White Whale Tardises

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: Classic 1980 Tom Baker TARDIS Tin Bank (The White Whale TARDISes)

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

As I’ve previously written, I came to my fandom of Doctor Who in the summer of 1980, in small town Mississippi, where I felt like I existed in something of a Doctor Who fandom vacuum. In the years before the internet, the ability to research a television show, let alone one from a foreign land, was kind of limited. At the time, having seen only a handful of Tom Baker stories, I had no idea how long the show had even been on the air. I had no idea that there had been other Doctors before Baker, or, indeed, a 5th Doctor impending. I had no idea that there were novelizations of episodes in the world, or that books about the show itself had also been published. I’d never even heard of a Dalek, cause I had missed “Genesis of the Daleks” during its initial PBS run. My first ever episode to see was mid-way through “Revenge of the Cybermen,” the story falling immediately after “Genesis of the Daleks”. I was a babe in the Whoniverse woods, trapped in the deep south, where we only got the show at all by the grace of the God of Public Television and a long-handled spoon. But I was definitely hungry for more.

Being in the 4th grade during my initial viewing, I longed for Doctor Who toys, yet, again, had no clue that such things already existed elsewhere in the world. It would be years yet before I learned of the Denys Fisher TARDIS of the 1970s and years yet before the Dapol TARDIS toy was produced. Yet I would have given anything at that age to have my own TARDIS toy. Which was why, a few years on, I was shocked the first time I caught sight of a Doctor Who Tom Baker Tardis Tin Bank. These were first produced by the Avon company in 1980 as fairly simple metal lidded boxes of a rectangular TARDIS-like shape, with a printed TARDIS exterior featuring an illustrated open door with Tom Baker himself standing in it. There was no three dimensional lamp on top, but just an embossed metal lid with a circular raised section painted as if light were pouring from beneath the rounded blue disc. (I expect it’s meant to be thought of as the TARDIS roof as seen from directly above.) By no means was this a toy TARDIS, but for a kid who was easily able to use his imagination to transform his Dad’s girlfriend’s cream-colored muffler into a full-length Doctor Who scarf in his head, it wasn’t a far stretch at all that I might yet be able to use such a tin as a toy, I thought.

Now, you’d think for such a powerful memory of wanting one of these, I’d be able to remember exactly where I first saw one. Not… as… such.

Part of me wonders if I first saw one at the house of some acquaintances of my dad’s, whose older son introduced me to the concept of the Doctor Who Target novelizations. That would have had to have been around 1982, or so, that I first saw the tin, and I think we visited those folks around then. However, if he’d owned such a tin, he certainly didn’t let me lay hands on it. Instead, I suspect that the tin might have been something I first spotted in a comic book store–possibly among the first two such stores I’d ever visited, both of which were within a block of one another, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and both of which are no more. The more likely shop I might have seen it in was called Injun John’s, which was a newsstand/comic shop/tobacconist/porno mag emporium. I can still remember the smell of the place, which was always a heady blend of tobacco and newsprint. Asgard Comics was more of a traditional comic book store. I bought my first two issues of Marvel’s run on Doctor Who there.

Or, perhaps I saw the TARDIS tin at Memphis Comics and Records, which was another shop I would frequently convince Dad to take me to, on the way to see my grandparents in Missouri. Or maybe at any of the handful of comic stores I visited while on summer time road trips. (Though not, I should add, at the very first comic shop I attempted to visit in New York City–a story for a future entry.)

Wherever it was that I spotted one, it was in person and was distant enough that I couldn’t get my mitts on it. (I can recall seeing the first issues of Watchmen there in 1986, so why can’t I pin down the tin? It’s maddening!)

Years later, while visiting my friend Matthew Jameson, who lived in Huntsville, AL, I spied another similar tin. This time it was owned by Matthew’s father, and was not a Tom Baker tin, but a Peter Davison 5th Doctor tin bank. This tin Mr. Jameson let me examine up close. It looked the same as the Baker tin, but with Peter painted in the doorway instead. (Fun fact: Peter Davison is the only Doctor Who actor I’ve met in person, so far, and whose hand I have shook. And the entire time I was doing so, all my brain would spit out was “That’s #&%!ing Doctor Who!”) I was not nearly as enchanted with the fact that Peter Davison was on the tin, but it was still a TARDIS. By that time I was in high school, so seeking a toy TARDIS was not yet back on my radar of things a boy my age should be doing. I’d have to wait until I was well into my 30s for that desire to kick back into gear. And soon after it did, I made the mental note that one day I wanted to own such a classic TARDIS tin like I’d wanted as a child, preferably with my boy Tom on it. However, I found in my ebay searching that such tins had become rare as the old ones rusted away and got recycled. As such, it became one of my White Whale TARDISes. I occasionally would still look for them on ebay, but they tended to go for dozens of dollars more than I really wanted to pay for a metal box. I bided my time.

Back in May of last year, I finally located one in an ebay auction. For some reason, it was only listed for $19.98, or, at least, that was the price I paid as the winning bidder. I worried that perhaps this was some sort of knock-off TARDIS tin, due to its cheapness. Perhaps there was something wrong with it. But I paid my money and took my chances.

When it arrived, it was somehow smaller than my memory of the ones I had seen previously. Of course, I was relatively smaller at the time I saw them, too. However, I’ve looked up several listings for similar tins and the measurements match those of the one I have. And if it is still somehow counterfeit, the counterfeiters did a fine job of aging it, for there was rust to be found around the edges of the inside. A little elbow grease cleaned it right up. It looks like a true 1980s-era item. I also don’t really care if it is of more recent manufacture. It’s awesome and now has a proud place on my office bookshelf. I give it four TARDi.

TARDIS Collector’s Corner: Big Chief Mini 12th Doctor TARDIS accessory (The Shotglass TARDIS series)

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

I’ve written here before about some of the White Whales of my TARDIS collection, chief among them being any of the Big Chief Studios TARDISes. Big Chief Studios is a toy company known for manufacturing larger to-scale figures of a number of different properties, Doctor Who being a major licensee. Their 1:6 scale figures are designed to be the ultimate fan version of any given character, with fully articulated limbs, painstakingly perfect likenesses, tailored clothing, multiple hands for multiple poses, and accessories that clearly have had a lot of thought put into them. They also run around $250 retail, sell out very quickly, and then become extravagantly priced on the secondary market. I own none of them, nor do I have plans to unless I just spotted a really cheap one somewhere.

Their figures are impressive. Their TARDISes are also no exception to the high-quality standards, and are far more expensive, running around $460 ‘merican. They are massive, cast in resin stone, and basically have all of the same light and sound features of the 10th Doctor Flight Control TARDIS (which, as I’ve mentioned, is my favorite TARDIS toy ever) and then even more features piled on top of those. Things like a removable roof allowing for interior TARDIS backgrounds to be swapped out, so that different TARDIS control rooms may be displayed, (important for the 11th and 12th Doctor eras, which had multiple control rooms and variations on the décor within those).

Unfortunately, the $450 average retail price tag, which jumps far higher in secondary markets, is just more than I can really justify spending on a toy. (Actually, I could rationalize such a purchase just fine. It’s my wife who would definitely have something else to say about it.) I mean, I recently saw a really nice-looking full-size old school TARDIS replica on sale for $550, which also had working lights. It looked amazing and far better than most home-made TARDIS props turn out. If i was going to spend that kind of money, it had better be for a TARDIS I can step inside, right? (And if I didn’t live on the other side of the continent from its location, and have no practical place to put it, I would have had a hard time not buying it–though don’t think I didn’t start looking up shipping companies all the same.)

While $100 cheaper, the Big Chief TARDIS even at 1:6 scale would still take up a massive chunk of real-estate in my office that might otherwise be devoted to, say, a pickle bucket. (BTW, I already have a pickle bucket in my office. I use it as my recycle bin, but it is, in fact, a prop from a play I wrote.)

Just watch this video of the Big Chief Studios 1/6 scale 11th Doctor TARDIS and you’ll see what I mean.

While this entry might be the closest I ever come to writing a personal review of any of the 1:6 scale Big Chief Studios TARDISes, it is fortunately not the only review I can write of a Big Chief Studios TARDIS that I own. As I mentioned, the Big Chief Doctor Who figures always come equipped with very thoughtfully chosen accessories. The Peter Capaldi 12th Doctor figure, for instance, comes with quite a few extras many of which are in-jokes and props from the show. He has: two sonic screwdrivers (the green one he inherited from Smith, not the blue light one he later adopted, with one version closed and one open) a few extra hands, a rubber glove, a spoon, the psychic paper, a pocket watch, a jelly baby case with little mini-jelly babies inside. He also comes with two mini TARDi both of which came from one of my favorite Capaldi stories, “Flatline.” One is the cube-like Siege Mode TARDIS, which the TARDIS went into after an assault from beings from another dimension which were wrecking havoc on its dimensional stabilizers, causing its exterior to shrink in size; and the other is one of the miniaturized versions of said shrunken TARDIS that Clara had to carry around in her purse and which the Doctor later had to drag around from the inside by reaching his hand through the tiny doors, Thing from Addams Family-style. If you’ve not seen the story, it’s wonderful and inventive and I wish someone would give Jamie Mathieson more to do on that show.

I happened to spot one of these mini-purse TARDi accessories for sale, loose, on ebay and snatched it up. I can’t recall what I paid for it and my ebay history doesn’t go back that far, which is disappointing, but I seem to recall getting a good deal on it. (No surprise, though, of the last ten purchases ebay displays, three of them were TARDISes and five others Doctor Who-related. I may have a problem.)

The Big Chief mini-TARDIS is every bit as cool as you would hope a tiny TARDIS would be in terms of its look. If you get a magnifying glass, you can probably even read the letters on the door sign. Where this one goes above and beyond, in order to match the details of its appearance in “Flatline,” is to have opening doors which can reveal a variety of backgrounds. These are printed on thin cardboard strips that can be switched in and out via a slot in the base of the TARDIS. One is the standard TARDIS control room; one is a closeup of the face of the Peter Capaldi toy, so it can peer through the doors from within, and one is a medium shot of the Capaldi toy reaching its arm toward the POV, with a hole in the center of the picture into which one of the extra hands can be inserted to show the Doctor reaching through the doors, as he does in the story. Like I said, Big Chief puts a lot of thought into these things. This toy could have been far less cool than it is and no one would ever have complained. Thankfully, Big Chief wouldn’t settle for a lesser TARDIS.

If I had one complaint about it, the doors are a little difficult to get closed again once they are open. Not so much when there are no backgrounds within, but that thin cardboard background is enough to make the doors stick open. The door space is so small that getting a finger in there to close them manually is also difficult. And while you could use a tool to get one door closed, the other would still be open. The best method I’ve found for getting them shut is to lightly whack the face of the TARDIS on a table, knocking the doors into closed position. Also, the strips themselves are kind of tricky to get in and out. They are a tight fit within the slot provided, are difficult to remove without tweezers, and, once in place, sit just outside of the slot itself, destabilizing the base and causing the TARDIS to sit at an angle. Still not enough to get me to drop it in the ratings, though, especially since it’s probably the only Big Chief TARDIS that I’ll ever own. Five TARDi all the way.

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