The Mystery of the Missing Doctors
Funko Pops are the Beanie Babies of the early twenty-first century.
I say that as a statement of fact, not as a slight or insult. Created in 1993, Beanie Babies were a fad collectible from the late 1990s. They weren’t toys in the normal sense, and are collected more for their trading value and the overall cuteness factor. I have several of them, most of them celebrating milestones in my life because they were inexpensive and heartfelt gifts from friends and family. I cherish them because of those intended purposes.
Funko Pops are very similar. They’re difficult to play with, but they serve as inexpensive gifts for the pop culture fiend in your life. The line spans thousands of characters over a wide variety of franchises and licenses. From a collecting perspective, while they’re certainly not as advanced and playable as standard action figures, they do provide an easy way to celebrate particular fandoms.
I don’t collect a lot of Funko Pops. I don’t have any problem with people who do.
My main point of contention is with the Funko company itself, or rather with how they treat licenses that they create for.
Here it comes: Oh, god, he’s going to talk about Doctor Who again, isn’t he?
Yes, I am.
The franchise hardly needs any introduction. It’s a cultural touchstone that has existed for 56 years with fourteen actors in the title role. There are a lot of collectibles on the market to celebrate this franchise, among them Funko Pops.
But I feel like Funko is doing fans of this show (and their product line) a disservice with their offerings.
Funko Pops based on Doctor Who started hitting shelves in 2015. Thirty distinct Pops were released that year, focused mostly on the revival era of the franchise. At this point, the show was between Series 8 (during which Peter Capaldi debuted as the Twelfth Doctor) and Series 9 (during which Jenna Coleman departed). The revival Doctors were highly represented and the classic era got some love as well. The modern companions were fairly well represented as were the monsters. The TARDIS herself got two releases.
Twelve of the figures – forty percent of the year’s figures – were exclusives to geeky stores (Hot Topic, Barnes & Noble, GameStop, ThinkGeek, FYE) and major conventions (San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and New York Comic Con (NYCC)). The SDCC Twelfth Doctor in the spacesuit commands over $200 alone on the secondary market.
2015 (Thirty releases, twelve exclusives)
- Ninth Doctor (x2)
- Tenth Doctor (x4)
- Eleventh Doctor (x3)
- Twelfth Doctor (x3)
- Fourth Doctor (x2)
- Sarah Jane Smith (The Hand of Fear)
- Rose Tyler
- Jack Harkness (x2)
- River Song
- Weeping Angel
- Dalek (x3)
- Adipose (x2)
- The Silence
- TARDIS (x2)
The line slowed down considerably in 2016. Six figures were released and all of them but one were Doctors. Only one was exclusive.
2016 (Six releases, one exclusive)
- Twelfth Doctor
- Eleventh Doctor (x2)
- Tenth Doctor
- War Doctor
The following year brought a major shift in the line as only three figures were released, and all of them were exclusives.
2017 (Three releases, all exclusives)
- Clara Oswald (SDCC, later Hot Topic)
- Rory Williams (Hot Topic)
- First Doctor (NYCC, later Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million)
In 2018, Funko moved back to six releases. Half of the line was sent to exclusive markets, including to Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC).
2018 (Six releases, three exclusives)
- Amy Pond (ECCC, later Hot Topic)
- Thirteenth Doctor (SDCC, later BBC)
- Vashta Nerada (NYCC, later Hot Topic)
- Thirteenth Doctor
- Clara Memorial TARDIS
Finally, 2019 brought five new figures, two of which were exclusives. This year’s lineup was exclusively targeted toward Series 11 of the revival era.
2019 (Five releases, two exclusives)
- Thirteenth Doctor
- Reconnaissance Dalek
- The Kerblam Man
- P’ting (SDCC)
- Tzim-Sha (NYCC)
Funko has released 23 figures based on the Doctor, but only 8 Doctors overall. The product line is heavily weighted toward the revival era, with only two Doctors and two companions representing the first 42 years of the franchise’s existence. Technically, Davros could represent the lone enemy from the classic years, but he has also appeared in the revival era which blunts the impact of that figure’s representation.
The problem is that we are missing six Doctors for a complete lineup of the show’s regenerating hero.
Funko has had problems completing lines in the past: Back when they had the Star Trek license, they created Pops for The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Star Trek Beyond. They completed the Enterprise crew for Beyond, but fell short with Next Gen and The Original Series. Specifically, they left out Beverly Crusher and Katherine Pulaski (both women and doctors) and only Kirk, Spock, and Scotty made the cut from the original NCC-1701. The rest of the franchise – Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, the other twelve movies – didn’t get any love at all.
It’s not the only franchise line to fall to the wayside, either.
It would be understandable if Funko didn’t have the money or resources to complete the Doctor Who line, but that doesn’t jive with how they treat other popular franchises. Consider the various chrome sets (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc), the flocked versions, the sparkly “Diamond” glitter versions, the Rainbow Batman set (commemorating Batman’s 75th anniversary and Detective Comics #241), the DC Comics Lantern figures (Wonder Woman, Superman, and others became members of various Lantern Corp for a spell, prompting new Funko Pop molds for collectors), and the new Star Wars Skywalker Saga sets (which are really just repainted leftovers).
It also doesn’t pass the smell test when considering how many are coming out this year alone – an entire Mortal Kombat line, Miami Vice, The Dark Crystal, more Star Wars, Frozen, Overwatch, and the list goes on – and how many are stacked up on store shelves in the meantime. Just like Beanie Babies, these things seemingly reproduce like tribbles.
The evidence is clear. After an impressive debut followed by lackluster follow-up and lack of representation for classic fans, it’s apparent that Funko is failing fans of Doctor Who.
So, what can they do to fix it?
The obvious solution is to create the figures, but given that the market is saturated and (subsequently) distribution is scattershot, big-box brick-and-mortar storefronts are not the best option. I wouldn’t recommend convention exclusives either, since that approach tends to overinflate the price for anyone who cannot make the trip to San Diego, New York, Seattle, or other major conventions. I got lucky when shopping for the First Doctor because I found one on eBay that was missing the NYCC sticker and had a dented box, but not everyone has that.
Funko has worked with widely accessible storefronts such as Hot Topic, GameStop, Entertainment Earth, and Amazon. One option is to sell the missing Doctors through one of those more focused retailers. Another option is to use the online Funko Shop to “pre-order” the figures and judge how many to make. Six months later, distribute the figures to the buyers with a few left over for stragglers (which can by sold via the first option).
If this proves profitable, it could open the way for more companions, more monsters, and more Doctor Who in the Funko line.
Either way, the hole in the collection is painfully obvious. Doctor Who shouldn’t go the way of Star Trek or other incomplete franchise lines. It is a cornerstone and gold standard for science fiction television, and each of the incarnations of the titular hero has a dedicated fan following.
Funko should respect that history and those fans. They should complete the timeline of the Doctor.