We’ve just finished up that time of year when selling the most toys is paramount. There are a lot of shows and films, especially ones aimed at kids, that seem to exist solely to push toys on their impressionable young viewers (looking at you, Transformers. There’s definitely more to some of those price tags than meets the eye). Other shows will indulge in this on occasion as well, often at the behest of some executive, although we the audience can’t always know for sure. So, here are 4 moments in otherwise fine TV shows and films that seem to have given in to that desire to sell the merch.
4. Doctor Who — “Victory of the Daleks”
In this episode of Doctor Who‘s fifth season, it was decided that the Daleks were in need of a little redesign. They’d changed quite a bit over the years already, going from basically bumper cars that couldn’t leave the track to armored tanks that struggled with stairs all the way to their modern forms with hover jets. This episode got its title from the fact that the Daleks trick the Doctor into helping them reinvent themselves, thus spurring the rise of a brand new form of Daleks, the so-called “New Paradigm” Daleks.
What’s that “New Paradigm,” exactly? Well, while it was partially to make them taller so as to see eye-to-eye stalk with Matt Smith, it seems more likely that paradigm shift was all about selling new toys, even if that’s never been publicly confirmed. The series 5 Daleks come in a variety of different colors, looking like some kind of evil Power Rangers team. The Supreme Daleks were white, the Eternal Daleks were yellow, the Strategist Daleks were blue, the Scientist Daleks were orange, and the Drone Daleks were red (collect them all!). The existing Daleks, having created these, marvel at how totally cool their new successors are and gladly die by their totally superior hands. This same episode also had the “Ironsides” Daleks, which were Army Green, for yet another figure.
These new colorful designs weren’t terribly popular in the fandom, and they fell out of use on the show surprisingly quickly, allowing the older bronze-colored ones to take over once again and relegating these to more of a leadership position. But their popularity with the kids probably sold a lot of toys, so mission accomplished, I guess?
3. Star Trek: Voyager — “Death Wish”
This is a particularly weird case. See, the episode was already edging close to gimmicky as it was, by introducing Q to the Voyager crew. People were already hesitant about crossing familiar franchise elements over into the Delta Quadrant and robbing the show of what was supposed to be its point of uniqueness.
Over the course of Q-related hijinks, the ship jumps all across space and time, at one point ending up hiding as… an ornament on a Christmas tree. Weird choice, right? After all, the episode was planned for January, first aired in February, and was filmed in October. So why a Voyager Christmas ornament? To my knowledge, no one involved in production has ever really commented on why. To be fair, we never see the ornament from the outside, so there’s technically no merchandise on display. But it stands out even more given that the previous two hiding spots were the Big Bang and subatomic space.
And yet who could be surprised when, as Christmas 1996 rolled around, Hallmark introduced a Voyager ornament for sale in real life? Now you, too, can pretend to have the godlike powers of the Q and reenact one of your fav–well, one of the scenes of Star Trek history!
2. Iron Man 2 — masked kid scene
The only movie that’s made it on the list, although Iron Man 2 always felt like more of a mid-season episode of a TV series than a full on movie of its own. It almost accidentally trivializes its own problems and gets bogged down in setting up characters and plot points in preparation for The Avengers. There wasn’t much room in the script for pointless scenes about merchandise (they saved that for the ridiculous number of suits in Iron Man 3, each available at your local shopping center!).
There is one brief moment, however, even if it does make some sense narratively. A kid at the event where the Hammer drones were being demonstrated is seen wearing an Iron Man mask and hand repulsor. When the drones go crazy and try to kill Tony, they recognize the mask as being Iron Man’s and take aim at the kid. Tony shows up in the nick of time and blasts the robotic suit, giving the kid kudos as if he were the one to take it out.
It’s an amusing scene, to be sure, but the mask and repulsor that the kid wears are actually off-the-shelf toys available at the time of filming from the first movie. A little cross-promotion of toys never hurt the old bottom line, eh?
1. Star Trek — “Is There, In Truth, No Beauty?”
By the time of Star Trek TOS’s 3rd and final season, Gene Roddenberry had more or less checked out of the day to day running of the show. It’s often cited as one of the reasons the season had so many awful episodes, such as the infamous “Spock’s Brain,” but it can’t all be blamed on the new showrunner. Gene, having had the show snatched from the jaws of cancellation for a second time, was determined to make what money he could out of it, it seemed.
From this came the introduction of the Vulcan “IDIC,” which supposedly stands for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” and was said to be a great honor. So great that the episode “Is There, In Truth, No Beauty?” grinds to a halt to discuss it for a few minutes, jarringly inserted into the script by Roddenberry himself. The episode, which features Diana Muldaur (better known as Doctor Pulaski from TNG), really had nothing to do with Vulcans or the idea behind “IDIC,” but Gene had been hoping to sell the prop as a collectible and rake in a little cash that way. Nimoy in particular was reportedly pissed about this, feeling it was a cheap cash-in at the expense of his character (it was) and it was only after a rather heated discussion that the pin’s screentime was trimmed to what we see in the final version.
It’s behind-the-scenes stories like this that really shatter any illusions that we Trekkies might have about Gene Roddenberry and his dedication to the ideals put forth in the show. While the acquisition of wealth may well be distasteful behavior in the 23rd and 24th centuries, it’s clear that Gene never saw it that way in regards to the 20th. It is important to keep in mind, after all, that while he may have started something that truly touches and inspires millions of people around the world, he was, in the end, a flawed man like any other, and we shouldn’t be too quick to canonize him for his ideals.
Any weird moments you’ve noticed that felt like they were secretly (or not-so-secretly) about selling merchandise? You can let me know in the comments or on twitter @RetroPhaseShift.