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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Merchandise Roundup 1

By David J Howe

Character Options £29.99
***** (5 Stars)

Why oh why didn’t they have things like this when I was a kid! This has to be one of the best toys ever to have the Doctor Who logo plastered all over it. It’s a Cyberman head. And a blooming great one at that. The finish is all smooth and metallic and flawless in that perfect cyber-way, and the toy would make a brilliant display piece in its own right. But that’s until you remove it from the packing – and for once there are no fiddly little wire ties, sticky tape and plastic lugs to negotiate, the helmet simply slips out with no problems at all – and pop it on your head! In a stroke of genius, Character Options have made it big enough – unless you have a particularly large bonce – to fit adults as well as children, and so everyone in the family can be upgraded.

There are three small buttons to one side of the mouth. These control the sounds. One will emit the cyber-electro-death-grip noise – great for attack mode. Another makes the helmet say one of a number of pre-programmed phrases. But the third activates a small microphone inside so that when you speak, your voice comes out all Cybernised. One problem here, unless you speak very quietly – when the microphone doesn’t pick it up well – your real voice can also be heard which slightly spoils the illusion. There’s also a little switch inside which apparently changes the modulation of the voice. However I could tell no difference between the three settings.

Visibility is slightly tricky when wearing it – despite the fact that the eye holes are fairly large and covered with clear Perspex – and so I really wouldn’t recommend trying to drive or work machinery when wearing it … or even attempt a flight of stairs.

However the toy just looks so good that kids just adore it. There is always a crowd clustered around the helmets in the shops and I can see many parents awakening on Christmas morning to find that their offspring have been unexpectedly upgraded in the night to buzzing, stalking cybernetic life forms.

I really cannot praise this toy enough. In fact, to call it a toy is almost demeaning, it’s been created with such love and care and attention to detail. It is beautifully made, robust and the sounds are the icing on the cake. It’s so tempting to wear it on the bus or in the office and see what the reaction might be – my inner fanboy really wants to see that happen. Rumour has it that this is predicted to be the number one must-have toy for this Christmas and I can totally believe it. Get ‘em before they’re deleted!

Character Options £39.99
**** (4 Stars)

Back in the dim and distant past, when Slitheens were not even heard of and long scarves and floppy hats were the order of the day, K9 was bumping into scenery on television, and two small toys were released to much excitement. A small friction action one and a slightly larger talking variant (with elastic-band driven plastic record inside). These pale into insignificance beside the masterpiece which is the new remote control K9 from Character Options.

Measuring a massive 14 inches from tail to nose, or a quarter scale, this toy is a fan’s dream – a K9 of your very own. As with all the Character Options toys, the attention to detail is impressive. He has all the buttons which light up (and some of which, when pressed in certain sequences, reveal ‘secret’ movement and sound), collar and tag, his ears move, his ‘eye’ light works … even his blaster moves in and out. Wow.

The only problem is getting him out of the box! Boy do they pack these things well. K9 has a plethora of ties and even a chunky screw holding him in place. This is one dog which will never get back in his kennel.

Once released though, household pets won’t know what hit them. After last year’s awesome remote control Dalek, this creation will send them screeching from the room. But there’s more. This K9 moves well, manoeuvring around chairs and parents with ease (unfortunately the curse of the carpet will cause him to stall, so he’s probably ideally placed on a smooth surface). He also talks! Buttons on the hand-held control make him say one of seven of pre-set phrases, all of which come loud and clear from the unit in John Leeson’s very familiar and satisfying tones.

If he happens to need some servicing, then there’s a panel which comes off his side revealing all the (fake) internal gubbins – shame this is just in a plain gold finish though, it would have been nice to have had some colour in there. K9 also comes in one of two frequencies so as long as you get a different one to your Dalek, then K9 versus Dalek battles can commence.

Shooty dogs have never been so fun! And he’s fully house trained so there’s no piles of ball bearings to clear up afterwards.

Character Options £39.99
***** (5 stars)

With the 12 inch remote controlled gold Dalek being the must-have toy for last Christmas, it’s no real surprise to see this gorgeous jet-black variant being released this year. As with the original model, it’s an incredible toy. The movement and styling is sleek and the whole package is impressive. The gun and plunger arm are articulated and the centre section can be manually spun around to attack enemies coming from behind – why did it take them 40 years to think of that idea?!

Ever since we first saw the black Dalek named Sec emerge from the void ship in Army of Ghosts (although there was an early sneaky-peek at the Dalek during the televised BAFTA awards earlier in the year) people have wanted their very own Dalek Sec. It doesn’t disappoint. As with all the remote control toys it comes in two frequencies so you can battle the Dalek against the gold one, or even against K9 – though the sight of a 12 inch Dalek fighting either a tiny 5 inch scale K9 or a giant 14 inch version is bound to raise a smile. Certainly our house has been full of the cries of ‘Exterminate’ and the gentle hum of wheels against wooden flooring.

Typical of Character Options’ attention to detail, the voice has been changed for this model, being a slightly lower toned grating version – still supplied by the booming vocal talents of television’s voice of the Daleks, Nicholas Briggs – and the phrases are in line with the seniority of Dalek Sec with statements like: ‘No other warning will be given’ and ‘Multiple spectrum scanning now engaged’; even the extermination sound effect has been slightly enhanced. In a nice touch of detail, the model has the little ‘Dalek Sec’ marker under the eyestalk.

With several other neat variants of the remote control Dalek now available (there’s an Assault Dalek with a flamethrower arm and an Imperial Guard with a black dome, gold livery and a gun-like appendage instead of the plunger arm) I want to see a whole army of Daleks advancing across the floor, all controlled by a single remote, and all bellowing ‘Exterminate’ at the tops of their tinny voices. Well a fanboy can dream…

Character Options £39.99 Figures £6.99 each.
***** (5 stars)

When I was a kid, I would have died and gone to heaven if there had been a TARDIS playset of the quality and complexity of this toy. On televison, the TARDIS is blessed with an impressive organic control room which looks somehow grown and ancient while maintaining a futuristic flair. It’s a true work of art, and this toy manages to capture the same feeling of awe and amazement.

The box it comes in is large and heavy, and immediately you start to wonder at the convoluted brains of the engineers who work out how to pack everything inside. It contains an incredible array of pieces, all held in different parts of the box with a million bits of sticky tape and little twisted wires. It took me at least half an hour of untwisting, bleeding fingers, and figuring out where the next bit of wire was just to unpack all the pieces, and then another thirty minutes to assemble it following the enclosed instruction sheet. But it’s worth every second.

The attention to detail is spectacular, from the amazing console itself to the curving ceiling struts, the removable floor panels, the TARDIS door entranceway – there’s even a hat stand and a little set of hammers! When the console is switched on, you hear all the TARDIS sounds, from ‘take off’ to ‘in flight’ to various bleeps and whooshes as different and well disguised buttons on the console are discovered and pressed. There’s a little hidden hatch on the console which opens for repairs to be carried out (or for Rose to get another dose of vortex power if she fancies another snog with the Doctor). The column also glows a superb eerie green (using it in the dark gives the best effect), and when the clear perspex tubes start moving and meshing together as that strange wheezing groaning sound announces that the ship is taking off my heart flutters and warms with pleasure.

The cardboard back walls unfortunately only cover a small part of the playset, though there is a template for more that can be downloaded unofficially from the Internet and printed off in colour to clad more of the room and to give a better overall effect. And for the stray piping and wiring which hang from the ceiling of the actual set, although again these aren’t included here, some strands of black ‘Scoobidoo’ plastic string (a couple of quid from Woolworths) completes the effect and gives an amazing simulation of the actual set.

But what use is a playset without some players, and Character Options have produced a great range of characters to journey in the TARDIS. Of course there is the Doctor, and there’s a few to choose from: you can have an Eccleston model or the Tennant version in Eccleston’s outfit (these were both in a ‘Regeneration’ pack still available in some specialist shops), or there’s Tennant in his long brown coat, or Tennant in his pinstripe suit. Some of these come with a mini-sonic screwdriver as well, so the Doctor can be armed against the forces of evil. By his side there is Rose Tyler. Unfortunately, the first version of Rose was poorly modelled, but now there’s a new version in her outfit from New Earth which is much better but still not perfect – for some reason she doesn’t have movement at her elbows and wrists which makes her seem a little zombified.

Along with the Rose figure, you get a little K9 as well. This is a lovely toy, well made and incredibly accurate. If you’d prefer a small radio controlled version to zip about the TARDIS with, then that’s also available along with a Doctor figure. In fact the Doctor and Rose figures are turning up in all manner of packaging from six-packs from Woolworths, to three-packs from Sainsburys as well as individually and with small remote control Daleks and K9s. Finally, there’s a nice Captain Jack figure in his outfit from The Empty Child, complete with blaster.

So much for the good guys, but what about the baddies? Lining up there’s the bone-masked Sycorax Leader, who comes with staff and whip, ready to beat some sense into everyone, and also Lady Cassandra (the flat skin woman) who comes on her own or with tattooed Chip her servant (who like the new Rose lacks articulation in his elbows and wrists). There’s also a little blue fellah on a travel disk thing. He’s the Moxx of Balhoon and like Cassandra he comes with some robot spiders. There’s also a Slitheen figure with a lovely snarling mouth and big arms and claws, the impressive Werewolf from Tooth and Claw which towers over everyone else, and of course the dreaded Cybermen!

The Cybermen are far and away the best so far. They are a total dream. The figure is articulated in all the right places, can be posed in many ways (though he can’t quite sit down without popping his pelvic joints out) and I want loads and loads of them to create my very own Cyber-Army. Every army needs commanders, and from Toys R Us, you can get a brilliant CyberController (with brain revealed) in the same scale. Available from Argos is a Dalek Battle Pack in which you’ll find a CyberLeader which is the same as the Cyberman but with black handles on the head, and in a really nice touch, his chest-mounted Cybus logo pops off to reveal the emotion chip therein. He also comes with one of Mrs Moore’s patented electro-bombs so there is a handy way to defeat them! There is even a special Cyber-set available containing two Cybermen and the CyberController along with his mobile throne.

Character Options £17.99 each
*** (3 stars)

Not content with providing a very playable range of small figures, Character Options have also brought out the big guns with a range of larger dolls. My inner child let out a huge ‘squee’ when I heard that one of these would be the Cyberman. As a life-long Cyberfan, all I have had up until now has been the 1970’s Denys Fisher Cyberman – all silver lame suit and a nose for some unfathomable reason – and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these babies.

The Doctor first. Not surprisingly they didn’t do a Chris Eccleston one as no sooner had he appeared on screen as the Doctor than we knew he was not staying, and so the first of the dolls is a David Tennant one. The likeness is pretty good, though he has a sort of semi-shocked expression which makes him look like someone has just pinched his bum or that he’s somewhat Auton-like or hypnotised. The hands are in nice gripping poses and the doll comes with an in-scale sonic screwdriver so he has something to hold on to.

He’s wearing his natty Jarvis Cocker brown and blue-striped suit with a blue shirt and red tie and the quality of the costume is excellent right down to his white plimsolls – a lot of attention has gone into this aspect of the figure and rightly so.

One problem though … this Doctor seems to have been working out. He has a very muscular ‘Action Man’ type physique lurking under his clothes with huge chest and muscles. This is one pumped up Doctor! Maybe they know something secretly about David Tennant that we don’t, but to all appearances Tennant is as skinny as a rake.

But what use is a Doctor without a foe to grapple with … enter the Cyberman. What a brilliant looking toy this is. For a start there is a choice of three. You can have the standard Cyberman, or from Argos you can get the CyberLeader (with black ear bars, removable Cybus logo and an electro-bomb) or from Toys R Us you can get the CyberController, complete with revealed brain and studded chest.

The armour is moulded from tough grey/silver plastic and looks very genuine and is fitted over a cloth bodysuit which emulates the plastic and rubber tubing of the actual costume. This lets the figure down somewhat as it looks a little cheap. It’s a shame that a more textured, rubberised material could not have been used to give a better effect.

Articulation is OK but could be miles better. The pack claims 14 points of articulation but sad geek that I am, I counted 15 (head turning, head nodding, shoulders x2, elbows x2, hands x2, waist, hips x2, knees x2 and feet x2) but even this isn’t enough for proper poseability. The figure is a little stiff and cannot bend at the legs more than about 15 degrees in either direction, so there’s no chance whatsoever of him sitting down or posing him in anything other than ‘standing there looking gormless’ mode. However the head turns and the arms are flexible in an up and down sort of way – the shoulders and where the legs join the torso don’t seem to be ball joints so there’s limited movement at those points. He can’t even stand in a classic superhero pose with legs spread. It’s a shame that the jointing could not have been better as it reduces the playability of the toy considerably.

Each variant comes with slightly different hands, so the CyberController is half-heartedly pointing while the CyberLeader is pointing more aggressively and the Cyberman has slightly closed ‘gripping’ hands. Unfortunately none have a clenched fist to accompany a boomed ‘Excellent’, which is something you just have to do with all Cybermen it seems. Say what you will about those ‘80s voices, but they’re easy to mimic.

Hopefully future 12” dolls will have the arm and leg articulation sorted out unless there is some complex technical reason why ball joints can’t be used, as this is really the only aspect of the figures which impacts on the overall look, feel and playability of them. The price is good at only £17.99 each and before long there should be a whole load more monsters and enemies for the Doctor to stage battles with in the 12 inch range.


As well as the overall bed-wettingly good range from Character Options, there have been a whole TARDISful of other toys, gadgets, clothing, jigsaws, bags, stationery and other bits and pieces available over the course of the year. To list them all would take an entire book, but here are some of them.

Flair £9.99
**** (4 stars)

A real blast from the past. The set comes with two moulds which allow you to make a miniature Dalek or a TARDIS. But before you can get there, you have to snip open packets of powder and mix them with water to make a gloop to fill the moulds with. This is where the ‘shaker’ part comes in as you shake the powder and water to mix it together and then, assuming it doesn’t fly all over the room while mixing, leave it in the moulds to set. Once set it comes out as a wobbly jelly-like creation which you then leave to dry overnight (or even longer) until you have a slightly shrunken version of the model to paint and adorn with stickers (both are supplied). The only downside to this great toy is that you only get two packs of powder with it – so you can only make one of each model, and if it all goes horribly wrong (trapped air bubbles defacing the surface of the model or some sort of horrendous mixing accident) then you’re stuffed. It would have been nice to have seen 4 or 5 packs included to cover this eventuality but at least you can buy additional refill packs at £4.99 for five.

Wesco £5.95
* (1 star)

This is a great idea, but unfortunately the manufacturers decided to make the Screwdriver at about two thirds of its actual size, so it’s tiny and more than a little naff as a result. The Character Options screwdriver is now just about perfect (the initial problems of colour and texture having been resolved) but this is a very poor relation. At least it comes with batteries included and works straight from the pack. The blue light is quite bright, but the thing is plastic and lightweight and seems very cheap and insubstantial. What’s really wanted is someone to combine the light from this with the Character Options pen to create the perfect sound and bright light emitting sonic device.

Wesco £17.99
** (2 stars)

Whatever will they think of next? This is actually quite a neat item in a very kitsch sort of way. It’s a rubbish bin which you make up to either show the Dalek face or the TARDIS face on the outside. Inside at the bottom there’s a pressure pad and when pressed, the TARDIS takes off or a Dalek screams at you. The only problem is that it needs a fair amount of pressure to set the sounds off, so goodness knows what kids will be chucking in the bin to try and make it work. Their brothers and sisters perhaps? Crumpled paper just won’t hack it.

Bon Bon Buddies £4.99
**** (4 stars)

Alongside a brilliant Doctor Who advent calendar and Dalek tin full of chocs and mallows is this wonderful Dalek/Cyberman mug filled with yummy hot chocolate powder and marshmallows and with solid chocolate balls around the base. The mug is a brilliant square design with strong, bold colours and is certainly the best of the ceramic products to appear so far. If you’re a fan of hot chocolate and marshmallow on a cold winter night – and let’s face it, who isn’t – then this is an absolute must. And at that price, it’s worth picking up a few more and building your own Doctor Who mug set for the family.

David J Howe