Doctor Who first aired on November 23rd, 1963. That initial 4-episode story arc—called a “serial”—was a moderate success with an average of 6 million viewers. But the show really took off with its 7-episode second serial: The Daleks premiered on December 21st, 1963 to 6.9 million viewers and ended on February 1st, 1964 at 10.4 million. To put things in perspective, this was more than 20% of the British public! People couldn’t get enough and were buying Dalek-related media and products left and right. “What Dalek media? What Dalek merchandise?” you may ask. Let’s explore the wild and wacky world of Dalekmania!
1. The Dalek Movies
Let’s get the movies out of the way first, shall we? As Dalekmania was building, the BBC and writer Terry Nation licensed the film rights to Amicus Productions. The first film, Dr. Who and the Daleks, was released in 1965 to poor reviews yet was a moderate box office success. It starred Peter Cushing, then known for playing Victor Frankenstein and Abraham Van Helsing in Hammer horror films, and who would later appear in a little movie named Star Wars: A New Hope. Cushing played the protagonist, Dr. Who. And no, that’s not a typo: his last name was Who and he was apparently a doctor but also invented the TARDIS. In the film, Dr. Inventor Who was human and kind to his granddaughter companions, compared to the rather cranky First Doctor in the television series. What we’re saying here is that Dr. Who was almost entirely unlike the actual Doctor from television.
A second film, Daleks–Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., was released in 1964. Critics panned the film and audiences, perhaps wiser this time, avoided the film. Plans for a third film were cancelled. Cushing recorded a radio drama and that tape is actually lost. Or someone realized the whole thing was a terrible, terrible idea and destroyed it to save humanity or something.
2. Doctor Who Books and Music
While the Doctor Who television series and radio dramas were quite popular, many people don’t realize that many books were published as well. Some were written by Terry Nation and the BBC but others were produced by publishers like Armada Paperbacks. The BBC also issued soundtracks from serials on vinyl records and printed sheet music for musicians.
Not all Dalek-related music was written or released by the BBC. “I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With a Dalek” was a single released by British novelty band The Go-Go’s in 1964. (They should not be confused with the Belinda Carlisle-led American band known for “Our Lips Are Sealed” or “We Got the Beat”.) Other singles and records included “Who’s Who” by Roberta Tovey, “The Eccentric Dr. Who” and “Daleks & Thals” by the Malcolm Lockyer Orchestra, “Landing of the Daleks” by the Earthlings, “Fugue for Thought” (from the Invasion Earth film) by Bill McGuffie, and “I Am a Dalek” by the Artattacks. The single “You Have the Right to Remain Silent” by Pseudonym even included samples from the Doctor Who serials The Time Meddler and The Daleks’ Master Plan.
3. Dalek Toys
And who can forget the kids? Merchandising today is often about “collectible figures,” but in the 1960s it was all about toys. Like, actual toys that you take out of the box and play with! (Weird, huh?) An early complaint was that Daleks were too frightening for children, but that didn’t stop companies like Louis Marx, Lincoln International, Lone Star, Herts, and Cherliea, from making a variety of toy guns and Dalek toys, even a yo-yo. What’s interesting is that Dalekmania occurred at the time when cast iron and tin toys were being phased out in favor of cheaper-to-produce plastic products, which made these media tie-ins all the more lucrative.
This is a good time to mention that Dalekmania hit its peak in the mid-1960s, but it never really ended. Sure, it started to taper off when Batmania started in 1966, but Doctor Who-related toys are totally still around. You can still buy Sonic Screwdrivers and action figures and, yes, Daleks. If anything, the current success of Doctor Who has led to a resurgence in such products. Sadly, they’re still mostly made of plastic.
4. Doctor Who Candy and Food
Toys aren’t the only things kids love. Every kid loves candy - except kids that aren’t actually kids but really hyper-intelligent office hamsters patiently plotting their overthrow of planet Earth. But mum’s the word, okay? We know, but we totally don’t want them to know we know. You know? Good.
So where were we? Oh yeah, candy! And ice cream, and other chocolates, made by companies you’ve probably heard of, like Nestlé. There were also Dalek sweets made by Goodies, Streets Confectionary, T. Wall & Sons, and Regent Confectionary. Cadet Sweets made a line of candy cigarettes, because why not start them young, right? But it wasn’t all candy: there were boring, responsible adult product tie-ins on products ranging from Weetabix breakfast cereal to Ty-Phoo tea. And you could carry all the candy and food you wanted with a themed lunch bag from Optima Manufacturing Company. Here’s where we usually say something snarky, but you know what? Food is awesome, and novelty food is even more awesome. So there.
5. Dalek Games and Activities
Another thing kids (and totally not office hamsters) love are games. Remember that Dalekmania started in the 1960s, so we’re talking analog, not digital. Game companies like Cowan de Groot, Bell Toys, Peter Pan Playthings, Playtime, and Jotastar, made a variety of board games and also those rolling-ball-in-a-maze games that were beyond frustrating. There were also painting and sticker books from Souvenir Press/Panther Books and World Distributors, and jigsaw puzzles from Whitman Publishing, Michael Stanfield Holdings, Waddingtons, and World International Publishing. In short, if there was a popular type of game or activity, chances are someone made a version with Doctor Who all over it.
Of course, games have moved beyond puzzles and sticker books. Today, there are plenty of Doctor Who video games available for download or playable in a browser. And you know what? Tons of them are about Daleks.
Doctor Who Shirts
What’s your favorite Dalek story? And your favorite Dalek product? If you had lived through Dalekmania, would you have spent every last penny on toys and candy? While you’re thinking about it, why not look for some Dalek music on YouTube and let us know in the comments below. If you’re looking for some Dalek merchandise yourself, your first stop should be our selection of Doctor Who shirts!