Welcome once again dear friends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! And this week, we are continuing our root through the very first range of actions for Doctor Who, made way back in the late '70s by Denys Fisher in the UK. Now obviously this included nine inch high versions of the current Doctor (incarnation #4 Tom Baker) and his companions: at this time Leela played by Louise Jameson, and K9 played by ... erm... an increasingly unreliable prop. Of these latter entries in the range there is little of note to say, other than that the Leela doll tended to have extremely mad frizzy hair, and the miniature K9 proved to be somewhat sturdier that his full size TV counterpart, handling out of studio work i.e. adventures in the back garden, far better.
However Doctor Who has always been a show not just about the adventures of its hero but also about monsters, and quite rightly Denys Fisher did not skimp on a range of villains. Now there were only three different enemies available to do battle with the nine inch Baker, however thankfully Denys Fisher had licensed two of the big boys, but more on them next week. The other villain in the range was the Giant Robot. Now this always struck me as something of an odd choice as this metallic chap only ever appeared in one Doctor Who story, "Robot" which aired in late 1974/early 1975. And while this had been the debut outing for Baker's Doctor, in 1977 he was somewhat old news when the Denys Fisher figures hit the shelves.
So why did Denys Fisher chose this particular foe? Well, first up we have to note that the design is brilliant, none of your couple of boxes stacked up with waldo arms and some old TV aerials here! This mechanical maniac was actually designed by a fellow named James Acheson, who would go on to win three Academy Awards for Costume Design, for his work on The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons and Restoration. Quite a pedigree, I'm sure you'll agree. And the toy version was pretty decent too - admittedly the some of the proportions aren't 100% exact, but all the same, this is one handsome toy android! But other than looking like some visitant from a robotic art deco future, perhaps a clue to why he was chosen is hidden in his name. Now the original TV serial was just called "Robot", and in the story itself our metal friend actually had a proper name - K1. But the Denys Fisher version hit the toy shops under the name 'Giant Robot'.
And there is a good reason for this. Back in the 1970s, while there were some home video recorders knocking about, they were rare and extremely expensive beasts. At that stage, we were still a good few years away from the dawn of the VCR age. Also we should note too, that unlike today, repeats were not a common feature of the TV schedules - back then channels repeating old shows were roundly criticised. But there was another way for Doctor Who fans to revisit old adventures, and that was in book form. Beginning in 1973 with reprints of novelisations by David Whittaker of three First Doctor adventures which had originally been published in hardback in the mid 1960s, Target Books would go on to produce novelisations of nearly all the Doctor's televised adventures, and become a hugely successful publishing imprint in the process.
After reprinting the trio of Hartnell tales, the range had focused on the adventures of the then current incarnation, 3rd Doctor John Pertwee. And when he regenerated into the 4th Doctor, Target Books were not far behind, with Terrance Dicks novelising his own script, and a book version of Tom Baker's debut adventure hitting the shelves just two months after the serial aired. Now generally the Target Books had the same titles as the TV stories. However in the early days of the range, sometimes they were tweaked, most often to fit the series title format of "Doctor Who and the Such-and-Such of Whatever". However in the first few years, some titles got a bit more of spin, presumably to make them sound more attractive to readers. Hence the novel of the 3rd Doctor's debut story "Spearhead from Space" became "Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion", while his second outing "The Silurians" became "Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters" which presumably was thought to be catchier sounding.
Hence when the novelisation of the adventure that included K1 was released, the story that on TV was simply named "Robot" became Doctor Who and the Giant Robot. And that wasn't merely hyping the main threat of the tale either, for in that adventure, the climax saw K1 growing to King Kong size. Now Denys Fisher chose to christen the toy incarnation as "Giant Robot" too, rather than go with K1, and that was an interesting choice at the time. For thanks to Star Wars, robot names composed a combination of letters and numbers were about to become de rigour for SF automata, and hence going with K1 would be more zeitgeisty. Not that the wholesome chaps at Denys Fisher would have ever used a ghastly marketing term like "zeitgeisty" back then. I'm regretting doing it now to be honest. But I digress...
...Anyhow, my theory is Denys Fisher went with "Giant Robot", because as thanks to the Target Book, this was now the more familiar name for the nation's kids. I also suspect the sales figures of said Target novel might also have had something to do with their decision. Looking at the Target Books publication schedule, in 1975 and 1976 there were only four other novels released featuring the Fourth Doctor, two of which featured enemies the range were bound to cover anyway: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen (published 20th May 1976) and Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks (published 22nd June 1976). The other two titles Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster (a novelisation of Terror of the Zygons, published 15th January 1976) and Doctor Who and Pyramids of Mars (published 16th December 1976) offered alternative iconic monsters, but my suspicion is that given Doctor Who and the Giant Robot has been on the shelves longer, K1 looked the better known and more popular enemy for the range.
Next time, we'll be taking a look at how Denys Fisher recreated two of the show's most famous villains for their nine inch range...
The original K1 enjoying a polish up for a recent exhibition