Damn you kids these days. Back in my day, our playsets were made out of cardboard and we were damn happy to have them! Yes, I’m just old enough so that Mego made up some of the very first toys that I owned. And yes, that means that some of my very first playsets were made out of laminated cardboard, including the bridge of the USS Enterprise and various Planet of the Apes environments. Of course cardboard also carried over to the early Kenner Star Wars playsets like the Ice Planet Hoth, Land of the Jawas, and the pretty freaking cool Palitoy Death Star. Now that I think about it, with playsets having become almost non-existent, maybe the kids these days would be happy to have cardboard playsets too. Where am I going with all this? Well, Biff Bang Pow made a retro-style cardboard TARDIS to go with their retro-style Doctor Who figures. And today we’re going to check it out.
The box is simple, fairly attractive and does have a smidge of retro charm. You get some illustrations and some photos of the playset inside. The back panel also shows the myriad of retro-style Doctor Who figures available from BBP. Wow, they made a lot of these. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of these figures. Even with the whole retro-style thing going on I think most of them look pretty awful. I have The 4th Doctor, who turned out a bit better than I expected, and I have the Sontaran who is Ok, but sadly suffers from some QC issues, like some cracked armor. One of these days I may pick up the Leela, just so I can have a set that harkens back to the Denys-Fisher 4th Doctor and Leela. But that’s about as far into this pool as I’m willing to wade. Even this Doctor Who fanatic has his limits.
Open up the box and inside you have… well, basically another box. The TARDIS is a very sturdy cardboard box with a glossy illustrated surface that replicates the familiar details of everyone’s favorite Type 40 Time Capsule quite well. But make no mistake, this is still basically a fancy cardboard box. Even the stepped lamp on the top is made out of folded cardboard and smacks of papercraft. There’s a little bit of depth to the sides, such as the doors are set in from the corner pieces, but everything else is in 2D but printed to look like 3D.
The TARDIS opens along the right corner of the front side and the flap is secured quite well with magnets. The sides are designed to open so that they are straight with the sides that remain closed without putting a lot of stress on the creases and the bottom floor pieces will sort of lock open, probably more by coincidence than design. The inside of the TARDIS is decorated with printed roundels and the doors are drawn in on the left flap. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t draw in the viewscreen on the right flap. This is pretty basic stuff.
Like the rest of this set, the TARDIS console is completely made of sturdy, illustrated cardboard and comes in two pieces. The base connects to the console with tabs. It’s also not secured down in any way, so you can move it around if you want. When BBP first revealed this set and the price, I was almost certain the console would be a rotocast piece, but in the end that wasn’t the case. It’s a shame, because even the Mego Enterprise and Planet of the Apes sets had plastic set-pieces. Nonetheless, it’s about the right height, but not broad enough to really be in proper scale with the figures. The illustrations of the controls, however, are very nice and even accurate when compared against the pages of my old dog-eared copy of the TARDIS Technical Manual. The Time Rotor, on the other hand, looks rather weak. It’s hard to do a convincing transparent tube with cardboard.
One interesting gimmick is the inclusion of an electronic keychain that fits into the base of the console and can be activated to play the sounds of the TARDIS taking off and landing. You can use it with the set or just take it out and use it as a keychain to annoy your non-Whovian friends. On the other hand, my cell phone can do it better, so I guess there’s not much point. Still, it’s a clever way to add a little electronics to the set.
The set also comes with a rotocast K9 figure and I’ll be honest, this bonus single-handedly tipped me in favor of getting this set. Yes, it’s a hollow chunk of plastic, but it is nicely sculpted and painted and I just adore K9 too much to pass up a chance to own him in almost any form. He’s nicely scaled to the retro figures and makes a very nice display accessory for my BBP 4th Doctor. Once again, if I ever get the Leela figure, this K9 will nicely round out the Denys Fisher homage.
If I were to sum up this set in a word, that word would be “charming.” It really does remind me of the old Mego days, particularly some of my Planet of the Apes and Hal Needham sets, and that is clearly what the folks at BBP were aiming at. But I can’t stress enough how much nostalgia will be the key to making this thing a worthy purchase for anyone. With an MSRP of $59.99 you are really paying a lot for some cardboard and a rotocast K9. My 11th Doctor Console Room from Character Options was only ten dollars more than this and while it did have cardboard walls, it also featured a lot of plastic and a lot more detail. In short, this thing is ridiculously over priced. I don’t at all regret picking this up, but it should be pointed out that when it comes to Doctor Who merchandise, my fiscal sense can usually be summed up with the phrase, “shut up and take my money!” Still, there was a time when Doctor Who was niche enough that companies could justify expensive merchandise to cover their risk, but when you consider that I have a six-foot tall bookcase overflowing with Doctor Who toys and figures, I don’t think that flies anymore. In the end, this turned out to be a fun display piece, but too much money for too little.