(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.
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.