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Worldwide Domination

From 2005 Doctor Who returned to toy shops and even invaded supermarkets. BBC Worldwide staff past and present describe how they transformed the series’ marketing.

On 25 January 2007 the Toy Retailers Association named Character Options’ Cyberman Voice Changer helmet as UK Toy of the Year, awarding a further prize to the same company’s range of Doctor Who action figures. This was evidence, not only of Doctor Who’s massive success since its return to television in 2005, but also of a radical transformation in the way series merchandising was handled.

Richard Hollis was head of UK licensing at BBC Worldwide from 2002 to 2011 and oversaw this extraordinary change. But his association with Doctor Who goes back much further than that.

“I joined the BBC in 1985,” he says, “and moved into licensing at the end of 1989, so I was involved with Doctor Who at the tail end of the Sylvester McCoy era and then through the period the series was off-air, and the [1996] Paul McGann TV Movie as well. Doctor Who had always been valuable to us for merchandising through its continuing fan market. It was relatively low-key but it was still well worth licensing.”

Indeed, the ongoing commercial success of Doctor Who in these fallow years helped convince BBC executives that the show was worth resurrecting. BBC Worldwide even invested in the revived series. “We put up money from publishing, merchandising and programme sales,” says Richard. “That went into the programme budget in return for the merchandising rights.”

Pinpointing the key difference between merchandising before and after the series returned, Richard notes that, “Until 2005 it was all marketed at adults. We tried to open it out. We wanted a master toy licence – one licensee with the whole main toy range – but none of the big toy companies wanted it while Doctor Who was off the air. Dapol, which took the licence, wasn’t big, but it was keen, and worked hard to bring out new lines. But it was on a small scale. Then we had specialist companies doing collector models and kits – Amarang, Sevans and one or two others. The new series meant a transformation from having Doctor Who products in specialist shops such as Forbidden Planet to getting it into Tesco and the big retailers: Toys R Us, Argos and so on.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

In 1964 Dalekmania led to the birth of Doctor Who licensing, and it’s been with us ever since. The return of the series in 2005 prompted an even bigger range of merchandise, which this time invaded supermarkets as well as toy shops. In 2017 the popularity, and ingenuity, of these products continues unabated. This is the surprising story of Doctor Who toys and games – told by the people who make, sell and collect them.