Welcome back dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! A few weeks ago we were rummaging in the games cupboard and unearthed a fondly remembered deck of cards that was essentially a set of Marvel superhero Top Trumps. They were made by the toy company Jotastar, who held a great many licenses to produce spin-off and tie-in tat for a variety of kid-friendly franchises and properties. However this Marvel card game was not their only foray in the twilight world of exactly-like-Top-Trumps-except-in-name-only card games. For in 1978 they produced another suspiciously Trump-like card game but tied to another legendary fictional universe - Doctor Who.
Back in 1978, Doctor Who was enjoying one of its many golden ages, for this was the era of the Fourth Doctor. And not only was Tom Baker's incarnation of the Time Lord that delighting the kids with his own brand of anarchy, humour and jelly babies. He was teamed up with popular companion (and in particular very popular with the Dads watching), Leela, she of the handy dagger and tribal garb, plus at that time was just coming to the end of a run of particularly scarifying stories, which had greatly expanded the Who canon of iconic monsters and villains.
Now the card game produced by Jotastar was assembled by using pretty much the same template as their Marvel game, with the same rules being were used with minor tweaks here and there. Aside from the rules text being rewritten to include references to the long running SF show, there was a slight change to the stats on the cards - while we still had the attributes Special Powers and Weapons, just like the Marvel deck, instead of Physical Strength we now had Mental Ability - a fitting change as the Doctor tends to outthink his enemies rather than throw buses at them.
Just like the Marvel game, you could divide the pack into to halves and play the good guys vs the baddies. However it is here that this game goes a little weird. For over the years the Doctor has had a long line of companions and assistants, plus he has met a host of good characters who have helped him out, such as the Brigadier, assorted Time Lords, Thals, and so forth. However somewhat weirdly, in the Heroes list the only familiar faces we have are the Doctor himself (obviously) and the TARDIS. And instead of other characters from the show's history, we have the following -
Alexander the Great
Chaka King of the Zulus
Colonel James Bowie
Shiao Chi Samurai Warrior
Yes for some reason it was decided that famous historical characters should be the good guys. The rules refer to this disparate group as "the Legendary Legion". Now firstly it is only right and proper to question why we have mythological characters (such as Thor) and fictional folks (Sherlock Holmes) rubbing shoulders with actual historical personages. But to kids back in the 1970s the more important question was "Why the hell are this lot in here? They were never in the show!". Well alright, Wyatt Earp had appeared in an First Doctor Story The Gunslingers, back when the show still did purely historical stories without any alien monsters in. But even so, that was back in 1966, well before most of the target audience would have been able to remember, or even been born. So then, here was a Doctor Who game in which nearly the half the cards had bugger all to do with Doctor Who.
On the whole, looking at the selection of characters in the deck, I rather suspect the deck was devised by someone who had never seen the show properly - which would explain the good guys being pulled from history books. And as for the Aliens selection, it looks like they just went through the seminal Target tie-in tome The Doctor Who Monster Book which was first published back in November 1975 (and you can read about it here). And hence, there are no monsters more recent that Tom Baker's first season (Davros and the Zygons). However while it was suspicious there were no newer monsters and villains, in all fairness it is a rather good list of famous foes!
The Giant Robot
The Ice Warriors
The Spiders of Metebelis
However there is an obvious anomaly - for although we do have their creator, Davros, their hired muscle, the Ogrons, and two races they fought bloody and bitter wars with, the Mechanoids and the Draconians, the Doctor's most famous enemies, the Daleks do not appear, Possibly this was down to the fact that Terry Nation, who originally created the intergalactic terrors, still owned the copyright to the Daleks, and indeed around this time he was considering various plans featuring the pepperpots from Skaro such as having them appear in Blake's 7 and developing a separate Dalek series.
However judging from some of the attributes given on the cards, it is equally plausible that the Daleks being missing was just a blunder. For it seems clear that not only had whoever devised the set never seen Doctor Who, they were also wildly oblivious to both history and even what was on the cards. For example, Boadicea has a Weapons score of 0 despite being shown waving a dirty great sword and riding in her famous chariot with spiky wheels!
Sadly also the artwork on the cards isn't quite as good as the Marvel pack. Some cards do like rather nice, and it's fun to see familiar faces for Whoniverse rendered in a pseudo comic-book style. On teh downside though, many are clearly copied from very familiar photos (hello again Target's Doctor Who Monster Book) and some look distinctly wobbly. Also as many of photos used as reference were in black and white (spookily enough just as they all were in Target's Doctor Who Monster Book), you can see where the artist has just been guessing what was in the dark, smudgy areas. The Ogron is a great example of this, with clear guesswork filling in many areas of shadowed detail, and the whole picture looking like a ripply funfair mirror reflection. See also the background face on the Spiders from Metebelis card, whose features have been clearly surmised from a blurry photo.
On the whole then, while it seemed like a brilliant concept, sadly this Doctor Who Trump Card Game didn't deliver on its promise. Nor did it live up to its Marvel cousin - while that card game had felt authentic and official, to the extent it was like a little loose leaf encyclopedia or guidebook for the Marvel Universe, the flawed execution of the Doctor Who game clearly marked it out as cash-in tat. Much like the Doctor Who Annuals of the same era (more on which another day) or the previously discussed TARDIS TUNER, while we were happy to have them - there wasn't a lot of merch about back then remember - at the same time you knew they weren't exactly right; they weren't proper Doctor Who like the Target Books or the Palitoy Talking Dalek. In fact in many ways they were a pale shadow of Doctor Who cards given away free with Weetabix around the time which featured not only better art but an innate understanding of the series (and again, more on those another day)
However despite all that, the set now goes for a hefty price, with many sellers flogging off individual cards for a couple of quid a go. And while my inner collecting geek naturally baulks at breaking up sets and selling off cards one by one in this manner, at the same time I can understand why you might really want, for example, the Sea Devil or Mechanoid cards but be more than happy to pass on the wobbly Ogron...
Mr Jim Moon explores the world of a true master of horror, Mr Garth Marenghi and revisits his seminal cult TV series Darkplace (copyright Dean Learner Enterprises) that was axed by the powers that be - Garth Marenghi's Darkplace! In this episode we look back the career of Romford's chillmaestro, the comedy horror classic that was Garth Marenghi's Darkplace which starred Matthew Holness, Richard Ayoade, Alice Lowe and Matt Berry, plus its spin-off Man to Man with Dean Learner.
In a special bonus episode Teresa and Jim celebrate St. Skeletor's Day with a suitably anti-romantic movie - Sightseers (2012). Starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram and directed by Ben Wheatley, this British comedy horror tells the moving tale of young couple Chris and Tina who set off with a caravan to explore the scenic sights of the British countryside with several murders along the way!
49 years ago today the first Black Sabbath LP was released, and to mark this milestone in rock history, Mr Jim Moon pays tribute with a special reading of a most enigmatic poem found on the sleeve of that LP
Thanks to a raging throat infection Mr Jim Moon embarks on a daring raid into the dusty audio archives of the Great Library of Dreams and return with a high strange prize - one of weirdest ever tales to come out of the golden age of horror radio - Spawn of the Subhuman from Dark Fantasy
In the late '70s children's publisher Usborne, produced a new line of books aimed at young readers. Entitled 'World of the Unknown' it comprised of three large format paperbacks, with glossy covers and lavish colour illustrations throughout. One was All About Monsters, the next All About Ghosts and the third and final volume All About UFOs. All three volumes were collected together in a large hardback edition which hit the shelves under the title of Mysteries of the Unknown.
Introducing kids to strange creatures such as the Lambton Worm, the Hopkinsville goblin and Gef the talking mongoose, and transporting them to weird locales such as Loch Ness, Borley Rectory and the Nazca Lines, these books are fondly remembered by several generations of children. Packed full of details and wonderful illustrations, these tomes were high octane fuel for the imagination and now can command frighteningly high prices secondhand... Something that make me very glad I still got my much cherished though slightly battered edition of Mysteries of the Unknown. Indeed I still enjoy flipping through this tome whose words and pictures still trill me to this very day.
These books made a huge impression of many kinds back in the day and are still very fondly remembered. Indeed posting the covers or images from their pages online always brings a huge response. And many folks over the years have lamented the fact that subsequent generations have not had the same intoxicating mixture of wonder and fear in their childhoods since the books went out of print! However there are plans afoot to bring them back!
Anna Howorth who actually works for Usborne as director of global marketing and branding wants to get the range back into print, and so has started a petition asking Usborne to reprint the most scarifying title in the range, World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts. And here's the petition to sign!
If you want to know more about the books, a few years ago, as part of my adventures in audio, I decided to go through the books and reminisce about their marvels and read aloud some samples of their magic. And as Usborne collected all three volumes together into one bumper package, it is only right and proper that I now do the same.. MICROBOBS 05 - ALL ABOUT GHOSTS
In this minicast, Mr Jim Moon once again dusts off a spooky childhood favourite. This time we talk about a volume in Usborne's late 1970s series World of the Unknown, the haunting tome All About Ghosts
Time travelling once more on the black batwings of nostalgia, Mr Jim Moon enthusiastically rambles about World of the Unknown: All About Monsters published by Usborne back in 1978. Swearing, over-excitement and a feast of monsterdom results!