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Exploitation of the Daleks – The Beginnings of Doctor Who Merchandise

There’s something joyous about those images from the 1960s of William Hartnell posing at home with a small army of toy Daleks. Late in his career, he’s having the time of his life thanks to his role in this odd little kid’s programme he’d been reluctant to accept. But then I’m a sucker for an old photo that has anything to do with Doctor Who from that era. Kids in Dalek playsuits, Daleks queuing for a bus, Daleks at village fetes (Daleks tend to feature heavily in anything from that era…) – all wonderfully evocative of a more innocent time, when no one thought to discuss things like continuity or what counted as ‘canon’.
It may have been early days for commercial exploitation of television and cinema brands (not that I imagine many people would have thought to call them ‘brands’ at that time) but the impulse to make money from something popular with the public is as old as the Doctor himself, of course. That wise old owl Terrance Dicks has often commented that the one person who ever made serious money from Doctor Who was Terry Nation, but he couldn’t have done it alone. My nomination for the smartest decision ever made in the long history of the programme has to be his agent Beryl Vertue’s move to strike a pen through the copyright clause in Nation’s contract which would have given the BBC full rights to his creations.
Children meeting robot Daleks outside the Planetarium, Baker Street, during location shooting for a new series.
In truth it’s debateable whether the BBC of that era would have been so quick to wake up to the commercial potential of the Daleks if they had had the exclusive rights to them. Whilst the first Dalek episodes were still being transmitted they apparently turned down an approach from one businessman, feeling that as the survivors of Skaro’s long war were to be killed off at the end of the story there was no mileage in licensing them. And the first Doctor Who comic strip, which was surely one of the most obvious avenues for cashing in on the programme at a time when the likes of TV Comic and the Eagle sold in excess of 300,000 copies, didn’t appear until November 1964.
But in the meantime Terry had stolen a march on fusty old Auntie Beeb. Hard at work on scripts for The Dalek Invasion of Earth since March 1964, he found time in May that year to sign a contract  with a publisher (and pocket a £300 advance) for The Dalek Book without any involvement from the BBC at all. Prompted by this and no doubt spluttering into their tea cups as they reached for their quill pens to draft an angry letter, BBC lawyers came to an arrangement with Nation’s management for a fifty-fifty deal on future Dalek profits – and that has reportedly been the arrangement ever since.
Daleks sweet cigarettes
The now legendary Dalekmania was underway, with Daleks plastered on toys, jigsaws, sweet cigarettes and novelty records. If we could go back in a time machine now the craze would probably look modest in comparison to those generated by the likes of Star Wars and the big Marvel adaptations of today, but there’s no doubting the crucial part it played in ensuring that the programme endured as it did. Spare a thought, though, for Ray Cusick, the BBC designer who came up with the look of the Daleks from Nation’s somewhat sketchy description. As a salaried employee he wasn’t entitled to any royalties and had to settle later on for an ex-gratia hundred quid in recognition of his key role in this fascinating story.
For more on Terry Nation’s creation of the Daleks (you always thought it was Davros, didn’t you?) I’d heartily recommend The Man Who Invented the Daleks by Alwyn Turner from which some information has been drawn for this article, available from Amazon and other retailers.
Alternatively, the audiobook is read by David Troughton (The Curse of Peladon; Midnight) and is available for £14.99.

Jonathan Appleton

A regular Doctor Who viewer since Pertwee fought maggots and spiders, Jonathan isn't about to stop now. He considers himself lucky to have grown up in an era when Doctor Who, Star Trek and Blakes 7 could all be seen on primetime BBC1. As well as writing regularly for The Doctor Who Companion he's had chapters included in a couple of Blakes 7 books.

Exploitation of the Daleks – The Beginnings of Doctor Who Merchandise

by Jonathan Appleton time to read: 3 min
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