Daleks, merchandising and the importance of play

I bumped into a couple of Daleks on the way to work this morning:

Two Daleks, one white and one yellow, in a public square

These are, of course, two of the 'New Paradigm Daleks' introduced in last week's episode of the new series, Victory of the Daleks (the white one is the Supreme Dalek, and the yellow one is either a scientist, strategist, eternal or drone - we don't know which yet).

Anyway, it was fun to see them in the flesh (or should that be metal?), especially as they were moving about and uttering 'exterminate' at passers-by rather convincingly.

My immediate reaction upon seeing the new Daleks on TV - a feeling which was rekindled this morning - was how they'd make such good toys. Something about having five Daleks in matching bright colours makes them instantly desirable and collectable, I'm not sure why. I think the human eye likes to see a spectrum of colours. It's something that Crayola and Apple have exploited for a while (although I don't know anyone who's collected all 5 of the original iMacs or all 9 of the current iPod Nanos).

The instant desirability of the new Daleks has led to a number of claims that they've been re-invented purely in order to be able to sell more Dalek toys. This argument is made most strongly in the Private Eye:

[BBC] Worldwide made a whopping £15m from Dalek toys the Christmas after the trundling terrors’ triumphant reappearance in 2005 – but the problem is, that means pretty much every child in Britain now has one, as well as the black Dalek introduced in 2006 and the red and gold Supreme Dalek unveiled in 2008. So in return for investment in this year’s series, Worldwide suggested that a new Dalek would come in very useful – and in return it is getting nothing less than a full set of entirely redesigned models in dayglo colours.

The comments on a Radio Times blog post about the new Daleks reveal a similar level of cynicism:

These designs for the new Daleks are simply appalling - I still can't over just how plastic, cheap, disproportionate and gaudy they are. It's like they have been designed by a comittee of 7 years olds focussing on primary colours and what would look good floating in a bath. Terrible, absolutely terrible.

Personally, I think they look damn cool, whilst remaining pretty sinister (and I'm sure we'll see more of the deadly features of the new Daleks later in the series).

I also think that, regardless of whether or not it's true that their 'mechandisability' was a key factor in the redesign, that it's no bad thing that they'll make good toys. After all, this is a show aimed at families and kids, and part of the appeal of the show is the scope of the drama (the whole of time and space) allows unlimited play possibilities. And encouraging play is something that TV programmes should be doing. I'd even argue that there's a public service benefit (as well as the obvious commercial benefit) in the BBC producing toys based on their TV programmes. Playing is more of a healthy activity than watching TV programmes after all!

As well as Doctor Who, another big production I'm looking forward to watching in the coming months is Toy Story 3. The Toy Story franchise understood the importance of play right at the beginning. For a start, the whole story is based on the idea of play and make-believe premise that toys comes to life. Secondly, they mix all sorts of different toys together, encouraging kids to be resourceful and enjoy the toys they already have. Finally, for the original toys (Woody, Buzz Lightyear, etc), because they were all created using the (then fairly new) technique of computer generated graphics, they were able to send the digital CAD files directly to toy manufacturers in order to get a perfect likeness (whereas dolls based on human actors always look a bit dodgy). So Toy Story represents the perfect synergy between screen-based entertainment and real-world play.

Doctor Who would do well to continue to try and emulate this. The brand extension into toys should be at least as important as the extension into video games (soon to arrive in the form of The Doctor Who Adventures).

Incidentally, the other Dalek on display this morning was this machine-gun toting black one:

An all-black Dalek with machine guns for both arms

I'm sure someone will point out if I'm wrong, but I don't think we've seen this one on TV yet??

Update: It seems that the unidentified Dalek is an unofficial one, created by a fan, who just turned up with it to just join in on the fun.