29 August, 2006

Making Monsters - in 5" Scale

When I was a little kid of nine, and Doctor Who Weekly had just arrived on the scene, my parents didn't have much money to buy me all those wonderful Doctor Who-related toys. Not that there were many available anyway: you could buy a talking Dalek that inevitably lost all its parts, or a friction-powered one that had a red top and was a bit lanky-looking; there was a gurning Tom Baker in his season 12 costume; an anatomically impossible Leela; a Cyberman with a nose; a friction-powered K-9 that had ear so fragile that every child in the country snapped them by about 3pm on Christmas day, and a larger 'talking K-9' that had a few lines of authentic dialogue but was too big to interact with your other dollies; a cardboard Tardis that, missing the actual point of the machine, could make any figure placed inside 'disappear' by spinning the light on top; and a rather splendid Giant Robot that never made its way to toyshops near me anyway.

I didn't even have the full set. But being the inventive, imaginative child that I was, I made my own figures. I used Plasticine to customise an Incredible Hulk into a looming Ice Warrior and turned James Bond's Moonraker space suit into a Cyberman. The black bases from cola bottles turned up as Davros's wheelchair and the base for a Plasticine Sil (somewhere, there's a photo of actor Nabil Shaban posing with my Sil and he seemed quite impressed). And every bit of plastic, tin foil and wire in the house ended up being recycled into various sets and dioramas for my figures, even beyond the age where I was actually playing with them, just because I enjoyed making them. Eventually, I used some of those sculpting tricks to make those macquettes for the Big Finish CD covers.

Now I'm 35 (shh, I am! No, I really am!), and Doctor Who is the number one show on telly, children are spoiled rotten. Right this minute, it's possible to buy a series of 5" 1/13th scale action figures, a little bit bigger / better than the ones we used to collect for Star Wars. the range currently comprises:

A Dalek Battle-pack with a gold Dalek and a non-canonical (ouch) black-and-gold Dalek that can be radio-controlled to dance around or just shoot the hell out of each other. This originally came with either a rather constipated-looking Eccleston figure or a Rose figure that looked more like Letitia Dean had been left on a radiator. It now comes with either a David Tennant Doctor figure or (rather excitingly) a Cyberleader not available anywhere else, yet.

A Tardis console playset with a set of Policebox doors that open onto a beautiful recreation of the Tardis room, and six buttons that produce sound effects. The central console lights up and the rotor bobs up and down. There's even a hat-stand to pop into one corner.

Plus figures of the 10th Doctor (at least three versions, one of which comes in a 'Regeneration' pack with an Eccleston figure)); Rose with K-9 (two versions - one rusty, one shiny... plus two versions of K-9 too, bu-boom!); a remote-controlled K-9; a Cyberman (two versions, one with wrist-gun, one without); a Cybercontroller, flashing brain; a remote-controlled black Dalek; a Moxx of Balhoon; Cassandra (two versions - one comes with her henchman, Chip); a Slitheen; a Sycorax leader; two different Krillitanes; a werewolf; and more to come by the sound of it.

But of course, a market as small as the one for Doctor Who cannot compete with Star Wars, which has figures for every costume variant, every background character and in some cases every possible physical position that the main characters are seen in. So, this is where modding comes in.

Modding is the 'art' of changing existing figures into new ones. Even Star Wars fans have a go, to fill the gaps in their collection or to avoid having to fork out all that money for yet another Princess Leia. I hadn't realised that I was modding all those years ago, but when one guy on the Outpost Gallifrey forum started showing off his customised figures, I thought it might be something I could have a go at. Course, I'm not using Plasticine for these things, but a substance called Milliput, which is like Plasticine, but it dries out and hardens in the space of a few hours.

The first one I had a go at was quite an easy one: swapping the heads of the Doctors from the Regeneration pack so that I had an articulated Eccleston figure. There's a 'how to' available at Whotopia's blog.

Next, I did the Sycorax warrior, because it looked like an easy one to do. I just resculpted the head, added a few details and painted it in acrylics. Babyjelly on Outpost Gallifrey had shown how to go about it, but after a while I left his instructions alone and just went my own way. But what to do next? Babyjelly has done a load of stunning mods of his Tennant figures in various costumes, so I didn't really want to go down that route. Instead, I chose two figures that were unlikely to appear in future releases. The Graske, a little critter from the BBC Interactive episode, was created from a Mini-Me Austin Powers figure by painting his grey suit black, resculpting his shoulders and adding a new head.

Having cannibalised one Austin figure, my flatmate suggested I do the same to 'Fat Bastard', who started out as a Scottish piper but ended up as the Absorbaloff. I wanted to retain the facial expression of the original figure because it matched the character so well, and also retain the joints of the figrue - so that the Absorbaloff could still do a rather sickening belly-roll!

Grr! Argh!

I've also modified my Tardis playset to give it extra walls and cables running across the ceiling. My inner nine-year-old is very happy with it.

Now my mind's in modder-mode, looking out for other figures that could be modified. Looks like this is the only way Mickey Smith's going to get into the range...

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