I’d be reluctant to try to estimate how many kids have bought this magnificent boxed set of nearly a dozen figures, because chances are that they’ve all been snatched up by people like me – thirty-and-forty-somethings who have been waiting since they were kids to hold this set, or something like it, in their hands. Despite being at a very silly age to suddenly pick up a huge set of action figures, the Eleven Doctors set is a gift from Doctor Who toy license holder Character Options to those of us who will no longer be denied.
Put simply, there are eleven incarnations of the time-traveling Doctor, and eleven figures in this set – certainly not something that’ll require much rocket science to figure out. Each figure represents one of the actors who has portrayed the Time Lord from the show’s 1963 premiere to the 2010 season which introduced us to Matt Smith, the newest and (physically) youngest of the Doctor’s many bodies.
For the first time anywhere, this set also gives us the elusive eighth Doctor, as portrayed by Paul McGann in the one-off 1996 TV movie which was his only televised appearance to date in the role. (McGann has continued with the role in a series of audio and radio plays, but the chances of him ever appearing as the Time Lord again on TV are slim.) While other Doctors have appeared as expensive limited-edition exclusives, this set remains – for the time being – the only way to get the eighth Doctor in figure form.
To sweeten the pot, however, Character has made many of the other figures “variants” – in other words, not the same figures you may have already paid a premium for. Some of the variations are as minor as a new paint job, while other variations are pretty significant, almost amounting to whole new figures.
The first three Doctors are substantially the same as the ones previously available; the first and second Doctor figures debuted at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con, while the third Doctor – in several minor costume/paint variations – first appeared at the end of 2009 after being displayed as a preview at Comic Con. The first and second Doctor figures have slightly more colorful costume details than the Comic Con versions, matching up more or less with those Doctors as they appeared in the 1973 tenth anniversary story, The Three Doctors.
The third Doctor, with cloak, cravat and boots, is strong competition for the Sea Devils third Doctor figure as the best version of that character. (This set’s third Doctor is basically the same, except for a more colorful costume with a hunter green cloak that’s very widely associated with Pertwee’s Doctor.) The fourth Doctor included in this set is, at least for North American collectors, a whole new figure. The version of Tom Baker’s iconic Doctor that has been such a general retail hit supposedly depicts the Doctor as he appeared in his first season for the four-part story Revenge Of The Cybermen; the new figure – with an entirely different body and head sculpt – shows the Doctor as he appeared in The Seeds Of Doom, with a substantially longer grey overcoat and, for the first time, the combination of the Doctor’s somber face staring out from beneath the brim of his well-worn fedora. (The Revenge figure included two swappable heads – one with the hat and a toothy grin, one with no hat and a more serious expression; this is the first figure to combine the hat and the more serious look.)
The fifth Doctor is much the same figure as appeared in the Time Crash set in 2008, complete with his celery (see our review of the Time Crash figure set to see why a vegetable as a fashion accessory on a plastic figure was such a big honkin’ deal). The sixth Doctor, while using the same sculpt as the previously available version of the character, has a very different paint scheme, indicating that this is the “future” sixth Doctor glimpsed in parts 9-12 of The Trial Of A Time Lord, sporting an even stranger waistcoat and tie than the sixth Doctor normally wore (if indeed the word “normally” can be applied in any way to the sixth Doctor’s costume).
Though the seventh Doctor appeared in two limited-edition packages in the months before the Eleven Doctors set – one with the light jacket and scarf of his first two seasons, and one with the dark jacket and scarf he wore in the origianl series’ final season on TV – both of those versions of Sylvester McCoy featured a very good approximation of the actor’s deceptively disarming gap-toothed grin. The Eleven Doctors set’s version of the seventh Doctor loses both his hat and the goofy grin, wearing the kind of somber expression that usually preceded an almighty smackdown for one of the Doctor’s powerful foes. I suspect that some future limited edition will put the hat on this more serious Doctor to create yet another variation (and with my luck, that figure will come packed with Ace and I’ll have to get it).
The set’s “compelling app” is, of course, the eighth Doctor as played by Paul McGann. For years, there’s been a ridiculous amount of debate over the details and specific colors of McGann’s costume; Character Options simply put him in a dark overcoat with greyish-green costume details underneath. This version of the eighth Doctor comes with a silver sonic screwdriver (as glimpsed in the 1996 TV movie), and stands ready to re-enact just about any Big Finish eighth Doctor story you like. (Hint: the non-military-fatigue-wearing figure of Abby Maitland from Character’s short-lived range of action figures from Primeval – made in the same scale as the company’s Doctor Who figures – makes a dandy Lucie Miller.)
The ninth Doctor figure included here is the fully-articulated version, which leads us to the great missed opportunity of the Eleven Doctors set. The tenth Doctor figure is much the same as the original, overcoat-wearing version of the figure, only with the new “big hair” head sculpt created for the End Of Time mini-range (minus the cuts and bruises sported by the End Of Time tenth Doctor figure). But in all other respects, this figure is identical to the one that came out in 2006 – meaning that, unlike the rest of the figures in this set, which are extremely articulated (neck, shoulders, bicep swivel, elbows, wrist swivel, hip swivel, legs, calf swivel, knees, and even ankle swivel), the David Tennant figure – still arguably the most popular one of the bunch with the possible exception of Tom Baker – doesn’t have much more poseability than a 1978 Star Wars action figure. Fans and collectors weren’t even asking for a new body sculpt: adding points of articulation to the 2006 body would’ve been just fine for most.
Rounding things off is the Doctor’s latest body; using 3-D scanning equipment instead of the more traditional sculpting techniques, Character has turned out a figure with a remarkable likeness of Matt Smith. The latest figure is meticulously detailed – little plastic bow ties are cool.
This leaves just one question: could some of the variant Doctors varied more from the original figures? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes: 2010 also saw the arrival of a completely different figure of the first Doctor (this one with the scarf, coat and hat worn in An Unearthly Child‘s earliest scenes); yet another major revamp of the fourth Doctor (this one from Tom Baker’s final season), and a fifth Doctor with his trademark panama hat. Add to that the disappointing lack of a more fully articulated tenth Doctor, and there were plenty of additional variations that could’ve differentiated the box set figures from the individually available ones.
But maybe there’s a reason they weren’t major variations. Not everyone sprang for the first two Doctors’ Comic Con figures (despite the fact that they’ve been widely available online and through brick-and-mortar venues like Hastings without ridiculously inflated price tags), and not everyone sprang for any of the three previous versions of the third Doctor. For some collectors, this set is the only Doctor Who product they’re ever going to buy from Character Options since it’s got every Doctor in one package. This set should consist of each Doctor’s most iconic look – in that respect, those of us who did get the previous early Doctors are lucky that any of them are variations at all.
And “lucky” is really the adjective that ultimately applies here. I’ve been collecting Doctor Who action figures since Dapol’s smaller-scale offerings during Sylvester McCoy’s reign; doubtless others have been collecting even longer, as far back as the large-scale-Mego-style Denys Fisher figures. In either case, there’s always been an inherent, unfulfilled promise of more Doctors. Dapol made a game effort, with figures of the third, fourth and seventh Doctors (with detail of varying quality). There was never an iron-clad guarantee that Character would complete the whole set either, despite (perhaps ill-advised) forum posts leaking the fact that all of the Doctors had at least been sculpted and prototyped. There was no guarantee that they’d ever actually hit store shelves – especially not in one big set manufactured in the (apparently not limited-edition) quantities as the Eleven Doctors set. The set is widely available in America, too – I walked into a local store and bought mine. I’ll argue strongly that the earlier Doctors, in limited-edition form, probably made it possible for this set to land at the $100 mark (when the normal retail price point of an individual figure in the U.S. is around $16); in that context, I’m not too unhappy to have two first Doctors, two second Doctors and two third Doctors that, in the final analysis, aren’t that dissimilar.
This is the kind of thing I dreamed of having when I was only eight years old (at a time when such a set would’ve weighed in at a mere four versions of the Doctor), and given that previous Doctor Who license holders didn’t manage to give us all of the existing Doctors, there was no guarantee of completing the set now that there are just shy of a dozen Doctors to consider. Character Options is guilty of cranking out some silly minor variations (i.e. Professor Bracewell both with and without a glove!), but where the classic series is concerned, Character has been awfully good to the old-school fans. As such, with the great figures and the beautiful TARDIS packaging that could easily hang on the wall, I find very little to complain about with the Eleven Doctors set.