Oh boy… we’re exactly ten days away from the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who and I’m trying to pay some respects to the Character Options line as we head into the home stretch. Today we’re checking out a set of two figures from the 4th Doctor story “City of Death,” which originally aired back in 1979. It’s a fantastic episode and probably one of the most universally loved stories from the era. And why not? Because besides the great story that spans millennia, there really is a lot to love in this production. It’s got location filming (in Paris), which was a very rare thing for the show, a superb musical score by Dudley Simpson. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward bring their A-game and are joined by the delightful antics of Tom Chadbon as the punchy Duggan. This story also manages to tie Doctor Who into so many other nerd properties that it’s almost ridiculous. You’ve got the always delicious Catherine Schell (Space 1999) as The Countess, but more importantly… JULIAN F’CKING GLOVER in a mind bending bit of casting that ties Doctor Who, James Bond, Blakes 7, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones all together in a neat package of nerdgasmic glory. Not enough? Well let’s not forget that it was co-written by Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently fame!
The compact little window box should be familiar to most collectors of this line, but the deco is a blast from the past. This set is from before the turnover to the 70’s style logo, so we get the Nu-Who logo that was used throughout the Eccelsten and Tennant periods. It may seem strange to see the modern logo on a Classic Who figure set, but back then all the toys and figures that CO turned out for Doctor Who were branded under the format of the new series and it makes sense to me that they would want to keep the brand recognition going for the modern incarnation of the property. The window shows off the two figures nicely, and as we can see it contains yet another version of Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor and Julian Glover as The Count Scarlioni… or is he Scaroth the last survivor of an alien race called the Jagaroth?? Stay tuned!
Oh bugger, the back of the package kind of spoils it. Yes, you get some stills of the characters and a nice blurb about the story. The box is totally collector friendly and features an illustrated backdrop that you can use to display the figures if that kind of thing floats your boat. If Doctor Who was all I collected, I’d still have all of these boxes. But space is a rare commodity and so I’ve got to pitch them. It pains me to do so, because the backdrop features the awesome Jagaroth spaceship resting on the desolate landscape of the Earth long before humankind developed. I love the design of that ship!
Let’s start with The Doctor, because I don’t have a lot to say about him. I’ve been a die-hard fan of this show for about 30 years and I grew up with Tom Baker in the role, but even I have trouble telling apart the little variations in his wardrobe. Ask me to describe his iconic costume and it’s no brainer that you’ll get: Well, he has a long coat, a really long scarf, and sometimes a fedora. But there have been a lot of subtle, and some not so subtle, variations in that formula over his long tenure on the show. Suffice it to say, this version of The Doctor doesn’t represent the stand-out variant that we saw last time with “The Seeds of Doom” set. In fact, he’s extremely similar to the version we got in the “Destiny of the Daleks” set, and that makes sense because the two stories were broadcast fairly closely to one another.
The DotD Doctor is wearing his buccaneer boots, whereas this one has just regular shoes, otherwise the two bodies are virtually identical. The only other difference I can see is the CoD Doctor has his little artisan pin painted onto his lapel, but even that is totally concealed by his scarf. And speaking of the scarf, it hangs loose around his shoulders, rather than being wrapped tightly around his neck. At first, I thought it was a repaint of the scarf used for the Warrior’s Gate Doctor, and while they are very similar, this one does seem to be a unique sculpt. But don’t let the subtleties of this figure fool you into thinking I don’t love it. It’s a another fantastic rendition of The Doctor. He may not be a “must have” for the casual collectors of the line, but then I have to ask myself, are there really any casual collectors of a Classic Doctor Who action figure line? Probably not.
And then there’s Scarlioni. He was a great character in that he was somewhat sympathetic in his goals to undo his critical mistake and save his race, but he was also quite clearly a suave bastard that was willing to prevent the human race from ever existing to succeed. He remains one of my favorite of all the one-off Doctor Who villains, so it’s very cool to have a figure of him, even if it really just a guy in a white leisure suit. The portrait is a good likeness to Glover and while there have been plenty of reports of the paint being a mess on this figure, I’m happy to report that mine, while not precise, is still pretty good. Scarlioni comes with a very tiny gun, which he can hold in one hand.
Of course, Scarlioni was also Scaroth and under that dapper Julian Glover countenance existed his true form… an improbably large green squiggly head with one big eye. CO gives us the ability to do the same by popping off the Glover head and popping on the Scaroth head. Even in a show where rubber monsters were the order of the day, Scaroth still strikes me as one of the weaker aliens of the era, but the story is so brilliant it manages to pull it off with aplomb. Unfortunately, I’m not all that impressed with the Scaroth head. It’s definitely not some of CO’s best work, and I haven’t decided yet which head I’ll use for regular display.
But wait, that’s not all. You also get a 5-inch scale Mona Lisa, which is an amazingly cool little accessory. The frame is sculpted and if you flip it over, even the wood grain on the backing boards is detailed in the sculpt. Plus, if you hold it to the light just right you can just make out the words, “This is a Fake” under the picture. Why? [Deep breath] You see, in the story Scaroth was splintered into a bunch of different aspects of himself and scattered through time, and in order to finance his time experiments so that he could eventually reunite all his splintered selves each Scaroth was both advancing the technology of the planet so he can create a machine that would eventually be used to age a chicken to death, while also raising capital to pay for the experiments and one of the ways he did this was to have his 16th Century self commission Leonardo DaVinci to paint a whole bunch of Mona Lisas so that back in the 20th Century he could sell them on the black market and make the money he needed, but when The Doctor traveled back in time to DaVinci’s workshop he wrote “This is a Fake” on all the blank canvases and left a note for DaVinci to just paint over them. [EXHALES!] Phew! Savy? So that’s why you get a Mona Lisa in the set.
The biggest knock I have on this set is the same rather tired old song. It was a missed opportunity to give us Romana. Granted, the decision to instead hit us with another 4th Doctor variant probably goes beyond the ability to reuse parts. Securing the rights to actors and actresses can be at best expensive and sometimes literally impossible. I have no insider information about whether or not CO has gone after Lalla Ward’s likeness and failed, or if they didn’t bother. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, since a Romana figure would sell like crazy and assume that they tried and just weren’t able to do it. It’s a shame, but that’s one of the annoying legal snafus that sometimes hurt us most as action figure collectors. The truth is that with CO slowing way down on this line, it’s very likely we’ve already seen most of the companions that we’re going to get. Yes, that can be depressing, but I prefer to be thankful for what we did get, rather than sorry for what we didn’t.