TARDIS collector’s corner

TARDIS Collector’s Corner (Future Timey Wimey Edition): The 13th Doctor’s TARDIS

Thursday nerd media online has been blazing with a single photograph, one that revealed Jodie Whitaker’s costume as the 13th Doctor in next year’s new season of Doctor Who.

For the most part, I’m okay with it, and certainly like the trouser braces she’s sporting.  Love the coat.  Love the boots.  Like the basic color scheme.  Not real big on the stripey stripe on the shirt, but I’m sure she’ll change her shirt once in a while.  It’s not like Capaldi kept his first season coat he whole time either.

But what really caught my attention was her version of the TARDIS, as seen in the background.

I’d read that it was getting a redesign beyond the traditional new Doctor interior, and had been curious what would be done to it.  Would they paint it a girly color just to piss off the fanboys who don’t like that the Doctor shall be a Time Lady now?  Well quite the opposite, in fact.

The new TARDIS looks more like the old TARDIS, and by that I mean the old old TARDIS from the later days of Tom Baker’s era.  Gone is the St. John’s Ambulance badge.  Gone the pebbled glass T windows.  This is a proper back-to-basics, no dumb glowy door sign, grim-n-dingy-`70s blue old school TARDIS.  The door sign has even reverted to the dark background of ’70s and ’80s show prop.

I look forward to purchasing the toy version of it and have fingers crossed that they take all the great aspects of the 10th Doctor’s Flight Control TARDIS and marry them to the new design, leaving out the questionable bits of more recent TARDIS releases, as yet to be reviewed here.

So far, I give it Five TARDI.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The Doctor Who Light Up TARDIS “Kit”

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

There’s a well-worn joke in my household concerning my TARDIS collection.

Typically, upon discovering I’ve made a new TARDIS purchase, the wife will say something like “How many TARDISes do you need?”  I reply, “All of them.  And she groans and adds another tick to the column of “reasons I was correct to suspect my husband is a giant geek.”

The joke, however, is inaccurate.  While I do have around 49 TARDi in my collection, by no means am I interested in owning every version of every TARDIS toy/model/product that is or has been on the market.  Sure, there are a few more out there I am interested in acquiring, but I’m no completionist.  I would even say that I’m pretty picky when it comes to my choice in TARDIS purchases, hence the rating system I’ve adopted for this series of entries.

My criteria for wanting to own a given TARDIS are as follows:

  1. It should look like the TARDIS in one of its versions from across the 50 + year history of the show (old school, new school, what have ya);

  2. It should have most of the standard TARDIS detailing (proper number of levels to the roof, correct proportions, wood grain sculpting on most “wood” surfaces, no skimping on detail or cutting corners for sake of cheap manufacture (I’m lookin’ at you DAPOL!);

  3. It should be properly TARDIS blue (though there are shades to even that, and exceptions to the rule in certain cases);

  4. Exceptions can be made for artistic license provided the end result is fun;

  5. Bonus points for functionality, such as the ability to make the TARDIS wheezing “vworp!!” sound, or lights that flash, doors that open inward, etc.;

  6. Bonus points if it appears actual thought and care went into the recreation.

Usually I like to be able to get a good look at the TARDIS in question before buying, to make sure it falls into the above criteria.  I try not to buy them blindly for fear of winding up with a “shitfer” TARDIS that I’ll be embarrassed to have around.

But sometimes it happens anyway.

Case in point, the Doctor Who Light Up TARDIS Kit, which is one of the most inaccurately described products I’ve ever encountered in the wild.

When one orders a “kit” one expects, and possibly even desires, to have some degree of assembly required.  A “kit” is supposed to come in pieces which may be–fingers crossed–cut from a plastic frame, glued and/or snapped together, decals applied, and painting possibly required before the “kit” has been created.  Not so much for the Doctor Who Light Up TARDIS Kit.  This “kit” came fully assembled with its battery already in place.  The only requirement was to pull the plastic battery protector from the little slot in the screw-fastened battery compartment and then flip a switch to turn on the roof lamp.



that’s… awesome.

Left the “kit” TARDIS. Right an actual kit TARDIS with actual assembly required.

It did come with a booklet showcasing the various actors to have played the Doctor over the years.  In all other respects, though, it was aggressively disappointing.  And it violates or bends at least three of the above six criteria.

  • The details are not quite what they should be.  While the “wood” surfaces of this TARDIS do have wood-grain sculpting, the grain-molding they used for it is not to scale with the actual object were the TARDIS two inches high.  It’s huge by comparison and would only be accurate for a much larger TARDIS, possibly even larger than the Flight Control model.

  • And while they did go so far as to apply wood grain to the roof surfaces as well, they applied it in the wrong direction, the grain perpendicular to the edges of the roof instead of parallel to the edges, as if each triangular roof facet were its own separate board.

  • And the roof lamp, while able to illuminate via LED, is oversized in proportion to the roof.  However the “glass” of the lamp itself is beveled, which is a nice detail to have included.

  • A minor point, the POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX signs above the doors aren’t recessed.  This I’ll forgive, as detail is often lost in producing a miniature TARDIS (though the miniature TARDIS pictured on the right in the above photo didn’t seem to have much problem recreating the effect).

All in all, I’m not a big fan of the Doctor Who Light Up TARDIS “Kit.”  The company that manufactured it, Running Press, has offered a number of other “kits.”  In fact, they refer to them in their advertising as “Mega Kits,” including a Dalek, a Cyberman torso and head, a Matt Smith era Sonic Screwdriver, and K-9.  They further note that said kits are “Mega Fun!”  (They look fine.  I might eventually even purchase the K-9, since I seem to own him in many of his other forms already.)  However, I give their TARDIS “kit,” two TARDI.

In future, I’ll write about another TARDIS kit that will truly live up to the definition of the word.  I only have to assemble it first.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: The Cookie Jar (My 3rd TARDIS) (Mother In Law TARDi)

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

In the early 2000s, pre-2005, around the time I was searching the internet for TARDIS models and toys, leading to my purchases of my first two TARDi, I began coming across TARDIS cookie jars for sale.  These were ceramic TARDIS cookie jars, with removable roofs/tops for the insertion and removal of cookies.  And I could never find one for under $40.  Now I’d probably spent $40 total for my two previous TARDi and a bag of Jelly Babies, but I just couldn’t find a way to justify spending that kind of cash on an object I was, in all likelihood, going to drop on the floor and smash into TARDIS bits at some point (recreating the ending of Season 7, a full ten years in advance–you can do that with Doctor Who stuff).  So I didn’t.  But I really really wanted to.  I just kept looking at them up on eBay and AmazonUK, and lamenting the criminally high postage costs that would accompany a $40 (60 pound) price tag.  I even looked into becoming a cookie jar dealer, figuring I could get a bunch of them in bulk for wholesale prices and resell them all, minus one, to recoup my investment.  That didn’t happen either.  Instead, I came about the acquisition of a cookie jar without much effort on my part.  I was given one by a generous soul who was well-versed in my love of Doctor Who and who, loving soul that she is, gave me had already given me two even better gifts in the past, one of which was Doctor Who related and the other was my wife.  I’m talking about my mother-in-law Susie, a.k.a.: Ma.

I may have dreamed of owning a TARDIS toy from a very early age, but what I truly wanted most in the world as a 4th grader was a Doctor Who scarf just like the one worn by Tom Baker on the show. (Yeah, I know, there were like 5 of them during his eight year run, and I would have settled for any of them.)  The scarf was such a monstrous thing in both length and color scheme, but I adored the show and therefore adored the fashion sense of its main character–Bohemian as it was. At the time, I didn’t even consider that I might one day own such a scarf. That sort of accessory was only found on TV, as far as my 9-year-old brain was concerned. Instead, I wound up borrowing a muffler from my dad’s then girlfriend, Nell.  It is an item of clothing which I still possess to this day.  Nell’s muffler (which, BTW, is also the name of my bluegrass Nelly cover band) looked nothing like the Doctor’s scarf, being white and with tied off tassels on the end.  It was, however, the only scarf I had and I wore it habitually.  (Somewhere there exists a photo of me wearing it, along with a paper plate Tom Baker mask I’d made in art class at school.)

Time travel ahead a decade or so. My friend Joe and I took a weekend trip to Atlanta and happened to find a Nerd Shop, somewhere on the outskirts of the city. We were nearly finished with our shopping and were on the way to the counter to check out when there, lying coiled in a basket like a multi-colored snake, we spied a single, full-sized, Doctor Who scarf.  It was a thing of beauty and we both coveted it immediately. However, because there was only one scarf and two of us, neither of us could purchase it for fear of drawing the eternal jealous ire of the other.  Oh, sure, we could have gone in on it together, but then we would then have had to work out some kind of complicated time-share deal for it and that seemed unwieldy at best.  Some time later, I was able to search out a knitting pattern for such a scarf on a Doctor Who Usenet newsgroup, but at the time I knew no one who knitted.

Time travel ahead another decade. I’m married to a wonderful woman who had the good fortune to have been given birth by another wonderful woman, a.k.a.: Ma.  Soon after I learned that Ma is a crafty soul who can knit all sorts of yarny goodness, if of a mind. It took me a couple of years, but slowly it dawned on me that here was a lady who COULD knit and who loved me enough that she might do me up a scarf if I asked real sweet.

On Thanksgiving, in 2002, I even brought the subject up to my wife, asking if she thought Ma might be willing to knit and/or crochet met a scarf (I wasn’t sure which it was)?

“No way!  A Doctor Who scarf would take forever to knit and Ma doesn’t have that kind of time.”  I felt foolish for even asking.  Of course Ma would never knit me something like that.  Maybe after a decade or so of me being in the family, once she was pretty sure the marriage had taken root, she might consider it, but it was too much to ask only two years in.

One short month later, a day or so from Christmas, we were back in North Carolina visiting the in-laws and out-laws for a day before heading toward Mississippi. I was sitting in a chair, watching TV when the wife and Ma approached carrying a double lined grocery bag, tied off by its straps. They passed it to me and stood smiling down. I took it, not even suspecting what might be inside. As I was trying to untie the straps, I caught a glimpse of knitting through the top and instantly knew what it was. Deep inside me, the 4th grade version of me snapped to attention and I began clapping my Puppy Chow dusted hands together in pure 9 year old glee.  At long long last, I had my scarf. And a beautiful scarf it was, 17 feet of green and tan and brown and orange–just fantastic! Ma said it was the ugliest thing she’d ever created, but she was glad I liked it. I wrapped myself up in its length and soaked in the coolness of the very concept.

“You’re gonna sleep with that thing, tonight, aren’t you?” the wife asked.

“Hell, yes, I’m going to sleep with it!” I said.

Time Travel ahead four more years to 2006, well into David Tennant’s first year as the 10th Doctor.  Ma let it be known that she’d sent a package to us and gave the wife special instructions that she was to take my picture as I opened. it.  And so it came to pass that in two days time a large box arrived.  Unfortunately, the wife was on call that night, so I had to wait to open it for fear of retribution for lost snapshot opportunities. When she returned the following day, however, I alerted her to its arrival and of my good behavior in not peeking at its contents. The wife told me that I was going to freak out with happiness when I saw what it was. And I knew she spoke the truth, for surprises from Ma designed to freak me out in a happy way always do.  The wife turned on the camera.

Carefully I cut the tape holding the box flaps down, taking my time with it to prolong the moment. (I get so few positive freak-out moments in life, so it’s best to savor them when they do come my way.) I then sliced the tape down the center of the box, slowly opened the cardboard flaps and peered into its depths.

My first glimpse of the contents was of an emergency roadside tool kit, the very kind I’ve been meaning to purchase for several years now. It was not, however, a freak-out worthy present. A bit to the left, I next spied a pair of lounge pants printed with the characters of South Park. Again, a fine present, but I was not freaking out.

The me from 2006 with his new time traveling cookie jar.

Then I saw it.

Partially submerged in the sea of pink packing peanuts within was a Doctor Who TARDIS cookie jar.  What was even cooler, though, was that this was not the porcelain TARDIS cookie jar that I was so certain I would break but a much larger (and less fragile) plastic one which played TARDIS sounds every time you opened or closed the lid.  (Or just pressed down on the lamp on its roof.)  Granted, this meant I had an automatic alarm that would sound every time I went for a cookie, but it made up for it in coolness points alone.

I completely and happily freaked out!   I cannot show you the images the wife took of my freak-out, for they are even more embarrassing than my admission of sleeping in my scarf.  Instead we have one from just after I’d calmed down a bit.

I finally had my cookie jar.  And it was a much more screen-accurate model of the TARDIS than the porcelain cookie jar would have been–which was a bit rounded off for easier casting.   I’m not certain of the manufacturer, though the packaging certainly suggests Underground Toys, or another such early toy company that had the license.  If they still have the license, they’ve more recently upgraded to the Matt Smith model TARDIS.  And they also have a porcelain model to boot, but, again, it’s nearly $40.

My TARDIS cookie jar lived in the kitchen for years afterward and was rarely passed without its lamp being pressed to make the TARDIS sound.  It has since relocated from our current kitchen and now lives atop the bookshelves of my office, along with its other sister TARDi.  (BTW, Sister Tardi is the name of my bluegrass French-language Night Ranger cover band.)   It does not currently contain cookies, but is used to store my pipe tobacco sampler pack, purchased during our 10th anniversary weekend getaway to Gatlinburg.  (Glad I didn’t have to wait that long to ask for a scarf.)

As far as TARDIS functionality goes, it’s mainly decorative.  And, for some reason, the cookie jar doesn’t have the wood grain sculpting of future TARDIS releases.  It does have the shape and details down otherwise.

I’ll give this one four TARDi.  And will further note that while it was the largest TARDIS I own for many years, that honor has fallen to another TARDIS.  I mentioned the scarf and the cookie jar as major Doctor Who related gifts from my mother-in-law, but I assure you she was not done.  There have been, to date, three more hand-made TARDIS-related gifts from Ma which come very close to rivaling even the scarf in coolness and at least one of which are larger than the cookie jar.  Those will be revealed in future posts.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: the Dapol TARDIS (my second first(ish) TARDIS)

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

As I’ve written before, owning a TARDIS toy was something I had wanted since I was a wee lad in the 4th grade, but for many years the only TARDIS toys I ever saw were in my dreams.  They existed, of course, but primarily in the UK, from where Doctor Who originated.  And, in those pre-interweb days, were not on my radar at all.  In the early 1990s, however, that changed.

In 1988, a Welsh model railroad company called Dapol began producing a line of Doctor Who action figures.  While there had been action dolls and a TARDIS playset produced by Denys Fisher Toys in the late `70s, this was the first attempt to produce a line of action figures in a 3.75 inch G.I. Joe/Star Wars scale.  This was during the sunset years of the show’s original run, just as the Sylvester McCoy era ended the show seemingly for good. So the initial run of Doctor Who toys from Dapol featured Sylvester McCoy and his companion Mel.  Dapol released a number of individual Doctor Who figures as well as a variety of Daleks, which did well enough for the company.  Unfortunately, the creators at Dapol in conjunction with the licensing people at the BBC, were not always so good at capturing the details of the show in the toys.  For instance Dapol created and the BBC approved a figure of Davros, the power-chair-bound creator of the Daleks.  The figure they made, though, possessed two whole arms instead of just the right arm with his presumably non-functional left arm tucked down into his chair housing, as per every single Davros appearance on the television show to that point.  Their solution to this problem, according to an interview I read with Dapol’s president, David Boyle, from the Toys & Games special issue of Doctor Who Magazine, was to simply rip the left forearms from all produced figures in the second run and simply not make that piece in runs after.  Dapol also made a green K-9 figure.  Boyle says in his interview that the only reference  photo the BBC sent him was of K-9 on grass, which reflected greenly in his silver finish.  (The photo in question was used in Dapol’s publicity material and does indeed show a similarly green-tinted K-9, so this checks out for me.  Still, the BBC licensing department saw the green sample figures and approved them readily).  And, in the most glaring example of Dapol’s inattention to detail, their figure for Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor (you know, the one Doctor Who figure I had most desired to own since the age of 9) was missing a key costume element which the character on the show was renowned for possessing: his excessively long scarf.  Even though the package art features it, it was missing from the figure.  One might also argue they’d left off his hat, and one would be correct in this as well.  But the scarf, even to this day, is the most remembered feature of the character among non-fans other than the TARDIS.

“Doctor, why is K-9 green?” “Must’ve gone off his kibble, Mel.”

Oh, but then there was the Dapol TARDIS, which was actually part of the very first set they offered for sale, which was originally part of a limited edition 25th anniversary set, featuring the 7th Doctor, Mel, the green K-9, and a TARDIS complete with control room playset.  Conceptually this was something of a dream as the TARDIS toy worked both as the TARDIS prop, with functioning doors and a blue LED that would light up and flash with the flip of a switch, but could also come apart to be reassembled into a TARDIS control room diorama complete with a central control console.  The interiors of the TARDIS side panels were painted gray with sculpted white TARDIS roundels, allowing the walls to be linked together to form the interior control room walls.  And the console, which both lit up and had a clear time rotor in the center that would rise and fall was a handy addition for play.  Unlike the control console on TV, though, Dapol’s had five sides instead of six.  Boyle says this was again down to the production stills from the show, which didn’t clearly show the number of sides.  He even called the show’s producer, John Nathan Turner, to ask and, Boyle says, JNT asked him which number was easier for Dapol to produce, to which Boyle said “Five” so JNT told him to roll with that. Later, JNT was apparently angry about the inaccurate console and that Boyle hadn’t “pestered more to get the correct information.”  It was then agreed that after the company had sold it’s first 10,000 units of the toy, they would have to revise it for six sides.  Boyle says Dapol only ever sold 1200.

Dalek fails

Dapol Dalek Sampler Pack

(It should be noted that Dapol was hardly the only company guilty of cheap design and construction when it came to Doctor Who toys.  For instance, it took decades before ANY company was able to produce a Dalek toy that came close to matching the detail, or even the basic shape of the Daleks on the show.  For every Character Options Dalek that gets the recipe right, there are dozens and dozens of processed cheese level Dalek toys that look like they were designed by someone who not only didn’t have actual photographs of the props but had been working entirely from a verbal description of a Dalek given by a person who had once seen one on TV, from across a smoky room, while on LSD.  To their credit, Dapol’s Daleks, while not my favorite, got the look right.)

While initially offered in the 25th anniversary set, the Dapol TARDIS went on to be released in a number of different play sets, often with accompanying figures.  However, in 1994, while the company was moving its production to a new facility, a fire at the original Dapol factory destroyed the original molds for the control console, along with much of their existing production line of Doctor Who toys.  Because they’d allowed the insurance on the old building to lapse as they moved to a new building, the company was suddenly massively in debt.  Rather than retool a new one, incurring more costs, Dapol just began producing TARDIS sets minus the console and downplayed the whole coming apart to form the control room feature.

My introduction to the Dapol line came from an issue of Previews in the early 1990s.  (Previews is the magazine for Diamond Comic Distributiors, Inc. which was then and remains one of the major direct sales distributors for comic book shops.  Comic nerds like myself would pick up Previews each month so we could see what sort of product would be on sale in our local shop in three months and be able to order accordingly.)  Some of the Dapol figures, including the TARDIS, were offered for sale there and their grainy little black and white pictures were enticing to my Doctor Who starved brain.  Unfortunately, they were not cheap.  The 25th anniversary set retailed for 49.99 pounds, which at 1990 exchange rates was around $95.  And it wasn’t like they were offered through Diamond every month.  Anything beyond initial orders of new product would come with markup for import costs from the UK.  So if you were able to find the toys in the US at all they were usually far pricier than your average college student can pay–especially considering the often slapdash nature of Dapol’s quality.

My local shop, the late and lamented Gun Dog Comics, did have a few of the individual figures, but I didn’t have a lot of scratch in the `90s.  I think I did manage to cobble together enough to buy a K-9 from them (of the non-green variety) at some point, but a TARDIS was a few years off, when I finally found a reasonably-priced one on the previously mentioned WHONA.com.  I ordered it at the same time as the resin model kit, making it my second first(ish) TARDIS.

My Dapol TARDIS is, of course, of the non-console-inclusive later day variety.  As far as functionality goes, it’s pretty bare bones, with the whole opening doors and blinking silent roof lamp.  However, as you can see from the pictures, Dapol didn’t go out of their way to actually sculpt a proper lamp housing from any of the various ones used on the show.  Instead, it’s a bare blue LED bulb inside a clear plastic cylinder.  And while the TARDIS does still come apart for assembly into the control room walls, the lack of console gave them the added incentive to stop painting the interior walls, save for the roundels.  So instead of the soothing gray/white walls, they’re just TARDIS blue.  As far as sculpts go, it’s one of the least impressive and minimalist of designs, probably owing to ease of production.  The doors are only slightly recessed from the corner columns, the roof isn’t beveled, the windows are painted into their barely inset panes, and there is no real base to speak of other than a 1/16 inch thick plastic floor.  And, much like the TARDIS props have occasionally appeared on the show, the whole thing is kind of rickety in construction.  It’s four walls are held together by friction-based notch and tab hinges on the edge of each wall. The bases of the walls have fins that slide beneath other extremely thin plastic fins molded into the nearly as thin base (which I can’t imagine would hold up to actual play), and then the whole assembly is pinned by the roof, which has its own wide tabs that fit into slots in the upper edges of the doors.  This means that in order to play with it as a representation of the TARDIS exterior you must hold it firmly around its walls so that the inward pressure keeps them in place, and you must never ever try to lift it by its roof light or turn it upside down, lest the roof fall off.

However, for all its many faults, it’s still a toy I would have loved to have owned in 1981 during the height of my infatuation with the PBS reruns of the show, and I would have played with it gladly as a prized possession.  Unfortunately, its many faults and inattention to detail, especially when compared with other TARDISes in my collection (not to mention its lack of even an inaccurate console) lead me to give this one a solid two TARDi.  It’s probably two and a half, really.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: My first(ish) TARDIS

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

It was around 2002 that I first decided I’d lived long enough on earth without a physical representation of a TARDIS in my life.  Oh, I’d seen the major toy version of it (the super-expensive and kind of disappointing Dapol TARDIS, about which I will write more in the near future), but I wondered what, if any, model kits there might be for one.  It seemed like the sort of project that would be tailor made for a model airplane company.  For while the basic design of the TARDIS is simple enough (a box) the details of it would be of a sort that might lend themselves to the kind of intricate assembly some model makers enjoy.  So I began casting about on the internet and found something similar for sale at WhoNA.com.

The resin kit TARDIS and 7th Doctor TARDIS for scale

WhoNA is a company begun in 1998 and run by some good-hearted American fans of the show who wanted to offer difficult to find Doctor Who themed products for sale in the United States.  (Keep in mind, in 1998 Doctor Who was pretty much dead in the water.  The original show had been gone for a decade and the 1996 TV movie, starring 8th Doctor Paul McGann, had failed to be a hit in either the US or the UK, so a new McGann TV series was a lost cause.  The character only existed in video releases of the original episodes–those that survived the BBC purge–and in ancillary products such as books, where modern TV writers like Steven Moffatt, Gareth Roberts and Mark Gatiss first cut their teeth on the character, and in audio stories from companies such as Big Finish–still going strong today, and where you can find loads of Paul McGann adventures, among those of many of the other Doctors.)  WhoNA had lots of the Dapol toy stock, plus miniatures, audio stories, books, games, Jelly Babies, and more, and at reasonable prices.  And they had a TARDIS resin model kit.

These days if there’s a movie prop or model that a person might want to purchase it can usually be found in 3D printed form on any number of prop websites, where you might find a professional prop-maker to create something custom for you, or a YouTube video to give you a step-by-step guide to making your own.  In the 80s and 90s, though, such props were often manufactured by fans and cast in poly-resin, either pre-assembled or in kits.  Occasionally you’d even find some that were cast from a mold made of one of the original props, which meant your new version would be about as close to authentic as you were likely to find.  Often such kits could be found at comic conventions where, 90 percent of the time, in my experience, they were kits of one of the Sandman guns from Logan’s Run.  So I knew what a resin kit was before I ordered the TARDIS kit from WhoNA.  I was still somehow surprised by it, though.

I wish I had pictures of what the kit contained pre-construction.  I’ve looked online, but have not seen it in a Google search.  Basically, though, the kit came in three basic parts: a 3 inch high body of the TARDIS, the roof of the TARDIS and the lamp atop the roof of the TARDIS, all cast in bone white resin.  To save on resin, though, or perhaps because of the casting process, the TARDIS body was hollow, leaving its exterior of all four walls and the base, seemingly cast as one piece.  (Memory is fuzzy… the door handle might also have been a separate piece.)  The roof was separate, fitting into place with the four corner posts holding its corners, and the lamp, which was not clear plastic but just a lamp-shaped bit of resin with a cap, had to be glued to the roof.  The lamp also came with a number of bits and bobs meant to simulate the four posts of the lamp’s housing.  These I promptly lost and wasn’t unhappy with the loss because they were tiny and would have been a huge hassle to glue into place.

So basically the assembly of this was to glue on the lamp and the roof (and possibly the handle), paint it, then affix the stickers for the POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX and door signs.  It struck me as odd at the time that the manufacturer also included the St. John’s badge for the door, as this was a TARDIS feature that had been lost before William Hartnell had even left the job as the 1st Doctor in the mid-’60s.  Little did I know that it would be restored to its place starting with Matt Smith’s run, nigh on 40 years later.  I decided to add it anyway, cause why not?

I believe I found what I thought was the perfect shade of TARDIS blue spray paint from a Big Lots and some white and black Testor’s model paints from Wal-Mart for the windows and the lamp.  I probably would have painted things a little differently now than I did 16 years ago, leaving the current blue for lowlights and shadows, going with a slightly lighter shade for the base, and follow up with some dry-brushed highlights.  I suppose all of that can be corrected in the future.  It’s not like it would be the first time a TARDIS got a new coat of paint, after all.

The manufacturer of this particular kit, if there ever was a company name, is lost to the sands of time.  To my memory, it didn’t come in much more than a plain cardboard box and is no longer for sale on WhoNA, so the amount of research I’d have to do to find out is  But it’s a terribly good kit that doesn’t skimp on the fine details in any respect.  And while it doesn’t light up and doesn’t make noise, I have to credit it as one of my favorite TARDISes in my collection simply due to the attention to detail and elegance of construction.  I’m giving this bad boy a full five TARDI.

And while this was technically one of my first TARDISes, I actually ordered two from WhoNA, along with a bag of Jelly Babies. And it is that TARDIS, the ill-fated Dapol TARDIS, which I’ll write about next time.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: the 7th Doctor’s Electronic TARDIS

“Oh, look…. rocks.”

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

With the success of Doctor Who line of toys, particularly its Electronic Flight Control TARDIS, Character Options decided to expand its figure line beyond the 9th and 10th Doctors and the other companions and characters from the 21st century incarnation of the show.  Naturally, since Tom Baker is still my favorite Doctor, I had to have that one and ordered it as fast as my ebay ordering fingers could move.  It’s a pretty brilliant figure, capturing the likeness and manic glee of Baker’s Doctor, along with a rubber recreation of Baker’s famous scarf (an accessory that had been infamously missing from the previous attempt at a Tom Baker action figure, the one issued by Dapol in the late 80s–though not the original Denys Fisher doll).  They went on to release figures for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th Doctors as well as a 11 Doctors set timed with Matt Smith’s start as the 11th Doctor, and which included the previously unproduced Paul McGann 8th Doctor.

With a 4th Doctor in hand, I began taking photographs in the mossier sections of our yard, along with my recently purchased David Tennant TARDIS.  While it did make my inner 4th grader leap for joy even he had to admit that it wasn’t as satisfying as if it was a genuine 4th Doctor TARDIS.  But such a thing did not exist.  A large part of me hoped that one day it would, but it seemed as distant a dream as the TARDIS toys I’d dreamed of as a kid.  Even better, I dreamed on, wouldn’t it be cool if Character Options produced TARDIS toys for each of the Doctors?  After all, there were several different TARDIS props over the course of the original series.

7th Doctor

7th Doctor

4th Doctor

4th Doctor

1st Doctor

1st Doctor

Then, in 2011, Character Options partnered with company Underground Toys to make my dream a reality–sorta.  They announced that they were producing a handful of the classic TARDIS models to be packaged with the action figures for their corresponding Doctor.  Except they were only going to do three of them.  Included in their run would be the 1st Doctor’s TARDIS with accompanying William Hartnell figure (a new sculpt based on his first appearance as the character); a 4th Doctor’s TARDIS, complete with a Tom Baker figure (same one I already had); and the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS complete with a Sylvester McCoy 7th Doctor figure.  Compared with the 21st

From left to right, the modern day TARDIS and the Sylvester McCoy TARDIS

century TARDIS, the original series props were smaller, narrower, and very often ricketier.  (Just watch Spearhead from Space to see the TARDIS practically shake apart as Jon Pertwee falls through its doors in his first appearance–watch from the 2:07 time code.)  The toys matched that scale, being a bit smaller than the modern toys.  The sculpts on these were basically the same barring a couple of details.  The 1st Doctor TARDIS was differentiated by the St. John’s Ambulance badge on the right door–a detail that had been painted over and abandoned until Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor TARDIS would restore it in 2011.  The 4th Doctor’s TARDIS was shorter due to having a flat roof instead of a tiered and pitched one.  It was painted a dingier shade of blue.  It’s door sign was also white letters on a black background instead of black on white.  And Sylvester McCoy’s was basically the 4th Doctor’s TARDIS with the 1st Doctor’s roof, painted a lighter shade of blue.  (In reality, a new and taller TARDIS prop was brought in during the later years of Baker’s run and was kept as the main prop for the next three–getting a repaint or two along the way.)

While I felt it was a lost opportunity to do a different TARDIS for each Doctor, these three were pretty representational of the classic run.  Unfortunately, they were also pretty expensive.  If they were available for sale in this country it was usually as imports or on ebay, where prices soared, rising up to the $80 range.  I didn’t feel like I could justify buying even Baker’s, let alone all three.  And the longer I sat on the decision the more expensive they became–especially Baker’s.

Finally, in 2012 or so, I stumbled on a GoHastings listing for the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS for an admirably reasonable price and grabbed it while I could.  Sure, it wasn’t Baker’s flat roofed version, but truth be told I really hate the flat roof.  I never noticed the roof was flat when I originally watched the series.  It was only after becoming accustomed to the pitched roof of later years that caused me to be bumped by the toy’s flat roof.  It’s jarring and un-TARDIS-like to me, yet ironically it is the TARDIS that I first fell in love with.  In truth, the McCoy TARDIS was more in line with later day Baker, except for the lighter paint job.  Out of the box and on my shelf, though, it doesn’t look nearly as bright as the image above.

The McCoy TARDIS is definitely a different creature compared to the Flight Control 10th Doctor TARDIS, mostly for the worse.  I expect it’s not cheap to produce such a fine item as the Flight Control TARDIS with all its bells and whistles.  The McCoy TARDIS basically just has a bell and no whistles.  Now some of this is due in large part to the fact that the original TARDIS props did not have much in the way of lights.  It basically had the lantern on the roof, if they were lucky.  So the toy’s sole light is the lanter.  Gone are the interior lights (not to mention the backdrop of the TARDIS interior).  Gone is the lighting behind the Police Public Call Box signs.  The toy still has TARDIS takeoff and landing sounds, but there is no spin function and no other flight sounds nor interior sounds.  It’s pretty bare bones.  The toy also loses some functionality in that while there is a telephone within the door cabinet beneath the left front window, the box in which it sits takes up so much space behind the door that you cannot open that door even half way.  (I took mine apart and removed the phone, but then it looks odd when you open the cabinet, so I put it all back.)  And I don’t know if this is universal to all copies of this toy or just mine, but while the Flight Control TARDIS features a right hand door that can be propped open and releases on a spring via a button on the interior floor, this one’s button doesn’t so much work and the right hand door is difficult to close flush with the housing.  (I basically have to smack the face of it into my hand to let gravity and force to do the work of closing it.)

The McCoy figure that came with it is actually my favorite version of the character’s costume, with the dark jacket, the panama hat and question mark umbrella.  I have traded it in place of the McCoy that came with the 11 Doctor’s set, who had a white jacket and no hat.

As a toy, the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS is not so functional for play, but that’s not what I have it for to begin with.  As a piece of shelf art, it’s great.  So despite its functional issues, I’m still giving it four TARDISes.

PS – A few weeks back, some amazingly huge mushrooms grew in my yard.  I thought it was a good opportunity for some photography, so I took a couple of sizes of modern day TARDISes out there to put next to it.  I posted the resulting image to Facebook.  A bit later, my buddy Joe commented “Not legit until you take one in a rock quarry.”  This comment was due, of course, to Baker-era Doctor Who’s frequent use of quarries as stand-ins for alien worlds.  I replied “Gimme three hours.”   Not only did I know where a ostensible rock quarry was, it was not far from my house and I had a period correct TARDIS model on hand for the photo shoot.  I found plenty of locales for the photos, including the one at the top of this page and the second one here.  (I had to edit out some power lines in the one above, but I left the giant dumptruck in the distance to the right side of the photo, figuring Daleks probably had them too.) 

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: 10th Doctor’s Electronic Flight Control TARDIS

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

The 2008 Electronic Flight Control TARDIS (manufactured by Character Options) is quite possibly the finest TARDIS toy to date.  In fact, I’d say it’s my favorite TARDIS in my entire collection.  How come?  Cause it’s a lot like the TARDIS toys I literally dreamed about when I was a kid.

The Electronic Flight Control TARDIS arrived on the market shortly after David Tennant’s second Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Christmas Invasion, which followed his first year in the role.  It’s simply one of the most functional toys when it comes to its ability to replicate in play the sort of things the TARDIS prop is shown to do on the show.

Let’s start with the sound effects, which recreate the TARDIS effects from the show in a number of variations.  When this battery powered toy is turned to the on position, you can place it on any flat surface, causing a button on the bottom of its base to be pressed which, in turn, causes the sound-chip inside to play TARDIS landing sounds.  Then, when you pick it up, it plays TARDIS dematerialization sounds.  That right there is worth the price of admission to me.  However, they’ve gone one better in that there are actually two variations for each sound effect: a quick emergency landing sound, an extended landing sound, as well as quick and extended versions of the take off effects.  And as the sounds play the lantern atop the TARDIS pulses in time, much the way it does on the show, turning off only after the landing sounds conclude, or continues to flash after the takeoff sounds conclude (as it does when the TARDIS is in flight).  The interior lights also turn on the glow from which can be seen through the windows on all four sides and will remain on until the circuit eventually times out and the whole thing shuts off to conserve battery power.  Similarly, the “Police Public Call Box” sign above each side also solidly illuminate.  The toy also has a smaller door set within the left side door which opens to reveal a phone.

Another wickedly cool sound and light feature involves the doors.  Both doors swing inward and can lock into place, revealing the David Tennant TARDIS interior beyond across a short section of tiled floor.  When even one of the doors on this toy are opened (usually the right door, since the left door has a lip on it that doesn’t allow it to easily open unless the right door is opened first) the toy plays a sound effect of the throb of the TARDIS’s engines as well as pulses a light from the interior of the roof.  The design of this is also such that the “Police Public Call Box” lights are independent of the interior light (which is what illuminates the windows).

This is what I like to call clever design.  Someone put a lot of thought into getting the details right and it shows.  As I said early, I have actually dreamed of TARDIS toys that were not even quite this cool.

Another of the sound effect action features of the toy is a small round indention on the bottom of the TARDIS’s base, where a finger may be placed and the entire box spun on that pivot, with the other hand holding onto the lantern on top to do the spinning.  As it spins, a new sound effect can be heard, that of the TARDIS traveling through space.  At the time I assumed that this feature was meant to recreate the behavior of the TARDIS in that second Christmas special in which we were treated to a high speed traffic chase with the TARDIS chasing after an alien robot Santa driven taxi.

I thought I recalled the Doctor being able to steer the TARDIS via this phone as well.  Having rewatched that Christmas special recently, though, I’m pretty sure both of these points were incorrect, as the Doctor is seen controlling the TARDIS via a series of wires and strings tied to the control console as he tries to get get Donna Noble to jump from a moving automobile into his moving time machine.  The spinning is just something the TARDIS tends to do in flight, so hence the spinning feature.

The other sound effect is made when you shake the TARDIS, which gives you a roaring version of the TARDIS engines, presumably traversing the time vortex.

I truly wish I’d had this toy when I was a kid.  It was one of the many Doctor Who related purchases I’ve made because I feel I owe it to my inner 4th grader.

A Five TARDIS Rating

If you’re ever planning to make an investment in a TARDIS toy, this is the one I’d most highly recommend tracking down on eBay.  And be sure you’re getting the 10th Doctor model, because while Character Options has made a number of other TARDIS models, only the Peter Capaldi TARDIS of 2016 comes close to replicating all of the features of this one (and it doesn’t get them all, trading out a feature for a feature, and losing some points in quality on the construction that I’ll get to in my review of it down the line).

P.S. By the way, the Tom Baker 4th Doctor figure pictured anachronistically peeking from David Tennant’s TARDIS was another owed purchase to my inner 4th grader, and a fine one at that.  In addition to collecting TARDISes, I also have collected more than a few Tom Baker toys.  More on him next time.

The TARDIS Collector’s Corner: Origin Story

Worst. Cyberman. Ever.

In the summer of 1980, I returned from an out-of-town weekend Saturday/Sunday summer camp to my home in Starkville, MS.  I pulled the power knob of our 9 inch Zenith television to the on position, flipped between the three channels we could pick up with the rabbit ears, found myself on channel 2, and began staring at Mississippi ETV.  What I found myself watching was episode 2 or 3 of the Doctor Who story Revenge of the Cybermen, originally broadcast a mere five years earlier in the UK.  This moment was a pivotal one in my life, for it was my very first exposure to the BBC show Doctor Who.  From that moment on I have been a fan and still count Tom Baker as my favorite actor to have played the Doctor to this day.  I, of course, was back for the next installment the following day at 6 p.m. and as much as possible I tried not to ever miss an episode of my new favorite show.  (By the way, I’m now astounded I was so taken with the show based on Revenge of the Cybermen of all stories, because it’s not especially great and contains maybe the laziest Cybermen designs ever.  I honestly prefer the cloth-faced original Mondasian Cybermen designs to the ones from Revenge… with their lazy-assed plumbing flex-hose head-handles.  The worst.)

As a child in 1980, going into the 4th grade, though, this show was magic, with dark tales of science fiction and horror given illumination by the contrastingly light performances of Baker and his onscreen traveling companion Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elizabeth Sladen.  I loved their relationship, which was clearly one of great fondness for each other. I loved the Doctor’s long coats and immediately set about trying to find one of my own (it would be a few years before I managed it).  And, of course, I loved his scarf, but it would be another 20 years before I was finally given a replica of the Doctor’s first one, as knitted by my mother-in-law; instead, I had to make do with wearing my dad’s girlfriend’s cream-colored muffler for the first few years instead, which only looked like Baker’s scarf after being filtered through my imagination).  I loved the Doctor’s grinning manner, his gadgets and I loved his habit of offering everybody Jelly Babies (which, in lieu of, I had to make do with Gummy Bears).  And I especially loved his mode of transportation, the TARDIS.

Standing for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space (though some sources vary), the TARDIS was a blue police public call box that was, though dimensional shifting, bigger on the inside.  (Had to get my dad to explain that one to me.)  The Doctor would step through the doors of this glorified, over-sized phone booth, into apparent darkness, and then the camera would cut to the TARDIS interior set and we’d see the Doctor entering through two giant blocky doors faced with pizza-sized circular roundels, into the bright white control room, the central feature of which was a five-sided control console with a bobbing clear cylinder filled with lights and gizmos.  The Doctor would hit a switch, close the doors behind him, and with the manipulation of more dials and switches would cause the TARDIS exterior to fade from view, accompanied by its famous wheezing mechanical groan of a sound effect.  Magic, I tell you!  My wee mind was captivated by it all.  I shortly began trying to craft my own Time Lord adventures by playing Doctor Who in the back yard, using the patio as my control room, a dog house as my control console and the chain-link side gate as my relatively smaller TARDIS door, leading me and my muffler to whatever monster was menacing the front yard.

Princess Sally

Dr. Mum

Since there were no Doctor Who action figures available in the U.S. (and they were pretty thin on the ground in the U.K. at that time) I also tried to create my own action figure adventures.  Having no Doctor replica on hand, I substituted the most curly-headed, side-burn-bearing action figure I owned, a green-suited diver from the Fisher Price Adventure People scuba diver playset.  And for a companion, I used the armless and legless red-headed princess from Fisher Price’s medieval castle playset. (Cause I’d somehow misplaced the lady diver who came in the scuba diver set.)  These might seem like poor substitutions, but they were all I had.  My TARDIS was even sadder, though.  I had nothing approximating one, so rather than get my dad to build one out of cardboard (which I’m sure he would have done) I just used a mason jar.

My Doctor Who toys were so low rent that I eventually gave up pretending they were even related to Doctor Who at all and just made up my own analog characters.  I called my Doctor, Dr. Mum, named after the 1970s/80s cream deodorant, a small round container of which I used as my logo in imagined recreations of the theme song.  (My theme was hauntingly similar to that of Doctor Who, I assure you.)  I called the companion Princess Sally (since she a crown she had to be a princess), and I called their Mason jar spaceship the Blue Crystal (which was in no way blue, though the Mason jar itself lent something of a crystalline quality).

Denys Fisher Doctor Who toys

The idea of owning an honest to goodness TARDIS toy, however, was something beyond the realm of possibility for me.  I didn’t even wonder at the time if such a thing existed.  I did not yet know about the Denys Fisher TARDIS toy of the late 1970s, recycled out of the Star Trek Enterprise toy set Fisher also made (a set that I actually had owned since age 5 or so).  I did not yet know about the corresponding Tom Baker Doctor Who doll Fisher made, with real removable scarf.  And I didn’t know anything about the Leela companion doll and would have found her confusing since PBS weren’t showing any of those episodes yet.  Instead, I had my dreams.  (The first TARDIS toys I ever saw were ones I imagined in actual dreams.  And they were awesome.)  It would be years yet before I got wind of even a TARDIS model, or set actual eyes on the TARDIS tin bank with the grinning image of Tom Baker beaming from its open door, let alone a TARDIS toy and action figures.  In fact, by the time I saw such things I was well out of the typical action figure purchasing age range–not that I’ve let that stop me much, hence why I’m typing this.

Not quite all of my TARDi

As my wife can tell you, I now own an excessive number of TARDISes.  Most of them are in my office, taking up the space across the tops of two full book cases and, technically, spilling down the side of said case in the form of TARDIS string lights.  Others live elsewhere, from my bathroom to my car, to my living room, to, occasionally, my bed.  While it’s an impressive collection, by no means does it encompass the number of model/toy TARDISes that have been manufactured over the past 50 years.  It’s actually pretty small comparatively (which is what I keep telling my wife).  I have, as of this writing, around 49 of them (a nice number, though there is always the chance I’m forgetting one or two somewhere).  We’re talking three dimensional TARDISes, too, not just pictures of them–of which I have more than a couple.  I tracked down my first two back in 2002 or so.  And since the show came back in 2005 and proved itself popular, new TARDIS products have hit the market each year.

Why do I have so many?  Why do I love them?  Wellllll, there are many factors to the answer, but, if you distill it down to a base, I collect TARDISes because I feel like I owe it to that 4th grade boy back in 1980 who didn’t have even one TARDIS and who had to make do with a Mason jar.

I really dig my TARDIS collection.  As an ongoing exercise,  and in an effort to produce more content for this blog, I’ve decided to write about each of them here, in no particular order, and with no real time table for doing them all.

And you can keep up with them all with this LINK.

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