David Boyle, who co-founded the toy and model manufacturer Dapol with his then-wife Pauline, has died aged 71.
A man whose varied interests encompassed model railways, UFOs, and ancient Egypt, Boyle was an engaging character who secured a licence from the BBC to produce a range of Doctor Who action figures and would later run exhibitions based on the show at Llangollen and Blackpool.
With Dapol (the name came from the company’s founders’ names – David and Pauline) established as a model railway manufacturer, Boyle was seeking a new line to occupy spare production capacity when, on one of his regular business trips to Hong Kong, he was able to see how Star Wars figures were made.
Interviewed by Graham Kibble-White for 2017’s Doctor Who Magazine Toys and Games Special Edition, Boyle reflected how he had been ‘stunned and shocked when I saw how easy they were to produce.’
“I asked them, very quietly, ‘Is there much of a profit in all this?’ They said, ‘Not really. We only make one-and-a-half-pence per figure. I thought that wasn’t very much but then they gave me a big shock – they told me how many they were manufacturing… billions of pennies adds up to a lot of money.”
After forming an agreement with the BBC, a Doctor Who range went into production, with the first set a 25th anniversary playset in 1988. Early toys in the line were the Seventh Doctor, Mel, K9, and a police box with pull-out diorama section.
Launched at a time when public interest in Doctor Who had waned, a hit of Star Wars-proportions was never on the cards, but the Dapol range was a success and the factory was extended with a Doctor Who exhibition created to attract visitors.
Dapol didn’t always have a slavish devotion to screen accuracy. Early slip-ups included a green K9, a five-sided TARDIS console, and a two-handed Davros, but it was a fun and enduring series of toys which only ended in 2002. In many ways, the mistakes all added to the range’s charm, and Dapol certainly had their high points – the rather fine Tetrap, complete with leather wings, being one.
Recalling the Davros error, Boyle remembered that John Nathan-Turner had insisted the design be corrected:
“I told him, ‘That’s no problem – we’ll pull the arm off.’ Which is what we did!”
Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, plus the Third and Fourth Doctors would all get the Dapol treatment. Many fans have fond memories of visiting either the Llangollen or Blackpool Doctor Who Experience exhibitions, or of meeting the stars of the show at one of the themed weekends.
Boyle endured more than his fair share of problems, with a fire at Dapol’s Cheshire factory causing extensive damage and loss of stock. In later years, he suffered ill-health, but his fondness for Doctor Who never waned. Indeed, the theme tune was played at his funeral and his coffin was painted like the TARDIS. His partner Julie Whitfield told the Blackpool Gazette:
“He loved Doctor Who. In August we took him to Preston Comicon where he got to meet the actor Colin Baker. Colin remembered him from the Dapol toys days. David was in his wheelchair at the time but you could see by his face his was absolutely thrilled.”
Dapol figures may be unlikely to feature at the top of many fans’ lists of favourite Doctor Who merchandise, but both the company and David Boyle deserve an honourable mention among those who kept the flame burning during the programme’s wilderness years.
Our sympathies go to David Boyle’s family and friends.