When Doctor Who began in 1963 television merchandise didn’t really exist. Television was like theatre, you watched a performance once and that was it. However, Doctor Who being the ground breaking programme that it was, created a demand for merchandise, triggered in no small part by ‘Dalekmania’ that gripped the UK in the mid 1960’s. As a result, much of the early Doctor Who merchandise featured the Daleks instead of the Doctor.
The Early Years
The first Doctor Who merchandise began with independent manufacturers spotting the demand and approaching the BBC declaring their interest in producing products. The BBC department tasked with managing such negotiations however was manned by only a single individual. Australian entrepreneur Walter Tuckwell was subsequently given responsibility for dealing with these companies and issuing them licences to manufacture Doctor Who merchandise. More than that Tuckwell actively recruited other companies, approaching them with the suggestion of including a Doctor Who related variant of a product they already produced. This method of promotionis now no longer required with Doctor Who such a globally recognised brand but in the 1960’s this was not the case.
Louis Marx & Co. released some of the earliest Dalek toys in 1965, and used a friction drive movement. Later radio controlled variants were famously used in the climatic model sequences used for the 1967 episode ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ to depict the explosive Dalek civil war. Marx also released one of the most popular Dalek toys of the 1960’s which were the ‘Rolykins’. Costing 1 shilling they had the unique feature of a ball bearing in the base which allowed it to glide effortlessly across a table or flat surface. At approximately 1 inch tall, with detachable eye stalk, plunger and weapon, they sold in vast quantities and their popularity triggered a replica re-release by Product Enterprises in 2000.
An alternative Dalek toy was released in 1965 by Cherilea Toys Ltd, also retailing for 1 shilling. Known as the ‘Swappits’, they featured 3 interchangeable sections; upper, middle and lower, and were available in a variety of colours. Following the broadcast of the 1965 episode ‘The Chase’ the company also released a Mechanoid toy but they sold in far fewer quantities than the Daleks. However, due to this fact the Mechanoid is now rarer and subsequently more valuable.
The highlight of Dalek merchandise during the 1960’s was the child’s playsuit. The first version was made by Scorpion Automotives in 1964 costing £8, 15/6 and is now incredibly rare due to a fire at the factory which destroyed stock and components needed for the manufacturing process. William Hartnell’s granddaughter received one of these Dalek playsuit for Christmas from the Doctor himself! Due to their limited number a Dalek playsuit of this type, complete with box, is worth thousands of pounds today. In contrast, the Berwick playsuit, released a year later, is less rare with more units known to have been sold at an expensive 66/6. Both versions consisted of a Dalek headpiece, constructed of a combination of cardboard and plastic, and PVC plastic which covered the rest of the child whilst they poked the plunger and weapon out of two holes.
‘Dalekmania’ also hit the home, with Dalek wallpaper, masks, slippers, jigsaws, and a spinning top all being available for purchase in the mid 1960’s, Selfridges even sold a Dalek cake in their London store for Christmas 1965.
Doctor Who books
Doctor Who books have been a popular piece of merchandise throughout the programme’s long history. From novelisations of broadcast television episodes to brand new adventures that can only be realised in the mind of the reader Doctor Who books have graced the shelves for decades and continue to do so.
The first Doctor Who novel published in 1964 of course featured the Daleks and was a novelisation of the original Dalek story. Titled ‘Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks’ it was published by Frederick Muller Ltd and was also followed by ‘Doctor Who and the Zarbi’ and ‘Doctor Who and the Crusaders’. Other books published around this period included ‘The Dalek Book’ (1964), the first ever piece of Doctor Who merchandise released, and ‘The Dalek World’ (1965). Both of these books were written by Doctor Who’s script editor David Whitaker and Dalek creator Terry Nation, accompanied by vivid artwork that featured Dalek’s with numbers on the dome because of a photograph given to the artist taken during studio rehearsals when Dalek props were labelled for the benefit of the director to give instruction. Dalek adventures could also be followed in the TV Century 21 comic strips from 1965-1967, none of which featured the Doctor and his companions. A traditional book which is still published today is the yearly ‘Doctor Who Annual’, the first of which appeared in 1965 and had William Hartnell on the cover.
Novelisation’s of broadcast Doctor Who stories became a part of every young (and old) Doctor Who fan’s life. Target, an imprint of Universal-Tandem Publishing Company and later W H Allen, began publishing Doctor Who novels in 1973. Beginning with reprints of the first 3 novelisations ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’, ‘Doctor Who and the Zarbi’ and ‘Doctor Who and the Crusaders’, the Target novels would become the single most profitable area of Doctor Who merchandise, selling approximately 8 million copies over the years. In 1974 new novelisation’s were published including ‘Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion’ written by Terrance Dicks which was his first of 64 different contributions he would go on to write, making him the most prolific author for the range. With repeated screenings of episodes on television few and far between, and the home video recorder still a decade away, the Target novels range allowed fans to relive past stories or even discover episodes that they might not have seen the first time around. They still remain a good source of reference for episodes of Doctor Who which no longer exist in the archives with only four broadcast stories not being novelised for the range. Other titles released by Target also included stories which never made it to the screen, for example, ‘The Nightmare Fair’ and ‘Mission to Magnus’ which were unused scripts intended for season 23. The Target novels were also notable for their cover artwork, created by artists such as Chris Achilleos, Jeff Cummins, Andrew Skilleter and Alister Pearson.
The first factual book concerning the production of Doctor Who was released in 1972 titled ‘The Making of Doctor Who’, revealing how ‘The Sea Devils’ was created from script-to-screen. This book allowed readers to discover the technical and practical aspects of television production; Russell T Davies, for example, stated that it first made him aware of script editors, producers and directors influencing his eventual career path. Factual books still form a role within Doctor Who merchandise to this day, be it a guide to the monsters and companions that have appeared in the series, encyclopaedic reference books and published scripts.
Doctor Who merchandise would not hit the heights of the ‘Dalekmania’ period which it achieved during the mid-1960’s. However, the 1970’s would see new items join the list of television tie-in merchandise, some of which, such as the Target novelisation’s, would leave a lasting impression on fans and collectors and others would still continue today.
In 1971 Jon Pertwee appeared on boxes of Kellogs’ Sugar Smacks promoting ‘The Timeless Energy of Dr. Who’ and inside the box would be one of six collectable badges. During the 1970’s breakfast cereal ‘Weetabix’, also ran two different promotions. The first, launched in 1975, saw promotional boxes containing stand-up figures using accurate artwork including the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and various monsters, with 24 to collect in total. In addition to the figures, the cereal boxes included one of six background settings. The second promotion ran from March to May 1977 and this time artwork cards were collected to be used as playing pieces on a board game included on the back of the box.
Various jigsaw puzzles featuring Doctor Who and his enemies, some of photographs, others of artwork created specifically for the product. In 1978 The Tardis Tuner was released, a form of radio which would also make other noises.
The first Doctor Who action figures were released in 1977, made by Denys Fisher Toys the range included 12 inch versions of the 4th Doctor as played by Tom Baker, his companion Leela, a Dalek, a Cyberman, the K1 Robot and the Tardis. Unfortunately, the 4th Doctor figure bore a passing resemblance to actor The New Avengers actor Gareth Hunt, rather than Tom Baker, because of an accident which saw the original mould damaged and the Gareth Hunt mould having to be used instead.
Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine
The first regular Doctor Who magazine was published in 1979 priced at 12p. Originally part of Marvel Comics, Doctor Who Weekly, featured a comic strip adventure, a tradition that continues to this day. After 43 weekly issues, the magazine became Doctor Who Monthly, and over the years the content would develop as its readers also matured to reach the format used today. Doctor Who Magazine, as it is now titled, features news, interviews, reviews and the traditional comic strip, and holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s Longest Running Magazine Based on a Television Series. Taken over by Panini in the mid-1990’s the magazine continued to be published during the wilderness years when Doctor Who was no longer in production and continues to this day. The magazine also publishes special editions packed with additional content, including comprehensive information about each individual incarnation of the Doctor, and collating telesnaps (still photographs of televised episodes) created by John Cura to provide a visual record of missing episodes for readers to enjoy.
One of the most peculiar and memorable pieces of Doctor Who merchandise was a pair of underpants which featured Tom Baker and the Daleks with over 45,000 units sold by British Home Stores in 1980. In the late 1980’s UK company Sevans Models, produced a series of kits made of plastic or resin which once assembled and painted would produce accurate scale models of monster such as the Daleks, the Cybermen and Ice Warriors.
BBC Video and DVD
Following the invention of the home video recorder the opportunity to watch Doctor Who episodes whenever one wanted, became a reality. However, a market developed with VHS copies of stories, recorded from overseas broadcasts, being traded for large sums of money. During the Doctor Who Celebration at Longleat, which marked the shows 20th Anniversary, a questionnaire was circulated which asked what title fans would like to see officially released on video. The winner proved to be 1967’s ’Tomb of the Cybermen’. Unfortunately, the story didn’t exist in the BBC archives and would not be returned until 1992, so the 1975 story ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ became the first official Doctor Who release onto BBC Home Video in 1983. Retailing at £39.95, over £100 today, it notably featured a Cyberman on the front cover not from that story but from ‘Earthshock’ which had been broadcast the previous year. The first seven titles released from 1983 to 1986 were available in both VHS and BetaMax formats, until VHS became the dominant brand and BetaMax became obsolete. Six titles were also released on the Laser Disc format before it too became unused. Some video releases were produced with the episodes collated into a compilation form, like a movie. In a rare error the Paul McGann TV movie of 1996 was released 5 days before it was broadcast on BBC1 allowing fans to watch the show in advance. The range would continue for 20 years, releasing every story available in the BBC archives until it was superseded by DVD.
Towards the end of 1999 the first Doctor Who DVD, ‘The Five Doctors’ was released. However this release, with other titles including ‘The Black Adder’ and ‘The Planets’ was an exercise conducted by BBC Worldwide to test the DVD market which was still developing. It wasn’t until a year later, when the DVD range began properly, a new medium for a new millennium, with the release of ‘The Robots of Death’. Distributor 2 entertain, now owned by BBC Worldwide, released Doctor Who DVDs from 2004-2012 and they were instrumental in commissioning new material for their releases. As a result the ‘Classic’ DVD range has provided us with new interviews with cast members and crew, episodes with improved CGI effects and an insightful record of how television production methods have changed since the 1960’s. Other notable documentaries have chronicled the programme’s beginnings, the most turbulent and controversial periods and even the special relationship it has enjoyed with another BBC icon ‘Blue Peter’. The DVDs regularly include picture galleries, audio commentaries and informative subtitles and, through collaboration with the Restoration Team, improved picture and sound quality. Some classic stories have even been reimagined for their DVD release, for instance Fiona Cumming was able to revisit ‘Enlightenment’, some 25 years after directing it for broadcast. There have also been some exciting additions to the Doctor Who catalogue which have never previously been released. As well as newly discovered episodes, such as ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘Galaxy 4, episode 3’, viewers have also been treated to animated versions of other missing episodes. Stories such as ‘The Reign of Terror’, ‘The Moonbase’, ‘The Ice Warriors’ and ‘The Invasion’ can now be viewed in a complete narrative of episodes. Even William Hartnell’s swansong ‘The Tenth Planet, episode 4’ can now be viewed in animated form.
Dapol Model Railways Ltd are a manufacturer of model railway products, engines, rolling stock and other materials but in 1988 they were licensed to manufacture and sell Doctor Who action figures. The range began with the then current incarnation of the Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy and his companion Mel, a Tetrap from the 1987 story, ‘The Time and the Rani’, K9 and Daleks in variety of colours. One of the first items released by Dapol was a set which included a Tardis console, notable for only having 5 sides instead of the traditional hexagon shape. Another production error saw a small number of Davros figures released with two hands instead of one. Later additions to the range included Ace, Silurians, an Ice Warrior, Cybermen, Timelords and the 3rd and 4th Doctors. Measuring about 4 inches tall the range was produced until Character Options were granted the license to produce action figures to tie-in with the new televised series. Dapol would also produce friction drive Daleks based on the dimensions of the Louis Marx toys of the 1960’s and Doctor Who yo-yos, purchasable at their factory and Doctor Who exhibition in Llangollen, North Wales until it closed in 2003.
The Wilderness Years
Despite Doctor Who being put on hiatus and no longer being produced for television the brand still remained one of BBC Worldwide’s most lucrative. With the continuing sales of previously broadcast stories onto home video, supplemented by new adventures in books and later on audio CD, Doctor Who continued.
After the series was quietly cancelled Virgin Publishing were given a license by the BBC to produce new adventures which continued the adventures of the 7th Doctor and his companion Ace. From 1991 to 1997, 61 novels were published; authors included former script editors Terrance Dicks and Andrew Cartmel but future contributors to the show such as Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts. Intended for a mature audience the range approached more adult themes. One highlight was the publication of ‘Lungbarrow’, a story idea intended for television which saw the 7th Doctor return to Gallifrey and revealed mysteries previously alluded to in other televised episodes. However, one novel which did make it to television screens was ‘Human Nature’. Written by Paul Cornell, it struck a chord with Russell T Davies in particular, and in 2007 an adaptation of the story was broadcast starring David Tennant’s 10th Doctor.
In association with the Virgin New Adventures a series of ‘missing adventure’ novels were also published featuring previous Doctors and companions. Occasionally novels in this range acted as a sequel to broadcast television episodes, for example, ‘The Sands of Time’ and 1975’s ‘Pyramids of Mars’, and ‘The Shadow of Weng-Chiang’ and 1977’s ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’.
Following broadcast of the Paul McGann TV Movie, BBC Worldwide began a range of novels featuring the new 8th Doctor, beginning with ‘The Eight Doctors’ written by Terrance Dicks and published in 1997. A total of 73 Eighth Doctor BBC novels were published with the final title, ‘The Gallifrey Chronicles’, released in June 2005 shortly before Christopher Eccleston’s series came to its conclusion on television. In the same vein as the Virgin New and Missing Adventures, a range of past doctor novels were also published featuring all 7 previous incarnations of the Doctor, until they too were concluded in 2005 to make way for new novels featuring Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor and Rose.
In 1999 Big Finish released the first of their Doctor Who audio adventures, ‘The Sirens of Time’ featuring the 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors. These continuing audio adventures have also seen these doctors reunited with their classic series companions and have also seen the introduction of new friends of the Doctor, such as Lucie Miller, played by Sheridan Smith. These new audio adventures have allowed actors such as the 6th Doctor Colin Baker and 8th Doctor Paul McGann, the opportunity to explore and develop their character which wasn’t afforded to them on television. A range of new 4th Doctor stories featuring Tom Baker have also been recorded and to celebrate the programme’s 50th Anniversary Big Finish’s release ‘The Light at the End’ featured all 5 doctors in one big adventure.
Doctor Who returns to TV
When Doctor Who returned to BBC1 television in March 2005 an explosion of merchandise was triggered as the show became a huge hit with audiences. From the traditional merchandise, such as the books and action figure ranges, new items such as rubbish bins, mobile phone accessories and party wear joined the Doctor Who catalogue.
Toy manufacturer Character Options was issued with a licence to release Doctor Who action figures in 2005. Measuring approximately 5 inches, early releases featured Christopher Eccleston’s new 9th Doctor, Rose Tyler, Captain Jack Harkness, Autons, Slitheen, and of course Daleks. Regularly producing new figures the range became very popular with both children and collectors, who appreciated their accuracy and detail, using new technologies of 3-dimensional scanning of the individual contribute to making the most accurate figures possible. David Tennant’s 10th Doctor soon joined the range, featuring an assortment of different variants, such as the Doctor with and without his signature long coat, in a spacesuit and a special release to commemorate his final story ‘The End of Time’. New monsters created for the series would also be captured in miniature, such as Cassandra, the Sycorax, the Ood, and the Weeping Angels. In 2007, Character Options further developed their portfolio by releasing a range of 12 inch figures, including the 10th Doctor, Martha Jones, Cybermen, a Judoon and a Clockwork Droid. That same year Character Options also released a series of 8 ‘classic’ action figures, including the 4th, 5th and 6th Doctors, a Zygon and a Sea Devil. A second wave in this series followed in 2010 with a 1980’s Cyberman, an Ice Warrior and the Morbius monster being created in superb detail. Over time all 8 original incarnations of the Doctor would be recreated in 5 inch figurine form. Sadly however the early ranges have long been discontinued and are no longer produced, making them particularly sought after.
In 2013 the Doctor Who action figure range was reduced to 3.75 inches, with the reimagined Cyberman and Ice Warrior debuting into the toy market in this smaller form. The 12th Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi also debuted into action figure form at this size too. New play sets were also introduced allowing children to recreate classic moments and create new adventures, set on the Soviet submarine from 2013’s ‘Cold War’ or the planet Earth following a Dalek Invasion, for example.
Action figures therefore continue to be a significant proportion of Doctor Who merchandise with ‘classic era’ figure sets being released on a regular basis. These also included Daleks available in various liveries and some which included sound effects and the familiar war cry of ‘Exterminate’.
Character Building micro-figures
Another range introduced by Character Options in 2010 was the construction toy micro figures, fully compatible to Lego and other similar products, available for less than £2 each with different waves of figures to collect. All 11 Doctors could again also be collected in this form as well as other sets which included the Tardis exterior and an interior mega-set.
Doctor Who Adventures
When Doctor Who returned to television it captured the imagination of a new generation of youngsters so a new magazine was created which appealed to this demographic. Doctor Who Adventures magazine is a regular release which brings together exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes information, a comic strip, posters, puzzles and competitions; and has since become the number 1 magazine for pre-teen boys.
Within weeks of the show returning to television Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was being released onto DVD. The first title, Series 1 Volume 1, was released whilst the series was still being screened, in fact 2 days after ‘Father’s Day’ was broadcast. The rest of the series would gradually be released over 4 volumes until in November 2005 ‘The Complete First Series’ also became available. This method of releasing the DVDs would continue for Series 2, 3, 4 and 5, with the episodes being divided into volumes with no accompanying bonus features and then the complete series boxset being packed with additional content. A notable release came in 2009 with ‘Planet of the Dead’ being the first Doctor Who story to be purchasable in High Definition on BluRay DVD. From this episode onwards all Doctor Who titles have been available in both DVD and BluRay format. In 2013, Series 1-4 were also up-scaled to the HD format and released on BluRay. Spearhead from Space became the first ‘classic’ Doctor Who title to be released in High Definition BluRAY, due to the episode being unique in that it had been filmed entirely using 16mm film, making it suitable for the High Definition standard.
New and original stories have also joined the range of Doctor Who books with titles featuring the 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors. In 2011 six of the old Target novelisations were re-released with specially written introductions from people including Russell T Davies and Neil Gaiman. Following their success a second wave of a further six Target novels were released in 2012 featuring introductions from Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, amongst others.
Modern toy making technology, utilising plastic, has allowed Doctor Who fans to own their own sonic screwdriver for the first time. A variety of toys have been released, from ones which squirt water to torches, ‘build your own’ versions with interchangeable sections and even remote controls that can be used to operate television sets and other electrical equipment.
Doctor Who merchandise is now available throughout the world from BBC Shop in the UK, BBC America in the United States and ABC in Australia.
Howe, D. J. & Blumberg, A. T. (2000) Howe’s Transcendental Toybox. Telos.