(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.
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.
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 ongiong 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.