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Tomart's Action Figure Digest No 162
The following article is copyright © Tomart Publications and Brian Doyle, all rights reserved. It may not be reproduced. Used here by kind permission of Tomart Publications.
Inside Designworks Windsor by Brian Doyle
From Tomart Action Figure Digest No 162
Issued 28 January 2008
It's been a little over two years since the last time Tomart's visited the fine folks at DesignWorks Windsor who sculpt most of the figures for Character Groups licensed properties. Ed Barnett-Ward, Director of Sculpting at DesignWorks and Alasdair Dewar, Head of Product Development for Character made the time for us to visit and get a heads up on current and new items in the pipeline and a great time was had.
Back then, the new Doctor Who was just starting up. Though very keen, those involved were wondering how well the fledgling toy line would do.
Looking back now, the end result has been, even by successful toy line standards, extraordinary!
During the first year they produced 11 figures, the next year they expanded the line to 14 new figures, and this year they've produced around 45 new figures! And that's just on this one license for one company, never mind their other work for Character and other companies. (Certain boy wizard action figures released by another company shall remain nameless in this article, but expect more on that front soon!)
The premises at Windsor are the same, but even allowing for the extra balcony put in to give people a place to sit and work, they are a good deal more crowded to accommodate the 18 workshop staff, which doesn't even include the sculptors themselves.
With all this and THREE new Who-derived lines of toys which will debut in the very near future, it's kind of a hectic place to work right now.
So to get down to brass tacks:
New Series Who...
When we first met the DesignWorks team back in 2005, they were working on the first wave of figures and were having to work pretty much exclusively from BBC publicity shots released before the first episodes of the new series aired, which wasn't a whole lot to go on.
Also, the original Doctor and Rose figures were never going to be articulated, but static figures released with the R/C Daleks, with the decision to make it a full action figure line coming at a relatively late stage.
Now that the success of the line has raised their importance, they have access to a great deal more information. Photographs are being taken especially for them, including full turnarounds for costume purposes where possible, plus access to reference material from the Special Effects teams for the monsters. (It must be a little frustrating as fans for them to have quite so much heavy spoiler material, but we all have to make sacrifices I suppose.)
In their success, though, new...challenges have presented themselves!
Many more people are now involved in the "vetting" process of approval on what a figure looks like; the BBC, the actors involved (usually via their agents, who may have their own ideas), even the Wardrobe Department can insist on corrections being made. (For those interested in such things, there is one figure, a Clockwork man released earlier this year, which was released with a black coat, until the Wardrobe team pointed out that it was actually a very, very deep blue...So the early black-coated figures are more than a little hard to find.)
Even now the material doesn't always match fan expectations, and fans of Doctor Who can be quite outspoken about such things.
The first "Weeping Angel" figures from the standout episodes of last season, "Blink", look great, but fans felt that there should be one with a "screaming" face from the scenes where they move (sort of) in for the kill. Well, the reason that there wasn't one in the first wave is that none of the material supplied to Designworks showed a screaming face, only the weeping ones, but this will be fixed in later waves which will include a screaming variant. See, good toys AND they listen to the fans!
Their latest efforts relate to the...Christmas Special: The Voyage of the Damned (a nice Christmas-y title that).
I can't say too much about this...but previous Doctor Who Christmas Specials have included killer Christmas trees, deadly flying Christmas tree ornaments, a "Christmas star" which was an alien attack ship, and a band of assault robot Santa's, so whilst you might think they are running out of Christmas elements to use which don't border on direct blasphemy, trust me, they have a doozy this year!
And plans are already well underway for Season 4 figures. They were limited in what they could show us (which isn't too surprising), but it's not giving anything away when I mention that the Classic Who monsters, the Sontarans, are making their first new series appearance. You can expect them to show up in toy form before too long.
And we're delighted to report that a US deal for Doctor Who toys has finally been sorted out, with Underground Toys (an affiliate of Forbidden Planet International) being in charge of the distribution.
Doctor Who Micro Universe
The new Micro Universe line will launch in 2008 and feature 35mm figures of many of the new shows' characters, as well as some rather nice models of alien spaceships, which might not otherwise be seen; The Slitheen Ship from "Aliens of London", the Chula Ship from "The Empty Child" and the Sanctuary Base escape Rocket from "The Satan Pit".
The Sarah Jane Adventures
Another highly popular spin-off show, this has been a series aimed at a slightly younger audience, featuring the adventures of Sarah Jane Smith, former travelling companion with the Doctor, now dealing with threats to the world in her own right. The first series finished recently and was very well received, with a second series newly confirmed.
Four twin packs of figures are being made, each with a Sarah Jane (in different outfits from the series) and a different alien including; the ethereal Star Poet (with a neat light up base to emphasize the glowing aura the character had), the reptilian Graske, the insectoid Kudlak and a juvenile Slitheen. (The kids are just as unpleasant as the adults)
But THE big news for Who fans is the launch of a new line.
Classic Doctor Who!
This was discussed as long ago as our last visit, but as a sort of pipe dream, now it's becoming hard plastic reality.
The last attempt at these was 10 years ago, by a company whose name I have sworn to never mention again in this column, but which was, let's be kind and say "disappointing". Actually, no, let's be honest and say "awful" for collectors and fans. This line promises to permanently put to rest such memories.
Despite 26 years of show (1963 to 1989) behind it, it's understood that the classic series might not be as instantly recognizable to the average toy buying public as the new series, so the first waves are to test the waters to see if the line has the profile needed to last.
Sensibly then, the initial focus will be on figures recognizable to viewers of the Classic series reruns (which are repeated constantly on some satellite channels). As many of the older episodes are long lost, it's the later Doctors who are the focus, but the earlier ones will certainly not be forgotten should the line continue (and here's hoping it does! Naturally).
The Classic Doctors start with Doctor's Four, Five and Six...a trio which includes two of the toughest. Four is Tom Baker, an iconic symbol if ever there was one; never mind the long scarf, the teeth and hair alone would challenge any sculptor and Six has the sort of paint job that would drive most folks too insane to even consider doing by hand...so guess what they're doing? James Taro is heading the charge to create the best-looking paint application for number Six.
It's reassuring, as a long-term Doctor Who geek, that the Character Options and DesignWorks guys are even bigger fans than I am (quite a bit of the conversation during the visit wandered far from the subject of actual toys and into the realms of Doctor Who in general), and I suspect a subtle element of fanboy-ism in some of the selections. Whilst the primary focus is on what will sell (which is fair enough), I suspect that there are a few on the list that are in there because Ed and Al always wanted these figures when they were kids and never got them.
And the range of monsters forthcoming is very promising indeed. The first waves will include:
The Three Doctors already mentioned; Super-Voc and Dum Robots (From The Robots of Death) - These stylized art-deco robots were one of the most memorable, and beautiful designs in the series history. These will be a twin pack featuring the two main ones from the story; SV-7 and D-84. As well as accessories to match, such as a replacement hand with a "corpse marker" on it.
Broton the Zygon - (from Terror of the Zygons), the monster design was essentially a foetus-like human shape covered with little sucker cups all over the body.
Sea Devil - (From The Sea Devils). These amphibious beings are one of the humanoid reptilian races that predated mankind on Earth, and who went into suspended animation millions of years ago to avoid the chaos caused by the Earth acquiring the Moon. they sort of overslept and weren't too happy to find mammals running the place.
Magnus Greel and Mr. Sin (from The Talons of Weng Chiang). Greel is a classic pulp villain with a hideously deformed face behind his mask (such things always being a nightmare inducing winner with the kids). Mr Sin (The Peking Homunculus) is one of the most memorably creepy dwarf assassins.
In all, there are plans for an initial series of 9 figures being released with more to come if those work out. The UK can look to see them on the shelves in 2008 but, wherever possible, you will see them here first!
Thank you to all at DesignWorks and Character Options for their time and patience.
This article is copyright © Tomart Publications and Bryan Doyle, all rights reserved. It may not be reproduced. Used here by kind permission of Tomart Publications.
Thanks to Brian and Tom at Tomart for allowing doctorwhotoys.net exclusive rights to reproduce this article. The original pictures used to illustrate the article could not be reproduced due to copyright issues. Photos here © Hoosier Whovian - With Thanks
Copies of Tomart's Action Figure Digest No 162 can be obtained from Tomart Publications Online Store. When placing orders from the UK use the international shipping rates rather than the US postage rates listed.