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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Out of the Toybox 2007


David J Howe delves into the festive toybox for a roundup of some of the goodies in the shops this Christmas.

2007 was not a good year if you were a collector of Doctor Who merchandise. A dramatic increase in the quantity and general quality of what was available meant that many had to make some hard decisions as to what to buy and what to leave on the shelves. Well over 400 individual items have been released so far this year, with no slowing down, and every aspect of merchandise has been explored, from clothes to yoghurt, toys and games to jigsaws and scooters, chairs and furniture to hot water bottle covers, lampshades, books, CDs, DVDs and magazines. It seems that every shop carries a Doctor Who range of some description, with many stores featuring their own unique variants. Here, then, are some of the items vying for your attention this Christmas …

How long have we wanted our own Dalek … one that would obey commands and which would happily exterminate younger sisters? Well this year we have our wish. The astonishing Voice Control Dalek from top toy producers Character Options, is without a doubt the most amazing and cool Doctor Who toy to date. It comes at a price though, £100, enough to make grown men weep, never mind howevermany weeks of pocket money it might take to save up. For your money you get an 18 inch tall Dalek (which actually comes in three types: a standard bronze, or a black Dalek Sec from Toys R Us, or a bronze claw arm variant from Woolworths … this is assuming you can find one at all as they are in short supply) which needs a degree in advanced origami to remove it from its box, as well as strong fingers to undo all the metal ties which hold it in place. But once out of the box and fitted with what seems like a hundredweight of batteries, the Dalek comes alive …

First off, there’s standard remote control which you can use to guide it around, moving the head and eyestalk and making it speak phrases. The movement is fast and efficient and the range seems pretty good. But then there’s the Voice Control mode which is where the fun really starts. A booklet details all the phrases and how to speak them. So when you say, ‘Dalek’, the Dalek looks at you and says, ‘Yes’. You can then order it into patrol mode, to work as a room guard, or to find and detect intruders. It can follow you, or give you information about several Doctor Who characters … you can turn its eye off (‘My vision is impaired!’) or program it with a number of movements to then enact (this feature doesn’t seem to work on mine and the stupid thing kept doing other actions instead). My inner fanboy leaped with joy as it made the distinctive Dalek ‘throb’ sound on start up, and I loved the movements and voice. There are enough phrases for the action to stay interesting, and lots to explore (even a couple of phrases which are not documented seemed to have an effect). Just make sure you have enough batteries as this is one toy that, I suspect, will be used over and over. One downside is that the environment needs to be pretty quiet for it to work, and if your Christmas is anything like mine, then ‘quiet’ is not a word I would use to describe it.

With the runaway success of Character’s Cyberman voice changer helmet last year, it was inevitable that we’d see something similar in 2007. Following the relatively boring Judoon Sound Effects Helmet, comes the Dalek Sec Voice Changer Helmet. Once you’ve clipped three of the dangling sausage-like appendages which rim the face into place, you’re all set. The £29.99 toy is a remarkable likeness, although the sounds it makes aren’t quite loud enough to drown out your own voice as you intone Dalek-like into a small and fairly rubbish microphone inside the head. The American/Dalek Sec voice comprises recordings, and are each followed by a screeching standard Dalek voice on the same push of the button. It would have been nice to have different buttons for the two. I also found the Dalek voice changing effect to be a little disappointing, not really sounding much like a Dalek at all and more like your own voice through a crackly speaker. However when worn, the overall effect is very creepy. I can see Auntie Edna having the fright of her life when confronted on the stairs in the middle of the night by little Johnny wearing this – a pint sized horror!

Another new item is Character’s Flight Control TARDIS which lights up and makes swooshy zoomy noises as you move it around. If you put it down, it makes landing noises. Pick it up and the dematerialisation sound activates, then whoosh it through the air and it makes … erm … wooshy noises. It’s in scale with Character’s small figures so is the ideal companion for them – the Doctor and Martha can even fit inside! It’s the small details like the parquet flooring inside the console room, the lights showing through the windows and the slightly weathered, battered look it has on the outside which make it special though. The price is also an excellent £14.99.

Speaking of the £6.99 small figures … wow! With every release Character seem to outdo themselves, and the detail and articulation has improved in leaps and bounds. The year started with some disappointing re-issues, which did not bode well. At least Captain Jack was teamed with a new figure of the spookily pointing stiff-legged Empty Child, and the Slitheen was re-released with the small Space Pig (even characters with about 30 seconds screen time are being released!) However the rubbish funky dancing Rose from the original Battle Packs could easily have been left on the shelf. Mickey Smith was a nice addition – only a year too late – and he arrived with a big gun so that’s good! But then came Series Three. Unfortunately arriving in the shops far too late to take full advantage of the series on television, there were eventually excellent new figures of the Doctor (in glasses) and Martha. But the monsters … oh the monsters. We had the Judoon, Dalek Thay (with damaged back panels), the Dalek Sec Hybrid, Lilith the Carrionite and Novice Hame. All wonderful little toys with additional arm articulation where needed and all great likenesses. These were later joined by Irish cat-man Brannigan, a couple of lolloping Scarecrows, the piggy Laszlo and an awesome serene Weeping Angel. Moreover, some additional figures were released from earlier seasons: old folks Dr Constantine and Mrs Connolly arrived, both having exchangeable heads: a gasmasked version and a ‘blank face’ version respectively (but this also allows Dr Constantine to cross-dress as an old lady) and Mrs C also came with a small television set showing The Wire in all her glory; the Hoix showed up (another momentary appearance on screen immortalised in plastic) without buckets of either colour; as did the fairly boring Possessed Toby and the Doctor again in a funky orange Space Suit from Sanctuary Base. The small figures really are excellent, it’s just a shame that the distribution is so poor such that you can’t actually find them in shops, and also that the Series Three figures weren’t on sale closer to transmission of the episodes.

If larger figures are more your cup of tea, then maybe the £14.99 twelve inch range appealed. There was Martha, complete with leather jacket and jeans. Novice Hame is also quite lovely, able to sit cross legged and carrying a massive gun. But a doll of a gun-toting cat-woman dressed as a nun? It’s a strange, strange world we live in. Finally, the Dalek Sec Hybrid made an appearance, impressive in his suit and with dangly bits around his head. For £39.99 you could get another 12” remote control Dalek toy as Damaged Dalek Thay arrived. By far the best, however, was the £19.99 Judoon Captain. This cataloguing creature was just made for immortalisation in plastic, and ol’ rhino-head has been perfectly captured in all his glory, complete with blaster and translator device. A wonderful model.

With Character Options stealing almost all the kudos for their new series ranges, we mustn’t forget the impressive releases from Product Enterprise, who this year brought us some glorious 12” remote control Movie Daleks. These are fully equipped with barked phrases from the sixties films, and, in a touch of genius, the remote control is shaped like their spaceship. They operate well, and come in three colours (four if you include the limited edition gold chrome one). If £49.99 for these is somewhat out of your price range, then look out for the teeny Movie Talking Daleks. Product Enterprise are onto a winner with these small three-inch high Daleks which loudly screech movie dialogue when their heads are pressed. You get three colours in a box for £29.99.

If figures, dolls and Dalek models are not your thing, then there are several games to keep everyone busy this Christmas until Kylie thrills us on the Titanic. First out of the toybox is a brilliant Dalek Operation game from Hasbro. Replacing the usual portly man figure with a Dalek, the idea of the game is to remove components from his casing with a pair of metal tweezers, making sure you don’t touch the metal edges. If you do then the Dalek will threaten all manner of calumny at you. I had forgotten (or probably never knew or realised) that Operation also involves cards and money, and these are also supplied in Dalek variants. A classic game given a wonderful Doctor Who twist for only £14.

The £25 Time Travelling Action Game is an impressive new board game from Toymasters, and it’s a masterpiece of frustration. The idea is to move your counters around a board, landing on monsters and villains based on cards you have in your hand. As you land on each so you can discard your cards … and so on until you have no cards left. Except that the board is motorised and randomised and every so often some of the characters completely change position, meaning that you have to aim for somewhere else on the board. I have a feeling that this might result in one of those eternal Christmas games which goes on into Boxing Day and maybe even New Year’s day before it finishes. It’s a beautifully designed item and the electronic board with rotating 3D TARDIS model is truly wonderful.

If all these things seem too complicated for Christmas, then how about a simple game of Uno … Dalek style! Contained in a neat Dalek-shaped box are three coloured packs of Doctor Who Uno cards. The game is the perennial classic, and this item is at a pocket money price of £8 so should be very popular indeed. It’s certainly one of my favourite items from the year, nicely designed and packaged and a game that all ages can play.

If you are still feeling peckish after a hefty Christmas dinner, and also want to play a game, then from Marks and Spencer comes the Time Travel Chocolate Game; a board and chocolate pieces to while away some time with. While from BonBon Buddies comes the nicely produced After Dinner Trivia Quiz – a knowledge game in an illustrated metal box with Trivial Pursuit-type question cards and chocolates to munch. Both items are nicely designed and put together, and both retail for about £5 each.

All this talk of toys and games … but what of the more technologically-minded? Well Wesco to the rescue with a couple of computer-based items. First off is a £19.99 TARDIS USB hub. These days you can’t move without devices requiring USB ports littering up your desk, and often the humble PC only has 4 or so slots available … well worry no longer as you can plug this USB hub into one of them and create yourself an additional four slots! The TARDIS makes its usual wheezing and groaning noise when you add and remove devices from it which can be a little disconcerting, but it’s a nice, practical item. Far more groovy is a little £24.99 Dalek Webcam. I love this item. It’s a tiny Dalek with a camera hidden in its base (with a protective cover for when not in use) with both sight and sound capability, so you can see and listen to friends online. It comes with software on CD which installed for me first time, and it even worked perfectly first time … something of a rarity in the computer world. My only complaint is that it comes with a clip to hold the Dalek to the screen, however I have yet to find a screen or indeed anywhere that the clip will attach to! Aside from this it’s a nicely designed and impressive little beastie.

SWEETS BonBon Buddies
PRICE £1.99/£2.99 | OUT Now

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without an Advent Calendar (or Christmas Countdown Calendar). Eschewing any religious imagery or significance whatsoever, this year we have an Advent Calendar featuring a giant Cyberman head and 24 little doors to open, each hiding a chocolate square, or perhaps a special gift. At the time of writing, I have not as yet ripped open my Calendar to find out what the gifts are … that needs to wait until December, but we’re promised foil wrapped chocolate coins, little note pads, and pen-topper figures. The Christmas Countdown Calendar only contains chocolate – but 32 days of it – and features the Daleks in all their wintry glory.

SWEETS BonBon Buddies
PRICE Cyber-head £4.99/ tube £1.49/ tin £1.99 | OUT Now

You cannot really miss the sweet-filled Cyberman Head gracing the shelves at the local supermarket. It’s wonderfully large and yet filled with a small amount of candy … reverse transcendental engineering perhaps. The Jelly Tube is a nice idea, a themed square tube containing jelly sweets … great for munching away at. And finally, a zippered metal keepsake tin, or pencil case perhaps, which has a couple of mallow ropes in and more jelly sweets. It’s a shame that the jellies aren’t Dalek shaped but all three are lovely items, and the Cyber-head especially is a gorgeous little scale model.

PRICE £6.99 | OUT Now

You can just see the product manager at Hasbro pondering on how to get kids to keep their teeth clean when faced with innumerable items containing jelly sweets … a Cyberman toothbrush would be just the answer. Of course, no-one asks how Cybermen brush their teeth … badly would probably be the answer, and just how do you get oil stains off anyway? This neat little vibrating toothbrush has a Cyberman to hold it for you, and it’s a smashing item which may just get the kids deleting plaque over Christmas.

CLOTHING Ladybird/Woolworths
PRICE £11.00 | OUT Now

Over the last year, there have been numerous pairs of Doctor Who pyjamas released, but none so nice as this Judoon pair from Woolworths. As with the majority of the store-branded clothing it’s well made, and very visually appealing. You even get a little button to press which makes the end of the Judoon’s gun-thing light up red. Really neat. No idea how you wash it though. Doctor Who clothing can usually be found in all the high street stores like M&S, BHS, Woolworths, Next, John Lewis and Mothercare, so it’s easy to get the kids togged up to the nines for bedtime as wannabe Daleks, Cybermen and Judoon.

TOYS G E Fabbri Ltd
PRICE £1.50 per pack of 9 cards | OUT Now

How do you review a collectible card game? With great difficulty. And the Battles in Time game is one of the most frustrating to collect as the manufacturers have gone out of their way to make getting a complete set as hard as possible. Not only are the packs containing rare cards near-impossible to discern before opening them, but the distribution is dreadful, with many boxes containing numerous duplicate packs, and the chances of anyone getting a set by buying the packs alone is out of the question. One of the cards in the new ‘Invader’ set is genius though. ‘Blink’ is an awesome lenticular image of a Weeping Angel … serene in one position, and then attacking in the other. A work of sheer inspiration.

PRICE £16.00 | OUT Now

Sometimes a piece of clothing comes along which is so well put together that you want to shout about it from the rooftops. This black fabric hooded top from Next is among the best of the items released this year. It’s really well made, with a sturdy zipper up the front. The front depicts a Dalek against a background of symbols and Dalek-type circuitry. The back features the word ‘Exterminate’ across the bottom. It’s just wonderful. Alongside some of the clothing from Marks and Spencer and British Home Stores, Next have really done fans proud with their support for the show and the items they have released tieing into it.

PRICE £17.99/£4.99 | OUT Now

This is a great idea, but sadly fails in execution. The ice cube tray allows you to make ice cubes shaped like Daleks, K9s, TARDISes, Cyberman heads and Who logos … and the bucket is to put them in. Or would be if it wasn’t so small. I suspect that the folks at Wesco have very small dinner parties as it would be hard to fit enough ice in this TARDIS to supply three glasses! And it’s certainly not big enough to pop a bottle of wine in to chill. £17.99 is overpriced for this item. Of course, the ice cube tray can be used to make Who themed chocolate shapes instead … possibly a better use than the one intended.