Airfix 1/12 'Dr. Who - Welcome Aboard'

KIT #: A50006
REVIEWER: Frank Spahr
NOTES: Includes working light and sound effects.5


That nice man from Gallifrey

 „The Doctor“ has managed to keep his real name secret for almost 50 years by now. He was created  for a BBC show aimed at educating juveniles, as a time traveller who was able to visit all sorts of places and events Britain´s youth needed elucidation on. To ease the rather limited budget, his time machine looked exactly like one of the then ubiquitous police emergency call cells. Luckily, it was far bigger on the inside, or the poor humanoid would have suffered severe discomfort on his epic journeys. In fact, it seems the actual inside is vast and contains hundreds of rooms. Later on in the show, its look was explained by a malfunction of its supposedly camouflaging „chameleon circuit“. This (admittedly unique and rather weird) craft was called the TARDIS for Time And Relative Dimension  In Space. Another clever idea was that the Doctor wasn´t just very long-lived, but also able to regenerate and morph into a different person upon serious injuries. This must have taken the wind out of many fee negotiations, as any actor in that role was per se replaceable.

 The show developed way beyond the wildest dreams of its creators. Not only did it widen its scope away from what we today would call edutainment to pure entertainment with loads of fun and thrills, it also attracted clever writers who developed gripping storylines and all sorts of villains to be encountered by the succession of Doctors and their, ahem, companions (most of them of the female and not entirely unattractive persuasion) Meagre budgets made for a decidedly trashy look (especially in hindsight, obviously) but the show became a veritable British icon and funneled the imagination of generations of kids. Over the years, an entire mythology and a veritable Whoniverse were created, with all sorts of alien civilizations and their clashes. The Doctor became the sole survivor of the race of the Time Lords from planet Gallifrey, travelling through space and time and fighting against injustice wherever he came, protecting Earth from all sorts of alien and other attacks over the decades.

With the advent of big budget SF shows, the show started a decline that led to a hiatus between 1989 and 2003 (save one TV film in 1996). At that time, the BBC decided on a relaunch of the show to be being produced by its Welsh Division, BBC Cymru at Cardiff. Writer Russell T Davies and Producer Julie Gardener need to be named as the driving force behind the relaunch that was aimed at combining up-to-date production values with a deep devotion to the spirit of the show.

The relaunch started in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion, Rose Tyler. Reviews and viewer reception both were very favorable, and the show has been continued since, now heading for a 50th anniversary in 2013. When Eccleston left after one season, Scottish actor David Tennant took over as the Doctor for three seasons, leaving a lasting impression and sad fans when replaced by Matt Smith in 2010. The show spawned various spin-offs such as Torchwood or the Sarah Jane Adventures.

 Today, Doctor Who is gripping entertainment for the whole family, with likable characters, intriguing storylines, both moments serious, fun and sad and a big potential for addiction. In our household, it´s the perfect show to put in the DVD machine on a pleasant night of escapism from reality.


Merchandising the show

 Well, the most extreme case in that regard must have been the (fictional!) brawl at a fan con in Seattle when it came to blows over a Doctor Who TARDIS, leaving one participant missing one ear. Luckily he landed in the capable, even though perpetually hormonally challenged hands of the plastic surgery team at Seattle Grace / Mercy West Hospital. The disputed item in this episode of Grey´s Anatomy looked remarkably similar to the one subject of this review, but mine was obtained for about 20 British Pounds at Telford Scale Model World 2010, which wasn´t quite easy and involved trekking through the venue and asking a lot of vendors whether they had a kit or were able to obtain one. It seems this kit was pretty popular during its production run between 2007 and 2009, as it was hard to find.

 As with the Wallace and Gromit franchise, Airfix (which was relaunched at about the same time as Doctor Who) teamed with the BBC to produce gift sets aimed at juveniles. This set was the first to be issued, sadly only one other was ever produced. The big and sturdy box is chock full of stuff, it contains a pretty large TARDIS and two figures of the Doctor luring his latest companion into his ship. At thet time, Billie Piper had left the show, and Freema Agyeman took over. It´s the moment before she first enters the TARDIS in the episode „Smith and Jones“ which is depicted in the scene.

The bigger-on-the-inside effect is cleverly hinted at with some partial interior and a printed screen which is to be placed inside the TARDIS. The TARDIS roof contains the light and sound chip and the batteries needed to power it. Upon opening the door, the chracteristic whooshing sound and blinking of the light atop the TARDIS is activated. The large and sturdy parts are well molded, and the full colour instruction booklet is just excellent, giving all the necessary informations plus a very good beginner´s course on painting, weathering and accentuating. As usual for a gift set, glue, paintbrushes and paints are included. The figures are partly represented from vinyl, which is at least my personal bugbear when it comes to working with it.


Now this is another feel-good kit, when it comes to building the TARDIS itself. Large and uncomplicated parts, easily cleaned up, nice to be glued, good fit, and loads of space for fun in preshading and accentuating. I pretty soon had the basic box completed. I looked for CG textures on the net and found a nice tile floor, which I printed out and glued to the TARDIS floor. Placing the inside effects screen was rather tricky and needed some tweaking, but it was all very much doable. The windows were screened with paper from the inside. As with weathering, I took care not to overdo things but to make the blue box look old and used.

 The figures were a different kettle of fish. The vinyl parts were a bear to clean up, and still didn´t look perfect. I found some automotive primer which had some grip on the material, but it was far from satisfying. Painting the faces and especially eyes was daunting for one completely unused to it, but I soldiered on, working from screenshots from the show and the images in the booklet. I did less accentuating than a dedicated figure modeler would do, but then I´m no friend of today´s „this one goes to eleven“ school of face painting, and I wouldn´t compete with this birthday present for SWMBO anyway.

I spent some time trying to convert the figures to an easier assembly sequence. In my eyes, I want to first assemble all the subassemblies, then clean them up, then prime and paint them and finally bring it all together. I don´t want to trap a head between body parts, then assemble and clean them up, and then start painting the head. So I did some tweaking to steer around this obstacle. Mostly fit was quite OK, even though the Doctor´s arms and legs needed some filling and sanding. Martha was easier in this respect, but painting the pattern on her top took some concentration. I much enjoyed adding wear patterns to her jeans, though, which was quite easy using the airbrush.

I was utterly unable to replicate the Doctor´s pinstriped suit, so left him without any pattern on the suit. The coat was treated with oil paints to add some surface texture hinting at the material. Care was taken to replicate Tennant´s typical 5´o clock shadow, pastel chalks worked very well here. 

Martha´s earrings were replaced by wire items, apart from that the figures are OOB. Martha´s assembly proved an exercise in frustration, as her cleavage wouldn´t want to conform with her scanty garments, but somehow I tucked the one into the other and called it a day.

Early on, I had decided to house the scene into a display box, and tried a German company that produces custom acrylic boxes which come as kits and are assembled using screws. This looks not as nice as professionally glued boxes, but is good value for money. I very soon had my box in hand and assembled it. The base consists of two parts and has a snug fit with the cover. I needed to add some felt-covered pads to the underside to prevent scratching the furniture as I did screw the TARDIS to the base. The base proper was created using sandpaper which was masked and sprayed and weathered to give that unique dingy back alley look. I added a printout of an election poster from the show, but refrained from adding more rubbish. The figures were secured to the base via pins in their feet and holes drilled into the base.


 This is a very nice gift set, even though some experience with vinyl would make construction of the figures as cheerful as that of the blue box. It was a very well received birthday gift and still has pride of place in Chrissie´s room.


 Frank Spahr

June 2012

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