Friday, April 30, 2010

Battery Operated Planet Robot (Yoshiya / 1958 / Japan / 9 inches)

The Planet Robot is another example in a long line of toys that draw upon Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot for inspiration.

Forbidden Planet landed in theaters in 1956, a $2 million science-fiction adventure story that combined wonderful characters, thrilling action, a mysterious plot, lavish sets and props, and, of course, a robot that would go on to influence all future Hollywood robots, droids, and other assorted mechanical men: Robby.

In a pre-Star Wars world, toy licensing for films was relatively unheard of, and MGM, the film's studio, never bothered to produce any space ships, ray guns, action figures, or robots of their own. Happily for us, though, many companies rushed in to fill the void. They did so carefully, of course, in an effort to avoid a barrage of law suits. As a result, we have many different toy robots from the Fifties and Sixties that look a whole lot like Robby, but with many interesting tweaks that give each piece a distinct personality. (For some great examples, check out these past posts: Mechanized Robot, Piston Action Robot, Door Robot, Jupiter Robot, and this one on cinematic robots. Also check out Pat Karris' amazing collection of vintage Robby toys at

In action, the battery operated Planet Robot walks forward while its chest and face light up. At the same time, the vertical scanner ring on the left side of its dome rotates. All in all, not the most complex action ever created, but that doesn't make it any less cool to play with.

What's always most attracted me to this toy is the metallic blue litho. I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it until someone inscribes it in the Big Book of Truth: Metallic blue is the coolest color ever, and looks great on not only toy robots, but also ray guns, rockets, space cars, houses, and grandma's hair.

The Planet Robot is one of the longest -- maybe the longest -- produced robots in the hobby. Evidence suggests that it was on the shelves in one form or another from 1958 through at least 1972 -- and probably longer than that. Of course, it mutated quite a bit during that time, and as such, you can build entire sub collections of just Planet Robots.

Besides the version of the battery operated Planet featured in this post, there's also one with rubber, three-fingered hands that more closely mirror the hands on the original Robby the Robot. As far as we know, the toy was only available in blue.

The Planet Robot was also made with a wind up mechanism that features sparks in its chest and face plate. The wind up Planet Robot was offered with both rubber and tin hands. It came in a variety of colors, including black (most common), olive green, and blue (very rare). There might be a few others -- it's hard to keep track.

But the variations don't end there. Later versions of the wind up Planet Robot saw the introduction of slightly thinner legs, smaller "ear caps" and scanner rings, and flatter face grills. These differences are often rather subtle, and can sometimes only really be seen when two different versions of the toy are posed side by side. However, at the very end of it's run, the Planet Robot underwent one more significant transformation, as Yoshiya introduced a plastic head and plastic hands.

This later version was quite common for a while; rumors suggested that a warehouse full of the toys was discovered somewhere. I do know that at least one antique toy store in NYC -- now no longer with us -- was selling them mint-in-box well into the late Seventies. Regardless, the supply has dried up considerably, making even this last iteration of the Planet Robot kind of tricky to come by.

This Planet Robot is particularly important to me. I first saw it when I visited Steve Jaspen's collection early on in my own collecting career. Steve was the first collector to ever invite me to his house to see his toys; he's the first vintage space toy collector I'd ever met face to face. We've been friends ever since, and in the ensuing years, I've learned so much about the hobby from the man. I definitely consider him a mentor within the scene.

Steve's the kind of collector who is endlessly refining and focusing his collection; he doesn't have the most toys on the block, but he's definitely got some of the best. He's always selling or trading a piece here and a piece there, and the day that I visited him, one of the toys slated for eviction from his shelves was the battery operated Planet Robot. I was definitely interested in it, but Steve, being the nice guy that he is, actually turned me off of the sale. "You don't want this one. I bought it at the height of the market and I'm trying to get a lot for it. You can definitely find one for less money." Fair enough, and I dropped the subject.

A few months later I get an email. It's Steve, and he's reconsidered the Planet Robot sale. "It's never going to get what I originally paid for it, so if I have to let it go for cheap, I'd rather have it end up in your collection." About a week later, on a chilly, blustery day, I met Steve outside his Midtown office. It must have looked like some weird drug deal going down -- me handing him a thick wad of cash, him handing off a strangely wrapped package. But no one called the cops, and a little while later the robot was on my shelf.

That's why this is an important one for me. Not just because it's a robot I always loved, and not just because it came from the collection of a good friend. No, this toy's important to me because of what it represents. This hobby can be so cutthroat. I've seen collectors smile at each other while wheeling and dealing behind the scenes to screw each other out of toys. I've seen friendships dissolve over fights for toys. I've seen scams and I've seen what can only be described as outright criminality. All because of toys. Toys!

But at the same time, I've seen spectacular generosity. I've watched people step aside at auctions so that friends can get a toy they've always wanted. I've seen collectors lend each other extraordinary amounts of money so an important deal won't fall through. I've seen dealers sell toys to friends for zero profit. I've watched collectors give toys to other collectors because their friendships were so strong.

And that's the spirit behind my battery operated Planet Robot. It represents the friendship and camaraderie within the hobby -- friendships that, I hope, will last as long as the toys themselves.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coming To You From A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

When I started this blog, I made a promise to myself: No Star Wars toys. As much as I love 'em, they're not quite the kind of vintage toys I want to discuss. Besides, there are many other blogs and web sites devoted to the figures and they can do a much better job of it than I can. But now I'm going to break that earlier promise, just this one time. That's it. One post about some Star Wars toys that I've got and then I'm leaving them alone.

Those who don't care about any toys produced after the 1960s, you might want to avert you eyes.

First, a prologue. I grew up with Star Wars. I was born two years before the movie came out and while I missed it in 1977, I caught a re-release in the theater right before Empire Strikes Back came out. I saw that second film and Return of the Jedi upon their initial releases. Growing up, I had the action figures, I had the ships, I had the carrying cases, I had the toy blasters and early light sabers. I dressed as Luke for Halloween and trick-or-treated with a friend dressed as Vader. Generally speaking, I was geeked-out a Star Wars fan as any little kid with no autonomy over his life or source of regular income could hope to be. 

But eventually, I kind of grew out of the toys, and like so much of the stuff I played with, they disappeared into the backs of closets and later were uncovered and given to the younger kids living next door. 

Recently, however, nostalgia reared its mighty head and about two years ago, I slowly began revisiting some of my favorite Star Wars toys. At the same time, I discovered some vintage figures I never knew about when growing up, and that launched a whole new obsession.

These days, I've got two small Star Wars collections. The first is made up of the original 12 figures released in 1977. The second consists solely of vintage U.S. and Japanese R2-D2 toys. Neither is anything special compared to some Star Wars collections out there, but they weren't easy to put together, either, and I'm rather proud of them.

First up, the original 12 figures, all released in 1977: Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader,  a Tusken Raider, a Storm Trooper, the Death Squad Commander, and a Jawa. They're displayed on a collector's stand that came out in 1977.

These were all about nostalgia and recapturing a piece of my childhood. My rules of acquisition were fairly simple: Figures had to be loose so I could display (and... ahem... play with) them, but otherwise, I wanted them to be as mint as possible. All accessories had to be original. I didn't worry too much about getting the rarest or earliest variations; instead, I went after the versions I remembered having as a kid. So my Luke has yellow hair, not brown. Obi-Wan has a white beard, not a grey one. And Han absolutely has a small head. (Fellow Star Wars collectors will know exactly what I'm talking about.)

The collection of R2-D2s was in many ways a much tougher -- and expensive -- collection to put together.

R2 was always my favorite action figure, and I knew I wanted to have the variations: the Power of the Force R2 with the pop-up light saber, the Droids Cartoon version (also with a pop-up light saber),  the sensor scope R2, and the version of R2 that came with the Star Wars Droid Factory and features his center leg.

At the same time, I discovered the various R2s produced by the Japanese company Takara in 1978. Having never been to Japan, I'd never even heard of these toys when I was growing up. When I finally did discovered them, it was instant love. The toys are all intricately detailed, but not necessarily accurate -- which I think is great. I'm not a big fan of hyper-accurate toys; I don't think they leave as much room for imagination, whereas more abstracted toys are just waiting to be imprinted by the kid playing with them. (For instance, I think the Mego figures are way cooler than the McFarlane figures.) Takara's R2s also strike a perfect balance between the familiar -- "It's R2!" -- and the exotic -- "But he's kinda different looking!" -- that really appeals to me.

My collection of vintage Japanese R2s isn't quite complete, but it's close.

First, I've got the die-cast, missile-firing R2. True, the droid never had a missile launcher in the original movies, but who cares? Everything's cooler with a missile!

This toy came in two different boxes, and I was able to snag both of them. I like to keep the toy that came with the window box inside its box -- I just think it looks really cool. I also left the stickers on their sheet and the missiles on it's sprue. Luckily, the toy that came with the rarer black box already had its stickers applied and all missiles removed and ready to launch, so I can have my mint-in-box version and a version I can play with. Perfect!

I've also got the Film Strip Viewer R2.

It's also die-cast, but this version's larger than the missile-firing cousin. It features a bunch of slides depicting scenes from Star Wars that can be viewed by looking through a small, round window just underneath the droid's dome. Rotating the dome changes the image. And if that wasn't cool enough, this R2 also has a rear-mounted, flip-down double missile launcher. Again, every toy is cooler when armed to the teeth!

Next up is my rare, mint-on-card Zetca R2. This was made by Takara, and I think the word "Zetca" refers to the particular line, which, according to the promotional blurbs, was made out of a "space age metal." Nice!

I'm not normally the kind of guy who keeps his toys locked into their packages. However, I feel like this guy's survived for more than 30 years in a pristine state; I don't want to be the jerk who rips open the blister pack and ruins that. So in this case, I'm leaving things as they are. However... It also means that I'm looking for a second, loose Zetca R2. Call me crazy if you'd like; I call it having my cake and eating it, too.

I've got another bare-metal R2, the Takara Coin Holder. This was intended for vending machines in Japan, and I bought it with its original, plastic bubble. Incidentally, the only U.S. coins that fit in it are nickels.

Finally, the centerpiece of my collection, the coolest-among-the-weird of Japanese droids: the Takara Wind Up R2-D2.

This toy was originally produced in Japan, and legend has it that George Lucas was so enamored of the robot that he bought a case of them to give out to people connected with the film. He also suggested to Kenner -- who made all the figures in the U.S. -- that they produce the Wind Up R2. The company declined, but did produce a run of them in Canada. Because of all that, they're incredibly rare today, especially with both the front and back stickers.

I'm currently missing two other Takara R2-D2s: the bump-and-go, and the disk-firing versions. One day...

Besides the original 12 figures and the various R2s, I've also got some random, vintage droids and ephemera like pins and patches -- just stuff to flesh out the collection. I'm also thinking of picking up some of the more interesting aliens to come out during the first three movies, but those can wait.

R5-D4. One of my favorites. Without him, we'd never have Star Wars. His timely self-destruction opened the door for R2-D2 to hook up with Luke and, eventually, deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. 

Anyway, that's my Star Wars collection, and this was my one and only Star Wars post. Hope you enjoyed it all. And for the fans of the real vintage stuff -- the tin robots and ray guns -- stay tuned, I've got some doozies coming up.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ideal 3-Color Space Ray Gun (Ideal / 1952 / U.S. / 4 x 7 inches)

I have a lot of memories tied up in this particular ray gun. It's one of the first that caught my eye after flipping through the book Ray Gun, by Eugene Metcalf, and I was completely taken by how well its giant, bulbous lens and funny fins captured the retro futurism I love so much. Looking back, I think it was at that moment that my love affair with vintage ray guns transformed from the infatuation of a beau for his belle into the outright obsession of a stalker.

Ray Gun was my only reference at the time, and as such, I considered every toy in it part of my "must-have" list. It was canon -- no pun intended -- and I was thrilled every time a piece leapt from its pages and on to my toy shelf. The 3-Color Gun was one of the first to do so, and as such, it holds a pretty special place in my collection.

This gun also represents the first time I met the collector and dealer Justin Pinchot face to face. We'd been speaking online for a while when I decided to take a trip out to sunny California to hang out. He promised to show me the sights, introduce me to a couple friends, and let me check out his collection. Justin also mentioned having some ray guns for sale if I was interested. If I was interested? What a question...

So I get to California and eventually, Justin gives me the tour of his collection. At the end, we stopped in front of a desk covered with ray guns. "These are what I've got for you," he said. I stared, unable to process what I was seeing. Five or six guns, almost all of which appeared prominently in the Metcalf book. What a haul!

Among them was the Renwal Planet Jet, a ridiculously rare toy that I knew I'd be taking home with me. Sitting next to it was a pristine Strato Gun. There was also a small, pressed tin clicker made by a company called Tomy. A Pez gun in classic, fire-engine red was next. And then... the 3-Color gun!

I couldn't afford all of them -- heck, the Planet Jet alone knocked out a large chunk of my toy-buying budget. I could grab one more, and I decided to go with the 3-Color gun. I'd never seen one for sale before, and I'd been lusting after it for so long... It wasn't a difficult decision!

However, it turned out to be the wrong decision. Kind of. I was tempted by the Strato Gun, but passed because, at the time, it was popping up on eBay regularly. I figured I'd get one somewhere down the road. Unfortunately, the supply soon dried up and prices pretty much quadrupled. The 3-Color gun, on the other hand, turned out to be more common than I thought. Whoops! (Read more about this sordid tale here!)

Nonetheless, I don't regret buying the Ideal gun. It remains one of my favorite toys, and the memories make me smile every time I pick it up. Which, I've gotta say, is often.

Like I said, the toy appears on eBay fairly often, and is available in two standard color variations: A red body with a blue trigger, switch, fin assembly, and lens housing; and a blue body with a red trigger, switch, fin assembly, and lens housing. Every once in a while, blue triggers will appear with blue bodies, etc. There's also a much rarer variation -- I've only seen one -- with a black body and red trigger, switch, fin assembly, and lens housing. This matches the toy as depicted on its box, so there's some thought that it might be a salesman's sample. I had a chance to buy it, but I passed. I feel kind of dumb about that today, but I just didn't have the scratch back then to make it happen. Oh well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pacer Electric Watch (Hamilton Watch Company / 1957 / U.S.)

What time is it? Why, it's time for yesterday's tomorrow -- today!

This is the Pacer, and it's one of the earliest Hamilton Electric Watches. Which makes it one of the earliest electric watches in the world.

I've wanted a Pacer for many years; it was one of those dream pieces that would keep me awake at night and set me crawling desperately through eBay listings. I first saw one -- along with many other amazing Hamiltons -- at the home of collector Justin Pinchot. I couldn't get over the asymmetric case, the triangular hands, the arrows on the dial, and that amazing, two-tone finish. (It's hard to tell from my photos, but the case is yellow-gold colored and the lugs -- where the strap meets the case -- are white-gold colored.) This is a watch that screams "The Future!" Of course I wanted one of my own.

Please excuse the less-than-perfect pics. I'm still figuring out how to shoot this shiny puppy.

The watch has some serious history. I'll give you the short version of the story, but if you want the whole thing, I highly recommend checking out the book The Watch of the Future, by Rene Rondeau. You can find it -- and tons of information, plus watches for sale -- at Rondeau's web site:

Anyway, in the 1950s, Hamilton was a respected watchmaker at a time when watch sales were sagging. They'd been making mechanical watches and clocks since 1892, but times were changing; the company needed to change too if it was going to survive and thrive in the latter half of the 20th century. So they struck upon a bold idea: make an electric watch.

Thus began years of research and development, trial and error, failure and... success! On January 3, 1957, the company released the Ventura, the world's first commercially available electric watch. Its futuristic design -- by Richard Arbib -- and revolutionary electric guts proved wildly successful, but a hefty $200 price tag kept many potential buyers at bay. So on November 1 of that same year, Hamilton produced the $125 Pacer. Even though it was essentially a stripped down version of the Ventura, it went on to sell more than 39,000 units over its 12-year run.

Today, Pacers are tough to score, especially in nice shape. They're popular with collectors, and clean examples get snatched up quickly. I spent years searching for an affordable example, but eventually I threw in the towel and resigned myself to using cell phones as time pieces for rest of my days.

Fast forward to last night. My birthday had come and gone a couple weeks earlier. My dad was out of town at the time, so he decided to take me and my little sister out to a celebratory -- albeit late -- dinner. And then there was their gift. I'm not big on gifts, and I'd have been perfectly happy with a nice meal. But for weeks, my sister had been dropping hints about something great she'd gotten me, something that hadn't arrived on time for my actual birthday. They planned on giving it to me at dinner.

My sister had been good about keeping the present a secret, but I'd still come up with a couple ideas about what it might be. I decided not to bother guessing, though. Why ruin it, right? Anyway, it turns out I'd haver never guessed right. I wouldn't have even come close. It turns out that my sister and dad got me... yep, you guessed it, a Hamilton Electric Pacer.

Yes, I was speechless. Yes, my flabber was gasted.

It turns out that my sister and dad originally wanted to get me a robot or a ray gun, but they were quickly thwarted in their efforts by not knowing what I had, not knowing what I liked, and not having any idea what anything might be worth. Clearly, it could have been a disaster.

So my quick-witted sister decided to find some help. She trawled through my blog -- this very blog that you're reading now -- and ended up contacting contributor Karl Tate and legendary collector Pat Karris. She also spoke to my girlfriend, who I'd say knows me pretty darn well. Everyone gave her useful advice, but she was still floundering a bit. And then she stumbled on Justin Pinchot. That's when it all came together.

After exchanging something like 30 emails, they hit on the idea of getting me the Hamilton. Justin knew it was something I'd lusted over for a long time -- remember, he'd shown me the one that got this ball rolling in the first place -- and also knew it wasn't something I'd likely buy for myself. With his help, my sister was able to procure a nice example, which she then sent off to Rene Rondeau for a tune up. A couple weeks later, it was back in her hands and ready for the birthday boy. (That'd be me...)

Needless to say, the gift was a success, and I'm immensely grateful to my sister, my dad, and all the friends who worked to get the Pacer into my collection. Thanks guys!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Domed Easel Back Robot (Linemar / 1950s / Japan / 6 inches)

I remember the day well. I hadn't been collecting vintage robots and ray guns for too long when I got an email from my friend and fellow collector Justin Pinchot. All it said was, "Hey, what's this?" Attached were a couple photos: The first was a super-close up of some fancy lithography, the second was a partial shot of what looked like a dome of some sort. 

I knew exactly what it was, and my heart began beating a little bit faster. See, a few weeks earlier, I'd mentioned to Justin -- who's also a dealer -- that one of the robots at the top of my want list was the Domed Easel Back. I never thought I'd get one, though, because it's a high-end piece that generally costs oodles of dollars. I definitely don't have oodles of dollars today, and at the time, I didn't even have half an oodle to my name. The Domed Easel Back was clearly out of my league; I don't think I could even afford the fantasy of owning one.

And yet there I was, one bright morning, looking at pictures of what could only be the object of my desire. Coming from Justin, it meant one thing: He had one for me, a fact he soon confirmed when I called him up and pressed for details. Things got a little dizzy after that, details remain fuzzy, I don't think I passed out, but honestly, I wouldn't guarantee anything.

Amazingly, the price was more reasonable than I'd have imagined -- for a reason, which I'll get into later -- and I had no problem paying for the toy. A week or so after that first email, I was the proud owner of a dream piece, one of those robots that I'd drooled over since first seeing it in the Sotheby's Matt Wyse catalogue. 

So why all the love? For one thing, it's such a fantastic looking toy with some of the finest lithography ever reproduced on tin. And that helmet! What kind of robot needs a domed helmet? It's not like they breathe oxygen -- or anything else, for that matter. But it looks great, no doubt about it. 

The Domed Easel Back Robot also has a great action. When the button on its remote is pressed, the toy walks forward with a "step-over" motion. That is, it raises and lowers its feet like a real person. Amazing! Astounding! Astonishing! 

Also, for a small tin toy made during the 1950s, technologically impossible. And yet there it is, walking its way into toy collectors' hearts. Maybe it's magic? 

Nope. The robot performs its feat of physicality thanks to that weird contraption attached to its back. You know, the one that looks like a... wait for it... easel? Yep, it's a wire frame that's designed to keep the robot upright every time it raises one of its feet. Not the most elegant solution: I suspect that the designers came up with the general walking mechanism and only later realized how precarious the toy was. They jerry-rigged a solution by attaching the easel, it all seemed to work, and voila, a strange toy was born.

Strange and popular, I should add. The Easel Back went through four iterations over the next few years. One other was battery powered, while two versions of the toy use a wind up mechanism. Only one of the four has a dome, though, and it's by far the rarest of the bunch -- especially in good condition, and especially with it's dome intact.

Which is, of course, why mine was reasonably priced: The dome is fake. They were made out of very, very thin plastic, not unlike what you'd find holding action figures on to their cards. Consequently, they tore easily and often fell off the robot. Good reproductions are difficult to make (requiring a vacuum forming machine), so someone kind of faked it on mine. It's not terrible, but it's definitely not correct.

Not that I mind. The toy itself is in amazing condition, and the roughly repro'd dome is good enough to give a strong impression of what the toy is supposed to look like. Owning it is absolutely a dream come true. The Domed Easel Back remains today one of my all time favorite robots, and one of the true prizes of my collection. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Doctor Who Season Premier Live Event

Always when I've got prior plans!

BBC America sponsored a free, early screening of the Doctor Who season premier at a local movie theater this evening. On hand to discuss the show were members of the cast, including the new Doctor, Matt Smith, and some of the creative team. Did I mention I had prior plans? Well, I did. So I couldn't attend. I could, however, spend some time chatting with a few of the fans who lined up around the block to get one of the 300 or so available seats.

For the rest of us, the new season of Doctor Who, starring Matt Smith, airs on BBC America on April 17 at 9 p.m.

If you'd like more information on Doctor Who fandom in New York City, check out

1. Tim Grogan and Anthony Burdge

Matt Smith is going to be here tonight. What do you think of the new Doctor?
TIM He's amazing. I think he's reminiscent of the earlier Doctors, and does a great job of drawing on their personalities. It's a nice bridge between the new series and classic Who.
ANTHONY He's really conveying the idea of an old man in a young man's body.
TIM New blood is always good for the series.

Matt Smith as the new Doctor.

Do you have a favorite Doctor?
ANTHONY I like to say my favorite Doctor is the one I'm watching currently!
[Anthony Burdge is an editor of the book The Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who, which is available through Kitsune Books,]

2. Jody Harkavy

How do you feel about these types of fan events?
I think they shold be done more often! It's nice to get these out of the conventions and into new places. If they want to make the show as mainstream as possible, they need to create this kind of publicity. Doctor Who isn't just science fiction, it crosses so many lines and can appeal to so many people. Get it out there!

3. Jared and Matt

You said you've only been a fan of Doctor Who for a short while. What brought you to this event?
JARED It's a fresh start, a chance to get into the new season. Plus, I can see the Doctor in person, which is cool. I figured it'd be a good way to get things going.
MATT I'm really looking forward to hearing the Q&A with Matt Smith. I don't think I'll be asking any questions, but it'll be interesting to hear what some of the more experienced fans ask him.
JARED Plus, our cable provider in New Jersey doesn't carry BBC America.

What took you so long to get into Doctor Who?
JARED I caught some of the shows on PBS when I was younger, but I just never really had a chance to watch it.
MATT I had a misconception that it was cheesy science fiction with bad makeup and costumes. Then I started watching it and realized it was great. Now I'm a fan.

4. Chris

You said you've been a fan since the mid Seventies. How does Matt Smith hold up as the new Doctor?
Let's put it this way: "Tennant who?"

That good, huh?
Every actor brings something new and special to the Doctor. I loved Tennant, but I think Smith is even better. Tennant thought the Doctor was crazy, but Smith knows he is.

What do you think of this screening event?
It's great, there needs to be more of them. There's a huge fanbase out there, people who love the show, who're willing to spend $25 on action figures, who will go to these types of events. You couldn't have pulled this off in the Seventies.

5. Su Walenta and James Ottaviano

You seem to be having fun! 
SU Of course! I live nearby, this is practically my front yard. I'm a Doctor Who fan from way back, before most Americans knew what the show was, and if the Doctor is coming to my front yard, I'm going to meet him!

How did you become a fan so early on?
SU My ex-husband was British and I discovered the show living in the U.K.

What do you think about the way the fan community has grown with the new series?
SU I'm a little torn. I love seeing all this enthusiasm, and it means the show will continue to air for a long time. It's great seeing so many younger people getting into Doctor Who. But I miss it being a smaller, more tightly-knit community sometimes -- it was like a secret we all shared. But overall, it's wonderful!

I see you have a pretty impressive sonic screwdriver from the Tom Baker years. Where'd you get it?
SU My sweetie made it for me!

You must be Su's sweetie. Tell me about the sonic screwdriver.
JAMES About a year ago, Su took me to a party where I met a friend of her's who was into Doctor Who. That was my first exposure. Then, about four months ago, I saw the Doctor Who Christmas episode online. Su asked me to download more episodes, and I got to really know the series. I'm a machinist, and Su asked if I could make the Tom Baker sonic screwdriver. It didn't look too tough, so I found as many photos as I could and built it.

They're great!
JAMES It's all machined metal. I'm finishing one from David Tennant's Doctor, too. It'll have all the glass and lights when I'm done. It's been fun -- I feel like I get to be part of the adventure.
[For more information on James Ottaviano's hand-made sonic screwdrivers, check out]

A fan named Ryan models the Tennant-era sonic screwdriver.

Crowds on line!

Where the magic happened.