Creating Doctor Who with Airfix

Airfix 2008 Catalogue

In 2008 and 2009 Airfix released two Doctor Who plastic model kits. The first in 2008 was “Welcome Aboard” which featured 1/12th scale versions of the Tenth Doctor (played by David Tenant), Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman) and the TARDIS, while the second in 2009 was “Daleks In Manhattan” (originally advertised as “Dalek Encounter”) which featured 1/12th scale Daleks Sec (with an open casing) and Caan from the titular episode along with an interior diorama to position the pair in.

Both kits were classed as Gift Sets which meant that the boxes included glue, brushes and paint, basically everything needed to complete them. Yet it wasn’t the first time that Airfix had produced Doctor Who merchandise…

Airfix "Dalek Encounter"

The Airfix company was started by Hungarian businessman Nicholas Kove in 1939 to manufacture air filled rubber toys and in 1947 it received one of the first plastic injection moulding machines in the UK which it used to manufacture plastic pocket combs. Approached in 1949 by Harry Ferguson Ltd to make 14,400 (100 gross) plastic models of the company’s TE20 tractor for the company’s reps to hand out as promotional items, Airfix designed it as a plastic kit that was eventually sold in shops in the early 1950s.

The sales of this lead to a range of small kits of historic sailing ships and eventually to a 1/72 scale kit of a World War Two RAF Spitfire fighter plane, known to collectors by its fuselage code of BT-K, the sales success of which lead to the company dominating the British plastic kit market for almost three decades. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, “Airfix kit” has become the generic term for a plastic model kit much in the same way as “Hoover” is the generic term for a vacuum cleaner.

By the 1970s the company had expanded to become Airfix Industries Ltd which by 1977, as well as the plastic kit business also owned other familiar British toy brands like Meccano, Dinky, Tri-ang, Pedigree and Scalecraft.

In 1977, as well as a kit catalogue, the main Airfix brand also issued catalogues for Toys and Games, Arts and Crafts, MRRC Slot Cars, and the Airfix Railway System.

1975 Airfix Arts and Crafts Catalogue Cover

One of the mainstays of the Arts and Crafts catalogue was the New Artist range of painting-by-numbers which included six different Doctor Who sets.

These New Artists sets were first featured in the sixth edition Arts and Craft Catalogue for 1975 and were listed as Dalek Invasion, Dr Who and his Car, Dr Who and the Snake Birds, Dr Who and the Sea Monsters, Dr Who and the Robots and Dr Who and the Octomen.

These all featured Tom Baker as the Doctor and were illustrated by Geoffrey Page – and whilst the Daleks and the Doctor’s car Bessie appeared in the first two, all the rest featured newly designed aliens.

The releases were all copyright 1974 and each consisted of two 8×10 inch scenes with 10 different quick drying acrylic paints plus an “artists brush” with which the owner painted each numbered section of the scene with the appropriately numbered colour.

The box cover for each was the same, showing a smiling and be-hatted Fourth Doctor, as well as several Daleks and two spaceships flying away from a planet. The different sets were distinguished by a stuck on label at the bottom left hand-side, over a white section on the printed box, which named the set and showed small pictures of the two scenes contained within. While the box front used the then current curved logo with its full “Doctor”, the individual titles were all written as “Dr”.

  • The cover art for the Doctor Who Painting by Numbers Sets has a familiar look to it...
  • Frank Hampson’s illustration for the Radio Times Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special
  • Doctor Who Painting by Numbers Set

Today, these six paint-by-numbers sets are surprisingly rare but photographs of surviving unpainted examples show that they were remarkably complex numbered images and so may have proved too much for many of the younger hands that they could have been purchased for.

Yet the New Artist sets weren’t the only Doctor Who items that Airfix considered producing during the Tom Baker era. Surviving records in the Airfix archive from that time shows that very soon after Destiny of the Daleks had aired on BBC1 in September 1979, they were looking at the possibility of a Doctor Who related kit.

Destiny was the first time the Daleks had appeared in a new story since 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks and the publicity for that, coupled with a ten week strike at ITV, meant that the viewing figures were much higher than normal with the fourth and final episode getting 14.4 million viewers, the highest rating ever up to that point for an episode of Doctor Who.

While there is little Airfix documentation remaining from that period, there are several sheets entitled “Capital Proposals Submitted For Approval To:” dated 21st December 1979 – and they include proposal 94 which is simply titled “Dalek”.

This was one of a number of ideas for what were intended to be presumably fairly easy to construct snap-together kits which included a Dog, a Tractor, and a Tug Boat, all of which were listed as new moulds, meaning that they were not a modification of a previous released kit. The Dalek had an estimated production cost of £32,100, presumably for the design, manufacture and testing of the single metal mould that each and every plastic injection kit would have been manufactured from, plus design costs for the instruction sheet and box artwork.

The sales required to break even, presumably having included in a license fee to both the BBC and Dalek creator Terry Nation, were estimated at 68,855 dozen (Airfix kits being traditionally sold to retailers in packs of 12) or 826,260 kits. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to an estimate of the number of years for the kit to break even based on anticipated sales as 20 to 30.

It would be easy to say that an estimated 20 year break even period would have put paid to the kit as a commercial proposal but actually the Dalek, and virtually all the other kit ideas on the list, fell foul of something even worse for Airfix – financial insecurity. In 1979/1980, with Meccano in particular haemorrhaging money for Airfix Industries and despite selling off some of their smaller subsidiaries, things went from bad to worse and the company had to eventually declare bankruptcy and call in the receivers in January 1981.

The American company General Mills, who owned Palitoy in the UK, bought Airfix in April 1981 and, despite moving through the hands of a succession of owners, it has kept going ever since.

In November 2006 Airfix was bought by Hornby Hobbies Ltd who also now own Humbrol paints, Scalextric racing and Corgi toys, as well as Hornby trains and Airfix kits. It was the Hornby incarnation of Airfix that released the Daleks In Manhattan gift set some 30 years after that original capital proposal for a Dalek kit by the original Airfix.

Better late than never!

Jeremy Briggs

With thanks to Jeremy Brook and the Airfix Collectors Club:


There are more images of the Airfix New Artists sets on the Dalekmania site

• There are more details of the Airfix kits “Welcome Aboard” here and “Daleks In Manhattan” here on the Scalemates site

Underground Toys released a set of Destiny of the Daleks figures in 2012, still available from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Doctor Who – Welcome Aboard First Issued: 2008
Airfix Ref : A50006

Find sets on eBay

Doctor Who – Daleks In Manhattan

First Issued: 2009
Airfix Ref: A50007

“Daleks In Manhattan” was featured in the March 2009 issue of the Airfix Club magazine

The Airfix Painting by Numbers range is discussed in The Other Airfix: 60 Years of Airfix Toys by Arthur Ward

For more on the history of Airfix, check out Sixty Years of Airfix Models by Jeremy Brook

• Airfix Online:

With additional thanks to Christopher Hill, Marcus Judge – and the Daleks Forever Facebook Group

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