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The Seventh Doctor

Doctor Who
by Artemis

In a bit of good news for Whovians (yes, that's really what we're called; at least it's better than Transformers' "Transfans," which makes it sound like they prefer their fembots with something extra), I'm told that Character Options' range of Doctor Who figures has found a new distributor for Australia - the previous one was rubbish, pushing way too much product early on then bailing out when stores wound up with too many shelfwarmers from the first two series. Hopefully that's a thing of the past, and collectors like myself will no longer have to scour overseas to get their fix - it certainly seems that way, since along with the 11th Doctor items turning up, there's also this Classics set I had despaired of ever seeing in person.

The TARDIS arrives in London in November 1963, where the Doctor and Ace discover that two rival factions of Daleks - one loyal to the Dalek Emperor and one to the Dalek Supreme - are seeking the Hand of Omega, a powerful Time Lord device that the first Doctor hid there during an earlier sojourn on Earth.

This two-pack commemorates "Remembrance of the Daleks" from 1988 - the above is the first paragraph of an extended synopsis on the packaging, and since it spoils the whole story I won't reproduce it here. Suffice it to say that Remembrance, which began Sylvester McCoy's second season as the Doctor, was a major sign of things to come for the show. The Doctor, introduced in the previous year's stories as whimsical, self-effacing, even clownish at times, began to reveal a colder, more calculating side to himself, while the Dalek plotline was laced with issues of racism and xenophobia that were pushed far more overtly than the show would have done in previous seasons. Add in many nods to the show's 1963 origin, and the spectacle of rival Dalek forces blasting the bejeezus out of each other (not to mention Ace beating the hell out of a Dalek with a baseball bat, the most memorable scene involving a companion and a Dalek since Katy Manning posed nude with one), and it's no surprise that many fans consider Remembrance the "true" anniversary story, rather than the official (and sadly a bit mediocre) 25th anniversary serial "Silver Nemesis" that aired later.

Starting with the Doctor, normally we'd give an overview of the whole figure and then focus on the face, and any other areas of particular importance, but one look will tell you why we're addressing the face first. Yep, that grin. It's actually not a bad likeness - McCoy's face was very mobile, to the point of caricature - but it's such an early-7th-Doctor look, and so at odds with the brooding frowns he'd typically wear during his later, best-regarded stories (even in Remembrance he was toning it down), that I'd be surprised if most fans didn't see it as a negative. That said, it's still high calibre work, technically - the sculpt is highly detailed, and the paint is exact.

The rest of the figure has nothing likely to raise complaints - it's the Doctor in the light coat he wore prior to "Ghost Light", which revealed his new, darker attire, an intentional visual cue to his burgeoning at-all-costs chessmaster persona. Being the Doctor, he's got a bright mishmash of clothes, with various colours and patterns all painted on with precise detail - the paintwork on these figures really is very good, although there's a slight bit of red smudging around the chain of his pocket watch. A nice touch is that both of the coat's side pockets - the left hidden by a cloth tucked into it - are bulging slightly, reflecting McCoy's tendency to keep his scripts in them while filming (the top of a script was even visible - although not identifiable - in some scenes; perhaps inadvertently foreshadowing "Blink," when the Doctor really did have the episode's script to work from).

Articulation is the usual Doctor Who fare - swivel neck, shoulders and biceps, pin elbows, swivel wrists and waist, swivel/pin hips, swivel thighs, and pin knees; not enough for kung fu, but plenty to work with when you just want a little extra variation between standing figures (I've got almost a hundred of this line now, so that matters). There are a couple of issues though: the right bicep cut has a tendency to widen unless it's in its neutral position, which is a problem I've seen on several Doctor Who figures, and hopefully something Character Options will see if they can do something about. Additionally, the stripes on the trousers make it obvious if the thigh swivels have been turned - there's nothing they could have done to prevent that, though.

The Doctor has one accessory, and for once it's not a sonic screwdriver. Instead we get his trademark umbrella, with the handle shaped like a question mark - McCoy's idea, evidently, since he knew the question mark had to feature somewhere on his costume, but disliked the question-mark-patterned vest and hoped to convince the producers to get rid of it down the track. To avoid what would be an extreme weak spot at this scale, the umbrella lacks the thin black rod joining the question mark's body to its lower point, but is otherwise accurate and well sculpted. As usual the figure's hands are softer than the rest of it, so the fingers can open enough to hold the umbrella, or it can be hooked over the wrist (though not the rest of the arm, with the thicker sleeve).

Of course it wouldn't be "Remembrance of the Daleks" without a Dalek to remember, so the set includes one of the Imperial Daleks, the white-and-gold-clad loyalists of the Dalek Emperor, who showed up mid-way through the story in force to give the black-and-grey Renegade Daleks some grief. Substantially the same as previous Classics Daleks, the Imperial model features solid surface armour around its mid-section - as opposed to the wire mesh earlier versions had beneath the metallic plates there - and very flat disc-like "ears". The Imperial (and Renegade) Dalek props also had a redesigned wheel system, to allow them to move on uneven surfaces out on location, rather than the smooth floors of studio sets - unfortunately it also caused them to wobble rather alarmingly as they traversed London's cobbled pavements, but luckily the toy version has the same three-wheel arrangement as all its forebears, and glides around nice and smooth.

As usual, both the "death ray" and sucker arms are mounted on balljoints - the sucker, incidentally, also got a little redesign, adding in two notches that matched various access ports on Dalek technology, intending to suggest that it's an interface device that just happens to look like a sink plunger. The head swivels, and the eye stalk can raise and lower just like the real thing - unfortunately, on the one I bought, the head is slightly mis-assembled, leaving it at a sideways angle, sort of like the Dalek's confused. I had others to choose from in the store, but some of those had scuffing on the gold paint on the mid-section armour; knowing I'd display this Dalek (like the others I have) facing to one side on their shelf, not head-on (which makes the tilt visible), I went for the better paint.

Regardless of small errors, this is a worthwhile set - individually it represents one of the landmark episodes of the original Doctor Who's closing years, and as part of the figure collection the Doctor is obviously a mandatory addition, with the Imperial Dalek not far behind. Given Character Options' release of Dalek-only sets in the past - both in the Classics and modern ranges - I'm rather hopeful we'll see an Imperial Faction pack, with a couple more Imperials, the Special Weapons Dalek, and possibly the coffin-like Hand of Omega, but for the moment I'm quite pleased, both with this set, and the prospect of more to come now that their distribution is back on track.

-- 06/02/10

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