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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Doctor Who Merchandise

Doctor Who Merchandise

Seeing the extent of Doctor Who merchandise that has been produced over the years, it is hard to believe that the BBC was not prepared for at least some spin-off products. But with very rare exceptions, television programmes did not generate the toys, books, sweets and action figures that are almost expected today.

In fact, in 1963, the BBC’s licensing department – or BBC Exploitation as it was called – which handled the rights to what merchandise there was like the published scripts of the BBC s Quatermass series and tie-ins to children’s shows like Watch With Mother, consisted of just one person: Roy Williams. A new department had to be formed, and outside entrepreneur Walter Tuckwell was contracted to cope with the demand for licenses for Dalek products. Today that department has grown and merged with others and eventually became BBC Worldwide, the publishers of this book, which employs hundreds of people and has a turnover of millions of pounds.

The very first Doctor Who product was The Dalek Book, a lavishly-illustrated hardback collection of comic strip and text stories published by the Souvenir Press in June 1964. Throughout the rest of the 1960s, most Doctor Who merchandise revolved around the Daleks rather than the Doctor who only achieved a joint billing in the title of the first Doctor Who movie: Dr Who and the Daleks, and no billing at all in the second: Daleks Invasion Earth, 2150AD. The Doctor Who Annual, published by World Distributors, was a rare but regular exception until 1985.

In the 1970s, this changed. While still immensely popular, the Daleks no longer had the huge appeal they had enjoyed previously. But, particularly during the fourth Doctor’s tenure, the programme was going from strength to strength. And at the same time, the quantity of available merchandise increased.

By the time regular broadcasting of the programme finished in 1989, the dedicated enthusiast could have amassed a vast collection of merchandise over the years. Alongside sweets, chocolate bars and even ice creams, they could have badges, jigsaws, books, models, toy Daleks, Cybermen, Giant Robot, K-9, figures of the Doctor in his various incarnations, board games, yo-yos and many others beside. They might wake in their bedroom (decorated with Dalek wallpaper) and dress in their Doctor Who t-shirt, jacket and of course underpants before eating a bowl of breakfast cereal containing a free Doctor Who badge and catching up with the latest instalment of the Dalek comic strip in TV21, or the Doctor Who comic strip in TV Comic (or Countdown, or TV Action, or Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine)

Three of the first Doctor’s adventures 'The Mutants', 'The Web Planet' and 'The Crusade' were published in novel form in the 1960s. From 1973, the Target Book imprint was home to novelisations of almost every broadcast Doctor Who story. From 1991, Virgin Publishing produced a range of original New Adventures which continued the Seventh Doctor’s adventure in space and time. These were joined in 1994 by Missing Adventures, more original novels featuring previous incarnations of the Doctor. Today BBC Worldwide itself publishes original Doctor Who novels every month while Telos Publishing is responsible for shorter novellas and Big Finish Productions for short story anthologies.

Despite there being no new Doctor Who on television since 1996, there is still a healthy market for Doctor Who-related merchandise. Licensed and BBC Doctor Who products available include videos and DVDs of the television stories, all-new audio adventures from Big Finish Productions featuring the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors (in addition to which, companion Sarah Jane Smith and the Daleks each have their own series); various action figures and models and even remote-controlled and talking Daleks from Product Enterprises; original Doctor Who novels and novellas; soundtracks of Doctor Who missing from the BBC’s archives stories; playing cards from Cards Inc and trading cards from Strictly Ink. And to keep you in touch with it all, Doctor Who Magazine is published by Panini every four weeks, while the BBCi Doctor Who website (and numerous other unofficial sites like Outpost Gallifrey run from Los Angeles) will give you all the latest news and rumours.

There is even an unofficial guide to Doctor Who merchandise published by Telos Publishing. The first edition of Howe’s Transcendental Toybox clocked in at nearly 500 pages, and listed over 3,500 items of Doctor Who merchandise that had been produced. And that was just up to the end of 1999 (though a revised and updated version of the book is due out in 2003). Who knows what will be available during the next millennium?


In the mid 1960s in Britain, only The Beatles were more popular than the Daleks.

The public demand for toys, books, games and other Dalek paraphernalia was almost insatiable. Terry Nation’s words of wisdom about his creations in the paperback Dalek Pocketbook went to an initial print run of 350,000 copies.

There were Dalek kites, balloons, badges, painting books and records. There were three Dalek annuals: The Dalek Book, The Dalek World and The Dalek Outer Space Book and the outer space robot people of television’s DR WHO even featured in their own weekly comic strip in the Gerry Anderson comic TV Century 21.

Amongst other things, you could play with toy Daleks of various shapes and sizes, eat Dalek sweet cigarettes and chocolate Daleks off Dalek plates while drinking from a Dalek mug, sleep in a bedroom with Dalek wallpaper, and lie in wait for a Dalek attack with your Anti-Dalek Fluid Neutraliser (a water pistol). All financed from savings you kept in your Dalek money box.

And if that wasn't enough, there was the stage play The Curse of the Daleks, and two cinema films - Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks Invasion Earth, 2150AD - where Peter Cushing’s bumbling scientist Dr. Who fought the Daleks in colour on the big screen.

While the merchandising may have tailed off, and sales of Dalek items dipped, there is still no science fiction creature in the universe of space and time that has anything approaching the lasting appeal of the Daleks. They can still be used to advertise products as diverse as changes in telephone codes and Kit-Kat chocolate bars, appear on stamps to celebrate the millennium and take over the universe in their own CD audio series Dalek Empire. Now, just as much as ever, Earth needs The Dalek Survival Guide – and there was even one published in 2002!

David J Howe