Thursday, November 18, 2010

Toy Review – Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor’s TARDIS By Underground Toys

I think this is my first actual review of any Doctor Who toys, which is ridiculous because I have a ton of ‘em.
This is the second TARDIS playset that Underground has produced, and only the third ever made. That’s kind of insane when you think about the fact that Doctor Who has been an international presence for almost fifty years now. I’m talking about actual TARDIS interiors here, not the police box exterior. To their credit, Underground has produced at least four or five completely different sculpts of the police box at different stages of its existence, many of which have been released in a few different sets. If you want a TARDIS and don’t have one, you just haven’t looked. They’re everywhere. Toys R Us even had a set, albeit briefly.

The first actual TARDIS interior playset was produced by Dapol in the late 80’s, right before the show was cancelled. It included 3 ¾” figures of the 7th Doctor and Mel. I still can’t get over the fact that it took that long for somebody to put a playset out. It is actually quite a nice little set and if I ever find one in any kind of reasonable condition for less than a hundred bucks I’ll get it. Because chances are Underground won’t be doing a classic TARDIS set anytime soon.
The next TARDIS to arrive was the first offering from Underground Toys. It was the all-new TARDIS that debuted in the first season of the new Doctor Who series. It has lights and sounds and a moving center console and is very nice. I don’t know what I was thinking not buying it when I had the chance.
This newest TARDIS, the one we’re looking at today, does not have lights or sounds or a moving center console; but is still a pretty darn good playset. Let’s have a look:
First Glance: The box isn’t as big as I thought it would be. The is the first complex British toy I’ve ever purchased (by which I mean not just an action figure), so I’m very curious to see how they do things.
And apparently they do things by just tossing them into the box. This set has exactly three pieces of cardboard securing the many, many parts inside the box; most of which are just floating around within their plastic baggies. It seems to me like there should be some broken or at least severely bent pieces, but there aren’t. Everything is in astonishingly good condition. Even the cardboard, which I hated at first.
Sculpt: Somehow Underground toys has managed to reduce the most complicated set piece this side of the Romulan ship from Star Trek into some very basic components. And it still looks good. Great, as a matter of fact.
You have to sit and look at this thing for a minute to really get how much is going on, which is a neat thing to have to say about a toy of the TARDIS. There are several levels to put your figures on, from the bottom level that the Doctor had to work on to the staircases leading away from the console. The only significant absence is the staircase leading to the topmost portion, but Underground sidestepped that particular logistical nightmare by designing the toy as though the camera was facing the entrance, meaning our missing “set wall” is the one that would have said staircase.
I was a little disappointed by the abundance of cardboard for backgrounds and floors at first, but it looks just fine as long as you don’t damage it during the assembly process. By which I mean don’t let a child put this thing together, because you’ll end up with no walls or floors. Actually, I think American toy manufacturers could learn a lesson from Underground Toys’ clever use of cardboard. We might have some pretty great Star Wars or Hall of Justice playsets if the tooling costs could be cut down. Plus, cardboard isn’t as heavy as plastic, so shipping wouldn’t be as much of a killer.
You do have one significant non-cardboard floor, though – the main level with the console is made of a tough, transparent plastic that I was positive was going to break during assembly but didn’t so much as bend anywhere. I don’t know exactly what sort of plastic this is, but it is extremely thin and sturdy and looks great in the TARDIS.
The central console is amazing to look at. There is so much detail and so many different little parts that I’m almost not comfortable reviewing it without giving it another half-hour or so of inspection. There are little clear plastic windows over circuitry and panels. The handbrake is there. The overhead screen rotates around the console. There are buttons and handles and knobs and all manner of control elements all over the thing, just like on the show. It truly is amazing. The central column extends upward from the console into a wacky spiral thing that I honestly didn’t even notice in the show but think looks pretty damn neat on a toy. It just occurred to me to look and see if there is a spot to put a sonic screwdriver on the control panel.
The staircase leading upwards from the main level is flanked by the posts with what look like 8-track players on top and there is a chair that you can put wherever you like.
The molded plastic pieces of the TARDIS all reflect what we see on TV. The supports and walls are all made from a light, sturdy plastic that is well detailed and assembles easily. It is just malleable enough to fit together correctly, yet not at all flimsy.
Design: Obviously, the cardboard needs to be addressed again. It looks great. Printing technology has advanced so much since the early eighties (the last time cardboard had any kind of significant presence in the toy marketplace) that the images on the cardboard are likely just taken from the actual sets. I couldn’t actually tell just by glancing at pictures online how much of this set was constructed from cardboard; and if I hadn’t mentioned it (and taken such thorough pictures), I bet you couldn’t either.
While there is not a whole lot of painted detail on most of the actual structure (and not much is needed), there is a ton on the central column. It really does look great, from the detailed switches and circuitry to the highlights on the support. My only real gripe is that the sticker on the overhead screen isn’t great and looks like it may come off eventually.
The “front door” is a nice touch, with the reverse of the TARDIS exterior on it.
Accessories: Pretty much just that chair.
Packaging: Nice packaging, easily on par with anything Hasbro puts out.
Overall: I’d be a liar if I said I was anything but thrilled to finally own a TARDIS playset, and that has definitely colored my review a bit. While this set does look just like what we see on the show, for the price I really could have used some lights and sounds. I mean, how much does a voice chip cost now? Really? Other than that, this TARDIS is awesome.
4 out of 5
Now I just need to find a new Doctor Who shelf. I’ve run out of space. Sorry for the lack of Smith, but the only one I have is inside the giant 11 Doctors box set. I’m holding out on a single carded one until they release him with a fez and a mop. Which has to happen. Until then, this TARDIS is Baker’s. And K-9’s. And dear, little Amelia Pond's.
Hell, maybe a few other guys, too.

Until next time, stay creepy


  1. Ummm No its not all that great, the quality of the last play set was much better, had lights and sounds, and there was a website where you could down load additional printing to add the missing walls and to install them. I would have to say, as neat as it appears, I will wait and hope that someone else comes out with a better quality play set with the movements, lights, and sounds, other wise you are wasting your hard earned money.

  2. Anonymous - As I mentioned above, I do feel this playset would have been improved by lights and sounds. I also mentioned my excitement over owning a TARDIS after wanting one for over twenty years probably inflated the score a bit. That being said, I do not agree at all that this set is a waste of money. It is a completely fair toy representation of the current TARDIS for the price. Yes, if Character Options wanted to crate a high-end set for fifty or even a hundred bucks more; I'd be all for it. Modern toy marketing logic dictates this would be a bad move for them, though. If this is the best we can get for the price then I'm okay with that.