Christie’s Auction. (Archive Update)
BBC Visual Effects TARDIS model Authentication and Auction: 2005:
For a few years, I was a member of a message board dedicated to collecting Doctor Who props and merchandise and from time to time you’d see new members signing up to enquire about the value of an item or the originality of a prop that they have in their possession. Usually the long term members would chime in with their two penneth worth and all would be fine… However, one day in the last quarter of 2005 (shortly before I left the board) a lady called Joanna signed up as she owned a few prop pieces, including one rather unique item that she was thinking of selling and as such, she requested some input on it.
The item in question was a TARDIS model that had been used at some point in the show. As soon as I saw it, I immediately recognised it, but didn’t say anything at first because I felt that doing so would make me look incredibly predictable – always talking about props and models, especially of the TARDIS flavour. Various people aired their thoughts on it, but none of them really appeared to know what it was and if we’re being honest here, a lot of what was said was purely guess work and supposition, so these various gentle pearls of wisdom’s net value to the discussion was a big fat zero. Things changed slightly after Joanna revealed that she used to work for the BBC Graphics Department and it was from here that she obtained the model, we’ll come back to why things changed in a moment.
Eventually, after reading a lot of the painful and woefully trite pontification that the thread had generated, I thought that I’d say what I knew it to be; none other than the model that was photographed for the opening title sequence as used between 1974 and 1979 – the majority of Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. Arguably then, it was a fairly iconic and historically important piece and not the ‘fake’, ‘fan build’, ‘promotional piece’ or ‘oddity’ that many had suggested that it was. If you’ve ever seen a news piece about the programme, an item on a magazine show or a ‘Best Of’ compilation, what do they always trot out to introduce Doctor Who? This:
It just goes to show what elements from the programme are engrained into the public’s psyche.
So I left it at that and thought nothing more of it until one of the moderators chipped in and disputed what I’d said. Fair enough, I don’t mind debate. I pointed out why I knew what it was, but he wasn’t having any of it, even though Joanna herself then said that she’d worked as Bernard Lodge’s assistant in creating precisely those opening titles for the programme - which backed up what I was saying. Regardless of this, the board moderator and I agreed to differ on the subject. Again, I thought more nothing of it.
A short while later, I received an email from Joanna asking me if I could give her some further details on the model, stuff like who built it, when it was made and any other times that it had been used in the show and so I said I’d be happy to help out. It was at this juncture that I was also informed that one of the more notable “big” collectors of the message board had contacted her privately and had offered her £5000 for the model. Joanna’s question to me was this; did I think that it was worth this amount? To be honest, I had no idea as to its value, all I could tell her was that it’s worth whatever people are willing to pay for it. Yes, I was all too well aware that this may seem like a cop-out answer, but really, I’m the last person to ask about how much something is worth because quite frankly, most of the time I wouldn’t give this stuff house room. I’m far more interested in the artistic and historical value of a prop or costume over what it may be worth as a monitary investment, the latter I just couldn’t give a royal, rat’s behind about.
Shortly after this, it appeared that the guy who’d offered the £5000 was a little upset that his pitch had been turned down, especially as Joanna had now decided that she’d have the model auctioned off at one of London’s most prestigious auction houses, rather than sell it privately as everyone had assumed she would. He and the previously mentioned collecting board moderator then began to accuse her of using the board to gather information about the model to help bump up its value. Well, the truth of the matter was that the board didn’t help her at all, I did – privately off the board after she approached me. It also transpired that the chap who made the cash offer also offered his “expert” authentication services for a hefty price and again he’d been turned down because she felt that he probably wasn’t as qualified as he liked to think he was. This could well have been the reason for his bitterness towards the sale as it was now out of his hands and he could no longer obtain the piece cheaply without competition from another interested party.
To make matters worse, after I’d been to Christie’s Auction House to inspect the item in person and to verify what exactly this model was (having armed myself with lots of photographic and documentary proof to back up what I’d said), word got back to the members of the message board that the estimate for it had been set at between £4000 and £6000. In reaction to this, the chap who’d offered to buy it privately was obviously incensed by it all and made his ill-feelings known about the situation very openly on the message board. I just thought to myself that if he hadn’t offered the five grand to start with, then the estimate Christie’s came to wouldn’t have been so high. It all seemed so very childish to me.
Later, news got through to me that suddenly there was a dispute over the model. Some people had contacted the BBC and Christie’s to say that Joanna had no right to auction it off as technically it wasn’t hers to do so. The fact that Joanna had been given the model by Bernard Lodge himself (before she left the BBC as a Bafta Award winning designer to move on to pastures new) was a concept that seemed to be largely ignored by these people – which in itself, I found ironic because a substantial amount of the props from Doctor Who that ends up in private collections comes from just such sources; crew members being given things who then later sell them on! It all sounded like a case of sour grapes to me. The BBC officials who handled the case just said that it was simply very poor behaviour on these individuals’ behalf and that really they should have kept their noses out of other people’s business. To add insult to injury, they also commented that perhaps these folk should stop trying to Police the prop world when matters such as this, are of no concern to them. The sale could therefore continue, but you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out who the two people were, who were behind the dispute.
December the 14th, 2005. The big day had come. The model was lot number 148 in the Film and Entertainment auction at Christie’s Kensington branch. I didn’t attend the auction itself, but I later heard that the model had gone well past its estimate and ended up selling for a staggering £10,800! Not bad, eh? The news spread far and wide, it was in all the papers, on the telly and the usual message boards… did I get a mention anywhere? No, of course not. Do I care? Nope.
A few weeks later, a friend dropped me an email and directed my attention to another message board, that of the Restoration Team and in particular a thread entitled, “The wrong model.” A bloke had come forward and explained that he worked for, or used to work for, the BBC Graphics Department and went on to proclaim that the model that was auctioned wasn’t the one as used in the Tom Baker opening title sequence at all, which was its major selling point. He went on to explain that in fact there were two models held at the department which were from the show, a small model and a larger model and that it was this smaller model that had actually been used in the title sequence and not the larger one. The larger model, he claimed, was actually photographed for the cover of the Doctor Who Sound Effects LP that was released in the late 1970s. Our friends from the collecting board, who also posted on the Restoration Team site, seemed rather happy with this new revelation and began to gloat rather a lot, claiming that they knew all along that they were right. If that’s so, why did one of them desperately want to buy it then?
The fact of the matter was that this ex-BBC guy was wrong; he’d mixed the two models up and below, I’ll show you how he’s mistaken and how that beyond all reasonable doubt, I was right in the first place. The larger model that went under the hammer for just shy of eleven grand was in deed the very one used in the title sequence.
(Before I do address this issue, I’d just like to stress that I hold nothing personally against the two individuals involved in the dispute over the sale of this model, nor the members or the administrators of the collectors board, in fact I deeply respect the owner of the website in question as he is trying to bring together people who hold similar interests and showcase various collections to a much wider audience and that very fact is highly commendable.)
Several models of the TARDIS have been used in Doctor Who over the years and most of them were quite unique in their design and build. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, there were three different sized models that looked almost identical and shared a peculiar design feature; an over sized kick rail – the horizontal bar at the base of each wall – that no other model had in their construction.
Above Left: The smallest of the three models. Above Right: The largest version.
Now, of these three models, one was approximately 1’ tall, the next size up was almost 2’ tall (this is the one that was auctioned) and finally a much larger version standing at about 3’ tall. It was the small and medium models that were held for a time at the BBC Graphics Department in the 1970s, the small one ended up in the collection of a well known Doctor Who fan, the medium sized version was given to Joanna and no-one knows what became of the larger model… it could be out there somewhere.
Even though these three models were almost identical, there are ways of telling them apart, if we don’t count their size difference. The smallest and the biggest models were closer to each other in detail than the medium sized version as their front centre door divider stopped immediately underneath the three step detail that sits under the sign box, effectively this face’s centre divider ran the full height of the door only, while the centre divider on the wall sides continued right up into the step detail and stopped directly under the sign boxes. The medium model didn’t have these features, each of the four faces were the same with the centre divider stopping midway through the step detail, and it is this that is the most obvious “tell” – there are others, but I won’t go into that for very obvious reasons.
Check out the images below here and judge for yourselves.
Above, on the far left we have the cover to the BBC Sound Effects LP. The next two photographs show the smallest model in use in two different stories. See how they are the same model as shown on the LP cover; exact same pitched roof, wide set “Police Box” graphics and the very telling centre door divider that stops at the top edge of the door, with the wall centre divider touching the underside of the sign box.
Here, the first image is a screen grab taken from the opening titles in question, the middle image is a shot of the clean artwork plate as used in those titles and the far image is of the model shortly before its auction in 2005. Again it is very clear that all the images in this row are of the same model; the mid sized TARDIS. Please note that all centre dividers stop mid way through the stepped detail below the sign boxes, left and middle are a wall fascia, while the far right picture shows (obviously) the door fascia… which again is quite a key element in identifying what this model really is. Please also feel free to compare the “Police Box” graphics, they are narrow set unlike those on the LP, but perhaps the best example is to draw your attention to the fact that this model has no roof and roof lamp. Look at the screen grabs and you’ll clearly see that the very top of the roof and the lamp are in fact drawn on to the photograph – because the source image didn’t have one.
And voila, I rest my case M’Lud, can I have a biscuit now?