You can’t have action figures without some place to put them. Even if you’re too embarrassed to move them around in a playset, you’ve got to admit having a lavish plastic display to pose them all in looks awesome on your shelf. It was Wave 2 that started giving us those playsets for our Star Trek: The Next Generation friends-I’ve already talked about the bridge playset in this book. Although it technically came out as part of this wave, I felt compelled to talk about it back in the first wave because I really just wanted to go all-out gonzo with the first Playmates essay. This leaves me with one extra essay to write about and not a whole lot to fill it with here, however. So, let’s see how long I can talk about what’s left of Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation Wave 2.
The other playset released this year was a transporter room. Now this was really cool because it actually worked by way of an old theatrical trick called Pepper’s Ghost. In a Pepper’s Ghost illusion, a one-way reflective surface is placed between the audience and a hidden room on the other side. There’s also an overhead light source that, when raised or lowered, makes any objects in the room appear to appear and disappear out of thin air. This is how the Haunted Mansion in the Walt Disney resorts create the illusion of the dancing ghosts in the ballroom at the beginning of the ride, and it’s also how Tupac Shakur appeared onstage at Coachella in 2012 and Michael Jackson did the same at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards (not, as is often reported, through the use of holography. We don’t have holodecks yet).
A lot of times in a Pepper’s Ghost trick the hidden room is painted black so that the “ghost” seems to materialize right in front of the audience, when really they’re in another closed off area. The Playmates transporter conveys the illusion a little differently, with the mirror dividing the transporter pad in two. You put your prospective away team member in the area behind the mirror, close the door and manually raise the sliders (which wonderfully take the form of the LCARS finger panels from the TV show and make a satisfyingly accurate shimmering sound when activated either way) as the overhead light gradually shifts. Obviously to give the illusion your character is standing on the pad both sections have to look identical, and this also necessitates the transporter becoming more of a chamber than a pad. As a matter of fact, during the seven years I didn’t watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, but did have these toys, I completely forgot the transporter room was even a pad on the show at all-I completely mentally retconned it as being a chamber and always remembered it as such until I saw “Encounter at Farpoint” again for the first time. I was utterly shocked-That’s how deeply rooted these little pieces of plastic had become in my mind.
The box for the transporter shows a realistic Captain Picard, in full captain’s jacket regalia, beaming down in the chamber, delightfully with a full-size child’s fingers engaging the transport. I like how the implication is that Star Trek: The Next Generation exists in this miniature Gnome-world of playsets that interacts with playing children. That’s exactly what it felt like. What’s also cool is how there’s an accompanying screenshot from the TV show of the transporter in action, and in spite of this being 1993 they went with one from “Encounter at Farpoint”! This means we get to see Tasha Yar, Skant Deanna and Babyface Will in all their glory in one of those glorious glitter water composition shots. I seem to recall this shot, or other ones from “Encounter at Farpoint” being used a lot to promote the Playmates line, actually: That’s probably why my sensory memory of Star Trek: The Next Generation is a mash-up of imagery from the first, sixth and seventh seasons alongside the box art from the Playmates toys, as I held onto all of them.
It’s also fitting because Tasha was far and away the character I stuffed in the transporter chamber the most. You were supposed to only beam down one person at a time because the chamber could only really accommodate one at a time (there was only one foot peg, for example). So I figured the best person to send down would be the action/scout/recon character, and that’s who I imagined Tasha to be. But I sometimes tried to fit a whole away team in there, because even then I knew that, outside the Game Boy game, the Enterprise always sent people down in teams. And let me tell you, things got pretty crowded in there.
It wasn’t a playset, but the “Star Trek: The Next Generation Collector’s Case” was an important addition nevertheless. It was a little vinyl carrying case with some great sci-fi art of the Enterprise and the show logo on the front and back. Inside were plastic trays where you could store your collection of figures and accessories. The box says you could keep six-eight figures in the case, but I’ve seen some people stuff a whole lot more in there. And frankly, that was probably a better solution, because I always found that the trays tended to slide around a lot, leading to your precious accessories getting mixed up and sliding out through the cracks. You could, of course, avoid this travesty by bagging everyone up in snack bags beforehand, but I didn’t figure this method out until much later in life. And anyway, at the time, for me this was an imperfect solution until I got ahold of the bridge playset. After all, where would you rather store your Star Trek: The Next Generation toys? Posed heroically on the bridge or stuffed away in a box somewhere? Admittedly, it is a very nice box: The skeleton in mine broke a long time ago, the vinyl is all ripped and the cards that form the picture got dislodged, so I’ve been on the hunt for a new one. It would actually be a really nice way to store my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine figures, who sadly never got a playset of their own.