Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #02 - Trek And Relative Dimension in Shops

Hello folks! Welcome back the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Do take a seat... No, not there, that's still got the remains of dropped lolly on it! A Walls Sky-Ray I think. But I digress... Anyhow yes, this week we are still going through the big dusty box marked "Denys Fisher Dr Who" and taking a look at another item in that range of toys that helped kids create new adventures of the titular Time Lord in the comfort of their own bedrooms back in the late '70s. 

So then, in 1976, British toy company Denys Fisher, in conjunction with Mego in the US, released a range of nine and half inch Doctor Who figures. Obviously we had the Doctor himself, all teeth and curls and wearing Tom Baker's face (or was it... see our last trip here). There was a Leela doll, which despite having exceedingly bushy hair like those old Troll dolls, had a recently resemblance to Louise Jameson. And there was also a range of enemies which we'll have a gander at next week. But the centerpiece of the range was the TARDIS playset. 

Nicely scaled to the figures in the range (and for a good reason too), the Denys Fisher TARDIS was a sturdy beast and a rather nice replica of the current TV version. However while later toy TARDISes (and no, it shouldn't be TARDII - the name's an acronym remember) were just empty blue boxes, this first time capsule for action figures had a trick up its plastic sleeves. If you looked at the photos on this page, you'll notice that the only major inaccuracy in the design is the inclusion of what look like red and green lights on the top. But these were actually buttons to allow the toy TARDIS perform its main selling feature.

For when you opened the doors, you discovered a little chamber, just big enough to stand a Doctor or a Leela, or at a squeeze a Cyberman figure inside. Now for maximum effect, you then shut the doors, and pressed the green button. The TARDIS would make a strange noise - sadly not the famous wheezing and groaning dematerialisation sound effects - and then when you opened the doors, the Doctor (or whoever that been shoved in there) had disappeared! My giddy aunt! And then if you shut the doors and pressed the other button, they came back! Amazing! 

Of course, it was blinding obvious to most children how this all worked, for the chamber in which you placed your plastic pals was suspiciously curved and put one in mind of a revolving door. And indeed essentially that was the secret of this particular TARDIS - it worked just like those secret doors in movies and cartoons where you pull a concealed lever, usually a torch on a wall, a candlestick, or a book on a shelf. and a section of wall span around. It was, at least to a child of the time, very cool. Although I suspect I'm not alone in being slightly bothered by it, for the TARDIS is not some species of secret door, or a magician's vanishing cabinet. And so, while this feature was undoubtedly great fun, it didn't quite fit the lore of the parent TV show. Personally I rationalised this by choosing to see it as representing the Doctor wandering off into the sadly unseen control room for which, equally sadly, there was never a playset equivalent of. Of course I was aware that that was just an imaginative sticking plaster, what we might now call "head canon" but it evident worked well enough as I played with that until the mechanism eventually broke! 

But even back then, I kind of guessed why this toy TARDIS performed this vanishing trick, for I had seen another playset that did more or less the same stunt - the Star Trek Transporter Room from Palitoy. Now over in the US in 1974, legendary toy giant Mego (and that's a company not some fee-fie-fo-fumming titan made of playthings) began producing a line of Star Trek figures, eight inch high replicas of the crew and assorted aliens. The big item in that range was the USS Enterprise Action Playset, a construction of card and plastic that delivered a captain's chair for our Kirk to loaf about on, a Navigation Console, six different pictures to put on the bridge view screen, and some stools for the other crew. All very exciting, but the highlight of the set was the Transporter. Now although a transporter shouldn't have been on the bridge,  and in the show looked more like the stage of a late '60s nightclub, this was a little pod that looked like a futuristic wardrobe. But it did perform the same magic trick with a revolving panel as the TARDIS, to allow you to "beam down" figures to areas of carpet and hallway that had been pressed into service as alien planets. 

Sadly however, this set was never released in the UK, and indeed if I remember rightly the Star Trek figures were never widely available in British toy stores for long - certainly Palitoy versions of the second wave of figures released, the aliens in particular, were and are very hard to come by. However we did get a playset that was exclusive to the UK, with Palitoy creating the Transporter Room set. This was just the transporter unit from the US set, shipped as a stand-alone item and sporting a jazzier colour scheme. It was created from Mego parts shipped from the US and Hong Kong, as toy historians reckon that the execs at Palitoy decided it was cheaper to create this set from pre-existing bits than import the USS Enterprise Playset (for more on this saga, boldly go here). 

Now there was a fair bit of back and forth across the Atlantic between Mego and Palitoy, but the legendary American toy makers also had a good relationship with Denys Fisher too. And hence no one seemed to mind too much when Denys Fisher essentially borrowed the concept and mechanism. However as the Who figures were an inch and half taller than the Kirk and co figures, everything had to be scaled up with new bespoke parts to create their version of the TARDIS.

Of course for the kids of 1907s Britain the real upshot of the this difference in figure sizes meant that any bedroom team-ups or playground crossovers where the Doctor met the Enterprise crew often ended in farce, with the Baker Doctor giving Kirk the old Benny Hill head slapping treatment, the "get out of that" routine (as frequently demonstrated by Eric Morecambe on little Ern),  and of course the classic held-off-at-arms-length-you-can't-hit-me wind-up beloved of older siblings everywhere...   

NEXT TIME - We'll be round off our look at Doctor Who dolls, sorry I mean action figures, with a look at some of the curious things going on with the Doctor's enemies... 

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