16 February 2017

LEGO Ideas Review | 21304 Doctor Who

Many of the sets released under the LEGO Ideas umbrella have been exactly that - LEGO ideas dreamt to life by imaginative builders at home. They’ve uploaded their ideas to the LEGO Ideas website, gathered support, and then, upon gathering a quorum of supporters, LEGO designers have turned their idea into an on-shelf reality. However, when it comes to certain sets, “LEGO Ideas” is a misnomer. Every builder who follows Doctor Who has had the same impossible idea of making a LEGO TARDIS - but only one has managed to make the dimensionally-transcendental time and space machine materialise in building block form. This set is less a “LEGO Idea” and more a “LEGO Bloody Miracle”.

Subject as they are to the physical laws of a non-fictional universe, I’d always failed to shape LEGO pieces into a model bigger on its inside than its out. A labyrinthine, scaled interior could easily be built inside a blue box the size of most LEGO cities, just as easily as a minifigure-scaled police box could comfortably house a brace of minifigures - but little more. This left only a bitesize version of the TV producers’ approach: shove your minifigures into a tiny LEGO blue box, suspend your disbelief and pull ’em out again, finally setting them down in a separate interior. Not much fun, and not at all marketable.

An exercise in compromise as much as anything else, Andrew Clark’s wonderful creation stretches each of the above techniques as far it can to create a stunningly detailed hybrid model. The premise is inspired: you build a police box shell and a separate console room, opening out the former and attaching its sprawling form to the latter to create the illusion of a cavernous interior stretching out from the outer shell. Deft little flourishes like the inverted police-box detailing on the reverse of two of the TARDIS doors and the late Smith / Capaldi-era TARDIS wall on the opposing pair conspire to make the brick trickery pleasing, if still imperfect.

As I expected, the TARDIS exterior is my favourite part of the set - principally because it makes for such a stunning LEGO ornament. No part of the design has been fudged; each door panel is a separate component, there are no cost-cutting stickers to be applied, and two of the doors even open. Fair dues, they open outward, rather than inward; you have to take the top off and lift up at least two hinges to get them open; and, most significantly, they’re the wrong doors. Overall, though, it’s an acceptable trade-off when considering that the fully-opened capsule clicks comfortably onto the end of the console room’s ramp, giving us at least the illusion of being able to pass through the police box doors into the ship. As I can’t suggest a better alternative, it’d be more than a little churlish to complain.

The console room itself is just as well-thought-out and detailed, though inevitably it lacks the forceful impression of the iconic exterior, which, save for the addition and removal of the odd accoutrement has remained much the same for more than half a century. Again, for me it’s the little touches that sell it: a working lever, custom pieces printed with Gallifreyan symbols. The design even reflects the current console room’s multi-level layout, with stairs leading down to the rest of the ship.

The minifigures are a mixed bag, though. Matt Smith’s Doctor is the obvious standout as not only is he the spit of Eleven, but he also comes complete with a sonic screwdriver and fez. The latter doesn’t really work on his head, though, as it makes him look bald and leaves him with his alternative-expression face showing on the back of his head. This is especially frustrating as a custom-moulded composite hair and hat piece (as seen on many of the recent Disney and LEGO Batman Movie minifigures, for instance) could have remedied this. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is less recognisable, clad as he is in an awful shade of purple (I’d have preferred him in a dark hoodie with a guitar), and whilst Clara’s outfit is convincing, her hairpiece is anything but. The Weeping Angel, however, is sublime in its terrifying simplicity, and the Daleks are nothing short of perfection. I’d had reservations about their design before I’d built them as I’d thought that a custom mould would have been in order for creations of their calibre, but that would have been at the expense of the sheer joy that comes with putting a couple of Daleks together out of nothing but existing bricks.

Another delight of this set is its packaging. The glossy box, whilst still cardboard, is sturdy and can be opened and closed without ruining it - it’s clearly intended to be a keeper. Similarly, the instructions are far from flimsy and are adorned with facts and features about the TV series as well as the set’s designer. The only flaw is the lack of numbered piece bags, which is most unusual for a set of this size and makes the build more laborious than I’ve become used to.

This mostly enchanting set’s greatest weakness, though, is its timing: it’s very much a Capaldi-era set, just as you’d expect it to be as he’s the incumbent Doctor. For me, this is a real put-off as, despite a Herculean effort, I’ve been unable to find any love for the TV series since The Day of the Doctor aired. I’d have been much more thrilled with a “grunge phase” interior and the Russell T Davies Doctors than I would those I associate with the new series’ nadir, and I dare say that there are those who’d have opted for white roundels and long-scarved minifigures, given the choice. This isn’t a criticism of the set per se; rather an acknowledgement of the fact that it really only serves to whet the appetite for a fully-fledged LEGO Doctor Who range: incarnations of the Doctor alone could sustain a decent minifigure series, never mind the various alien ships and structures which have the potential to rival the standard-setting Star Wars range. Watch this (time and) space...

This set has now been retired, but can still be found online and in stores for as little as half its original RRP - which I why I finally gave in and bought it.