From Screen to Toybox: A Brief History of Sci-Fi Toys


Doctor Who
The current TV series has seen the popularity of the Doctor reach levels beyond even the golden era of the 70’s and 80’s, and as expected there is a line of toys to help cash in on that success. There were however two significant ranges released in the classic era. The first was released in 1977 by Denys Fisher Toys, though the 10” figures were actually designed by our old friends Mego. These incredibly detailed figures included the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) along with his assistant Leela, K-9 and classic villains such as the Daleks and Cybermen.

The Denys Fisher Dr. Who range featured the fourth doctor

The 1977 Denys Fisher Dr. Who range featured the fourth doctor

In the late 80’s the BBC commissioned model train specialists Dapol to produce a new range of Doctor Who figures. Over the next decade a variety of 4-inch figures were released, characterised by poor quality plastics and design errors, including a green K-9. On the upside, this was the only chance of getting a figure modelled on Bonnie Langford that you could smash into little pieces!

Dapol's TARDIS playset, featuring the seventh doctor

Dapol’s TARDIS playset, featuring the seventh doctor


We’re cheating a little here, as in contrast to everything else Transformers were toys first and a TV show/movie second, but how could we write a piece on Sci-Fi toys without featuring the magnificent robots in disguise? Launched worldwide by Hasbro in 1984 just as the Star Wars light was beginning to fade, a collection of toys that converted from robots into cool things like cars, planes and dinosaurs meant every boy wanted them and success was ensured. The first generation lasted until the early 90’s and included innovative designs such as smaller robots that combined into a larger one, but very little surpassed the early figures like Optimus Prime, Jazz, Starscream and Soundwave. Transformers have never really been away, with a variety of re-inventions taking place over the last 25 years, but the originals will always be the most fondly remembered.

Hasbro's Transformers range took over fro Star Wars as the must-have boys toy

Hasbro’s Transformers range took over from Star Wars as the must-have boys toy


Space: 1999
Thunderbirds producer Gerry Anderson’s live action Sci-Fi series was the recipient of a real mish-mash of licensed toys. In the UK, Palitoy released a range of five figures that were – somewhat predictably – designed in the USA by Mego and maintained that company’s high standards. Meanwhile in America, Mattel released a few poor-quality 9” figures and a compatible Moonbase Alpha playset, but their most impressive offering was a near 3-foot long Eagle 1 spaceship, sadly populated by some rather lacklustre moulded figures.

The impressive Eagle 1 spaceship was the highlight of the Space:1999 toy range

The huge Eagle 1 ship was the highlight of the Space:1999 toy range


It’s hard to fathom exactly what Kenner were trying to achieve with their 1992 range based on a movie that was six years old. Kids would not likely be interested in toys from a film they weren’t old enough to watch, but if the figures were aimed at collectors then why were the marines dressed up in bright colours and given robotic arms in some cases? The saving grace for this series was the varied and detailed Alien figures, which were snapped up by collectors while the human characters were left hanging on the pegs of toy stores across the globe.

A selection of characters from the bizarre 1992 Aliens range from Kenner

A selection of characters from the bizarre 1992 Aliens range from Kenner


Head over to Page 3 for the Final Frontier of licensed Sci-Fi toys…


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