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.
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.|
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.
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.|
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.|
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?|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.|
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 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.
|You were the chosen one!|