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.
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.
(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
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.)
(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.