Totemic Artefacts: Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation Waves 3 and 4


The final group of toys in Playmates' Star Trek: The Next Generation line (that is, before all of their Star Trek toys were consolidated under one homogeneous brand label) have something of an unusual release history. The third wave released in three parts over the course of 1994, surrounding the premier of the movie Star Trek Generations, with a fourth dropping in the summer of 1995. I love how, as far as Playmates was concerned, Star Trek: The Next Generation fully remained an extent, relevant and marketable brand for at least a full year after the TV series itself went off the air. Even though the show was over, Star Trek: The Next Generation remained very much a present cultural phenomenon for some years after the fact, a theme I'll be returning to in the remaining chapters of this volume. It almost kind of makes you wish the show itself had been around to bear witness to that, but that's beside the point tonight. Tonight, it's all about the toys.
And what toys they were! Playmates had already endeared itself to me as the makers of probably the greatest plastic effigies of anything ever, and these waves contained a number of my absolute favourite figures in the whole line. I am combining both of them into one essay, however, because a couple of these batches, particularly the 1995 one, didn't quite have the same volume of releases as past years and I've already covered a great many of them in previous posts in this series. There was just no way I wasn't going to talk about Tasha Yar, Ro Laren and Duty Uniform Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher in the bridge crew essay, just to name a few notable examples. There were still a lot of new figures, of course, but the first set of releases from these waves continued the pattern from wave 2 by giving us a lot of variants: Aside from Duty Uniform Deanna, we got Commander Riker as a “Malcorian” (from “First Contact”), Geordi as a “Tarchannen III Alien” (from “Identity Crisis”), Worf in a “Starfleet Rescue Outfit” (from “Birthright, Part II) and two figures based on “Unification”: Captain Picard and Commander Data as Romulans.
I didn't have any of those figures except Captain Picard, and let me tell you, boy is he ever a boring toy. Although the likeness is absolutely spot-on, you'd expect that from Playmates by now and he has a whopping five points of articulation: Two shoulder joints, two swivel arms and a neck joint. He's so boring they had to include the “Romulan Disguise Kit” as an “accessory” which, upon careful inspection, seems to mean not just his clothes and facelift, but a generic Starfleet bag with a Romulan insignia on it. Romulan!Picard also suffers the same fate as Guinan and Doctor Crusher (and another figure in this line) by being plagued by the curse of the long jackets: His Romulan hoodie or whatever is a solid chunk of hard moulded plastic, which means any action in the torso or legs area is out of the question. Suffice to say, he's not especially playable and that's the worst thing that can happen to an action figure. On the plus side, he does come with a Romulan disruptor pistol (those things were *always* in desperately short supply because they were the only weapons Playmates toys could actually fucking hold) as well as an extra PADD and a kickass bowl of soup. And he certainly looks nice: If you need to fill out your Romulan crew with extras, he's a good choice.
The only new *characters* in this first batch were Hugh Borg, who I don't have, and Lieutenant Reg Barclay, who I do. Now Reg was fun-He's got a unique sculpt that makes him stand out from the rest of the crew, and he always has this slightly dopey, slight neurotic expression on his face. Also, I don't know if this was a constant thing with all the Barclay figures, but the joints on my Reg are *super* loose on his legs, which allows you to stand him in objectively hilarious Ministry of Silly Walks poses with his legs bent level with his head. Which I naturally did, all the time. Reg comes with the same diagnostic tool as Geordi (which, because it's identical, I can't tell apart from Geordi's), a fencing sword (which I have lost) and what's supposed to be an antigrav sled and a “cryo canister” that look so generic I lost them because I didn't realise they were Star Trek accessories.
Barclay resides in the Engineering playset, one of the big new additions to this wave. Technically, this was released under the Star Trek Generations banner (I am informed Engineering plays a significant role in the alleged movie), but it was originally slated to go out as a part of the proper Star Trek: The Next Generation line. I have to say this one is a bit of a disappointment following the excellent Bridge and Transporter playsets: Perhaps it's just age, but my Engineering playset is painted in a lot of dull yellow and off-white colours, and feels really cramped when compared to the actual set. Even back then I knew something wasn't quite right here. The warp core sure does look good though, albeit a tad small. But, it *does* light up, and there's even a hatch at the base you can open and little mini dilithium crystals you can put inside! The assorted control panels look nice too, even if they're in the wrong place and were obviously toyetic-ized during the translation. The main panel doesn't have a chair like on the show, forcing Geordi to stand all the time, but it does have a couple buttons that play two lights-and-sounds effects: One is the generic warp hum, speeding up as if the Enterprise is going to warp, and another that triggers a warp core breach. Whyever you would want to do that I have no idea, but a neat thing you can do is if you have Geordi plug his diagnostic tool into a certain spot on the control panel, it will actually shut off the effect, as if Geordi has stopped the breach and saved the ship!
The second batch for 1994 contained all of the figures in the first 1994 set, but added several new ones, which sort of leads one to believe the whole third wave got a staggered release as Playmates was hurriedly trying to catch up with new content. Like the others, most of this wave is variants, a lot of which I don't have: There's a Gowron in “Ritual Klingon Attire”, who I guess is supposed to be from “Redemption”. Data gets the Duty Uniform treatment, as well as an incredibly rare variant in a maroon command uniform from those alternate reality episodes where he becomes first officer of the Enterprise. There's a Wesley Crusher in official Starfleet uniform, from that brief period in the beginning of the fourth season where he's a full officer before Wil Wheaton left the show.
There's also a Duty Unifiorm Captain Picard, who is an odd case. Meant to represent the standard Starfleet uniform Picard wears in almost every episode of the show (the Wave 1 release featured him in the Captain's Jacket from the then-current fifth season) and apparently meant to be a staple part of your plastic Enterprise crew, two things about it give one pause: First, the incredibly late release date. I mean, the show was over by now, and even if Playmates is keeping the dream alive it still seems a trifle odd. Secondly though, this Captain Picard is a ghastly kitbash: He's got the head of the Wave 1 Captain's Jacket figure, what appear to be Data's legs and Geordi's torso and arms, which do not match Patrick Stewart's build in the slightest. At least it's better than the First Season uniform Picard, who had the legs of the Captain's Jacket figure (which have unique cuffs that no other Starfleet uniform has), but it's not a terribly captivating interpretation of the Captain. When I was younger I was sad I never owned this toy, but now I'm kind of glad as it's not Playmates' best effort.
The big variant that I did for sure have is Q in judge's robes, from “Encounter at Farpoint” and “All Good Things...”: A very appropriate and cool display piece, Q comes with a gavel, scepter, lion statue and scroll, very unique accessories for a Star Trek: The Next Generation figure. He's definitely the most striking of the two Q figures for sure, and while it helps he's from debatably the two most iconic episodes in the series, I think a lot of it is also due to the fact this to me will always be his definitive look: This is who Q is, the judge who oversees the neverending trial, ensuring we're always striving every day to be as good as we could be. One problem with him: Just like Romulan!Picard, those long, flowing robes mean his posability is next to zlich. Not that you'd imagine a lot of dynamic action scenes with Judge Q I suppose, but that will never not bug me.
Another variant I had from this wave was Captain Picard as Dixon Hill. He was cool because his scuplt was entirely new and unique and, unlike the other variants I had, you could actually play with him because Playmates managed to give him a proper 1940s noir trenchcoat while still keeping all his basic articulation intact. And, like any good noir hero, Dix comes with meticulously detailed 1940s desk telephone, lamp (from the iconic lamp scene in “The Big Goodbye”, of course) and handgun, all naturally cast in bright blue. He also comes with a printed copy of Captain Picard's log entry from the opening to “The Big Goodbye”, which was a fun thing to have. I never used him as a holodeck figure though-If he ever saw action it was usually as a generic gangster for some other story with another batch of toys, because come on: He totally looks the part.
For new figures, Lwaxana Troi and Noonien Soong finally get plastic effigies, as does Sarek to complete your “Unification” set. Ro Laren finally gets a figure too, but I've talked about her already. We also got Thomas Riker, who doesn't really even count because he's just a recolour of the Wave 1 Will. He even has that same stupid action-man rip in his shirt, it's just been coloured in to match the yellow of the rest of his torso which, with the sculpted tear, looks dumb. There's also something called an Esoqq, and, I'll be completely honest with you here, I have absolutely no idea who this guy is. If he's from a particular episode I don't remember it, if he's from a particular alien species I don't recognise it...He totally is the bottom of the barrel of one-off random alien life-forms as far as I'm concerned. I'm just starting at the cardback for one of my figures from this wave with a vacant expression on my face.
The third 1994 set came out closer to the launch of the movie Star Trek Generations, and included Geordi, Beverly and Data in the movie's uniforms (the actual Star Trek Generations toy line based its figures on concept art that was later discarded in favour of reusing the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine uniforms with a new, and in my opinion uglier, Starfleet insignia, and were thus not used in the movie). This set had only two new figures in Tasha Yar and the Nausicaan (who is amusingly and charmingly referred to on the clip and collect card as being “named after the Greek goddess of the wind”), and was padded out by re-releases of Sarek, Lwaxana Troi, Ro Laren and Noonien Soong. The final wave, released in 1995, is yet again mostly reprints from the 1994 waves though adds Anti-Time Future Jean-Luc Picard, Data from “The Big Goodbye” and a nifty pair a figures called the “Supernova Series”: It's just a re-issued Locutus and Klingon Warrior Worf, but this time they have *chrome armour*, which automatically makes them cool.
After this wave, Playmates consolidated all their disparate Star Trek lines (which by 1995 also included “Classic” Star Trek, meaning TOS, the film series and Star Trek Voyager) into one homogeneous Star Trek line. There were still a lot of figures that came out after this, but I fell out of collecting them once the individual Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lines went away. I still got an occasional toy from the later releases (such as Doctor Pulaski), but by that point my enthusiasm for Star Trek as a whole had very much become a thing of the past. But I'm getting ahead of myself now, so let's warp back to 1994 to see what else was going on At the Edge of the Final Frontier.


Daibhid C 4 years, 7 months ago

I had to look this up on Memory Alpha, but apparently Esoqq was one of the guys who was imprisoned with Picard by the aliens who were experimenting with how different races dealt with captivity. He was the highly aggressive one who hated being restrained in any form.

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Anthony D Herrera 4 years, 7 months ago

My God those toys. They tricked me into believing I liked Star Trek at the time. Those wonderful, wonderful toys.

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Jacob 4 years, 7 months ago

Every time you do one of these Totemic Artifacts posts, I feel compelled to declare my love for the Playmates Star Trek lines. As an avid and lifelong toy collector, Playmates Star Trek easily ranks in my top 3 all-time favorite toy lines (the other two being CO's classic Doctor Who line and LJN's WWF line).

For me, this wave marks the beginning of the end of the highest quality Playmates Trek toys. Things begin to decline from here -- though there are still some great toys to come. I do wish they didn't do so many character as ____ variants. I feel like there were some missed opportunities for more different characters and aliens to have toys. But so it goes. As it is, the depth of this range and the amount of characters represented is pretty astonishing.

I had a handful of these growing up, but only began to seriously collect them about 5 or 6 years ago, when I rediscovered Trek via Netflix. They are still plentiful and inexpensive, as far as vintage toys go. My kids love playing with them, and all the vehicles and accessories, so they still get a lot of love and don't just sit on a shelf.

As to Josh's point about TNG growing in cultural relevance after it ended -- I definitely experienced that as young fan at the time. With TNG still being re-run regularly, DS9 going, buzz building about Generations and Voyager, and TNG toys, games, magazines, and comics abound -- it was a fun time to be a fan and the world TNG had launched seemed like it would be an integral part of American pop culture forever. I get a sense of that time and a nostalgic buzz off of it every time I bring these toys out.

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James Sinnett 4 years, 7 months ago

If this is the point that you dropped out of the Playmates line and its TNG characters, then it's probably a good point to have done so. The action figures themselves for Generations are abysmal; Playmates cut corners and managed to release the entire line with no elbow or knee joints. Guinan, Lursa, and B'Etor each got a whopping three points of articulation.

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