Doctor Who: TARDIS 25th Anniversary Playset (1988)

Released in the U.K. in 1988 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who, which at the time was still in its original run, entering its second season with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, this Dapol playset was the only toy representation of the TARDIS interior until Character Options’ marvelous playset modeled on the new series’ TARDIS set. Unlike many Dapol toys, such as the TARDIS’ Police Box exterior, certain elements of this set were never manufactured or made available again, making it a true collectors’ item.

The figures included here are picked from the oddball assortment of Dapol’s original handful of figures: the seventh Doctor, Melanie (modeled on actress Bonnie Langford, who departed the series at the end of the 24th season), and K-9, who never traveled with either of the above during the series proper. (The seventh Doctor and K-9 would appear together in the charity special Dimensions In Time, but that was produced several years later.) A TARDIS exterior is included also.

Doctor Who 25th Anniversary TARDIS Playset - photos copyright 2007 Earl Green /
Doctor Who 25th Anniversary TARDIS Playset - photos copyright 2007 Earl Green /

But by far, the biggest item included in this set, and the one thing which makes it a treasured rarity, is the TARDIS console. Powered by AA batteries (which makes for a slightly bulky base), the console is motorized and lit from within, and is a very nice replica of the console used from 1983 until the original series’ end in 1989, with one rather significant “blooper”: this console is a five-sided pentagon, while the actual full-sized prop was a six-sided hexagon, and had been since 1963!

Dapol promised to make a more accurate six-sided console available separately at a later date, but this never came to pass; the fire which nearly shut the company’s factory down destroyed this console’s original molds, and by the time Dapol had production of Doctor Who and its other toy lines up and running again, the series had ended. The company was still able to keep sales healthy by releasing new Doctor Who action figures in dribs and drabs through the end of the 1990s, and by constantly re-releasing new paint and accessory variations of its venerable best-selling Dalek figures (of which this author must confess to owning several), but apparently Dapol never felt that demand for a console merited re-sculpting and re-machining a new model, either five or six sided.

Doctor Who 25th Anniversary TARDIS Playset - photos copyright 2007 Earl Green /
Doctor Who 25th Anniversary TARDIS Playset - photos copyright 2007 Earl Green /

Maybe they misjudged just a little. I seldom get into pricing/rarity information in ToyBox, because this section of isn’t meant to be a price guide. But in the interests of disclosure, I lucked out and obtained a complete, near-pristine 25th anniversary playset for $110 from a U.S. collector, within 4 hours of the beginning of the auction. (Buy It Now is sometimes a beautiful thing.) Within 24 hours, I saw a U.K. seller put a console, on its own, up for auction – with an opening bid of…well over that price. I have seen the console alone fetch the equivalent of US $200. I hate to drop specific numbers like these for fear that it will inspire sellers to price their wares over and above those numbers, making it nigh-impossible for earnest (and modestly budgeted) collectors like myself to obtain something they’d enjoy and not hoard. But there the numbers are, in the interest of letting potential buyers beware – brace yourself for a price tag that’s bigger on the inside than out.

Those who sell the console alone, by the way, are doing the collecting community (and completists) a disservice. The 25th anniversary set also included a base onto which the TARDIS police box “walls” could be opened up to form the famously roundel-covered interior of the time machine, and the base included a raised “lip” to keep K-9 on track as he dutifully makes the rounds and checks the console. That base was also never made available again, and due to all of the sellers who are auctioning off orphaned consoles, the base may well be rarer than the console itself.

Those who are willing the pay the price, depending on their expectations, may be a little underwhelmed with the reality of the thing – the console has a bulky base to accomodate two pairs of AA batteries, and the mechanism that moves the “time rotor” is about as quiet as a 1970s vacuum cleaner. It’s worth it for the spectacle of seeing the whole thing working at least once (see our accompanying video piece), though.

In the context of its time, this was a fantastic playset. Doctor Who seemed to be on an upswing on TV, at least creatively if not in the ratings, with Sylvester McCoy breathing new life into the part and a new group of writers and script editors revitalizing the stories with a new sense of mystery and danger, flying in the face of the BBC’s mandate to increase the show’s comedy content. And with Dapol’s new commitment to decent merchandise of the kind that had previously only graced such U.S. properties as Star Wars, young (and, ahem, young-at-heart) fans could create their own adventures. Surely the best was yet to come.

Doctor Who was cancelled by the BBC in 1989. But as a new generation of eager young (and, of course, young-at-heart) fans, with their own new generation of action figures and their own mightily impressive TARDIS playsets would prove just two years shy of the 45th anniversary, it’s hard to keep a Time Lord – or his frankly magnificent timeship – down.