Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat #05 - Who Nose?

Welcome once again dear friends to the creaky old pile of half-forgotten ephemera that is the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! This week we are, I promise, concluding our look back at the first very range of Doctor Who action figures - or dolls as they were called back then - produced by UK toy masters, Denys Fisher in the late 1970s. And in this final installment we are looking at the nine inch plastic versions of the Doctor's most famous enemies. 

Now the first proper monster to ever appear in the show would also become the most famous - I refer of course to those genocidal pepperpots, the Daleks. These armoured horrors from Skaro first appeared back in December 1963 in the second ever Doctor Who serial, variously known as 'The Mutants', 'The Dead Planet', or simply 'The Daleks', for back then Doctor Who adventures only had production codes rather than definite titles for the story arcs, and hence strictly speaking the story is called Serial B. Anywho, these metal monsters were an instant hit, indeed so much so that the Daleks got their own spin-off toys years before there was ever a Doctor figure, with the first miniature Daleks hitting the toy shops in 1965 in a whole variety of shapes and sizes from different manufacturers. 

Now then, gingerly stepping over the tatological* tarpit that is the various breeds of toy Dalek invading the toy shelves in the mid '60s - for they were legion (see here) - all we really need to note right now is that none of them were actually what we would now call 'screen accurate'. In fairness, they were all recognisable as Daleks, and were never in any danger of being mistaken for Gareth Hunt, but they tended to sport somewhat off-piste proportions and colour schemes. Up until Denys Fisher came on the scene, the best toy dalek you could buy was one produced by another UK toy firm, Palitoy in 1975 - a battery operated talking Dalek whose only real flaw was that it was slightly on the chubby side. Hence there was still room from improvement, and indeed the Denys Fisher Dalek from 1977 was widely hailed as the most accurate toy Dalek to date. 

However that said, I always thought the Denys Fisher Dalek looked a little on the small and undernourished side. To my childish eye, it looked like a Dalek that hadn't been eating its greens, and I much prefered the chunkier Palitoy one, even if it did look like it had eaten all the pies. But as the Denys Fisher Daleks are still much sought after by collectors, and are currently going for around £500, so I'm probably in the minority there. However while we could argue all day over which of these '70s toys is the more accurate version of their screen counterparts, there is an interesting tale surrounding the colour scheme of the Denys Fisher incarnation. As you can see from the pictures, this particular Dalek has a silver body and a striking red head piece, giving it something of a sporty look. And while that colour scheme might seem a little unusual, it was familiar to 1970s kids for identical Daleks had appeared in a set of cardboard figures given away by Weetabix (a tale for another day), and in Doctor Who comic strips found in British weekly comic Countdown**.

A Weetabix Dalek card and a panel from Sub Zero published Countdown comic in 1972

However the curious thing is, despite the Skaronine terrors adopting various liveries over the years, there had never actually been a silver and scarlet model on screen, neither in the TV show, or even in the two movies starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor produced in the 1960s. However interestingly, the origin of this rogue pepperpot is tied to the creator of the Daleks themselves -no, not Davros, but writer Terry Nation. Now Nation has invented the Daleks in his script for The Mutants/Dead Planet/Serial B and had cannily retained the rights - which was why they were so heavily merchandised in the 1960s. Nation even ended up with a flotilla of Daleks of his very own, after acquiring some of the movie props, which would go out on promotional tours. In an article on the Daleks in the Radio Times special issued for the 10th anniversary of the show, old Terry was pictured at his home with his own honour guard of Skaro's finest patrolling his drive!

Terry Nation and his Skaro posse

And look, there's the Scarlet Top! So where did he come from? An unrealised outing for the Daleks perhaps? For there were a few of those down the years, most famously Nation planned to bring them into his other SF TV series Blake's 7 and tried to get a solo Dalek show on US TV.  Actually the truth is more prosaic - over the years the various Dalek props own by Nation got a bit battered during their days on the road. Sadly rumours of them smashing up hotel rooms and hanging out with Keith Moon have just been made up by me. Anyhow, due to assorted Daleks getting damaged in transit, those deemed to tatty to show to the public ended up as spare parts, and eventually lead to the creation of Scarlet Top, essentially a Skaro Frankenstein made of bit of ex-Daleks*** (more details available here). However, it would seem that reference materials provided by the Beeb for Denys Fisher featured lots of snaps from the Radio Times photo shoot, and likewise Weetabix and Countdown artist Gerry Haylock got the same press pack to work from too. And hence the Scarlet Top came into the Dalek canon...

The 10th Anniversary Doctor Who special from Radio Times 

Now then, to move on to the other arch nemesis manufactured by Denys Fisher, their nine inch Cyberman shares a similar heritage. As detailed here, their terror from Telos was clearly modelled on the Cyberman seen menacing the Third Doctor on the cover of 10th Anniversary Radio Times special - it's the silver wellies that are the give away apparently! However, it is fair to say that the resulting Cyber-doll wasn't as quite as screen accurate as their Dalek. The decision to go with fabric for the Cybersuit makes it look like it's wearing pajamas, and the pipes and chest pieces look a bit too chunky and cumbersome. Indeed the chest unit, which serves as the Cyberman's lungs by the way, often slipped down so much, it would end up being worn like a bum-bag by many Denys Fisher Cybermen.  Obviously, much of this comes down to a matter of scale - there's lots of fiddly bits on Cybermen that were hard to do well at nine inches. But none of that explains why this Cyberman is a true rogue. Look closely here...

Yes, this Cyberman has a nose! And, as far as I can tell, nobody nose why! Boom! Boom! ...Oh alright, please yourselves! But leaving the bad puns aside, the only thing I can come up with is perhaps the designers at Denys Fisher were short of pictures of Cybermen, and possibly were consulting a range of photos of assorted old Cybermen. Now over the years, the Cybermen have changed quite a lot, in in their first appearance had gauze face masks rather than steel headpieces, and hence you can see a bump where their noses were. And looking at the general features of the Denys Fisher Cyberman, it could well a result of a harassed designer attempting to synthesis the four different models of Cybermen pictured in that fabled Radio Times Special. Quite possibly while screaming "what the hell are these silver bastard things supposed to look like ?!?".  Well, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it!

A Tenth Planet Cyberman

So then dear friends, that brings us the end of this trawl through Doctor Who toys from the 1970s. However, never fear, the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat as many. many more dubious treasure to share with you! 

*  - Yes, I did just make that word up
** - A story in which Scarlet Top appears, Sub Zero, was reprinted last month by Doctor Who Monthly as a free gift with Issue 508
*** - All together now "They have ceased to be!"


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

As I'm not well versed in Dr Who lore I was intrigued to hear that they hail from Skaros. That's the kind of unsubtle, hack detail I like in my tat. I do wonder if its a neighbouring star system to Despondos, though..
No, I think not. The Daleks wouldn't last two minutes in the Fright Zone.
Great article all the same.

Anonymous said...

As a vintage Star Wars aficiando, I hope that Mr Moon doth find some old Marvel Star Wars comics in the 'Orrible 'Ouse Of Terrible Old Tat - possibly beneath the garish carpets, or rotting in a damp cupboard beneath the mini-bar.
These tales were incredible tat, the heroes blander and cheesier, every sentence featuring an exclamation mark and Darth Vader at his devious Machiavellian best while being blue.
One of my personal favourites featured Vader employing several top assassins to menace our heroes on Aargau, the financial centre of the galaxy, one of which is clearly meant to be Dracula. I first read it as a four year old and seeing Darth Vader lift Dracula of the the ground by the throat with one hand whilst declaring that he and his colleagues are "professional pawns!" that are to be sacrificed for the benefit of the more important pieces is one of the resounding images of my childhood.
How lucky I was to find the original years later after my old annual had combusted from overuse/crayon defacement and then the rest of the run was reprinted by Dark Horse before Marvel regained the license and run it into the ground.
The Bank Of Aargau welcomes you!