Thursday, October 20, 2011

Head Case

Amidst all the furore about the Character Options figures and what people want to see next, some gems get released from other companies and these can go unreported. Which is a great shame as sometimes these are far more interesting than a simple set of figures. Take Trends UK's current range of science kits. When I was a kid, I loved this sort of thing, and to have a range which also tied into my love of Doctor Who would have been simply awesome.

The company has three products out at the moment. All are science-based toys and some might say are more traditional than perhaps some of the guns and gadgets which are released - how many Sonic Screwdrivers can one actually play with anyway? - but they are all well produced and well thought through, providing a springboard for further thought and investigation into the subject.

First up is a 'Dalek Enemy Identifier' ... or in common parlance, a 20x microscope with some specimen slides and stickers. The toy is nicely designed and can be enhanced with some 'Dalek bump' stickers. The booklet encourages the user to investigate all around them, everyday items from the house, kitchen, garden and so on look different when magnified, so the idea is to find things, look at them, prepare specimen slides, and then to see if you can identify the close-up photographs in the manual.  I can see this as being fascinating for anyone interested in the world around them and with an inquisitive mind.
Next is something called 'Silurian Crystal Lab', and this is a beautifully designed item: for once not an 11th Doctor, Dalek or Cyberman item. Here, the kit contains some play dough and some chemicals. The manual talks about crystalline structures (and I wondered if in an alternate dimension we had such a kit but with Krotons on the front - a 'grow your own Kroton' kit!) and then goes on to describe the process of dissolving the chemical salt in water, and then suspending a small pebble in the water so that crystals can form on its surface. Fascinating stuff. The kit then has some 'Silurian Sludge', or play dough, to pop the formed crystals on in order to display them in a glow in the dark dome. I always found this sort of basic crystallography a little boring as it's lots of waiting for things to happen ... you need patience to grow decent crystals! But if you have the patience, then the results can be rather good.
Finally, and probably my personal favourite of the three toys, is something called 'Cybernetics'. This contains all the parts needed to build a half-size Cyberman head from the Pandorica Underhenge which will then react in different ways depending on the circuit board chosen. The kit is nicely designed such that each part will only fit in one place, and the manual is clear enough about how to connect up all the wires - basically same colours go together, connected via little springs which is a simple and effective solution, rather than messing about with little screws.

The three circuit boards provided are: Infra Red - where by using a television or DVD remote, you can make the head move across the floor for three seconds or so before it stops; Light Activated - where any light will make the head move - so best used in the dark with a torch, and then when the torch hits the head it moves; and Object Detection - where the head will move until it detects an obstruction, when it will go into reverse.

Of the three circuits, I didn't try the Light Activated one as it was daylight and I couldn't see the point. The Object Detection one didn't seem to work - the head moved and then just stopped. I think with this, the field of operation is too limited perhaps, and of course the detector is only in one place on the head. So the one which I managed to get working was the Infra Red one, and indeed my TV remote would activate the head - but only if used about a foot away ... again the range didn't seem very strong. However each circuit also has a little dial to change the range, fiddling with that increased it to about two feet ... still not quite strong enough ... and of course the television was also switching off and on and the volume going up and down all the time.

The head itself is lovely, and makes a really nice display piece once the fun of making it move and changing it around is done. In a perfect world, the head would have been full size, and the circuits a little more sophisticated ... maybe one to make it talk, another to light it up (it's a shame that the eyes and head don't light up when it's activated), but all this would add cost, and as it is, the product is very nicely priced indeed. I guess that the next step might be for Junior to pay a visit to Maplins or Radio Shack to see what circuits and lights they have which could be used to enhance the toy ... and from there we have the development of future visual effects designers.

In larger Boots stores in the UK, the Cybernetics toy is in their 3 for 2 offer, which makes this one at least very affordable for the family of kids who love Who and who have all the figures. Hearty congratulations to Trends UK for producing the range, and I hope it does well enough that they decide to do more. The 'Dalek Enemy Identifier' sells for £20, the 'Silurian Crystal Lab' for £23 and the 'Cybernetics' kit for £25.

Shops stocking them are:
Toys R Us
Argos – on line only
Forbidden Planet
Forbidden Planet International
Boots – Cybernetics

No comments: