Five Hundred Eyes

Take my advice

Ever feel you've been conned? I do, and I have. Call me a fool, call me an idiot, whatever, but last month, after reading a glossy colour advert in the Monthly, I sent off a cheque for £38.95. That might give you a clue as to what I bought. And sure enough, last week the package arrived. I tried to hide it from my friends (it came in a plain brown wrapper), but eventually the truth came out. I had bought the DAPOL action figures.

"I never saw you as a completist," commented Ian when he found out. Too right, neither had I. What made me do it, I don't know. I mean, it's not as if I'll ever play with the damn things (whatever friends may say to the contrary, I have actually outgrown that sort of thing). Perhaps it was a misplaced sense of nostalgia, a fond remembrance of the old Denys Fisher toys of years gone by, coupled with memories of those dinky little Star Wars figures (I'm just young enough to remember them). Alas, though, the DAPOL figures are in a different league entirely. I think you get my drift.

In fairness, they are actually better than those Palitoy Star Wars figures. The arms and legs are jointed at elbows and knees (or "fully articulated", as the sales literature would have it; this is a new definition to me - if I was "fully articulated" in the same way as the Doctor and Melanie then a good 90% of life's pleasures would be out for a start). The heads turn (or at least, the Doctor's and the Tetrap's turn; Melanie's is jointed, but her rigid shoulder-length hair ( has she been using Harmony?) prevents it from turning at all). The Tetrap's wings (two pieces of leather) flap, and hours of fun are to be had by positioning him just behind Melanie (she can't see him, cos her head won't turn, remember?) and putting his claws together to strangle her. Oh yes, and the handle of the Doctor's (non-opening) umbrella fits just perfectly round Bonzo's neck. But apart from that ...

It's the price of the damn things that gets me. I mean, if they were 99p each then fair enough; cheap, disposable fun. But three quid, all but a penny ...! I've still got the box to my Denys Fisher K9 - £2.75 says the price tag. Okay, so this was ten years ago (and just before the year of the 20% inflation), but even so, the old K9 was a good eight times the volume of this new one. And it was the right colour. K9 should, of course, be gun-metal. In my time I have seen silver K9s, grey K9s, black K9s and even pale blue K9s. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock of opening the box to find a K9 sporting a livery of finest green.

Let's be brutally honest for a moment. Accuracy doesn't seem to have been very high up on DAPOL's list of priorities. No, actually that's not entirely fair - in some areas the models are extremely faithful to their tv counterparts. The Doctor's jersey is covered in red question-marks, Melanie's costume is an exact replica of that seen in Time and the Rani, Urak has the requisite number of eyes for a Tetrap (four), K9 has a little silver dog tag, the panel on the side of the Police Box ("Pull to Open", etc.) is entirely accurate, and the panels on the central console look convincingly high-tech and gimmicky (just like the tv version). Of course, it's with the control console that the accuracy really goes to pot. I expect you've all heard the story (tragedy, farce ...) about the famous console cock-up, but suffice to say that it is lacking one vital component - the sixth side. Had one never seen the tv series then I daresay that the model would look very impressive (not fifteen quid's worth of impressive, mind you, but impressive nonetheless). A pentagonal console is an interesting concept, but when one has been used to the more orthodox version for nigh on twenty-five years the only word to use is wrong. (There are plenty of other words suitable, but "wrong" is the only one I'm going to print in this zine.) The two large grey protrusions extending at right-angles from the base are also novel additions to the original concept; their purpose, apparently, is to hold the batteries necessary to power the thing. The Doctor's TARDIS uses power derived from collapsing a supernova into a black hole, but, taking proportion into account, DAPOL have managed to scale this down to four AA batteries. Mind you, the Doctor's TARDIS can travel anywhere within the five dimensions, whereas the DAPOL console's power is concentrated into making the the screens light up (a pretty shade of yellow), making the time rotor flash (a pretty shade of pink) and, and this is the good bit, and making the time rotor go up and down. The noise it makes whilst doing this is not dissimilar to that of the TARDIS dematerialisation effect, but I suspect that the resemblance is unintentional.

To go with the console is a base plate. Oh, just a piece of grey plastic, but what fun is to be had with it! There are pegs to fix the figures to (Melanie won't stand up any other way - what is she on?), slots and more pegs to attach the walls (complete with convincing roundels) in two different positions, and a semi-circular groove. On the face of it, this seems like quite a good idea, and I assume that this is how it appeared to the designers. The idea, you see, is that you rev up K9 (friction drive, didn't I mention that?), position him at one end of the groove, and then let him go. He will then glide round the console room, in the way that K9 does. (Obviously the designers don't watch the programme nowadays (and, of course, they're not alone there) but we'll let that pass - it's the thought that counts.) Unfortunately, in practice it doesn't work like that. You rev up K9, you position him at one end of the groove, you let him go, and then you don't blink. K9 now zooms round the console room at a scale speed of about 90 miles per hour and flies off the edge of the base-plate. If you're playing with this on the carpet then this is okay, as (in a remarkable display of accuracy to the tv version) K9 can't cope with difficult terrain like carpets and comes to a complete stop. If, however, the whole is arranged atop a table then K9 tends to shoot off the edge and fly into space (you know, the way K9 does), and, shortly after, drop to the ground (again, in the way K9 would when faced with nothing below him but empty space). Furthermore, if one happens to be standing over the model when revving up the little green dog, as one would when demonstrating the whole set to a disbelieving friend, then our little canine chum has a habit of racing at one's most tender region at a rate of knots that is liable to put one off robot dogs for life. (Had the model been any more substantial, I fear it might have put me off more than just that ...)

There is, however, one saving grace. The Police Box is perhaps one of the most accurate representations I have ever seen, short of the old early-sixties Dinky model. Twelve pounds is, admittedly, more than a little steep for what, in truth, is little more than four pieces of bent and painted plastic, but beggars can't be choosers. The only thing that I could possibly criticise it on is the choice of colour for the flashing fairy-light on top. My recollection is that the TARDIS boasted a yellow lantern on top, but I may be wrong. DAPOL know best. (I don't know what made me say that, considering past evidence, but ...) The Police Box, of course, opens up to form the walls of the console room, which, as I mentioned earlier, are actually quite good. Not even DAPOL can cock-up everything. Incidentally, if one looks closely at the photograph on the front of the gift-set one will notice that the TARDIS has mysteriously gained an extra wall of roundels, not supplied in the actual set. Presumably a five-sided Police Box to match the console ...

My super toys came to me in the "Limited Edition 25th Anniversary Commemorative Diorama Playset", which is marketing-speak for a bit of moulded polystyrene and a colour photo on the front (a photo which, incidentally, also shows a Tetrap with cloth wings and a correctly coloured K9, as well as hiding the most obvious deficiency of the console). I've yet to see the packaging for the individual figures, but it'll have to be good to convince today's kiddies that they're worth spending two or three weeks' pocket money on. (Is that right, or am I dreadfully out of touch?)

I've made a few criticisms of these new figures, but I'm sure DAPOL will take them in the friendly, constructive manner they were meant (honest!). Of course, they weren't aimed at me, and I daresay were I fifteen years younger I might think them not too bad. But then again, in comparison to the Denys Fisher figures they really aren't of the same quality. Those DF figures, of course, weren't exactly paragons of accuracy, but as far as construction and play-value go, I would rate them much more highly. DAPOL state that the figures are "unsuitable for children under the age of 3 years", which, if this is the case, makes me wonder just who the damned things are suitable for? Ah well, I suppose there are a couple of thousand DWB readers out there ...

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