Collector’s Corner: Ian O’Brien’s Doctor Who Cave of Wonders

Published On November 14, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Interviews

Just a few of Ian’s many Doctor Who Treasures. Photo: (c) 2012 Joseph Branston/SFX magazine

Recently, we spoke to Doctor Who mega-collector and Forbidden Planet International Manchester regular Ian O’Brien about his massive – and we mean massive – collection of toys throughout the years. Featuring everything from the ultra-rare toys of the 1970s all the to the great classic and current figures companies like Character Options and Underground Toys are making now, Ian’s collection is sure to make Whovians-around-the world’s eyes water—with jealousy!

 As well as being featured on The Doctor Who Antiques roadshow, his collection is also featured in this month’s SFX magazine. The kind folks at SFX have even let us pilfer some of their photos for this very post. Grab a copy at your nearest FPI store/ today! 

Ian (middle) with some of his rarest treasures on the Doctor Who Antiques Roadshow. The Selcol Nursery Dalek (the big blue one) is super valuable!

Let’s get cerebral; how did it all begin, your life as a Doctor Who fan?

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was about five in 1973. My earliest memory of the show is Jon Pertwee in Planet of the Daleks. We would watch it as a family: myself, my brother and Mum—who’s been a fan from the very beginning with William Hartnell. From there I just carried on – all the way through!

And we commend you for your commitment! What do you think is the one thing that makes Doctor Who such an enduring part of British pop culture?

Just one? It’s the TARDIS itself. I mean it’s just a police box, so it’s not something like the Enterprise in Star Trek or Star Wars’ Star Destroyer or Millennium Falcon. It’s just a police box and the Doctor can go anywhere in time and space, facing danger with his companions. That’s a big part of the excitement. It’s so great that now the Police box is more associated with being the TARDIS than a police box! And nowhere else in the world has ever had a police telephone box, of course.

We know that you’ve got quite a TARDIS collection yourself. How did you get started as a collector?

I can remember it was about ‘76 when the first proper action figure toys came out – the Denys Fisher range. That Christmas I got the TARDIS and also a Tom Baker figure. Then as I grew older I bought all the Target novels. And of course as I got other Christmas presents like the Palitoy Talking Dalek, the Louis Marx Bump n’ Go Daleks–and the annuals, of course.

Then when I was getting to secondary school age I think I started buying stuff for myself. I remember buying the Doctor Who TARDIS Tuner radio – actually from Forbidden Planet in London. I can even tell you how much it cost me because the price is still on the box: £12.50. Nowadays it will go for about £100!

Wow.  What an investment! Who said fandom doesn’t pay?

Another thing I have – that I was given as a present when I was quite young – is the blue nursery Dalek, which now goes for about £1000.

For many collectors, knowing the value of a thing is nice, but it’s knowing that they have a piece of rare cultural history that is the real reward. What are your five favourite items from your collection?

One is that Dalek that I just mentioned: the Selcol nursery Dalek. Then, it’s the 18 inch Dalek that Character Options did, the bronze one. Then the TARDIS Tuner Radio. After that… the classic Denys Fisher TARDIS. Then – it’s very difficult, but I suppose – the Patrick Troughton annual from 1968.

Photo: (c) 2012 Joseph Branston/SFX magazine

It’s interesting to see a more recent toy, the Character Options Dalek in the list, which is surely testament to the quality of that Dalek. In terms of the new toys, do you prefer classic series or current , “Nu-Who”, toys?

Because I grew up watching the classic series, it’s just so nice to have figures from those stories—I like the 60s stories toys that Character Options and Underground Toys have made.

I remember when Dapol came along. For me, that was like “wow, action figures!”. I still use their classic console to this day with the newer figures. For the time it was made, it was pretty advanced. I know that there are some things wrong, like it has five sides instead of six but still, it has two monitors that light up and it has a Time Rotor in the middle that flashes and moves like it did on the show. The panels are all moulded too.

It works quite well because I can recreate scenes and stories on the shelves. At the moment, I’ve recreated Attack of the Cybermen using the 6th Doctor, Perry, the Stealth Cyberman and the Earth Shock Cyberman. Any time I feel like it, I’ll change it around.

What do you think of the current series?

I have to say though that this year’s series didn’t grab me as much as the others. I do enjoy it and Matt Smith is a fantastic Doctor. However… I do find it’s more aimed at children –and Stephen Moffet himself  has said that it’s basically a kids’s show. But I always think of something that’s written on the back of one of the old Target annuals, something like “it’s the programme kids enjoy but adults adore“. Watching some of the classic stories I find them a lot more adult than the ones of today.

I didn’t like Asylum of the Daleks – the acting was fine, the effects were fine but for all the hype, it just didn’t deliver for me. The Angels in Manhattan was a bit more grown up, I thought. But, like I said, Matt Smith portrays The Doctor very well. He might be young but he plays ike doctor like he’s 900 years old.

Who’s your favourite Doctor?

Tom Baker. I grew up with Tom. I was five when I started watching and six when Baker came into it so he took me all the way up to secondary school.  What makes him so good is that I don’t think there’s too much difference between Tom Baker and The Doctor – the actor and the character – because he was so wild and alien and sometimes so silly, but seriously silly at times.

“Seriously silly”! That sounds like the perfect Doctor Who description to us. Do you have a favourite Tom Baker figure?

The Underground Toys one in the burgundy outfit – it’s a perfect likeness: the face, the hair, just everything is fantastic. Their Matt Smith is also great as is their An Enearthly Child First Doctor that came with the TARDIS; the likeless of William Hartnell is just so good.

The Eleven Doctors, TARDISmania and much more! Photo by Ian O’Brien

Going back to the show, is there a Doctor you didn’t like?

I could say what the Brigadier used to say: “splendid chap, all of them”. The least? I don’t know, I think for me it would be Peter Davidson. I don’t think it’s so much him though, more the scripts and the storylines—although he has admitted it himself that he started playing The Doctor like Tristan from All Creatures Great and Small. I remember saying to someone at school that, I couldn’t “seem to find a character in him”. Now I  look back and I like him a bit better. He just seemed to be a bit weak but towards the end he was better. Colin Baker , I think was good, but unfortunately he was saddled with that coat and got the burden because of the JNT factor [John Nathan Turner, oft-criticised Doctor Who producer from 81-89  – Ed]!

Photo: (c) 2012 Joseph Branston/SFX magazine

Do you have a favourite story?

How about I say my favourite series? That would be easier! Thinking about it, I’d go back   to Tom Baker and I would say, really,  I’d have to say his first two seriesm from 74 to 76. it’s hard because I like his first series because you have the Sontarans then the Daleks and the Cybermen and then, the following year, the Zygons, The Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius and The Seeds of Doom, two of the best stories ever. If I really had to choose, it would be one of those.

What’s the most unique thing you have in your collection?

The TARDIS Tuner maybe. Or a Doctor Who playmat that has the Sixth Doctor, Perry, The Master and a load of Daleks, Cybermen and a great big battle. It’s quite a nice item and needs to be put in a frame, really!

Every collector has a figure or item they’d like to see in the future… what’s your dream toy yet to be made?

The Anthony Ainley Master in his proper outfit! He was in the series from 81 to 89 and, counting The Five Doctors, he worked with seven of the eleven doctors. It’s the one figure I would really love. For me, my Master was Anthony Ainley. He deserves to be made! And, as for companions, I’d also love to see Tegan, Adric and Nyssa. A new classic console wouldn’t go amiss, too!

Many thanks to Ian for allowing us to grill him on his impressive collection. Believe us, this post was just the tip of the iceberg! For more pictures and even more of Ian, check out the current issue of SFX, you won’t regret it!

Are you a super-collector? Want to show off your wares? Get in touch with us via our Facebook or Twitter feeds and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.


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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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