x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

My Dr Who dream: useless but oh, so desirable

The impossible (and totally impractical attraction: a self-indulgent purchase.

What's the most pointless and self-indulgent purchase you have ever made? We all know the obvious ones, such as the tendency among some women to buy more shoes than they could ever wear. But even stilettos that still lie in their boxes may become useful one day. Men are renowned for throwing away money on gadgets, but at least such devices - from iPhones to potato-powered alarm clocks - often serve a practical purpose, (although they are usually solutions to problems that don't actually exist).

I covet an item that - if purchased - will not only be one of the most expensive knick-knacks I've ever bought, but possibly the most useless: a Doctor Who-themed pinball machine. It combines the aesthetics of the cult British science-fiction television show with a classic piece of mid-20th-century American design, and if ever an object rolled straight off a production line and into my heart, this is it.

I first encountered one in a Seattle Greyhound bus station while backpacking about five years ago. It lay covered in dust, propped against a dark corner of the games area. I did a double-take upon noticing the Dalek's head mounted on top of the display. Did anyone even watch Doctor Who outside Britain? I wondered. Then I spotted effigies of the eponymous time lord and many of the series' villains littered among the machine's bumpers, flashing lights and buttons. Unfortunately, I only had a few minutes with the marvellous artefact before boarding a bus, and didn't even have time to play on it.

I assumed such machines would be rare, with probably only a few hidden in quiet arcades in small towns across the US, or kept by collectors. I would never have a chance to own one, I thought. But I was wrong. Despite the 1970s being the heyday of both Doctor Who and pinball machines, I discovered that this model was actually rather recent; first produced in 1992. Working examples could be found in the US and Europe without difficulty and the sad-looking specimen in Seattle had obviously aged beyond its years.

I began emailing dealers and discovered one just outside London, on sale for a little under Dh6,000. Sure, it would probably cost me about the same again to ship it to the Middle East - but even that would be a lower price than I had expected. I would even be happy to let a family member in the UK look after the machine until I could collect it. But how could I justify such an extravagant purchase, beyond the obvious recreational and aesthetic benefits? Perhaps I could call it an investment. Forget stocks and shares; well-maintained cult curios rarely lose their value and Doctor Who's resurgence in popularity could surely only help the price to rise.

But having convinced myself that buying the giant gizmo is a particularly brilliant idea, only one job remains: convincing my girlfriend of the same.