Thursday, January 28, 2016
Totemic Artefacts: Playmates Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Wave 1
I first learned Playmates were going to be doing a line based on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on the cardback for one of my Star Trek: The Next Generation figures. In fact, on the back of my new Sela figure you can still see in bold red lettering the excited announcement that “toys and accessories” from the new show are “coming soon!”. Some of the figures from Star Trek: The Next Generation Wave 2 and the Original Series line (here called “Classic Star Trek”, which is how I knew that show for ages) even came with a mini checklist of all the Playmates toys released so far, with headshots of the figures and close-ups of the vehicles, playsets and prop replicas.
On the back of that checklist was one of the first-ever promotional shots of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine cast-It's the one where everyone's standing around in costume in front of a brown shag curtain haphazardly draped over the walls and floor of a photo studio somewhere. This was the first static image I ever saw of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine cast together in one place, and it was the first chance I had to get a good look at them. What's also interesting about this promo is what it promised was coming in the Deep Space Nine line: All of the characters you'd expect, as well as vehicle toys of Deep Space 9, the Runabout and a Caradassian Galor Warship. That will be interesting to go back and examine in a few months, methinks.
Even though I followed this launch fairly closely (well, as closely as I could at the time at least), it took me a *very* long time to actually bring anyone from this line home. At first it was due to simple wariness: While the characters looked cool and all and I dug the general design aesthetics, in 1993 I still wasn't completely 100% sold on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as an overall thing yet. So while I definitely saw these on store shelves at the time, I took care to admire them from afar-I was afraid to outright ask for them, and given a choice between spending my action figure money on one of these as opposed to a Wave 2 Star Trek: The Next Generation figure, the choice seemed clear. This turned out to be a cripplingly poor decision on my part, however: Within just a few months I was utterly hooked on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and I would have killed for these figures and, of course, that was just when the Playmates Star Trek line in general was starting to retreat from department stores, and the first casualties were the lowest selling toys. Namely, the comparatively more niche Deep Space Nine figures, which seemed to disappear as quickly as they had appeared.
For practically an entire *decade*, I languished in regret knowing I had very likely missed my one chance to bring home my second space family, as well as the last remnants from the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew (namely Tasha Yar and Ro Laren). It wasn't until the Internet and eBay became available to me (which was later than pretty much everyone else on the planet because of circumstances surrounding where I live) that I was finally able to adopt my own plastic Deep Space 9 team. It happened in stages-I found a couple assorted open figures at flea markets, then I got one or two from eBay auctions. Eventually I hit the jackpot and found one guy who was selling almost the complete first wave in one go, and the day I won that auction was one of my most triumphant moments as a collector. It wasn't fully complete though, and it took me almost another decade to fill out the holes in my collection. But now, I can happily say I have the entire main cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in plastic form, plus a few interesting assorted comers-and-goers. Let's talk about a few of them.
At the time of writing, my Deep Space 9 population lives in a Matrushka doll of nested plastic bags that is beginning to look increasingly ratty. This is because, as I mentioned in the last chapter, Playmates never released any playsets for its Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line, likely due to the aforementioned sales issue (which is more of a topic for next season). The flipside to this is that, along with the fact these are all comparatively recent acquisitions, all of my DS9 friends are in complete and near-immaculate condition. I would still really love a proper place to display them one day, though.
Commander Sisko is one of my favourite Playmates figures. With Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Playmates started to trend a bit closer to the “adult collector” side of the “adult collector's piece”/“children's toy” binary, so the figures from this line boast more of an attention to detail and realism than even this year's contiguous Star Trek: The Next Generation wave (though this year's TNG toys are more realistically proportioned than last year's). It's with Benjamin Sisko that Playmates really nailed this-I mean, he looks *exactly* like Avery Brooks. A very tall, stocky and imposing figure in real life, no other Sisko figure captures Avery's impressive physique as well as this one does. Commander Sisko stands tall, walks tall, but has a serene expression that lets you know this is a kind and gentle soul as well.
Ben comes with a set of what will become standard Playmates Star Trek: Deep Space Nine accessories. A PADD, a phaser, a base and a laptop terminal. These terminals are cool, because instead of reusing the ones from the Star Trek: The Next Generation wave, Playmates took care to craft a visibly Cardassian-looking laptop with an all new display sticker showing a schematic of the station. This is one of my favourite Playmates accessories because it looks so distinctive, and because I love the look of DS9 so much. The Emissary also comes with an Orb, most assuredly his. It doesn't open, but in every other respect it's a dead ringer for the prop from the pilot, except for the fact that it's blue. It's also got a nice bulk and heft to it for its size, which means it's the Playmates accessory you're least likely to lose down a floorboard or under a cushion somewhere.
Major Kira was the figure I remember seeing in stores the most. Pretty much any time I went into a department store looking for Playmates Star Trek toys, if they had a display of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line it was primarily or exclusively of her. I don't know whether this means Kira was the most popular figure in this wave, or the least. One thing's for certain though, she's absolutely one of the most important and groundbreaking action figures Playmates ever produced. Why? Because Major Kira is the first unambiguously action-oriented figure based on a female character in either of Playmates Star Trek lines. Remember, in 1993 Tasha Yar is still over a year or two away, as are Duty Uniform Deanna and Beverly. At this point we still only had one Doctor Crusher and two Deanna Trois, both of which were effectively identical and neither of which could do much of anything action-wise. And sadly, as we'll soon see, this wave's Jadzia Dax couldn't either. Sela could at least hold her weapons and look cool, but she's still more of a display piece owing to the strange way she's glued.
But Kira is built from the ground up to be a woman of action. Her sculpt is very tense, trim and rigid (again, just like Nana Visitor's posture in character on the show), and the way she's jointed you can put her in some really tight and kinetic-looking action poses. She has a special set of Bajoran accessories (including a unique Bajoran phaser) that, mercifully, she can actually hold. And indeed, she looks damn cool holding them too. I love to put her phaser in her hands and imagine she's running across no-man's land in “The Homecoming”, leading the charge to rescue Li Nalas. Also, in what might be a neat nod to her origin as a Ro Laren expy, Kira comes with a messenger bag or satchel you can sling over her shoulder. I can't remember Kira ever using a bag like that, but it certainly puts me in mind of what Laren brought with her when she joined the Enterprise crew in her titular episode.
Oh wait. I'll bet that's supposed to be Bag!Odo from “Emissary”, isn't it? From the scene where Kira gives him to the rowdy Cardassians in Quarks so he can sneak aboard their ship and sabotage their long range sensors? I'm a fucking dipshit.
Anyway, speaking of Quark, he's one of the most fun figures from this set. For one thing, he's sculpted to be a surprisingly action-ready character for a bartender, and he comes with a lot of neat accessories that are unique to him, and are of course painted gold. He's got a bottle of something or other, a Ferengi base, the ubiquitous gold pressed latinum, and the staff and that weird anteater-looking thing he has with him in “The Nagus”. But the most surprising thing he comes with is a Ferengi disruptor pistol-The exact same one the Ferengi pirate (who just so happens to look a bit like Letek from “The Last Outpost”...who was also played by Armin Shimerman) from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Wave 1 set had, even down to the awesome metallic blue paint scheme! You kind of feel obliged to come up with some backstory to put them together on a Ferengi Marauder somewhere.
Quark was also in charge of the marketing campaign for the first wave of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine toys, if you can believe it. I distinctly remember seeing a flyer in my comics and magazines from the day featuring Shimerman in character as Quark trying to sell you a complete set of Playmates Deep Space Nine figures from across his actual bar. It was great.
Earlier I said I got most of my figures form this wave as part of one big eBay haul that had most, but not all, of the crew. Miles O'Brien was one of the ones who wasn't included-I got him as part of a second shipment sometime later, and in fact this isn't even my first O'Brien action figure. It is, however, the first produced, and to my mind it's still the best. The sculpt is of course excellent, and really is a spot-on likened for Colm Meaney's build. One thing that's distinctive about Miles is that Playmates took care to depict him in his most iconic look, with the sleeves to his uniform all rolled up. Just like on TV, he's the only character to sport that look in the entire crew, which makes him really stand out (well...until Playmates started messing with DS9 variants that is. But we'll get to that next year). Miles doesn't have a ton of accessories, just a thermos and a toolbox, but they're unique to him and fit his character really well.
Odo is another of my favourites from this wave. One thing that's great about the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine line is that even though Playmates started going in a more realistic direction for their sculpts, they never once sacrificed playability in the name of accuracy, and Odo is a terrific example of that. He looks exactly the way he does on TV, but he has a ton of joints and hinges that allow to to pose him in a lot of colourful ways that really accentuate his character. Odo probably has the most personality of these figures (which says a lot as they're all excellent), and no matter what he always seems to look at once suspicious, guarded and exasperated, which is a lot of fun. He shares Major Kira's Bajoran accessories, which makes sense as he's posing as a Bajoran, all save for one: Rightly, he doesn't have a phaser. Instead, he has his beloved bucket, which, while more of a prop than anything else, still gives you some room for creative play and experimentation.
The only sad thing is that you can't have Odo transform into anything. I know that would have been physically impossible, but it might have been fun to have some cups or a little bird or something that came as accessories to represent this, or even a pile of amorphous gel to go with the bucket! Well, I guess there *is* that messenger bag...
My most cherished figure from this line is naturally Jadzia Dax. She was also the first boxed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine figure I ever got, long before I got any of the others. So she's in slightly worse shape then her colleagues, if you couldn't tell. I have to say though, even from the beginning Jadzia was something of a disappointment. For one thing, unlike Kira, she is absolutely a casualty of Playmates' design philosophy for female characters at the time, so Jadzia is very slight and delicate and her hands can't hold very much. However, this time Playmates *did* alleviate at least a little bit of this by giving her equally small accessories, mostly sample collectors and diagnostic tools, so Jadzia can at least feel like she's being useful and actually contributing something to the team. She also comes with a Trill. Like, an actual symbiote. Which was...awkward, to say the least. One fun thing about this figure, and actually all of Playmates' Jadzias, is that her hands, while dainty, are sculpted and her arms are jointed such that the most natural way to pose her is to have her clasp her hands behind her back, which is a physical tic Terry Farrell actually has on the show if you look close enough for it.
Granted, we hadn't seen Jadzia in a lot of action on the TV show by this point (and no, fucking “Allamaraine” doesn't count), but it's still a *massive* bummer for me considering she's my favourite character. More egregiously, this doesn't even fit with Playmates' mandated true-to-life realism for this line: In reality, Terry Farrell is actually very, very tall (she's a former model after all) and can actually stand head-to-head with Avery Brooks. But this Jadzia Dax figure, because she's so slight, is actually the *shortest* figure in the line, at least by proportions if not height. *Yes*, shorter even than Quark and Kira (who is *tiny* as an action figure). Thankfully, this would all be remedied in 1994 with the release of “Emissary” Jadzia Dax.
Going by the name, you can guess this Jadzia is meant to represent her very first appearance, in which she wore a Next Generation-style science division uniform instead of one of the open-collared DS9 team uniforms. And naturally, this is a Wave 2 release instead of a Wave 1, but, just like I did with Season 6 Deanna, I'm talking about it here in the first wave anyway. Additionally, because, “Emissary” Jadzia *also* uses the same outstanding female body sculpt made for Season 6 Deanna! So Playmates finally did make a Jadzia you can play with, and it was worth the wait. Actually, in my opinion Jadzia rocks this body even better than Deanna does: The slightly more caricatured look of the Star Trek: The Next Generation line really suits her, and gives this Jadzia a willowy, yet toned and muscular look that really fits the character, and she inherits Deanna's rank of commander to boot!. Furthermore, she can now finally see eye to eye with Benjamin. It's also kind of sweet, considering my old Season 6 Deanna used to do double duty as Jadzia until I got a proper Dax figure, and Terry Farrell and Marina Sirtis were roommates in real life. Or maybe that's more creepy, now that I think of it.
Either way, even though she's not wearing her “standard” look for the show, “Emissary” Jadzia is without question my preferred plastic representation of my favourite Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character. She even comes with all of the accessories as the original Dax, except hers are a fun hot pink instead of the original's more subdued purple. That's what this figure is to me-Fun. Even the paint apps on her face give her a wry, mischievous and warm expression, and while the original head was perhaps more “realistic”, this is how I prefer to remember Jadzia Dax. Maybe the Star Trek: The Next Generation build carries more weight than I thought it did.
Doctor Bashir was one of the last figures I got from this set, and I only got him in the past couple of years. For some reason, it took me forever to find him-I'm not sure why, as he's not an especially rare figure or anything. Although I suppose my waxing and waning interest in Star Trek over the years combined with the equally changeable ebb and flow of money probably had something to do with that as well. Either way I'm happy to finally have him. As you'd expect, his is a great sculpt that really captures the character. His accessories are mostly boring things every Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine figure comes with, although he has a couple unique medical accessories that are pretty cool. I know it's nothing special, but I think it's particularly fitting that he comes with both a discharging phaser and a set of medical tools: Julian's always gotta be the hero.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gul Dukat is one of the two non-DS9 team DS9 figures to be released in this line. He's also pretty much what your options are limited to if you want a “generic” Cardassian, which makes sense as Marc Alaimo is the guy who Michael Westmore basically designed the entire Cardassian species around. As such, Dukat has a bunch of unique Cardassian accessories, mostly weapons that you can pose him with in a variety of various fierce-looking stances. They look sleek and cool and are done in a similar metallic electric blue to those of the Ferengi figures (I guess it's a villain thing, though I prefer the Ferengi by far), although Dukat's are I think a little bit darker. I confess that as dynamic as he looks, I don't dig Gul Dukat out very much because, to quote Eddie Izzard, he's a mass-murdering fuckhead. As far as Cardassians go I can't fault the inclusion of Dukat, but I'd really have liked Marc Alaimo's first Cardassian role as well: Gul Macet from “The Wounded”.
More surprisingly, the other alien figure (well I mean as Quark says in that ad they're *all* aliens, but non-aligned Non-DS9 team DS9 figure takes too long to type, even though I just typed it) is Morn. Yes, *that* Morn. He's one of the best figures in the line, as a matter of fact: His sculpt is incredible. I mean, you won't be doing much playing with him (he can't even hold his glass because it's a square, which seems like an odd oversight to make) but come on, what the hell are you going to do with Morn? Apart from his glass, he comes with some triad dice, gold-pressed latinum and a special phaser that seems specially moulded for him, all in bright neon Data orange. He also, bewilderingly, has an utterly unique custom base designed especially for Morn, which are words I never thought I would see myself typing. If nothing else, he looks pretty rad posed next to Quark.
Or he would, if they'd ever made a Quark's Bar playset.