Totemic Artefacts: Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation Part 1 – Wave 1 and the Bridge Crew
Alan Moore teaches us that reality begins with fiction. “The idea of a god is a god”. But fiction can not just be written, it also must be read. And when we read things, according to Shoshana Felman, we are not uncovering hidden meaning, but generating truth. And the truth that we generate will be different for each person, for each person is different themselves. My truth will not necessarily be your truth, and yours will not necessarily be mine.
If this project has taught me one thing, its this: Reinforcing my conscious intellectualization of the reading process by forcing me to undergo it at an intimate and primal level so that I may attempt to convey what I’ve seen to all of you. It’s a shamanic process; travel inside and out (because they’re the same thing) and try and share the experience through art for the benefit of others. It’s no great arcane secret-I’ve always helped that by my doing it, it would demonstrate that you could do it too.
When we talk about a work of art having a transformative effect on us and leaving a lasting impact on our lives, what we’re really talking about is the experiential meaning the work evoked in us, not the physical work itself. The material artefact is important, obviously, but that meaning only manifests when creators and audiences both react to it, and any meaning inherent to the text itself by necessity undergoes a process of translation. I can say Star Trek: The Next Generation has been a huge influence on my life for decades, but I’m only ever going to fixate on specific things about it that resonate with me personally: My positionality and perspective define what I take out of it and how I react to it.
And then what happens when ideas, characters and themes migrate? They travel, and are shaped and reformed by their travels just like the rest of us.
|The Wave 1 line.|
The second line of Star Trek: The Next Generation toys and action figures debuted in the fall of 1992. Playmates Toys received the license this time, after the failure of Galoob’s earlier stab at adapting the show to the 3 1/4 inch plastic scale. Marketed, of course, as part of Star Trek’s 25th Anniversary (indeed, the only part of the two-year celebration apart from The Star Lost and The Return of Okona officially and specifically dedicated to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: The Next Generation alone), Playmates’ auspicious first wave featured the toyetic likenesses of Captain Picard, Counselor Troi, Lieutenant Commander Data, Lieutenant Worf, Commander Riker, Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge, a Borg, a Ferengi, a Romulan and Gowron.
As fans we sometimes talk a lot about “our” Star Trek (or whatever your pop culture mythology of choice might be), or at least those of us who were exposed to the show sporadically on initial run broadcast TV do. If you’re perhaps a little younger than me or consume most of your visual media these days through marathon binge-watches, you might not feel this way. I’ve tried to make it clear “my” Star Trek was, is and always will be the Star Trek: The Next Generation that aired between 1987 and 1994, and that by definition I can’t have the same set of emotions and experiences with any other incarnation of the franchise. It’s these characters and settings and what I see in them that defines what Star Trek means to me. But that’s in many ways a deceptive simplification: Star Trek was a huge part of my life for way more than those seven years, and yet I still didn’t watch it between 1994 and 2001. The television show (and even the comic books) went away, or came into and out of my life over the years. But I always had my Playmates toys.
So if I were to talk about about what “my” Star Trek *really* was, I’m not sure I could confidently say it was the TV series, or at least the vast majority of the stories it told, or even the comic book line, whose stories I tend to prefer more on the whole. Perhaps a case could be made it really was this line of toys, and the ideas, stories and personalities I projected onto them. The Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation toys were not the first action figures I ever got, but this was the line I remember getting into the most vividly. This Geordi (or rather a rerelease of him, which I’ll get into later on) was probably the first piece of Star Trek merchandise I ever owned (and of course it had to be Geordi, because I knew LeVar Burton). Following him came the Ferengi (probably for him to fight against) and the rest of the first wave. For the next three years, I collected the Playmates Star Trek lines fairly obsessively and to this day they remain some of my most treasured and deeply meaningful personal possessions.
The Playmates Star Trek toys, and in particular their Star Trek: The Next Generation line, came at an interesting time in the toy industry’s history. Nowadays all action figures are sculpted to the pretense of extreme realism and accuracy to the onscreen character they represent, and have heftily inflated prices to match catered as they are to the kind of obsessive collector who would care about that kind of thing. But back in the day, back when action figures were still *toys*, that wasn’t as big of a concern. In fact you could argue they went too far in the *opposite* direction, with figures that barely resembled who they were supposed to be. But Playmates made an interesting creative decision with this line, and as a result their Star Trek: The Next Generation toys were destined to become every bit as liminal as the show they tied into: Although they would be produced as toys first and foremost, they would be marketed just as much to adult collectors as to kids.
This had huge ramifications, and more or less invented the collector’s market for toys wholecloth (…which has both positive and extremely negative consequences). One particularly fascinating side effect of this is how the toys themselves looked: Every figure looks like a radical caricature, with wildly exaggerated proportions emphasizing a wholly cartoonish look-and-feel. Yet at the same time Playmates managed, almost to a disturbingly uncanny degree, to effortlessly capture the likeness of their characters: These toys may not be crafted with extreme realism in mind, but through the stylized art style they convey the “soul” of the person completely (this also leads to fun stuff like the figures themselves being meticulously detailed, but coming with a flood of accessories all cast in neon primary colours, which I of course adore). These toys exude personality and heart from every angle, and when I look at them I see the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew staring back at me. No other toy line I’ve ever come across has managed to so thoroughly embody something for me, no matter how realistic they may strive to be. Divine avatars in plastic.
So what I wanted to do here was take you through a small piece of my Playmates Star Trek collection, but one that’s very dear to me. Obviously this is going to be just the first of many essays on the Playmates line, but this one is probably the most important: I’m bending time a bit again as I’m going to be looking at more than just the Wave 1 figures tonight, but considering the first wave is most of the bridge crew it wouldn’t feel right to exclude the few remainders who weren’t given a seat in this set. And I thought the best way to do that was to take you on a tour of the bridge itself, or at least of my personal bridge playset. That didn’t come out until 1993, but come on, where better then to meet the bridge crew than on the bridge?
First, a little overview of the bridge itself. Like all good playsets, this isn’t just a place to display your figures in various poses: It’s got all manner of fun features and gimmicks all to itself. The first neat thing is that, just like the set on the show, everything here is fully modular-You can add, remove and swap all the major walls to get different angles of the action (the two big ones at each side are even hinged for easy access). The chairs all swivel (as do the conn and ops stations), you can pull the science station chairs away from the wall to sit your crew down at them (again, just like on the show) and you can take everything that isn’t part of the electronics apart for cleaning.
|Sensors indicate the presence of a blinky red light, Captain.|
Speaking of electronics, it has them! There are seven buttons on the tactical console you can press that activate various sound effects, like the computer readout, phasers, photon torpedos, red alert and, of course “hailing frequencies open”. The main viewer is a kind of backlit screen too, so with the electronics on, every time you push one of the buttons something happens on the it: There’s a Romulan Warbird on the viewscreen, and if you fire your weapons a little red light on it flashes. And it even has the running lights at the base of the viewer that light up whenever you have Commander Riker take the ship to red alert!
And now, if you enter the bridge from the upper right-hand turbolift doors (which slide open, as do the set of doors directly opposite them) and walk towards the science stations, I’ll introduce you to the crew and talk a little about each one of them, starting going counterclockwise. First is, of course Geordi at the engineering station. There is actually a main engineering/engine room playset and I do have it (and we’ll talk about it two seasons from now), but it wouldn’t feel right to me to have Geordi anywhere but the bridge.
Most Playmates Star Trek figures came with a standard set of accessories, a stand, a phaser, a tricorder, a laptop terminal or a computer bag and a removable holster, and Geordi is no exception. Most figures also came with a few special personalized accessories, and Geordi has a lot of fun ones: An engineering diagnostic tool, something that looks like a wrench, and a nifty set of green translucent dilithium crystals. The holster was intended for the tricorder, but you never really saw the crew doing that on the show, and I figured the holster would be a better place to put the phaser. I also didn’t like how the phaser always came with a phaser beam permanently moulded to it, so for some figures I actually cut it off with scissors so I could get one in a neutral state. Others I kept intact, so I could swap the two kinds in and out for action scenes.
Geordi’s was one I cut, but the one you see in the picture is intact because this is actually my second Geordi figure. I still have my original, I would never get rid of him, but he (along with many of my other Playmates figures) was starting to look pretty worse for the wear and I wanted something that would still look nice on the shelf. This Geordi, like many of my Star Trek figures, wound up serving double duty as a myriad of other characters, including LeVar Burton himself. Really the only action figures I had were Star Trek ones (although I desperately wanted ones of other shows I was a fan of, oftentimes we either couldn’t afford them or they didn’t make ones I wanted), so my Enterprise crew had to take on many other roles, like the consummate performers they are.
So because they worked hard for me and served me so well for so long, I feel many of my figures have earned a graceful retirement and deserve to regenerate into fresher forms. Geordi was one of these, so he was due for a shift change even before I realised that my original Geordi was a re-issue: The first Playmates Geordi figure actually has a removable VISOR, but it was considered a choking hazard for kids so they made a second one that was glued to his head. If you buy a Geordi figure, you can always tell which one you’re getting by looking at the back of the card: Geordi’s VISOR is listed as an accessory on both releases, but the original one shows a picture of him without it whereas the reissue just uses a static headshot. Clearly I had to have one with a playable VISOR!
(People laugh at the VISOR today, but I always thought it was so cool. I even took a hair clip and fashioned it into one for my own personal use. This became delightfully fitting years later when I found out that’s literally what the VISOR prop on the show was: A hair clip spray painted gold and silver with LEDs on the side!)
I still remember the day I first got my Geordi. There used to be a chain of department stores called Ben Franklin, and there was one just a short drive over the mountain from where I live (I don’t know if they’re still around nationwide, but the one in our town left long ago). My mom and I walked in one day and once we saw the racks of Star Trek: The Next Generation toys, well, that was it, really. It was an exciting experience for me to see Star Trek: The Next Generation toys in a local store like that because it was physical evidence that this thing I watched late at night at home with my parents was actually a phenomenon that was out there and that was bigger than us: I used to always really anticipate going shopping because I couldn’t wait to explore the display stands to see if any new Star Trek figures had been released. For the next three years, going around to different stores and finding new faces to bring home and add to the family became almost a sacred rite of sorts.
|Geordi’s clip-and-collect headshot is different too.|
I love the packaging design for the Playmates toys, this initial wave most of all. It has a stylized, almost pop art-deco look to it, but filtered through a lens of Long 1980s design sensibilities. It’s an incredibly busy, but visually captivating and provocative style and is a major influence on my memories of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s look and feel. And of course like all action figures from the late 80s and early 90s, you had to have the clip-and-collect trading cards. Playmates actually gave you *two*: A brief in-universe biography of your character, as well as a visual list of all the accessories they came with (likely in case you happened to lose any, which was a distinct possibility and a fate that befell a tragic many of my little Star Trek friends). Early on I would cut out all of the cards, taping them together for safe keeping. I even went further than that and would cut out the logos and pieces of the design, because from a very young age I was fascinated by design work and wanted to be able to somehow “hold” that art in my hands. After awhile though I stopped doing that, figuring the cardback art looked better when kept in one piece. None of my more recent acquisitions have gone under the knife, as you can see with this Geordi.
To Geordi’s right on the bridge is Tasha Yar. Tasha isn’t one of the Wave 1 releases (in fact, she’s one of the very last figures released as part of Playmates’ Star Trek: The Next Generation line, and *the* last regular to get a figure), but there’s no way I wasn’t going to talk about her here. This essay is about the *bridge crew*, and Tasha belongs on the bridge, end of story. Tasha’s moved around the bridge a lot since I got her: At first I proudly displayed her at the tactical arm, but eventually I felt compelled to move her because that’s where Worf stood for six years and as much as I love Tasha, he’s still the iconic person to hold that post for me. For a time she guarded the turbolift or hung around in engineering, but now I’ve got her at the Mission Ops station; a holdover from an old headcanon of mine where Tasha became the Enterprise‘s Strategic Operations Officer.
Tasha was the figure I was most desperate to get. Because she was such a late period release, I never saw her in stores: By the time she was out (and by the time I knew enough about Tasha Yar that I was chomping at the bit for a toy of her), the Playmates Star Trek line was already on the decline on both the production and consumption end. You didn’t see them in stores anymore, except in more rural and remote ones that had older stock they hadn’t managed to clear out. And even then you were lucky to find two or three displays, if that. In their place were what to me were a veritable infestation of Star Wars toys tying into the Prequel Trilogy and the Special Edition rereleases of the original trilogy. That I knew this was the reason my beloved Star Trek toys were disappearing, and in particular that I knew this was part of the reason I couldn’t find a Tasha Yar of my own, was a *major* contributing factor to the grudge I held against Star Wars for years, and the minor bias I still have against the franchise to this day.
Tasha was a Christmas gift from my generous parents one year in the late 90s long after the Star Trek fad had passed, and even then I’m pretty sure they had to order her for me online somewhere. But that Christmas morning was one of the happiest of my life, because I had been pining for my very own Tasha for *literally years* by that point: Knowing there was a toy of her and knowing I couldn’t find it had been driving me half mad, and I was absolutely overjoyed to finally have her. Not only that, but I happen to think Tasha is one of the best Playmates Star Trek figures ever made! Most action figures of the female characters Playmates sculpted were very slight, delicate things with dainty hands you couldn’t really play with to a satisfying degree (they couldn’t even hold their own accessories!). Not Tasha, though: Tasha is broad-shouldered, broad-chested with long, powerful thick arms and legs and can grab onto anything. And she totally walks with a swagger.
|Tasha can grab onto anything.|
Tasha doesn’t look a thing like Denise Crosby, apart from her head sculpt (which is actually bang-on) and the general proportions of her limbs, but here’s a case where that’s actually a massive positive. This is a lady who looks like she works out. She looks like she could kick your, mine and everyone else’s asses. If you were to get in a wrestling match with her, she’d pin you without breaking a sweat. She properly looks like a soldier, just like Private Vasquez, who was, of course, the person Tasha was always supposed to be. And this is unusual, because by this point in Playmates history they had long since eschewed the caricatured stylization of their earlier figures in favour of more staunch realism, particularly in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine figures that were contemporary with the Star Trek: The Next Generation wave Tasha was a part of. But for Tasha, and only Tasha, Playmates seemed to deliberately go back to their earlier style so that she would fit in with the Wave 1 releases from three years ago, and that warms my heart. Just like them, she exudes personality and captures the soul of her character, regardless of whether or not that’s “screen accurate”.
Looking back now, I think this toy is the real reason Tasha Yar is such an important character to me. My inability to find her for so long is a manifestation in the material world of the mythic stature Tasha had accrued in my mind as I read fan reference books, unable to watch any of her episodes. And this toy has so much personality that when she speaks to me I hear her character loud and clear. This is my Tasha.
|what the shit is this?|
Tasha doesn’t have many accessories apart from the requisite base, tricorder and phaser (it’s her phaser, actually, I use to stand in for phasers being discharged with the other figures most often): Just a PAAD and a flashlight. The phaser is worth talking about a bit though-Almost every Playmates Star Trek figure, even if they can hold things regularly, is completely incapable of holding a phaser properly. Even Tasha, who you’d kind of like to be able to take aim, can’t because of the position of her fingers. The best she or anyone else can manage is to hold their phaser like a lightsaber, which looks silly, ridiculous and impractical, not to mention reminding me of that far more successful and popular science fiction franchise that we shan’t bring up again. But hey, at least Tasha can hold shit, which is more than can be said for some of her shipboard girlfriends.
The flashlight though is interesting. I don’t recall her ever using it on the show, and actually, I don’t recall there ever being any kind of a flashlight used on the show much at all. But Tasha seems sculpted to hold it, and she looks really cool when she does: She holds it military style, grasping it in the palm of her hand and holding it up by her head. This just reinforces how much of a genuine “action” figure Tasha really is: She’s clearly designed for some rugged adventuring and it’s practically physically impossible to pose her in such a way that she doesn’t look unbelievably cool from whatever angle you photograph her. She’s not just the most action-geared of the female characters, she’s probably the most action-geared of *any* of the Playmates Star Trek toys, including Billy Riker down there. Tasha was undoubtedly worth the wait: She’s not just one of my favourite Star Trek toys, but one of my favourite action figures in general. I love her so much.
Doctor Beverly Crusher is at Science Station 1, because, of course, she’s the science officer. There are two different Beverlys made by Playmates, neither was released as part of the first wave (but come on), and I have both of them. The one on the bridge is a comparatively recent addition and features her in the standard issue uniform Bev wore mostly in the third, sixth and seventh seasons. Apart from the standard issue accessories (although *her* computer bag has a *medical* symbol on it), she also comes with a thermos of something or other, as well as a Skybox trading card. This Bev is also a late release, coming out ’round about the same time as Tasha and Ro Laren, and by this point Playmates were giving us *actual* laminated trading cards in addition to the clip-and-collect ones. This Bev is my favourite of the two for one major reason: Her body sculpt.
The original Bev (who was part of the Wave 2 Star Trek: The Next Generation releases in 1993) used a unique mould that added her surgical gown as part of the sculpt and, like most Playmates ladies, she couldn’t hold jack shit. Sculpted jackets are a big no-go for me when it comes to action figures, because it completely hamstrings their posability. So poor Bev more often than not had to sit out any away team adventures because of her limited mobility and inability to hold a tricorder or phaser (although she was, I believe, for a time Daphne from Scooby-Doo). The later Bev uses the excellent Duty Uniform Deanna Troi body (which we’ll talk about further down) as a base, which means she can finally run and jump and play just like the rest of her friends. And frankly, that only seems appropriate for someone who’s also a choreographer.
Before I got my second Bev, Doctor Crusher was typically relegated to standing pensively by the left-hand turbolift door. Today, that position is held by her colleague, Doctor Katherine Pulaski. Kate was such a late release she wasn’t even part of the Star Trek: The Next Generation line, coming out after Playmates had consolidated their disparate lines into one uniform (and frankly homogeneous) umbrella Star Trek line in the mid 90s. Even so, I still managed to get her before I did Tasha. Her unique accessories are a medical kit and a medical scanner (though I would have loved a bowl of PCS) and she has a unique sculpt that’s different from any other female character. It’s not as good as Tasha’s or the one for Duty Uniform Deanna, but it suits her and she can at least more or less hold her things, which is what matters.
I should also explain the base, which, as you can see in the picture, has no nametag. This was because as part of the same bargain basement cosplay drive that led me to fashion a VISOR out of a hairclip, I set aside some of the bases to stand in as communicator badges, which I accomplished by peeling the labels off of them. Sadly Kate’s was one of the ones that were sacrificed (actually I can’t even be sure if that *is* hers in the picture), but you have to understand I wasn’t as much of a fan of her back then as I am now.
Worf is probably the character who most embodies the caricature style of the early Playmates toys. He looks ludicrously proportioned, almost Rob Liefeldian, and has a bunch of accessories that, should you have him hold them, always make him look like he’s about to go apeshit. Apart from his nameless base (I think the tag just fell off of his, as I don’t think I would have sacrificed the base of a major character) and Tasha’s phaser, Worf has his ceremonial Klingon swords and daggers, one of which is naturally broken. I don’t have much to say about him because, thanks to the unrealistic proportions, he’s tough to stand up on his own (I try to avoid using the bases unless absolutely necessarily because, well, real people don’t have bases) and that makes him a little tough to play with and take on adventures. So, he usually spends his time leaning up against the tactical arm (though he may be reassigned shortly: As of this writing there’s a special new addition I’m hoping to bring home soon who might like to take that post).
On the other side of the bridge by the main turbolift stands Guinan, watching the comings and goings intently. I’ll bet she knows just what those Romulans are up to as well. Like the original Doctor Crusher, Guinan is a Wave 2 release from 1993. And also like the original Doctor Crusher, she’s sadly not much of an “action” figure: Her flowing robes make it impossible to pose her much beyond some really basic arm and leg joint movement.
Of course, standing behind a bar dispensing sage advice means Guinan isn’t going to be doing much running and gunning anyway, although it would be cool if she had a phaser rifle so she could go to the holodeck target practice range or curtail unruly crowds in ten forward. Instead, she comes with a 3-D chess set (which is broken) and a tray with set of drinking glasses (one of which is missing).
Unfortunately for Captain Picard, because he was one of the very first figures I got (possibly the third, after Geordi and the Ferengi), he’s seen better days and is probably due for a regeneration soon. His paint is chipping and fading in a lot of places and most of his accessories are missing, including, crushingly, his unique type-1 phaser. I picked up a generic laptop terminal and PAAD for the photo, but I have no idea if they’re his or not: A lot of the accessories for my early Star Trek figures I just threw in a bag, and since there were so many duplicates, no matter how brightly coloured they are, I have a hard time remembering which ones go with which guy unless they’re particularly iconic to them. Later on I started bundling them together in individual snack bags, so it’s easy for me to pair up characters like Tasha and the ones I got as adults with their accompanying accessories. The neat thing though is that Jean-Luc has a holster, just like the more action oriented figures (except Tasha, weirdly, though perhaps that would have messed up her sculpt), so you can take him on away team adventures just like he started to do more in the later seasons of the show.
Commander Riker is unique in that his uniform is “battle damaged”, with all kinds of rips and tears all over the place like he thinks he’s Captain Kirk or something. When I was younger I thought he was wearing a special pattern uniform with leaf designs on it, and I was mildly annoyed to find out it was supposed to be rips in the fabric. I like my action figures to be “neutral” as often as possible, and while I don’t mind stuff like this as a variant it irks me a little bit when this is the only option I’m given for display. And in Will’s case it really is, as there’s no other “basic” Commander Riker figure made by Playmates that’s not based on one of the movies or some weird variant. If the action rip wasn’t a tipoff, Will is supposed to be the big “action hero” of the first wave and is sculpted in such a way so you can pose him in really fluid and dynamic ways. This also means he’s the *only* Playmates Star Trek figure who can hold a weapon properly, as I shall now demonstrate with Tasha’s phaser.
The downside to this, however, is that Will unfortunately can not hold literally anything else in that hand, a problem compounded by the fact his other hand is sculpted in a weird claw grip/jazz hands fusion pose.
And that’s a shame, as Will has some of the neatest and most distinctive accessories of the bunch: For one thing, they’re all *gold*, which is always awesome, but apart from the base, tricorder and phaser he’s also got the “directional UV source” from “The Best of Both Worlds” (I always thought it was just a fancy scanner) and a field kit that even opens up to reveal a hidden PAAD (and yes, the PAAD is removable. This was the coolest thing back in the day, you have no idea). Funnily enough, as much as Will is positioned as the action hero of the crew in this set, I never used him that way. *Tasha* was the action hero: Will just parked his ass on the bridge most times.
I’ve probably gone through more Deanna Trois than I have just about any other Star Trek figure, probably because there have been a lot of her. This Deanna, again a late-period release, is one of my favourite figures in the entire Playmates line. As I mentioned above, pretty much all of the female characters (with the exception of Tasha and, as we’ll see once we hit the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line, Kira) have insultingly dainty hand sculpts and whisper-thin limbs that really limit the amount of things you can do with them. The Wave 1 Deanna was one of the worst offenders, and in fact my Wave 1 Deanna even had her arm snap off in two places, making her one of the only Playmates action figures of mine that’s actually *broken*. My grandfather and I did a quick and dirty repair on her arm joint once many years ago by gluing it in place, but this means she can’t twist it anymore. The other place it broke, at the joint connecting the lower arm to the upper arm, I was just able to set it back into place. It’ll still fall off if you breathe on it though.
|Just looking at you makes my arm hurt. And my eyes.|
A few years later, they came out with one based on her regulation uniform she starts wearing midway through season six of the TV show (seriously, why didn’t she have that from the beginning? Actually don’t answer that, I know why and don’t want to think about it) and she was a beloved addition to my family. The Duty Uniform Deanna is probably the best female sculpt Playmates ever did: I love Tasha to pieces, but her body type wouldn’t translate too well to many other Star Trek ladies. But this Deanna was used as the basis for a number of other figures, like Duty Uniform Bev above and “Emissary” Jadzia Dax from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line (which is somewhat touching, as my old Duty uniform Deanna used to pull double duty as Jadzia back in the day before I got any of the DS9 toys).
And this was quite appropriate, as it’s a great sculpt: It’s generic enough it can fit a wide variety of body types and has hands that can actually hold things. Although even so, that didn’t stop Playmates from giving Deanna a special tricorder with a little handle, just to make it easier for her hands to grasp. It also has a nice range of motion such that you can set it in a lot of cool action poses: She’s one of the few Playmates ladies who actually seems designed to be played with and allowed to pull her own weight on away team missions. Apart from the usual set of accessories, Deanna also comes with another telltale sign of a late-period Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation release: A Space Cap. “Space Caps” were basically Playmates’ version of Pogs, because everything in the early 90s had to have an accompanying set of Pogs. The space art on them was pretty though, and I seem to recall they were of decent quality when compared to the flood of other Pogs you’d find in grocery stores and the like.
As good as she is, Deanna is not immune to injury, however. This is actually my third Deanna, and my second one of her in the Duty Uniform sculpt. My original Duty Uniform Deanna was a staple of the bridge crew and away team adventures both until she…well, “exploded” is probably the best descriptor: One day the adhesive keeping the various pieces together dried out and she completely fell apart. I long ago lost every part of her except the lower body, so Deanna had to revert back to her lavender space pyjamas for many years, and this also meant Jadzia Dax couldn’t show up in any stories until I finally got my hands on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line. So a new Duty Uniform Deanna was one of my first purchases once I started collecting Playmates Star Trek again, and I’m really glad to have her back in action because she’s just a better figure and looks way more professional. I panicked a bit at first when I got her as it seemed like her waist joint was fused together, but after some exercise it thankfully eventually snapped free.
I still have the bottom half of my old Deanna, by the way. Unable to adequately play the role of Deanna Troi anymore, she became known hereafter as Crewman Legs.
Data is one of the most fun characters of the line. First of all, his accessories are *bright orange*, which is just a blast to begin with. Like Deanna his tricorder has a little handle attached (as does his phaser, which makes it unique) because, also like Deanna (or at least Wave 1 Deanna), he cannot hold jack shit otherwise. Which is odd to think of: Among the guys he shares this ignominy with Worf, which is a little surprising considering their status as away team staples on the TV show. So I guess not being able to hold things isn’t a sexism problem after all. Because of this, neither Data nor Worf were away team regulars in my adventures: That honour went most of the time to Tasha, Captain Picard, Geordi and Deanna.
Data was more fun to play with on his own-His accessories are mostly the various android diagnostic tools you sometimes see the crew using on him on the TV show. This is significant, because Data actually has little panels you can open up to see his inner workings: One on his back and one on his right arm, so you can re-enact the climatic sequence from “Cause and Effect” where he punches the number 3 into his interface there. Because I was very easily amused, I took great delight in opening Data up over and over again to gaze at his insides. To me, the detail that went into sculpting that was meticulous and fascinating, and the mere fact someone thought to give him that feature seemed genuinely whimsical and delightful.
Data is another figure who has been regenerated comparatively recently. He was badly due for one, as my old Data has had his paint fade and rub off to such an extent he looks disquietingly ghostly, and he’s also missing both the panel to his back access point and his diagnostic tools. Fittingly for Brent Spiner, the man of a thousand funny faces and accents, my old Data served for a time as a less-than-reasonable facsimile for Odo before I was able to bring home the real Star Trek: Deep Space Nine crew (among the numerous ways this was unsatisfying was the fact this made crossing over the Enterprise and Deep Space 9 crews effectively impossible, and there came a time I could no longer stand this). Between that and constantly wearing out his joints and hinges opening and closing him all the time, my old Data has more than earned a cushy retirement.
Ro Laren is the newest addition to my family: She only joined the crew in the past two or three years, but I’m so unbelievably grateful to finally have her. Laren was a chase figure for me to be sure: Not as much as Tasha, but she was definitely an irritatingly unfilled position for quite some time and was one of those characters I could never find for years thanks to the plague of invasive Star Wars merchandise. Before her, the conn station on the bridge sat lonely and empty, unless I felt guilty and threw Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Wave 1 Jadzia Dax there just to fill space (she was a pilot once, right?). It was only when I could start shopping on Amazon for myself that I finally got Laren, and when I brought her home, it felt like the family was finally complete for the first time ever.
Apart from the standard stuff, you’ll see Laren also comes with a Starfleet-issue messenger bag, the ubiquitous Pog and a contest entry form for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Design-an-Alien contest (much more on that later, to be sure). The sad thing is, she can’t really *do* much of anything with them because Laren is quite possibly the most egregious example of Playmates’ female character design philosophy that exists. She’s absolutely *tiny*, which Michelle Forbes is most assuredly not, and because she’s not even made to the same *scale* as the other characters, she looks completely out of place alongside them. Hell, it’s all the poor thing can do not to slide off of her chair! Laren dates to the era when Playmates were striving for more “realism” in their toys so I can understand eschewing the cartoony, caricature look of the earlier figures, but realism doesn’t mean unplayable! She looks woefully inadequate standing next to Tasha, and is certainly not going to be winning and wrestling matches with her. Maybe a lightsaber duel, though…
|You were the chosen one!|
Even though Laren is something of a disappointment as a figure, I’m still incredibly happy to have her because she completes the Enterprise family. In fact, I would hold up my little plastic Enterprise family here as the definitive one: This is the complete happy family we never got to see on TV, and whenever I need my spirit uplifted, I go upstairs to visit with them, paying my respects to the adventures and fond memories we once shared. And even today, they still hold the power to inspire me and make me smile.
September 14, 2015 @ 2:30 am
I've been waiting for this post for a long time, Josh, and it's amazing.
My collection is quite small compared to yours. I don't have any of the original Playmates bridge crew, only alternate versions like "Geordi in dress uniform" and "Picard in captain's jacket." I don't have any aliens, but I do have Q. I've also got Scotty from "Relics." And thanks to you, I realized that the other Picard I have, in his S1&2 uniform, is a Galoob release. I didn't know another company had the license first.
I, too, cut the beam off the little phasers.
I also love that you actually took your toys out of the box and played with them. That's what they're for!
Two fun things to note about later Playmates' releases: the action figures released for "Generations" in '94 were based on a uniform design that was abandoned in favor of the dual TNG/DS9 versions in the film. And the Enterprise-E toy was based on an earlier design of the ship that differed slightly from the film model. The toys are usually rushed out to hit the shelves before the film premieres, so they'll frequently feature design decisions that were superceded.
It's the posts like this and the recent streaming update that really make this blog. Keep it up, Josh.
September 14, 2015 @ 3:10 am
Wait, I totally overlooked the fact that your Picard is the same as mine, and that the captain's jacket version is the original release, apparently. So that's interesting. And after some research, my jumpsuit Picard is a Playmates release too, which doesn't make any sense. If these first came out in '92, why did Playmates subsequently release versions featuring the 80s uniforms?
September 14, 2015 @ 5:05 am
I've been waiting for this post, too! I could a response as long your essay detailing why I love these little hunks of plastic so much. I played with them as a kid, but I also got back into collecting them about 5 years ago. They're surprisingly easy to come by and inexpensive (for collectable, retro action figures). Currently, I've got 2 huge bins full of figures, 3 different Enterprises, 2 different shuttle crafts, and Klingon and Romulan ships. My kids love playing with them all.
I've been collecting action figures for a long time, and this line really has the most "heart" of any toy line I've seen. They exude love for the show, are detailed enough for collectors, but durable enough to be actual toys — you can play with them!
It's also awesome how off-the-rails Playmates went with creating so many different characters and variants.
September 14, 2015 @ 6:43 am
I think because the first wave was based on the character designs from the fifth season (because that was the one that had just finished airing), and Captain Picard wore that jacket a lot that year. In the second wave they did a bunch of variants, particular first and second season costume design variants (Lt. J.G. Geordi and Worf, second season uniform Will, maroon pyjamas Deanna etc.). There is also a "normal" Duty Uniform Captain Picard variant (from either the second or third waves) but it's kind of a ghastly kitbash: I much prefer the Wave 1 jacket and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Wave 2 Picards personally.
September 14, 2015 @ 9:16 am
There's are also Picard as Dixon Hill, Old Picard from "All Good Things..," Picard disguised as a Romulan, Picard as Locutus, Pirate Picard from "Gambit," and IIRC a Picard in a "Undiscovered Country" era uniform from "Tapestry."
There are probably more… 🙂
April 16, 2016 @ 3:10 pm
Removeable VISOR Geordi and the Ferengi were my first, also. I ended up getting pretty much all of them, stopping before those "Transporter" exclusives. They've been in storage for years. It would be fun to see them again.
February 6, 2019 @ 9:33 pm
So I know this is an old article, but I discovered it only recently and have been re-reading it a few times; I’ve started collecting Playmates’s Star Trek figures, and am pretty sure that this article convinced me to spring for Tasha Yar as soon as possible. Hoping to get Duty Uniform Deanna next (normally I’d want Lavender Pajamas Deanna as it’s a distinct outfit, but…HER FACE. Ye gods).