no scarf.)

Still, I’m not going to fault the Corgi TARDIS for the weaknesses of the Corgi K-9. It’s a great-looking piece, which I had wanted for years, so I grant it a full 3.5 TARDi.

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