REVIEW: EMCE TOYS MEGO-RETRO STAR TREK CHERON ALIEN
One of the few truly memorable episodes of the original Star Trek's third season, was "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield". Amidst a season which was more or less doomed from the get-go -- Star Trek had been renewed for a third season by the sheer force of protests on the part of the fans, but nevertheless relegated to a dismal Friday night time slot, which ultimately saw the withdrawal of series creator Gene Roddenberry, and the reins being turned over to Fred Freiberger, whose capability would later be called into question -- the third season of Star Trek managed to plop out such unmitigated turkeys as "Spock's Brain" and "Turnabout Intruder".
Compared to these, "Battlefield" was a highlight, even though it was an almost preposterously blatant look into the question of racial discrimination, which was very much on the minds -- and in the news -- of America at the time.
The Enterprise encountered a stolen shuttlecraft, being piloted by an alien named Lokai, from the planet Cheron. This otherwise humanoid individual had a face (and presumably the rest of him) that was entirely black on one side, and entirely white on the other. Not terribly long after picking up Lokai, the Enterprise was contacted by a second Cheron, named Bele, who represented the government. Lokai was a fugitive, wanted for acts of terrorism.
Long story short, the two beings despised each other, and on more than a few occasions tried to kill each other. Lokai belonged to a presumably oppressed underclass, the only apparent difference between his people and Bele's being which side of their bodies was black and which was white.
Like I said, it was pretty blatant. Fortunately, between the dynamic make-up job, and the fact that Bele was portrayed by actor Frank Gorshin, best known at that time for his role as The Riddler on the campy "Batman" series, and the fact that he and William Shatner spent the better part of the episode seeing which one of them could "chew the sets" more effectively, while it wasn't really possible to overlook the socio-political commentary, it was at least made moderately more palatable for the acting and the visuals.
Interestingly enough, towards the end of the episode, the Enterprise approaches the planet Cheron. Bele and Lokai have been away from their homeworld for 50,000 years. And the population has destroyed themselves in a planet-wide race war. There's no one left.
Bele and Lokai, raging at each other, race through the corridors of the Enterprise, both ultimately making their way to the transporter room, and beam down to the planet surface to continue their war against each other. This race through the corridors of the ship was superimposed with scenes which I would, many years later, discover to be stock footage of burning cities from World War II, run through a fiery orange color filter.
It's perhaps no great surprise that when the Mego Corporation started producing Star Trek action figures in the mid-1970's, and turned their attention to some of the more dynamic aliens in the concept, one of these that came to light was the Cheron. Although not named either Bele or Lokai, and certainly taking a few visual liberties, the end result was a fascinating action figure.
In fairness, years later, Playmates Toys would make a much more accurate 9" figure of Bele. It looked like Frank Gorshin, for one thing, and it was dressed in the appropriate light grey body suit that Bele wore. (For that matter, Lokai wore a similar body suit, just without the silver trim around the collar.) This particular Bele figure is an immensely cool and impressive item which I am sincerely pleased to have in my Star Trek collection.
But Mego was pretty imaginative with theirs, and the end result had its own coolness, and now, as part of their Mego-retro Star Trek line, EmCe Toys has seen fit to bring back the Cheron!
In keeping with the original Mego figure, the Cheron is not named either Bele or Lokai, although it's worth mentioning that he has Bele's color scheme, in that he is black on his right side and white on his left. Rather than hair, the figure's headsculpt is designed to make him appear to be wearing some sort of tight-fitting helmet or hood.
The face is interesting. I'm not entirely sure how Mego did it in the 1970's -- presumably EmCe took the existing headsculpt and recast it for this figure, as they have with most of their others, those that are not entirely new creations, but somehow, Mego took the face from an entirely different character, and transplanted it onto the Cheron headsculpt, merging it perfectly with the smooth, helmet-like headpiece.
Given the paint job, when I first owned this figure in the 1970's, it took me a little while to figure out precisely whose face had been used. And it turned out to be a fact from an otherwise entirely human head, which originally had ears and hair just like any other human head. Like I said, I'd love to know precisely how Mego did it.
The head Mego chose made for an interesting choice, too, from a sci-fi standpoint. It was the headsculpt originally used for the Alan Virdon figure, from Mego's Planet of the Apes line, specifically the segment based on the live-action TV series. Alan Virdon was one of two astronauts who, along with Peter Burke, was tossed through time to the future Earth ruled by Apes.
Alan Virdon was played by actor Ron Harper who, although he didn't have any Star Trek in his credits, and certainly wasn't either of the Cheron aliens, was also known to sci-fi fans for appearing in the third season of the original Land of the Lost TV series, as Jack Marshall, uncle to Will and Holly Marshall, after their father Rick disappeared into a time doorway, the result of actor Spencer Milligan leaving the show over a financial dispute.
Boy, tossed onto the Planet of the Apes, thrown into the Land of the Lost -- Harper couldn't catch a break, could he? And then his face gets used by a toy company for an alien he never was in a series he never appeared in...!
One of the things that really sets the Cheron figure apart from the TV likeness of the characters is the wardrobe. Rather than dressing the figure in the plain grey uniform that both Cherons wore, Mego instead decided to take the half-black-half-white look to the maximum, and designed a jumpsuit that was black on one side and white on the other, even including the little fabric belt around the middle, and the plastic boots!
It was hardly the only time that Mego altered the look of a Star Trek alien in the toy line -- just ask the original Gorn -- but unlike some of their decisions, this one actually produced a result that was, to use a Spockism -- fascinating. And was certainly more dynamic-looking than the original.
Now, as one might expect, it wasn't entirely possible to mold the body itself in half-black and half-white. Mego -- and as such EmCe -- nevertheless took a somewhat unusual approach, in my opinion, molding the entire body in black, except for the head, which was molded in white and painted half-black, and the left hand, which was also molded in white, as that was the side of him which was white.
I'm honestly not sure why Mego didn't choose to mold the body in white. Perhaps white plastic didn't work all that well for some reason. Thinking about another Mego line, it's worth noting that when Mego made The Joker for their World's Greatest Super-Heroes line, they molded the entire body in standard flesh-tone, except for the head and hands, which were white.
As for the Cheron, one might think that they'd at least mold the entire left arm in white, but this wasn't the case.
To a point, the black body wasn't a problem. The white fabric was thick enough so that the black didn't show through -- initially. I have seen, in more recent years, carded original Cheron figures where thirty years of age have caused a horrible effect, somehow causing either the black plastic, the white fabric, or both, to deteriorate to the point where the black body appears somewhat melted to the costume, and the black is clearly visible underneath the white fabric.
Small wonder EmCe toys is offering a new Cheron. Doubtless there are many collectors who will be interested in replacing their originals. As to whether the EmCe version of the Cheron will suffer a similar fate, I have no idea. I sincerely hope not. But it's obviously far too soon to tell. Look me up in the year 2040 and I'll let you know.
So, how's the figure? Really extremely impressive. It can't be terribly easy to do this half-black, half-white concept on a mass production level and maintain a good measure of quality, but EmCe Toys has done a really excellent job with it.
As before, most of the body has been molded in black. The head has been molded in white, and painted half black. Now, there are a few differences between the original Mego figure, which I have a superb memory of, and the new EmCe one.
Most notably, the left hand is PAINTED white. I recall that the Mego one was molded in white, even though the entire rest of the body was molded in black. I suspect this was an economic move as much as anything. While I have no real idea how these figures are manufactured, it would not surprise me to learn that there is one established set of body molds, and they mold it in the needed color – which in this case to make the figure look as much like his Mego ancestor, was black.
In fairness, the painted white hand is painted very effectively, although I might not have used such a high gloss paint. Nevertheless, I know from customizing experience that painting ANY color over black is a difficult proposition at best. That this hand looks as good as it does, without any significant loss of detail due to thick paint application or such, is really quite remarkable.
Let's discuss the painted details on the head. Obviously, the objective was to get as much of a straight line down the face as possible, splitting the black and the white. The EmCe figure does a good, if not perfect job of this. Once again, it's difficult to complain. The Mego figure that I owned was pretty much perfect. I have little doubt that there were probably occasional goofs out there.
On the EmCe Cheron I received, the black goes over the nose just fractionally too far, and slightly less than it should have over the mouth. However, the degree to which it comes up short is barely worth mentioning, and trying to paint a straight line evenly down the profile contours of a human face is a tricky concept at best. I'm not even sure how they managed it as well as they did on the actors in the Star Trek episode. The smooth "hood" that comprises the rest of the head of the Cheron was doubtless an easier paint job, and really looks good. I was especially pleased that there was no overspray "splatter" of black on the white.
One additional paint note. Both of the eyes have been fully painted, including the whites. Now, that may sound a little unusual, but consider t hat the original Mego Cheron painted the eyes by painting the white of the eyes on the black side of the face, with a black pupil, and then just painting the pupil and an outline around the eye on the white side of the face.
The EmCe Cheron paints the whites of the eyes on BOTH sides of the face, and yes, it does show. They used, I think, the same glossy paint that they used for the left hand. Then, of course, the black pupil is painted, as is an outline around the eye on the white side of the face. It somehow makes the face look a little more "real", and certainly makes the eyes look more consistent to each other.
There is a black eyebrow over the left (white side) eye, as was the case with the original Mego figure, also nicely done.
The costume is very neatly made and looks great. It has metal snaps on the back, and all of the details are just as before. I might've liked a slightly higher collar, to conceal that side of the black body, but it's not impossible to hike it up a little bit closer to the neck. The white fabric is sufficiently thick that you don't really see the black showing through underneath, and the left sleeve is long enough so that the black lower arm isn't a factor at all. Of course, the black side of the costume works perfectly well.
The boots are interesting. The original Cheron used the same boot design that was commonplace for Mego's "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" – just trimmed off a bit at the boot tops to lose the rather super-heroic "point" at the top. EmCe has replicated these boots, and even improved upon them a bit. They're a thicker plastic, which will make them sturdier. One is black and one is white, of course.
Interestingly enough, the boots have initials on their bottoms. "D M". This doubtless stands for "Dr. Mego", a well-regarded and well-known Mego collector who has made quite a successful business out of manufacturing and selling Mego repro products to fans who either need to spruce up their existing f igures, or want to customize some of their own. He has been extensively involved in the EmCe revival, needless to say.
Articulation of the figure is excellent, of course. The Cheron is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and – if one were to take his boots off – ankles. I also want to say that the figure seems very decently sturdy. I was a little disappointed by the Lt. Sulu figure a while back, and was hoping it was not going to be a trend in the line. The Cheron gives me confidence that some of Sulu's problems were an aberration. I have no complaints about the Cheron in any of the respects that Sulu concerned me.
The Cheron has no accessories, but then the original didn't come with any, either. No big deal on this point.
So what's my final word here? Okay – he doesn't look like either Bele or Lokai did in the television episode. He didn't in his original incarnation, either. You want Bele – go find the Playmates version. But, if you want a Cheron that looks entirely like his Mego ancestor, and which is a darn cool design in his own right – the ALL-OVER half-black and half-white look is really extremely cool – then this is the figure for you.
I'm abundantly pleased that EmCe Toys chose to have the Cheron join their Mego-retro Star Trek collection. And needless to say, the EMCE TOYS STAR TREK MEGO-RETRO figure of the CHERON most definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!