Over time, many long running series and franchises develop a line of merchandise to appeal to their fans. But not only has Doctor Who been around longer than almost anything else on screens big or small, but fans young and old have been unwrapping Doctor Who gifts since almost the very beginning.
So, as 2023 approaches, let’s look at some of the best that 60 years of Doctor Who gifts has to offer.
Dalek dress up costume
Doctor Who’s main weapons in invading the hearts and minds of children across Britain were the Daleks. And when it came to Doctor Who gifts in the 1960s, Daleks were everywhere. There were Dalek sweets, Dalek toys, Dalek Christmas songs, and, of course, Dalek dressing up outfits. And if you were lucky enough to get Scorpion Automotive’s Dalek costume among your Doctor Who gifts in Christmas 1964, you could be the owner of a very valuable collectible today.
Scorpion were already working on an improved MK II Dalek based on their appearance in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ when disaster struck. The factory in Northampton burned down, taking all their Mk I stock and the prototypes of the Mk IIs with them. Scorpion were never able to get back into production of the Dalek playsuits so those they’d already sold are now fantastically rare. Another company, Benwick, got the licence but theirs just never matched the sheer quality of the originals.
Enemies of Doctor Who Jigsaws
By 1976, the first great Doctor Who gifts renaissance was truly under way. Tom Baker was the Doctor, viewing figures were hitting all time highs, and Doctor Who gifts were ubiquitous. Among those eager to get their own slice of the Doctor Who licensing pie were Whitman, who made high quality jigsaw puzzles. There have been many Doctor Who jigsaws over the decades but the four in Whitman’s Enemies of Doctor Who range were something special. A large part of their appeal was the genuinely beautiful art that made up the puzzle, in an almost haunting style not typically associated with Doctor Who.
But they’re also fondly remembered for their slightly out of kilter interpretations of classic Doctor Who monsters by artists who probably had never watched the show, each odder than the one before . A line of melancholy Zygons wading through the shallows of what might have been Loch Ness was appropriate enough. But blue skinned Sontarans supervising an attack by flying saucers (not spheres) was a little strange.
Next, obscure monsters the Kraals standing around what looked suspiciously like the set of ITV’s Space: 1999 definitely raised an eyebrow. And they were blue as well.
But the Enemies of Doctor Who jigsaw that gets the most nostalgic affection today is the K-1 robot. Or rather ‘robots.’ Because instead of Professor Kettlewell’s experimental K-1 prototype from the story ‘Robot,’ the jigsaw features an entire army of them, marching across a desert and exchanging disintegrator gun fire with humans in space suits, while spaceships (this time remarkably similar to the models from ITV’s UFO) landed in the background. It’s such a strange scenario for the K1 robot to show up in that it inspired a Big Finish audio ‘The Relics of Jegg-Sau’ to explain it. And, yes, you have permission to groan at the pun.
If you were a kid in the Britain of the late 1970s or early 80s, then you had a View-Master. A relic of the era where the idea of experiencing a television episode you’d watched again, or a film once it had left cinemas, View-Masters let you relive them again and again. Well, in a way. Each View-Master had a slot into which you could pop one of your collection of View-Master slide show discs. A level let you move the action on from one slide of the 21 slides to the next while looking through the eyeholes of the viewer to create the illusion of a full-sized image in front of you.
Over the years, the View-Master discs included the likes of Disney, Buck Rogers, Knight Rider, Star Trek… and Doctor Who. Two Doctor Who stories were adapted for the View-Master format – Season Eighteen‘s Full Circle and the following season’s Castrovalva. Each disc was available either by itself or as part of a set including the View-Master itself, making them ideal Doctor Who gifts whether as stocking fillers or presents in their own right.
Either way, in a time before VHS these Doctor Who gifts literally gave you the gift of Doctor Who itself. And a slight headache.
Ninth Doctor and Slitheen Walkie Talkies
The resurrection of Doctor Who in 2005 was greeted with excitement not just by viewers but by potential licensees. It had been a long time since the British media landscape had generated anything with the same potential for action figures, toy sets, and other merchandise. But that also meant that initial attempts to exploit that market for Doctor Who gifts threw up some odd ideas. One of these was the Ninth Doctor / Slitheen walkie talkie set.
At first glance, these were essentially 12″ figures of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor and a Slitheen. Despite the rather limited articulation, they still featured very good likenesses and made handsome display pieces. But the adding of a walkie talkie feature was slightly baffling. By lifting up the right arm of each to form an aerial, you spoke into their armpit to exchange messages back and forth. Not only did that look bizarre, but by all reports they didn’t work terribly well, with very limited range and poor volume.
It’s tempting, though, to imagine a world where this item flew off shelves leading to a whole range of Doctor Who action figure communications. Face of Boe baby monitor, anyone?
Doctor Who branded board games
There’s a long history of Doctor Who board games of one type or another – enough to make up an entire article of their own. But some of the most fun entries have been where popular existing formats have received a rebranding to work as Doctor Who gifts for those Christmas Day afternoons of pyjamas, chocolate Santas and building as many hotels on Oxford Street as you can. Sure enough, these include various editions of Doctor Who Monopoly, where you can purchase various Doctor Who stories, monsters or gadgets with game pieces like the TARDIS, Bow Tie, and K9.
There’s also been Doctor Who Cluedo (was it River Song, with the Moment, on Platform One?), Doctor Who Trivial Pursuit, and Doctor Who Scene It? among others. But the king of them all for pure chaotic value has to be Doctor Who Operation. A twist on the popular test of dexterity and nerve – instead of the usual red nosed patient – this version featured a Dalek requiring urgent medical care.
As you and your friends took turns to gingerly extract shapes from the Dalek’s casing (such as DNA strands, bolts, plungers and even a Dalek mutant) you had to take care not to hit metal edges of the gaps in the board. And with Daleks notoriously unforgiving of failure, it would squawk threats such as “EXTERMINATE!” or “YOU WILL BE DESTROYED!” at the unfortunate surgeon involved.
Mr. Huffle Stress Toy
Doctor Who has had its share of stress ball toys over the past couple of decades. Malleable little models designed to be squeezed tight to expel some of that negative energy while sitting at your work desk, some of these have taken an obvious form like the TARDIS or a Dalek, while others have been genius Doctor Who gifts, like the Adipose version (which is essentially a full sized replica of one of the little fat monsters.) But the very fact that one of them exists at all is simply amazing.
Mr. Huffle is technically an incredibly accurate prop replica. In the 2016 Christmas Special ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio,’ investigative journalist Lucy questions the Doctor with a unique interrogation tactic. “This is Mr. Huffle,” she explains. “Mr. Huffle feels pain.” She then squeezes the little tuft-haired cartoon head and it lets out a shriek in response.
But thanks to the wonderful world of Doctor Who gifts, you too could torture a small rubber head to uncover which of your little brothers or sisters had eaten the last biscuit!
Everybody has their favourite Doctor Who gifts they’ve gotten as a child
With literally millions of Doctor Who gifts of thousands of different types having been opened by eager hands over the past 60 years, you could fill an entire book with the details. (And, indeed, respected Doctor Who fan authors have filled several!) This is just a taste of some of the most fun and strangest.
Which is your favourite of the Doctor Who gifts? Are you a child of the 60s, who got the pop song ‘I Wanna Spend Christmas with a Dalek’ on vinyl? Or a member of Generation Z whose Doctor Who gifts were UV pen sonic screwdrivers and Judoon voice changer helmets? Let me know in the comments below!
Doctor Who gloves for women – order now from the Lovarzi shop!