A Report by David J Howe
It's always quite hard to be able to sum up Toyfair in words. I think the vision that most people who don't go have is of some fabulous fantasy land of toys where there are wonders at every turn and people clustered around going 'ooh' and 'ahh'. Whereas the reality is that it's like going to a shopping mall where you're not allowed to touch anything, and you can't actually buy anything either ... some of the shops won't let you in unless you have a prior appointment, and others have items so obscure on display that you wonder how they ever manage to make a living selling them.
Perhaps the strangest new toy I saw was a company promoting a game of rock balancing ... yes, that's right ... a small box of rocks and you have to balance them one on top of the other to form a cairn or maybe a small wall ... probably loads of fun though.
I attended on the final day, Saturday, which was the quietest day. There wasn't really any buzz - just lots of stands and not many people. The walking is also exhausting - wandering up and down lines of stands, looking at the wares which each company is hoping will be the next big thing. You also pick up catalogues as you go and so your carry bag (which you obtain as you enter) gets heavier and heavier as the visit progresses.
From a Doctor Who perspective, I'd say that this year was perhaps quieter than last year. The security was exactly the same as last year too, with only Character Options asking for Non-Disclosure Agreements to be signed before you could see the Doctor Who displays, and of course this also means that I can't say anything specific about their Doctor Who ranges.
Wandering through the show, however, there were lots of other things to see. On the Top Trumps stand, for example, I spotted sample packaging for a 45th Anniversary set of cards - appears to be in a TARDIS shaped box. Toybrokers have two smashing new games coming out soon. One is a Trivia Quiz game, and I recognised this as a 2008 variant of the traditional 'Magic Robot' game of yesteryear where you place a Question/Answer sheet on the box, and then turn a small TARDIS to point to the question you wish to ask. Then placing the TARDIS on a mirrored surface inside a circle of answers, and the ship magnetically and magically spins to point at the correct answer.
The other game is a Dalek race through time and has great TARDIS counters and a little motorised Dalek which follows a track on the board and which races around and can exterminate your TARDIS piece if it encounters it on the track ... great fun.
Toybrokers also have a Sarah Jane Smith game and a Primeval game coming out this year.
Ravensburger had great success with their Puzzleball last year, and so there's another larger one intended for 2008 - the design had not been confirmed or approved for it though. There's also more jigsaws coming, and it looks like the range is being expanded slightly with 1000, 100 and 64 piece jigsaws due for release.
Cartamundi who brought us some great playing cards for Doctor Who and Torchwood in 2007, not surprisingly have a Series 4 pack of Who cards intended for later in the year, as well as more multi-packs for specific retailers, and also a Series 2 pack for Torchwood.
Hornby have their initial Doctor Who model kit shipping now, and it should be in all shops very soon, and of course the next kit is of the Daleks, and the model of this on display was very impressive. Wheras the first kit has the emphasis on display and painting, the Dalek kit is more about the detail of the construction and certainly it looked very tricky with lots of small features and details to fit together.
Flair have a second Doctor Who Shaker Maker out now. This one contains Cyberman and K9 moulds and the box has been redesigned (as have all the Shaker Maker boxes) and so expect to see the Dalek/Tardis kit reissued with the new branding soon.
Hasbro had a few items of interest on their stand. Alongside the Black and Gold Dalek and Cyberman bubble baths there would seem to be a new range of flannels coming with Dalek and Cyberman designs, a Dalek toothbrush holder, packs of bath fizzers, and a rather nice spinning TARDIS bubble bath (you press the top of the pack and the little TARDIS there spins and lights up).
On the impressive Character Options stand there were some excellent displays of all the new Primeval toys, and these really do look good. I don't think the photographs that have been seen of them do them justice. The likenesses are excellent, and the various accessories complement the figures nicely. The displays were augmented with some plastic ferns, rocks and other bits and pieces and it was great to see how the addition of some simple display items gave the figures depth and added so much interest to the range.
I was also very taken with a Scooby Doo Haunted house set which was simply wonderful :) A great addition to use with their range of Scooby figures I thought.
On the Doctor Who front, however, as I mentioned, I can't give any details. As you might expect, there are some lovely items coming this year, some expansions to the existing ranges and some new toys as well. On display were the paint masters for many of the new figures from the current Series as well as the forthcoming Classic range, and these really do show the care that has gone into the likenesses and detail of the toys.
Also in the Doctor Who area were little diorama displays of many of the current figures. I thought these were brilliant with some lovely touches used in the displays, like perspex stands and thin wires making the figures fly and to create the illusion of three dimensional scenes from the show. Very nicely done and very inspiring.
Finally, congratulations to Character Options who won the Best Boy's Collectible category in the 'Toy of the Year' Awards announced during the show for their overall range of Doctor Who Figures. For interest, the overall Toy of the Year was the In The Night Garden Blanket Time Iggle Piggle from Hasbro, and the top Boy's Toy was the Ben 10 Omnitrix F/X from Bandai.
Also displaying at the Fair were GB Eye with their impressive new Doctor Who canvas and art boards - they have a *vast* range of images overall and the quality was marvellous. Pyramid Posters had their new 3D poster featuring the Dalek Sec Hybrid and the Daleks - another amazing optical treat. Worlds Apart had a stand with their childrens' ranges, including the Dalek night light and torch, the ready bed, sleeping bag and other items.
GetRetro (aka SciFiCollector aka The Stamp Centre) had their usual stand which was packed with already-released Doctor Who items ... also on display there was the first of their Torchwood action figure range. This was a paintmaster for a Weevil and very impressive it was too.
One slight surprise for me was the Corgi/Cards Inc stand, which had no Doctor Who items whatsoever on display.
Speaking to several of those present at the Fair, there seemed to be a general feeling that Doctor Who was on a bit of a slowdown at the moment. The reasons were felt to be that there was simply too much on the market at present, and that the manufacturers were competing for limited shelf space at all the major retail outlets. Also there was a feeling that Series 3 had perhaps not maintained such a high standard across the board, and that this had resulted in a dampening of interest and enthusiasm. However everyone was very upbeat and positive about how Doctor Who had performed for them as a brand, and the fact that many of the companies had new items lined up for this year shows that, at least for the moment, there is still considered to be ongoing life and interest in the show and in toys and games associated with it.
David J Howe