Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vintage Toy Daleks (Various, 1960s & 1970s)

In a universe filled with peril, one word inspires fear above all others... Dalek! Not a robot, but an alien mutant encased within a heavily armed and armored battle suit, the Daleks have one mission: Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

For more than 40 years, these psychopathic little racists have waged war against The Doctor, the hero of Britain's Doctor Who television series. Terrifying enough to send kids scurrying behind the sofa, Daleks were nonetheless one of the most popular characters to emerge from the show. It's no surprise, then, that toy companies in the United Kingdom were quick to capitalize on the public's desire for all things Dalek. A seemingly endless stream of toys flowed into -- and then quickly out of -- stores.

Doc's collection of vintage toy Daleks.

There wasn't ever any question as to whether Daleks would end up in my own collection. They're an iconic piece of science fiction history, and one of the few really great alien toys. Seriously, I've got astronauts, I've got rockets, I've got a heck of a lot of ray guns, but aliens? There just aren't too many out there. And what's a space toy collection without aliens?

But I don't need all of them, so the question quickly became, Which ones do I like? After some heavy research -- remember kids, you can never do enough research! -- I decided that a few stood out from the pack.

1. Mechanical Dalek (Cowan, de Groot Ltd, a.k.a. "Codeg," 1965)

One of the rarest Daleks, this tin-and-plastic wind up toy rolls in a wide circle while his dome and eye stalk slowly scan left and right. It's a surprisingly eerie mechanism, strangely lifelike. If the Dalek weren't a mere six inches tall, it'd probably be kind of scary!

This is the first vintage Dalek I bought, and it fell into my lap right when I decided to add the toys to my collection. I bought it from an eBay seller in the U.K., and thought I was getting the toy along with its original box -- an expensive purchase, but worth it. I don't regularly collect the boxes for toy robots, but I figured that the Daleks were (more or less) affordable enough to allow for the indulgence.

Sadly, when the toy arrived, I realized right away that the box was a fake. A good fake, to be sure, but a fake nonetheless. The inside of the cardboard was the wrong color, and a supposed pen mark on one panel was in fact part of the box's artwork; in other words, the original box had a mark on it which was scanned into a computer. When the reproduction was printed, that mark was printed along with it. A dead giveaway.

I figured I was pretty much screwed, but I contacted the seller anyway to see if I could get some of my money back. Amazingly, he refunded half the purchase price -- exactly what I'd hoped for. So a satisfying if not completely perfect ending: I bought a loose Mechanical Dalek for a fair price, and got a nice reproduction box as a bonus.

He knows you're out there... You can run, but you can't hide!

This is definitely my favorite of the vintage Daleks. I love the abstracted, simplified design and the tin body. And as I mentioned above, the action's top notch. It's a toy with personality, and that's something I'm really attracted to when looking for pieces for my collection.

The Mechanical Dalek also comes in black. It's even rarer than the one I've got. While I'd like to pick it up, too, I'm happy with the blue one. For now...

2. Bump-And-Go Dalek ( Louis Marx Co., 1964/1965)

This 6.5-inch toy was one of the first Daleks produced. It features a bump-and-go action and a flashing light inside its dome. It was made by the British division of Marx Toys.

This is a toy that pops up on eBay quite often, though it's rarely complete. Not surprisingly, the eye stalk, plunger, or gun is usually missing -- and sometimes all three are gone, leaving a strange, sad looking Dalek.

The Marx Dalek was released in four versions. In 1964, it came in two separate colors: silver and black, and featured a larger ball at the end of its eye stalk (this is the version I've got). In 1965, Marx kept the silver and black colors, but shrunk the ball down to a more proportionate size. The color of the base was also changed, I believe. Oh, Marx also changed the box for the toy's 1965 release.

Marx actually put this toy out once more in the Seventies, this time changing the colors to red and yellow. The box was dumbed down, losing its amazing artwork and instead featuring a photo of a couple kids playing with the toy. Despite the strangeness of it all, I really do like the red and yellow Daleks, and will probably try to snag them in the future.

I spent a long time searching for my silver toy before finally finding one at the right price. It was being sold by an eBayer in the United States. He hadn't listed it in the U.K. auctions and it didn't get the number of bidders these toys usually attract. Oh, and unlike my Codeg Mechanical Dalek, this one really did include its original box! Score!

Interesting bit of trivia: When filming a battle scene for an early, black and white episode of Doctor Who, the special effects artist used a couple of these Marx Daleks as models in wide shots.

3. Friction Dalek (Louis Marx Co., 1965)

This smaller version of the early Marx Dalek looks substantially the same, but stands only 4.5 inches tall. It lost the bump-and-go action, as well as its light up dome; now it zips forward after being revved along the floor a couple times.

While not the fanciest of the toy Daleks, I've always appreciated the small scale. They just look cool... a pocket sized, galactic serial killer. How cute!

The small Dalek was released in two colors, silver and black.

4. Talking Dalek (Palitoy Bradgate, 1975)

I love this toy! Seriously, any toy that talks is tops in my book. These squat Daleks use a small record in their bodies to say a number of different phrases. It's the same technology that powered Ideal's Robert the Robot in the 1950s and, later, those "The Cow Says 'Moooooo'" toys. Vinyl tech -- just awesome!

These fairly common toys came in red or silver. They can't move on their own, but do have posable suction arms, guns, and eye stalks. The record is activated by pushing the button on top of their heads.

Maybe he won't notice me... Crap!

I was able to snag a silver talking Dalek, mint in box, pretty early on. I decided I wanted the red one with the box as well, but try as I might, I just couldn't find one. Then, I got clever...

A junker appeared on eBay, and even though the toy was missing all its limbs, it had a great looking box. At the same time, a beautiful, loose example of the toy popped up. So I figured I'd bid on the one with the nice box, which ended first, and then swoop in to pick up the loose Dalek. Voila, a complete set!

My plan started off strongly with me winning the example with the nice box for a very comfortable price. Part A: Success! And then...

Then I forgot to bid on the loose toy!

To say I felt like an idiot would be an understatement. Part B: Ultra Fail!

Okay, maybe he won't notice me... Crap!

Ultimately, I ended up winning a mint, boxed example a week or two later. It didn't cost too much money, even taking into account the extra box and junker Dalek I'd picked up during my ill-fated journey into the Land of Too Damn Clever For My Own Damn Good. So all's well that ends well, right?


Before wrapping up this epic post, I want to mention a great reference book: Howe's Transcendental Toy Box, Second Edition, by David J. Howe & Arnold T. Blumberg (Telos, 2003).

This fantastic guide to collecting all things Doctor Who has been a huge -- huge -- help in guiding me through the wild, wooly, often confusing world of toy Daleks. If you're interested in any aspect of Doctor Who merchandise, either as a collector or simply a fan of the show and its history, I highly recommend picking up this book.

David J. Howe also runs a nifty forum dedicated to the discussion of Doctor Who merch. It's called, appropriately enough, Howe's Transcendental Toybox, and can be found at

There are still a few Daleks I'd like to add to my collection. They're not priorities, though -- I tend to go through phases, and right now Daleks just aren't in the cards. One of these days, though, the switch in my brain will flip and I'll be on the hunt for the little buggers. That's just how I roll.

1 comment:

  1. That clockwork Dalek is superb. How I would love to own one of those. Truly superb.


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