(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.
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.)