Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Power to the People: Could voting be the future of the 5" Classic Doctor Who figures?

Now this is a mixture of both old and current (or should that be possible future?) news that has caused a great deal of discussion on Twitter. I have posted and commented on said news on the Facebook page, but otherwise I have had little to say.

Lately there has been something of a drop in the production of Classic Doctor Who figures in the 5" line. As a line pretty much limited to the likes of Underground Toys and Forbidden Planet, we had gone from a period of several two-packs and box sets per year, almost bi-monthly, to one or two single figures per year. This winding down did seem to set alarm bells ringing. The suddenly, on the evening that Murder on the Orient Express aired, we were asked by Al Dewar on Twitter to vote for the next Classic figure. The choices were incredibly tantalising:

  • Jamie
  • Silurian (Doctor Who and the Silurians)
  • Sarah Jane Smith
  • Tegan
  • The Master (Anthony Ainley in velvet costume) 

Not an easy choice to make by any means (I went for Silurian) and Jamie was definitely hogging the limelight. But why this sudden 'vote'? According to Mr Dewar, plans were being discussed to make the Classic line a limited edition collectors line, similar to Hasbro's Star Wars: Black Series. The idea would be that two to three figures would be produced per year at around £19.99 each and fans would vote for what figure would be produced. Considering we pay the same amount from Forbidden Planet, that's not bad, especially if it was limited to only 2-3 per year. By doing this, it would allow figures that fans have demanded get the opportunity of being made. There would be no ties to variants, so don't expect one Jamie being the release of three variants featuring different coloured neck ties or anything like that. This is what would make them so limited, original sculpts that once they're gone they're gone.

Now this is all hypothetical. Nothing is set in stone until there is a formal announcement (if ever), but it's always fun to speculate. Should this go ahead, and I'm sure we're all crossing our fingers that it does, it will be a very bold move on Character Option's part. The concept of making the figures web store exclusives that is very much placed in the consumer's hands is not something that you would expect from a company like Character. Our very own White Guardian, Jonathon Carley, and I, had discussed the idea of Classic figures moving to online exclusives in the past. We contemplated the possibility of a figure per month, some being repaints/re-tweaked variants, that people would subscribe to for a year. This was based on the techniques employed by Mattel's Matty Collector site and their Masters of the Universe ClassicsDC Universe Signature Series lines, as well as Hasbro's own collector site. However, Mattel is a huge global toy company with franchises under the DC Comics banner that greatly overwhelm the Doctor Who's global status. Similarly, Masters of the Universe may not be the franchise giant of DC or, arguably, Doctor Who, but while the fan numbers may be small, the franchise is based on the action figures and therefore you can assume that 90% of the Masters fans across the planet will pick up the figures in some capacity. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Doctor Who fans. They may outnumber the He-Man fans, but not all of them invest such great amounts of time and money into it's respective toy line. 

The very fact that the Classic figures don't have the same collector weight behind them as the other franchises I have listed is a cause for concern. We have no idea how many numbers of people are need to commit to buy these proposed figures in order to make them viable. These collector sites work akin to Kickstarter - if they don't get the numbers/money that means we don't get the product. I have seen toy lines meet their end because there was not enough numbers, and it's really disappointing for the fans who are desperate to keep a line going. Sadly, that's the way these things go. Alongside this, we have the fact that Character Options is not a collector brand. Doctor Who is really the only action figure range they have produced that appeals to the collector, but at their core they are still kids toys (yeah, sorry about that). If you look at Character's website, it is a mass of children's products like Peppa Pig and not the sort of place you would imagine finding a page of collector specific figures where we have to vote for what comes next. For collectors to know what's going on this will need to be advertised on every site, forum and in every sci-fi magazine across the land. Unfortunately, even Doctor Who Magazine rarely gives time to the figures, something that doesn't help the casual buyer who doesn't keep their ear to the ground 24/7. 

So lets forget all of the concerns for the moment and lets focus on 'what if it all goes ahead'. The option to have original figures with new sculpts is a tantalising one. That's not to assume that they won't stop sharing old parts, why not if you can get away with it? But this would mean we will see the figures Underground/FPI weren't interested in. For instance, 1960s and 1980s Doctor Who have always been considered a black hole for the figures. The concern from those in retail was that no one remembered the fuzzy old black and white stories and everyone was trying very hard to forget the brightly coloured 80s stories. This isn't the case for the fans and collectors who have been clamouring for more monsters and companions from those respective eras. It's no wonder that Jamie and Tegan are the first of the five figures being proposed in this initial vote-off. Even Ainley's Master didn't get a proper release in his trademark costume on the basis that he wasn't liked/known by the general public, unlike Delgado who remains the archetypal Master for many. This will be a massive opportunity to see these often sought after figures made a reality. 

Currently the proposed number is 2-3 figures per year. Not many, but I assume that, should it become a major success, we could see more. Mattel's Masters of the Universe Classics was originally planned as three two-packs per year, which was abandoned in favour for a figure per month way before the figures were up for pre-order. I am not expecting the same from this, but it would be lovely to get a new monster/companion every month in the post. One of the things that helped Mattel was their later inclusion of a subscription, where fans would pay $20 in advance to commit to the full 12 months of standard figures and beasts and receive an exclusive subscription only figure. This would be a great idea for those, like me, who want everything. It would also ensure that those voting actually did buy the figure. There's no use in having 500 people vote and only 100 actually buy the thing, so steps must be planned in order to make your vote lock you in as committed to buy. I have also seen people worry about whether they will be able to purchase multiple figures, especially for army builders like Silurians, Cybermen etc. I'm sure this would be a possibility, after all they're not going to turn down figures being sold.

If this new system does come into play and if it does become a success, then perhaps this could mean we might see some larger items? Again, using Matty Collector as an example, they had no expectations of producing larger items like beasts, vehicles and, ultimately, playsets. Now we have a ton of them and a massive Castle Grayskull. If this was to happen with the Doctor Who line, could we see additional TARDISes? After all, we do know that additional Police Boxes were sculpted. Could Bessie ever get made? Again, it's been sculpted and is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere. Perhaps we may even see some sort of console room? The possibilities are endless, but it all depends on if it happens and if it is a success.

I welcome this new idea with welcome arms. If it means the Classics, as we know and love them, can continue, then you've got my vote! I'll give you £40 for two Silurians now! I'm sure the new series 5" figures will probably be limited to the likes of Underground Toys, but at least we'll be getting the best of both somehow.

Not quite the end, and the moment hasn't been prepared for.

1 comment:

  1. It was certainly a surprising thing to see something like this. Technically the "Classic" line doesn't seem to exist anymore since nearly all products use the same styled boxes and it's just the 5" line. I do wonder what sort of figures, if any, will be released on the mainstream line if the Black Series will only focus on the original 1963-96 series. I'm also wondering how Character's website will work this system through, as it will be interesting to see how the website will update given its current state. I thought that the 5" line was going to eventually finish next year by the time one or two Twelfth Doctor era related products would get released. I've only been collecting for a short amount of time so this line doesn't appeal to me, but it's going to be great to watch this pan out.