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Attack of the Colorful Daleks

Earl Green shares some information on how this new Daleks figure set – with ties to the two Peter Cushing Doctor Who films!

Or colourful, if that’s how you spell things. But there’s quite a saga behind these Daleks.

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing about both Daleks and upcoming Doctor Who action figures, though they didn’t exactly arrive right on schedule (but this being 2020, does anything happen as planned or on schedule?)…and now there’s another set.

But this one is really cool – if you know what details to look for. This is definitely a product that falls under the heading of “deep-cut fanservice”.

Image courtesy Character Options

In 1965, the first Peter Cushing Doctor Who movie was filmed – the first appearance of the Daleks in color, or in a medium other than television. Faced with the prospect of seeing the Daleks in full color, the movie’s designers faithfully echoed the Dalek design already established by the BBC, with some minor modifications to make them more suitable villains for the big screen. (Raymond Cusick, the designer who ended up with the task of designing the Daleks for their first appearance on TV in 1963 when a fellow BBC designer fell ill*, later claimed he was paid a grand total of ₤5 for the use of his design on film.)

The movie Daleks had bigger speaker lights – the lights on the Daleks’ heads which flash in synchronization with that Dalek’s voice – and a larger base concealing larger, all-terrain wheels needed because the movie Daleks were filmed on terrain more varied than a smooth studio floor. And the Dalek color scheme was completely thrown out for the big screen, with some fairly flamboyant color schemes being chosen to take advantage of color film. Some of them had large mechanical claws instead of sink plungers.

Daleks are still trouble, regardless of their paint job

But the two Cushing movies – Dr. Who And The Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. – were not made by the BBC. While the rights to the Doctor, the TARDIS, and other characters had to be obtained from the BBC, and the rights to the Daleks negotiated with their creator, writer Terry Nation, with a payment (apparently a very small one) to Cusick for the design, the rights to the movies these days rest with Studio Canal+; any merchandise from the movies, including their “enhanced” Daleks, has to be negotiated with that entity. (Fun fact: for the 50th anniversary episode Day Of The Doctor, then-showrunner Steven Moffat originally planned to have the then-current Doctor, Matt Smith, walk past the theatrical one-sheet posters for the Cushing movies in UNIT’s archives, with an on-screen explanation that the Cushing movies were part of a cover story to convince the public that a Dalek invasion attempt was simply part of a film. This scene had to be abandoned, because Studio Canal+ wanted too much money for those two posters to be seen on TV.)

So: it’s a given that Studio Canal+ wants top dollar for any use of any element – any element at all – from the Cushing Doctor Who movies. But…maybe there’s a way around that for some of those elements.

TV episode, movie Daleks: a scene from part 3 of The Chase with the film props highlighted.

This is where it gets interesting. The BBC rented some of the movie Daleks, fresh from the filming of the first Cushing film, and put them in the background of scenes for the television story The Chase, which would – due to the difference in the time needed for film post-production vs. TV post-production – be broadcast before Dr. Who And The Daleks premiered in cinemas. The movie Daleks were used in the background of some scenes on TV, some with their taller bases removed (but not all), with sink plunger arms instead of the movie’s “claws”, thus grandfathering them in as part of the TV series – and therefore fair game for Character Options’ action figure line. Holy legal loophole of the Daleks!

Another movie Dalek sneaks onto the telly; the film props lacked the “solar panel” element that had only been recently added to the BBC’s TV Daleks, both seen in The Chase part 5

The Doctor Who “The Chase: Jungles Of Mechanus” action figure set brings two of the colorful movie-Daleks-on-loan-to-the-TV-series to our toy shelves, complete with their movie color scheme (which, of course, couldn’t be seen on black & white TV). Sure, they were in the background of only a few scenes of two episodes of a six-part story. But this is the Character Options Doctor Who line – pretty much the British equivalent of the original Kenner Star Wars figure line – so even a Dalek variation glimpsed fleetingly in the background is worthy of an action figure.

Does this mean that this incredible toy line, which has already given us figures of every Doctor from William Hartnell through Jodie Whittaker, is about to jump into the parallel universe of the unconnected-from-the-TV-series-in-any-way movies, to bring Peter Cushing’s oddball, non-canonical Doctor Who to our toy shelves? Sadly, probably not. While any of the TV Doctors – and, more recently, their best-known companions – can be assured of selling well in action figure form, the Peter Cushing version of Doctor Who… is a decidedly niche bit of Doctor Who history whose owners think it should command top dollar.

Perhaps someday, some sea change will bring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who to toy shelves, but in the meantime, the Daleks who menaced him on the silver screen have escaped through a legal loophole to terrorize your other action figures – at least for a limited time, since Character Options has made it clear that these figures can only be ordered within a certain narrow window of time.

* for the record, the junior BBC designer who missed out on his chance to design the Daleks
was a young man by the name of Ridley Scott

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