It’s fair to say that collectors, and their collections, come in all shapes and sizes, and collectors of Doctor Who memorabilia are no exception. From Target novelisations to Radio Times covers, from Weetabix card figures to Royal Mail First Day Covers, there’s pretty much something for everyone when it comes to picking up Doctor Who merchandise.
Starting a Doctor Who collection needn’t be a be an expensive affair and a great deal of enjoyment can be gained with a really small financial outlay. But as with most collections there is the capacity for it to grow, often at a rapid rate, and something that starts at just a few pounds can soon balloon to a stockpile clocking in at hundreds, if not thousands. These days the limit of a collection is usually just restricted by the size of a collector’s ambition and their wallet.
Building a collection has become much easier over the last decade thanks to the growth of online retailers and auction sites. While merchandise was once the exclusive remit of the high street store, nowadays collectors can obtain pretty much anything they desire with the mere click of a button. Retailers were quick to pick on this and the secondary market for memorabilia (or ‘collectabilia’ as I like to call it) quickly became a lucrative side-line for many dealers. Working on the premise that the rarer the item that a collector covets, the more they are likely to pay to get it, which in turn translates into higher potential fiscal returns.
Memorabilia from films and TV shows has become a great source of income for specific retailers, primarily due to dedicated and passionate fan-bases. In the mid-90’s it was The X-Files that collectors went crazy for, soon replaced by Buffy in the early 2000’s. Certain other film and TV franchises have had enjoyed a much longer lifespan, and a diehard fan following explains why institutions such as Star Trek and Star Wars are still going strong today!
And then, in 2005, interest in a long dormant British TV show began to stir once again, starting a whole new line of merchandise that continues today. In truth, Doctor Who has always had its hard-core fans, those who have slavishly stuck by the show throughout the years when it was off our screens, all the way up until a new generation of fans joined them just less than a decade ago.
Doctor Who ‘collectabilia’ fascinates and excites me in equal measure. I often spend vast amounts of my time trawling the pages of eBay, looking for any number of Who-related oddities and curios that happen to catch my eye. As long it’s within the range of my often meagre budget I’ll usually pick it up.
Back in 2011 the toy manufacturer Character Group brought out the first series of ‘Lego-themed’ micro figures and playsets as part of their Character Building (CB) range, based on characters and monsters from Matt Smith’s first season as The Doctor. The figures (blind-packed so buyers didn’t know which one they were getting) and sets were reminiscent of the Dalekmania era Cherilea Toys from the 1960’s and proved to be incredibly popular as a cheap and easily obtainable collectible for Who fans of all ages.
Unfortunately there is a particular issue inherent with this ‘blind-pack’ type of toy, and that is the manufacturer-imposed concept of ‘scarcity’! Some of the figures were much easier to obtain than others thanks to a seeding ratio that meant that each 36 pack case broke down as follows –
- Blue Shirt Doctor (x1)
- Jacketed Doctor (x8)
- Blue Dalek (x3)
- Smiler (x2)
- Cyberman (x5)
- Amy (x4)
- Red Dalek (x5)
- Screaming Weeping Angel (x4)
- Restac (x3)
- Serene Weeping Angel (x1)
If you were lucky enough to pull a Blue Shirt Doctor or Serene Angel then you had basically hit the jackpot as far as the figures rarity and collectability were concerned. This added an extra level of excitement and challenge for most collectors as it meant that many would have to work that bit harder to complete their sets.
However CB took things several steps beyond the initial packs, introducing three exclusive figures (variations of The Doctor and Amy, and a new yellow Eternal Dalek) that were only available for a 24-hour period each as an in-store promotion through Sainsburys supermarket and the Daily Mirror newspaper.
And the stakes were then raised even higher as CB released details of five ‘super-rare’ and extremely limited variation figures that could only be found in the blind packs –
- Projected Weeping Angel (limited to 500)
- The Raggedy Doctor (limited to 500)
- Amy Pond – Green Coat (limited to 100)
- Eleventh Doctor – Kings Arms Football Kit (limited to 100)
- Silurian Alaya – Grey Outfit (limited to 100)
The concept of rarity in a ‘blind-pack’ product is certainly nothing new. US sports card manufacturers have done it for years within their products, seeding rarer insert cards or ‘chase’ cards at a variety of ratios. The practice then moved on with the introduction of variants (or variations) in Action Figure ranges, again seeded at a higher rate than the ‘standard’ figure, making them much more desirable to collectors.
Unfortunately this whole process creates something of a headache for the collectors themselves. What initially stated out as a challenging (but not impossible to build) set of 10 figures suddenly becomes 15 figures (18 if you add the promos as well), and any hopes of completing the set turns into a pipe dream. If you were incredibly fortunate enough to find one of the super-rare chase figures (well done by the way!) then the odds of you finding any more would be astronomical – not impossible, just unrealistically possible!
Unless, that is, you turn to the secondary market!
Memorabilia retailers would break down dozens of cases of these figures and, through the basic economic principle of ‘supply and demand’, would start to charge a higher premium for the rarer figures in the set. If collectors wanted to chase those harder-to-find figures to complete their sets then they’d have to pay more for the privilege, and it wasn’t long before the rarer pack figures (the Serene Angel and Blue Shirt Doctor) were fetching prices in excess of £10 each on eBay.
And as high as these figures went the ‘super-rares’ went even higher, fetching amounts in the hundreds for those retailers lucky enough to find them and returning some very healthy profits in the process. If retailers weren’t lucky enough to find the ‘super-rare’ figures amidst the product they had opened then you’d often see them raise their other prices to get a return on their original investment. As a result the secondary market would quickly drive up the value of certain figures, overinflating their value and immediately putting them out of the reach of Joe Collector!
Not long after their release in 2011 a complete set of five CB Doctor Who micro figure ‘super-rares’ sold on eBay for £899!! The fact that someone out there is willing to shell out just south of £900 for five plastic figures no more than a few months old absolutely beggars belief, but it highlights the fact that there are potential buyers who are willing to pay large sums and therefore encourages retailers to maintain their higher prices. Unfortunately this practice isn’t restricted to small collectible figures. The whole of the collectible market is affected by degrees, and the more popular the item the higher its perceived value. Of course, an item is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it and there is often a huge gap between an items ‘perceived value’ (what a seller believes something is worth) and its ‘actual value’ (what a buyer is actually willing to part with).
Doctor Who memorabilia is big business, of that there is no question, and unfortunately certain manufacturers have a hand in making it difficult for Doctor Who collectors to maintain their hobby at a cost-effective level. Companies who produce merchandise with different levels of rarity or scarceness automatically give retailers and dealers the ability to create an overinflated secondary market of ‘collectabilia’! CB have maintained this model of micro figure releases over the last three years and each time it has yielded the same results – high priced rare figures that are great if you are a collector who is fortunate enough to stumble across one, but which aren’t suited for set collectors and completests. For those individuals, if they have any hope of putting together a complete collection then they will literally have to ‘pay the price’!
Of course, I’m only looking at this from a collector’s point of view. For retailers there is the opportunity to bring in some great financial returns so the system is perfectly suited for them. Even those who chance upon a ‘super-rare’ figure directly from an off-the-shelf blind-pack will often put the figure up for sale, encouraged by the high amounts that others are receiving for them. I’m certainly not saying that there’s anything wrong with this, only that it does make life difficult for the genuine collector and ends up taking a lot of fun out of a hobby that is meant to be just that – fun!
Sometimes it can really suck being a collector, and Doctor Who collectors are no exception!
I’ve spent decades collecting various types of rubbish and here are several mantras that I (try and) adhere to –
- Keep it simple! Set out your stall and decide what your boundaries are in terms of what you want to collect!
- You will no doubt be swayed from time to time when something new and ‘shiny’ comes into the market – try and resist where possible, your wallet thank you for it! If you do decide to expand your collection then refer back to point 1!
- Make your collection personal; make it mean something to you!
- NEVER pay more than what you believe something is worth!
- No-one is forcing you to collect anything therefore you’re probably doing it because you want to! So enjoy it!!!