Welcome to my writing!

For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Collector's Lot


The year is 1972, and in the Howe household there is dissent. Nothing major, simply a difference of opinion as to what would be watched on a Saturday evening. On the one hand there is me, wanting to watch the next episodes of Doctor Who, and on the other, my dad, who would rather tune in to ITV to watch a new live-action Gerry Anderson series called UFO. The compromise in our one black and white TV household was that my dad agreed to record the soundtrack to Doctor Who for me using an old TV tuner connected to his hi-fi system in the back room. I was somewhat mollified, but then later entranced at listening to Doctor Who and having to imagine what it all might have looked like (the story was 'The Curse of Peladon': full of alien characters with strange voices, thunderstorms, intrigue and Ice Warriors – a great audio adventure). The idea of recording Doctor Who on audio tape would not occur to me again until Tom Baker took over as the Doctor at the end of 1974, and in the interim years I bought the Radio Times tenth anniversary Doctor Who special and, with a schoolfriend, we built our own Dalek from the plans in the back of the magazine. I had also bought the Piccolo Making of Doctor Who book in 1972, and in 1973 discovered the Target Doctor Who novelisations and started to buy those. We visited the Doctor Who exhibition at Longleat house in 1974 or 1975 and I discovered more things to buy: poster magazines, pens, key fobs and car stickers … before I knew it, I had a massive collection of Who-related paraphanalia with no end in sight. Ladies and gentlemen … I am a Doctor Who collector.

To try and answer the question ‘why do you collect?’ is impossible. As any collector will tell you, the compulsion cannot be easily understood or quantified. There are some people who profess to collect nothing, while others will happily mock the interests of the Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica collector, while going home to their own hoard of tea towels, beer mats or wool clippings from different varieties of Welsh sheep.

But we are not here to look at the more ‘acceptable’ forms of collecting. We are here to look at the world of Doctor Who collecting. With Doctor Who you can go right back to 1963, when the show was first transmitted on the BBC, and begin trying to track down items from that period. Or you can concentrate on the seventies; or the eighties … like the TV show, items related to Doctor Who have changed with the times. New technologies have made the production of goods like T-shirts, badges and videos more accessible, and, these days, there are many fans who grew up with the programme now producing items which continue the excitement, interest and adventure of the TV series, which, thanks mainly to the BBC’s indifference is no longer with us on the small screen.

One of the most important things you need when setting out to collect in a given area is a guide. A road map which gives both the casual and serious collector an idea of what has been produced, what they should be looking out for, and how much they should expect to pay for items (or how much those items they already have may be worth). Until the end of last year, there was no such guide for Doctor Who. This in itself is incredible, as with over thirty years of history behind it, the show had spawned items as diverse as wallpaper, fireworks and underpants … but no collectibles guide.

As a long time fan of Doctor Who and its associated merchandise, I had been trying to interest publishers in such a book for twenty years, but with no luck. It seems that collectors are not considered a viable market for publishing. Therefore I decided to go it alone, and to publish the book myself. I had a great deal of help, expert advice and guidance from my co-author on the project Arnold T Blumberg, and together we crafted Howe’s Transcendental Toybox, the first ever complete world-wide guide to Doctor Who collectibles. Since its initial publication in November 2000, the book has exceeded all our expectations. We have been deluged with enquiries and orders and the book has been widely praised.

With roadmap in hand, we can see the lie of the land, and what a large country it is. There are over 3500 individual items listed in the book (which goes up to the end of 1999), including over 800 editions of the Target novelisations, some published in Hungary, France, Japan, Germany and Belgium, over 100 video releases in three primary territories (UK, USA and Australasia), although there have also been Japanese video releases, hundreds of small metal miniatures, over 100 factual books about the series and associated subjects, bookshelves full of novels, loads of T-shirts, sweat shirts, socks, dressing gowns, underpants, ties, slippers, hats and waistcoats, easter eggs and candy bars, audio tapes, CDs, LPs, singles, DVDs and laser disks, magazines, posters, postcards, bookmarks, stickers, magnets, greeting cards and wrapping paper … the list is almost endless.

For the collector, one important decision is what to specialise in. There are people who just collect the books, or the audios, or the plastic Dalek toys. Some people concentrate on the promotional signed BBC postcards which the actors and actresses would send out to fans. These are actually the earliest form of generally available Doctor Who related collectibles (not counting scripts or internal BBC paperwork) and a complete set of signed cards would be of great interest today. Another early form of collectible are issues of the BBC’s listings magazine Radio Times. Although not a Doctor Who collectible per se, these are in great demand by Doctor Who afficionados, not least because the majority of copies held in public magazine and newspaper archives seem to have been vandalised with just the Doctor Who articles clipped out. Some fans obviously let their enthusiasm get the better of them, and failed to understand that the purpose of any library is to allow for future generations to be able to research the past ¬– tricky if the past has been excised with scalpel and scissors.

Doctor Who items from the sixties are perhaps in the most demand today. This is partly because time has placed them so far away from us, partly that they are hard to locate in good condition, and partly that they can cost a small fortune to acquire when they are found. They also have some tremendous packaging design and artwork (something identified by current toy manufacture Product Enterprises as a major selling point with the result that their current range of small Dalek ‘rolykins’ – plastic Daleks with a ball bearing in the base allowing them to glide over smooth surfaces – features some marvellous ‘retro’ packaging.) Some of the sixties items are almost legendary: has anyone ever actually seen the Dalek firework? Or the Dalek foil-wrapped chocolate shapes? Other items, like Scorpion’s Dalek Playsuit were unseen for many years before William Hartnell’s granddaughter revealed that her parents still had a couple in their garage, given to Hartnell, who played the first Doctor on television, as a present from the manufacturers in 1964, and one was retrieved to be seen in the 1993 television documentary Thirty Years in the TARDIS. Since then only one other complete version has been located. This may be the rarest Doctor Who item which is known to actually exist: only three known of, one of which is incomplete and damaged, one which is only slightly the worse for wear, and one which is in pretty good nick.

During the heyday of Doctor Who’s popularity in the sixties – the so-called Dalekmania boom of 1964 to 1966 – around 150 individual items were released. As the show moved into colour with Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker in the seventies, the Target books were a starting point for many collectors, or maybe Doctor Who Magazine’s launch in 1979 provided the spur. In fact there are several milestones of note.

The Dalekmania boom of the sixties was one such high point, but the next was possibly the release of The Making of Doctor Who by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks in 1972. This book detailed for the first time in the public domain, all the previous adventures of the Doctor, bringing a whole new universe to the attention of fans of the current Doctor (at the time, Jon Pertwee). The next milestone was the launch of Target’s novelisations in 1973; the Radio Times special of 1973; Doctor Who Magazine’s launch in 1979 (still running today after 300 issues); the first commercial video releases in 1984; Virgin Publishing’s New Adventures – an ongoing range of original novels – in 1991; the BBC’s taking over the publishing of original fiction in 1996; Big Finish’s launching of original Doctor Who adventures on audio in 1999; and the launch of Doctor Who on DVD in 1999. In and around these key dates, many other manufacturers released items of variable quality and price, some targeted solely at a collectors’ market (like large pewter figures of Doctor Who characters retailing at around £80 each, or ceramic TARDISes at £245 each) but others produced purely for the toy market (like Dapol’s ongoing range of small jointed plastic figures or Product Enterprises’ Dalek ‘rolykins’), or some for younger children (like K9 picture books).

In 1999, some ten years after Doctor Who finished on television as an ongoing show, there were over 200 individual items released tying in with the programme. That’s more than were released in the whole of the sixties. Today fans and collectors can collect various colours and types of Dalek from Dapol or Product Enterprises, there are two original novels a month from the BBC, an original audio adventure a month from Big Finish, regular videos, DVDs and audio CDs of past adventures and music from the series courtesy of the BBC and, on the drawing board, a new range of original hardbacked novellas from Telos Publishing, more miniature models, posters, talking Daleks, mobile phone accessories, calendars …

Doctor Who collecting is alive and vibrant, with many avenues to explore, not to mention the sheer pleasure of delving back into the past, and the thrill of finding that elusive book or Dalek eyestalk in a local jumble sale, or seeing a Dalek playset in the window of a local charity shop.

Go on … treat yourself to a slice of Doctor Who nostalgia, or a taste of the Doctor’s adventures in the year 2001. You won’t regret it.

David J Howe