Based on Bryan Hitch’s “organic” design for the new series’ TARDIS, the Character Options Doctor Who TARDIS playset is a colossus made of plastic and, in a few places, cardboard. Neatly replicating a surprising amount of detail from the actual studio set used for the show itself, this TARDIS may be one of the finest translations from practical set to mass-market toy I’ve ever seen.
The sheer size of the thing is a bit off-putting. I’ve mentioned in the past that the size of Kenner’s Millennium Falcon helped to dictate the size of the Star Wars action figures. The base of this TARDIS playset could serve as a landing pad for the Falcon, with a diameter of well over a foot (or, as the packaging brags, 60 centimeters). However, this TARDIS isn’t made for flying; once the Character Options TARDIS is assembled, unless you’ve built it atop a sturdy piece of wood or some other material that can be moved, you can’t move it without taking it apart. Given its sheer size and its delicate non-portability, that may be a turn-off for collectors (and/or young Doctor Who fans).
There are three “floors” to the interior: a spidery base with six “spokes” which support the tree-branch-like buttresses as well as the “front door”, a hexagonal “step” that fits within that, and then a circular floor which fits within that. The massive console – literally and figuratively the centerpiece of the whole playset – is placed in the center of that circular floor, and the buttresses attach to it at the top, as with the actual set. Each of the “floors” comes in three interlocking pieces, and the hexagonal and circular floors each have printed cardboard surfaces which need to be inserted, representing the mezzanine-like flooring of the TARDIS. Each of the three sections of the upper circular floor has a pull-out section to allow the Doctor to access the guts of his ship (a feature seen on-screen in such episodes as Aliens Of London and Rise Of The Cybermen). So far, keeping in mind that my TARDIS has been a display piece (as opposed to a play piece), the cardboard floorpieces have been more than adequate; they snap into place and stay there.
Three other pieces of cardboard, printed on both sides, snap onto two special buttresses places on either side of the doorway. From the inside, these are very nicely printed replicas of the TARDIS interior walls (and I almost wish there was more “wall” to go around, though a quick scan of the forums at Outpost Gallifrey reveal that some talented customizers have all but turned their TARDISes into full 360-degree environments). On the outside, those walls are a dazzlingly colorful pizza-wedge of the Time Vortex, with the exterior of the door – essentially 1/4 of the Police Box exterior of the TARDIS – appearing to be zooming down the middle of it.
I grew up with Star Wars playsets which were, at best, representative cross-sections of the environments they were meant to represent. And that was not a problem – actually, in terms of toys I actually played with as a kid, the “representative cross-section” approach was ideal, because it left more open for the imagination rather than restricting one to the practical realities of a given shooting set. But I’m very impressed with how closely this playset mimics the actual TARDIS set erected in a studio in Wales. That it doesn’t have 360 degrees of walls isn’t a problem – the TARDIS is, after all, bigger inside than out.
The minor details of the set are replicated as well – the railings on the ramp leading up to the hexagonal floor, the railings and the seats on the uppermost circular floor, and even the hatstand are included here. There are also “hammers” included so the ninth Doctor can provide the TARDIS with a bit of extra motivation.
The real detail work, however, is in the console, which can truly only be described with an Eccleston-esque “Fantastic!”. Just about every conceivable tiny surface detail of the console is reproduced here, meticulously painted and with no decals whatsoever. The “naked” portions of the console are translucent green, which light up when the console is activated.
The console can be turned off, switched to a “demo” setting (the default when it comes out of the packaging, since the box has a hole for inquiring fingers to reach through and hit the button), or switched to an “always on” setting which keeps the console lit and plays a constant loop of the TARDIS’ ambient background sound. In either of the active settings, pressing the button on the console will trigger the materialization sound, and doing so in “always on” mode activates the motorized time rotor as well, with clear moving parts that work like their TV counterparts.
(For the love of God and/or Rassilon, I hope Character Options will come to its senses and get the original series toy license, because I’d love to see a 1996 TV movie version of the console, if not a classic ’60s edition. Remember, Character Options – in 2013, Doctor Who turns 50 and I turn 41, and both of us could use a present.) The console is such a beauty, and since it’s the sturdiest piece of the whole playset, I’d bet a week’s worth of K-9’s dog food* that more than a few fans – and more than a few parents – have simply erected the console by itself for lack of space.
I was already aware of the slightly flimsy nature of the flooring assembly, so I built my TARDIS on a large slab of thick styrofoam (originally packing material from a microwave oven I had recently bought). Even though that piece of foam is as big as some coffee tables, the TARDIS portrudes from at least two sides of it. And it still doesn’t like being carried – after moving it anywhere at all, I have to make sure the floor pieces all snap together just right again. Collectors wanting this TARDIS in their space museum would be well advised to have a sturdy shelf, possibly with lighting, set aside for it (and about one to two hours for assembly). I’m not sure just sitting here and talking about it being big is really doing it justice.
It’s a beautiful thing, this TARDIS, even if it’s not quite as sturdy as it all looks on TV. Maybe, for the kiddos playing with these playsets out there, there’s even a valuable lesson in that – a reminder that it’s all just make believe. But how I would’ve loved to have a TARDIS like this to make believe with when I was a kid.
* Pretty safe bet, actually.