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TARDIS

Doctor Who
by Artemis

While you need to be truly obsessed to keep track of the various different TARDIS exteriors used throughout Doctor Who's 47-and-counting year history (not the occasional form changes, either - the police box prop was periodically replaced, resulting in noticeable variations when you compare them, and yes, I am one of the aforementioned obsessed), most everyone will have noticed that the interior gets mucked around with now and then. Lots of fans will be aware of the brief use of the "secondary control room" during the Tom Baker era, a steampunk wood-panelling-and-brass-rails version of the set (which was sadly damaged beyond affordable repair by damp during the off-season break, sending the show scurrying back to its traditional grey room), but even ignoring that drastic redesign, and the later wow-we-have-a-budget-inspired ones, the old girl has had her interior revamped many times over the decades.

TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space and looks just like a wooden Police phone box from the 1650's on the outside, but is of infinite proportions on the inside. This incredible time machine is piloted by The Doctor, a mysterious Time Lord and its able to transport him anywhere through time and space, disappearing in one place and reappearing somewhere new. Following its destruction during the regeneration from Tenth to Eleventh Doctor, the TARDIS has rebuilt itself into a gleaming amalgamation of the best of what has gone before. The familiar roundels of the original control room have returned, along with the towering central column and TV-scanner screen of the Eighth Doctor's TARDIS. The six-sided console is mounted on a transparent walkway in the centre of the space, allowing the Doctor access to the ship's inner workings from the space beneath, and various steps and passages lead out into the other areas of the ship.

So when they say it's an amalgamation of past designs, they're not just being pretentious. The giant column is indeed from the ill-fated 1996 TV movie, although the TV screen dates way back to the black and white era. The framework walls hark back to Jon Pertwee's TARDIS, while the concentric rings on the ceiling are taken straight from William Hartnell's way back in the beginning. And while it inherited the interior of the TARDIS's wooden doors from the Eccleston/Tennant set, it's nice to think that they put the doors in as a nod to the old Peter Cushing movies. Where Character Options got all the typos they put into the description is less clear - evidently not having bio text on the individual figures has caused their proof-reading skills to atrophy somewhat. [For instance, there were no phone boxes in the 1650s --ed.]

This isn't the first TARDIS playset, but with Matt Smith's TARDIS being an entirely new beast, set-wise, it's not what you'd call redundant. Nor is it what you'd call small. Obviously it's bigger than the TARDIS exterior toys Character Options have produced (in considerable variety, following the vagaries of the props over the eras), but the surprise once you get it out of its packaging is how much bigger. It's not quite "of infinite proportions" (neither is the real thing, actually, it just seems like it - there's still a Cyberman lost in there somewhere, from "Earthshock") but in a line above the scale of Star Wars or GI Joe it's quite a surprise to get a to-scale playset this big. Top to bottom it's 17", a foot and a half across at its widest point, and roughly a foot "deep" from the door at the back to the descending walkway up front.

Naturally, as well as "impressive," that spells "some assembly required" - tipping up the box it comes in disgorges a bewildering array of bits, only a few of which are easily recognizable. The instructions are fairly clear - critically, it's not possible to attach any bits in a spot intended for something else, although with the various stairways and support struts floating about, you can be forgiven for being a bit anxious early on. The only issue worth noting with the construction process is the card inserts, which are used for the floor, the walls, and the bases of all the catwalks: tabs hold them in place very tightly, and it can sometimes be a bit of bother getting the fairly rigid cardboard to flex enough to slip in beneath the tabs on all sides. I managed to get the whole thing together without actually putting a crease into any of the inserts, which would stand out in their glossy surfaces like a hooker in the Vatican (St. Peter's itself, that is - no telling what goes on in the private sections), but I wouldn't have been happy had I had to bend any of the inserts a fraction more than I did, so take it slow.

While the final result is no doubt impressive, it's not without its faults, and most of them come down to cost. I'm not going to call the playset cheap, in the manufacturing-standards sense - it's a quality piece of work, and the price you pay for it is the only thing cheap about it - but it's not a deluxe replica, or anything of the sort. The central console has rightly got the lion's share of attention, with detailed sculpting and paint apps over the six unique control segments, each with semi-painted clear plastic leaving glimpses of detailed printed surfaces underneath. While a craftsman could improve on the paintwork, it'd be pretty steep to demand more quality in a toy than you get here, and the same goes for the main column (the time rotor) with its multiple clear parts giving a reasonable facsimile of the real thing, so far as you can without lighting.

It's as you move outwards, though, that things get a bit more pedestrian. The cardboard walls are fully detailed, but obviously two-dimensional. Furthermore, the plastic frameworks that hold them in place (and add some welcome depth) are unpainted, as are the catwalks and the frame of the console deck (the deck itself being a transparent plastic insert). The "swing" down below decks is missing any paint apps - even those shown on the prototype used for photos on the packaging - as is the concentric ring ceiling, which is a plain off-white, rather than the dazzlingly reflective metallic finish on the real set. As I said, you get what you pay for - the sheer size of the playset, and the physical detail of its sculpt, makes the asking price fair - but it's obvious that costs had to be cut somewhere, and when you examine the playset, you can see where.

So far as play value goes, it's mostly just a physical prop. The chair is unattached to anything, so it can be moved around wherever you want on the deck (although watch out for scratching the clear surface), and the scanner screen frame rotates freely around the time rotor, although the screen's extendable mounting is a solid piece, and can't lower down from where it is. And that's about it - no real moving parts, no lights or sounds, just a set to put your action figures on. The main deck is comparatively smaller than the real thing, but it's only at the front of the playset where this is really noticeable, with figures standing in front of the console having no room to move back without falling off the deck - at the sides and back there's more ample space for people to stand. (Of course, thus far in the Eleventh Doctor range, there are only two figures appropriate for the TARDIS, the Doctor himself and Amy; I like to hope there'll be a proper Rory along soon, because he is kind of awesome, in a dorky way.)

Bottom line, this is what it says on the tin - nothing more, but nothing less either. As a toy-quality playset for your figures to stand around in, it's big and impressive and has the look, if not the fine detail, of the real thing. A customizer ought to be able to turn it into something really dazzling armed with just a paintbrush (and I may find myself doing just that one of these days), but as-is, it's good value for money, and a prayer answered to anyone looking for a centerpiece for their Doctor Who collection.

-- 11/09/10


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