Totemic Artefacts: Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation Wave 2 Vehicles and Role Play

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The first wave of Playmates' Star Trek: The Next Generation toys focused primarily on the Enterprise and its crew: For action figures we got (most of) the bridge crew, and for electronic light-up ships we got the Enterprise itself as well as a Shuttlecraft. Following along with the accompanying Wave 2 action figure releases, which both expanded upon the Starfleet crew and gave us a greater assortment of aliens, the Wave 2 vehicles included a Klingon Attack Cruiser and a Romulan Warbird.


Both of these ships are very nicely detailed. Actually, in hindsight, I have to say they're a bit more impressive than the Playmates Enterprise itself: The colours and proportions of both are screen accurate, which is really important when dealing with starships this distinctive and memorable. The Attack Cruiser does fare a little better in this regard: All of the little details and elevations Rick Sterbach sculpted onto it to emphasize shadowplay with the studio lights have translated perfectly to consumer-grade plastic, and as such I've always considered it one of the most bang-on replicas of the Playmates line. The Romulan Warbird only suffers a bit due to limited lighting: Just like all the vehicles, only the Warbird's nacelles light up, and while that's nice, one of the best things about the Warbird studio model is all the beautiful windows on the...prow I suppose, or beak section. That gives the ship an incredible sense of scale and grandeur the toy just isn't capable of recreating, and this hurts the Warbird more than probably any other ship in the fleet, save perhaps the Enterprise itself.

(One of my biggest disappointments is that Playmates never made a Ferengi Marauder. You'd think given Letek's headlining role in the first wave this would be one of the light-up starships they'd release first, but it never happened. Maybe it was because the Ferengi didn't play as prominent a role in the sixth season, although given all the callbacks to first that seems strange. Or maybe they were holding it back for a possible inclusion in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line. Although perhaps its for the best, as a Ferengi Marauder without windows would have left me heartbroken.)


What the Warbird does have are some awesome sound effects. Both the Attack Cruiser and the Warbird have four sounds: Cloak, Disruptor blast, “shield hit” and impulse. Neither one has what I'd call especially accurate samples, but the Warbird's at least were terribly cool sounding. I think I pounded that disruptor cannon button enough times to wear both it and the sound chip out. At least, that's the excuse I'll give for the electronics in mine no longer working. Also, my Attack Cruiser is missing its battery case cover for some reason, as well as one of the “prongs” at the front of the ship, which is really annoying. I seem to recall getting my Attack Cruiser (and maybe my Warbird too) one Christmas at my great-grandparents' house on my maternal grandfather's side. It's a nice memory, but one that's due to be replaced. Maybe someday when I have all the money in the world I'll get a new set, but the Playmates ships are getting harder and harder to find these days and thus more expensive (in stark contrast to the action figures, which are damn near ubiquitous).


If my sources (meaning Memory Alpha) are correct, this wave also saw the release of the special “7th Anniversary” edition of the Enterprise model. It's literally the exact same ship as the one from the first wave (even with the 1992 date stamped on it) except it was gold-plated and marked as a collector's edition limited to 50,000 units. I'm not sure if it was common knowledge at the time that Star Trek: The Next Generation seventh season would be its last on television, but this toy was the first I recall hearing that the seventh season was important somehow. Anyway I do have one of these, and it's probably far more battle-worn than a “collector's edition” toy ought to be, but who cares. I got this while visiting a Toys R Us with my aunt one day, and it became my primary Enterprise for a few years due to a couple of reasons. One, the electronics on my original model stopped working for a time, and two, the gold finish made this one quite a bit nicer to look at. Still not the azure blue and rainbow I wanted (the deflector dish is *still* a boring red and doesn't do anything), but better than flat off-white. A few other differences between this release and the previous: The nacelles are glued to the struts so you can't take them off, and the sound effects are much deeper and lower pitched. This makes them sound richer and more powerful, but even less accurate. Still, a really nice model, and the light-up nacelles really pop against the gold finish in a way they don't on the original.

Not my box. Obviously.
There was one other ship released as part of this wave. It's the Enterprise again, but a really weird version of it, because instead of an electronic replica it's a lightweight Styrofoam *glider*. There was a little handle on the bottom of the saucer section, and the idea was you'd grab hold of it, toss it forward and ideally it would glide on its own power for some distance. Mine crumpled into a heap years ago and the box was long ago the victim of my person-of-interest level fixation with scissors and random logos and promotional art so I can't show you any pictures of it, but I seem to recall that in practice it flew about a foot before taking a swift nosedive into the ground. This is also probably why my glider is crumpled into a heap somewhere. One thing I definitely remember is that I was really impressed with the design of the thing: It managed to resemble the actual Enterprise to an uncanny degree (probably why it had the aerodynamic capabilities of a rick), and I seem to recall the nacelle struts being better than the ones on the actual electronic toy. The deflector dish was definitely the right colour too, and I always loved that about the glider. Being styrofoam it was still an uninspiring white though.

(Funnily enough, while doing research for the Galoob chapter in the previous book, I learned that they too were planning a Styrofoam glider model of the Enterprise, but theirs would have had a more exaggerated saucer section that resembled a Frisbee. I guess kids who were fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation really wanted an Enterprise they could make fly.)


As fun as the ships were though, the real highlight of this wave on the replica front was the role-playing stuff. Considering my communicator toy broke within hours of getting it, I was stoked to get this set of communicator badge walkie-talkies! There was a badge you could attach to your shirt that worked as a speaker, and a receive/microphone pack you could clip to your belt. Of course if you really wanted to play a Starfleet officer you'd hide the packs, but you wouldn't want to because they were so beautifully designed! Each had a lovely glossy black finishing sticker adored with the show's logo, the insignia itself and its own individual waveform display. It doesn't look quite like anything from the show, but it does look very much of its time and I absolutely loved that.


Even better was the tricorder, the final piece needed to complete your away team set. This has got to be one of the best replicas in the line hands-down: I mean, as far as I can tell it looks exactly like the prop from the show (I'm sure hardcore Star Trek nerds will be able to prove me wrong though). Either way it's just the coolest thing-It has a screen that lights up when you turn it on (via a power switch on the back) and it has three buttons you can press to activate sound effects that are expertly worked into the face design of the toy itself. The scanning sounds don't have actual names on the show as far as I know, but thanks to this toy I will forever know them as “GEO”, “MET” and “BIO”. The screen is an amazingly detailed little LCARS display that shows a topographical overlay of a planet and an interface link to the Enterprise computer, and when you push the buttons a set of lights on the side lights up in sync with the sound effects! This tricorder is one of the prize gems of my Playmates collection: It saw action decades after the fact and, miraculously, is one of the only electronic toys of mine from this era that *still works*.

I think that's somewhat sweetly fitting: A tricorder is a scientific tool designed to scan things, and thus learn about the natural world. If there's one object the sums up my feelings on what Star Trek: The Next Generation means to me, I think it might have to be this.

Comments

Daru 1 year ago

Even though it has taken me a while to catch up with my reading, I do really love these peeks into your life through the playmates articles. Really interesting, especially as I never really was a collector of figures or toys from Star Trek. Nice one.

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