REVIEW: STAR TREK 9" FIGURE SERIES
Throughout the mid to late 1990's, the Playmates Toy Company possessed the license to produce action figures for all existing Star Trek concepts at the time -- Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.
While best known for an extensive series of 5" scale action figures that numbered -- well, I'm really not sure. I don't have a complete collection myself, but I have close to 120 on display. Wouldn't surprise me if the total collection was somewhere around 200. Anyway, while Playmates was best known for these, and perhaps also for a series of 12" figures that wasn't nearly as extensive, there was a surprisingly extensive line of superbly made 9", cloth-uniformed Star Trek action figures that not only spanned all four Star Treks, but also presented some interesting additions and even some fairly obscure characters.
The figures used two standard body molds -- one male, one female -- molded in whatever color was appropriate. The figures were articulated at the head, arms, elbows, legs, and knees, and had molded-on boots.
The years of release were rather varied, and as such, probably the easiest thing to do is to take the collection one Trek at a time.
STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES.
It's impossible to look at these figures and not be vaguely reminded of Mego's excellent efforts in the 1970's. Although the 9" figures are an inch taller, somewhat stockier, and generally better likenesses of the characters, and certainly a more extensive collection, the resemblance is unavoidable.
Mego produced five core members of the main cast -- Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura. There was word that Sulu and Chekov were in the works, but they were never produced. Fortunately, the helmsman and navigator for the U.S.S. Enterprise were turned out in 9" form by Playmates Toys, as was Nurse Chapel.
There were three basic versions of Captain Kirk -- one in his traditional gold shirt, and another in the somewhat less traditional green shirt that Kirk was seen wearing at times. The third was his dress uniform.
But 9" figures based on the classic Star Trek did not stop there by any means. In fact, the Classic Trek probably turned out more additional figures beyond the basic cast than any of the others.
There was a set of four figures based on the pilot episode of Star Trek, which featured Kirk and Spock both in gold shirts, less detailed than the ones we would later recognize, Scotty in a pinkish shirt, and Sulu, who at that time worked in Astrosciences or some such, in a pale blue shirt.
And there was a set of three figures -- Kirk, Spock, and Chekov -- in the fancy silvery space suits which were used for hostile environments.
One of the most interesting special sets was a K*B exclusive series of Classic Trek 9" figures, released two at a time, based on the popular Star Trek Episode, "Mirror, Mirror", which found the crew of the Enterprise in an alternate universe, where Starfleet was run by a power-hungry Empire, not a benevolent Federation. The six included Captain Kirk; Spock, complete with beard; McCoy, Uhura, Security Chief Sulu complete with scar, and Lt. Marlena Moreau.
Additional figures for the classic Star Trek 9" figure line included Bele, the half-black/half-white faced Cheron; a Talosian, the only figure to require an alteration to the basic body mold (his feet); Captain Christopher Pike, the captain who preceded Kirk on the Enterprise, and a somewhat older Kirk from the time of the movies.
STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION
Star Trek TNG was in full swing when Playmates began producing its action figures, so it's no real surprise that some of the first ones out were part of the Next Generation cast. And indeed, Playmates made it possible to round up virtually all of the main cast, including Captain Picard, Riker, Data, LaForge, Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, and Worf. An additional figure released fairly early on was Guinan. Interestingly, this line was the only one where figures with rooted "real" hair can be found -- on Crusher, Troi, and Worf. Interesting group of three (some later Worfs would have real hair, as well, but one later version had molded hair).
Most of Next Generation's additional figures would come from the movies that commenced not long after Playmates began producing these action figures. And indeed, Playmates would produce a series of figures for three of the Star Trek Next Generation movies, including GENERATIONS, FIRST CONTACT, and INSURRECTION. Technically, the "movie Kirk" figure is from the Generations line. Figures of Picard, Data, and if I recall correctly, Riker, were also included in this assortment, wearing the "mostly black" Starfleet uniforms that would later become standard outfits, starting with the Deep Space Nine series.
FIRST CONTACT would see somewhat greater variety. Figures of Picard and Data in the "grey shouldered" Starfleet uniforms (which Deep Space Nine would later adopt, but not Voyager, since they were lost in the Delta Quadrant and not exactly keeping up to date on uniform protocol) were produced, as was a figure of Picard in 21st century clothing, which included a very nicely designed patterned coat, and Zefram Cochrane, creater of warp drive.
INSURRECTION offered figures of Picard, Data, and Worf, all in non-uniform garb as they appeared while trying to help the Ba'Ku, as well as a figure of Anij, the female Ba'Ku who was one of the prominent characters in the movie.
These were not the only additional Star Trek Next Generation figures. Q was produced, unfortunately in those ridiculous judges' robes. A Romulan was also made, even if for some reason Playmates chose to use the uniform that was only seen once, during their brief first season appearance. A Borg was also offered, an amazingly well-detailed and designed figure. And you could get Worf in a Klingon uniform.
STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE
The Star Trek series that seems to have trouble getting respect even though it's really the best of all time offered quite a lineup of figures. The basic cast, including Sisko, O'Brien, Odo, Major Kira, Dax, and Dr. Bashir were produced. When Avery Brooks changed his look for the fourth season, shaving his head and growing a mustache and goatee, a new figure (in dress uniform) was produced.
And here's a point. Since the figures had removable uniforms, it was entirely possible to find a non-dress uniform for the "bald" Sisko, and put him with the rest of the crew and not have him look like he's on his way to a formal dinner. It was also entirely possible to bring Worf into the DS9 collection in much the same way.
Deep Space Nine offered the largest and most frequently-appearing supporting casts of any of the Treks, and Playmates took some advantage of this. Figures of Gul Dukat and Cardassian tailor/spy Garak were produced, as was a figure of a Jem'Hadar, the soldiers of the Dominion. And when the producers of Star Trek sent Sisko and the crew back in time to meet up with the original crew of the Enterprise, it wasn't hard to turn out figures of Sisko and Dax in Classic Trek uniforms, even though a new headsculpt was required for Dax given that 60's hairdo.
STAR TREK VOYAGER
The most limited of the 9" releases, but not without some highlights. Playmates made it possible to own most of the main crew of Voyager, including Captain Janeway, Chakotay, Tom Paris, Harry Kim, The Doctor, and Seven of Nine, done in two versions (silver uniform and brown uniform).
WHO DIDN'T GET MADE
Voyager's Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres was in the works when the line finally bit the dust. It had slowly declined, ultimately becoming a Target exclusive, which was where The Doctor and Ensign Kim were found, and occasional K*B special sets. Torres would've been part of a two-figure assortment that also would've included Tom Paris as Captain Proton (I've always wondered if that figure would've been made in color or black-and-white).
Alas, there are some glaring omissions, especially from Deep Space Nine. There was never a 9" Quark figure. Of course, given his smaller stature, this would've required a new body mold, or at least modifications to the existing one that Playmates was apparently not prepared to make, at least not beyond the lower legs they made for the Talosian. It's too bad, since Quark is such a popular character on the show. Doing a slightly smaller body mold would hardly have only seen one use. Playmates could have readily gotten Rom and Grand Nagus Zek out of it, as well.
There are also no 9" figures for Weyoun, the Dominion's main Vorta in the Gamma Quadrant, or the Female Shapeshifter who was also a prominent character. Of course, there are also no figures for these characters in any size. Sadly, by the time the Dominion War got rolling, the Star Trek action figure lines were running out of steam pretty quickly. Ezri Dax was neglected for much the same reasons, I'm sure.
Similarly in Star Trek Voyager, there was never a Neelix figure (or Kes, if you want to nitpick, but to be honest, I never much liked that character). That's another case where a slightly shorter body mold would've been useful.
There's quite a list that could be put together of characters of varying degrees of prominence, that it would be hard to argue didn't deserve the 9" figure treatment to some degree. And they come from all the worlds of Star Trek. I'm sure no one would object to a 9" figure of Yeoman Rand from the classic Trek. Do a fatter male body mold and we could've gotten Harry Mudd and Cyrano Jones. And how about such classic Klingons as Kang or Koloth? Or Spock's father Sarek? Turn to the movies and I'm sure no one would object to a Saavik figure.
Turn to Next Generation, and I'm sure no one would mind figures of Dr. Pulaski, or, heck, use that theoretical shorter body mold and give us Wesley Crusher. It'd probably kill the wardrobe budget for one of these figures, but Lwaxana Troi wouldn't be out of the question, either. And there's always Klingon Chancellor Gowron.
Head over to Deep Space Nine and the potential just plain explodes. Quark, Rom, Ezri Dax, Weyoun, the Female Shapeshifter, Damar, General Martok, Jake Sisko, Kai Winn, the mirror universe Kira, Ferengi FCA Liquidator Brunt -- of course, many of these characters' most prominent appearances were in later episodes.
If it were possible to add to the collection, what Voyager would need the most would be completion. B'Elanna Torres would be a must. So would Neelix. I actually purchased a very well made custom figure of Torres on eBay from someone who crafted a truly excellent one, just because I got sick of that particular hole in my collection. And I almost NEVER buy other people's customs. But there's still some potential here. Kes, perhaps a Kazon (although I'd pity the sculptor who had to do the "hair" on one of those), a Hirogen -- Lt. Barclay, originally from Next Generation but putting in some considerable Voyager time could be part of this. So could the Borg Queen, originally introduced in the First Contact movie.
Sadly, the odds of any of this happening are only slightly less than the odds of me suddenly being beamed up to a real-life Deep Space Nine in the 24th century (hey, we all have our dreams...). Playmates no longer has the Star Trek license, and they seem quite content to reap in the profits from a certain foursome of martial-arts turtles.
But Playmates should still be commended for a job well done. The body design on these figures was solid and sturdy, and well-articulated. The clothing was well-made and accurate, and on some of the more complex figures, it can't have been easy. The character likenesses were, for the most part, well done.
Here I must pause. I said, "for the most part". There were exceptions. While it's not difficult to pick up a Captain Kirk 9" figure and see William Shatner, or pick up Bele and see Frank Gorshin, or Sisko and see Avery Brooks, or Janeway and see Kate Mulgrew, some of the others don't come across as well.
Garak doesn't look a thing like actor Andrew J. Robinson in his Cardassian make-up. In fairness, Cardassians like Garak and Dukat were probably pretty hard to do. Since the sculpted head had to be perched atop a common body mold, there was no real way to do that wide neck that Cardassians have. But that's no excuse for a poor facial likeness. Dukat's isn't bad at all. It looks a fair bit like Marc Alaimo. But there's scarcely any resemblance between the Garak figure and the character on the show. It doesn't help that the outfit they chose for the figure was one of the silliest ones he wore. Ironically, the 5" Garak figure is better dressed and a better likeness.
It's also worth noting that Playmates had an understandably difficult time getting Cardassian skin tone quite right. But it's not their fault, really. Depending on the character, set lighting, and possibly whoever was mixing the make-up that day, Cardassians could look greenish-grey, straight grey, or even a sort of pinkish grey at times.
Similarly with regard to likenesses, the figure of The Doctor for Voyager doesn't look especially like actor Robert Picardo. The eyes are far too small. If they were using a photo or series of photos of Picardo on which to base the sculpt, then someone caught him during an allergy attack. Ironically, a picture of the prototype of the figure on the back of the package was a much better likeness.
The Bashir and Dax figures from the Deep Space Nine collection aren't the greatest, either, although I think the Dax figure suffers from poor molding more than poor sculpting. There's something about the way the hair was sculpted, or perhaps varying degrees in the thickness of plastic, that causes the head to look pinched in on the sides.
Still, I find it a little unfortunate that some character likenesses are dead on, while others are less so, sometimes far less so. I know that companies hire many sculptors, but I suspect a few needed a little more training in likeness reproduction.
These are, however, relatively minimal complaints in an otherwise excellent series of figures that I only wish continued to this day. I wouldn't mind at all seeing 9" cloth-uniformed figures of the crew of STAR TREK ENTERPRISE. I'd gladly make shelf space for Archer and company, especially if they made sure that Shran the Andorian was part of it.
However, these days the Star Trek license is in the hands of ART ASYLUM. Interestingly, they actually did do at least one sculpt for the Playmates line -- the very weird alien Species 8472 from Voyager, a critter so thoroughly non-humaoid that it represented the first fully computer-animated alien for Star Trek (and on that note, who'd like to see them do a CG version of three-armed Lt. Arex from the classic Animated Series on the show sometime? Maybe Arex's grandfather or something?).
Anyway, Art Asylum handled the task of turning that bizarre piece of work into an action figure, and apparently enjoyed themselves so much that when the Star Trek license was up for grabs, they grabbed it. To date, they've produced a series of figures from Enterprise, that sadly ended up on clearance in most places, a small series based on the Star Trek movie Nemesis, which deservedly ended up on clearance, and a series based on the Classic Star Trek, which are presently being sold in specialty outlets such as Suncoast Video and the like, Art Asylum having wisely determined that this is a better market for Star Trek figures than Toys "R" Us and Target (a lesson a few other toy lines could stand to learn themselves...)
But Art Asylum's figures, while very well made, even using the computerized RealScan system to ensure fully accurate likenesses, are not size-compatible with any of Playmates' previous products. They stand roughly 7" in height, neither 5" nor 9", and they do not have cloth uniforms.
I suspect the days of the 9", cloth-costumed Star Trek figures are sadly gone. And really, it's too bad, because there's so much potential in something like this returning. But it's not likely. Fortunately, those of us who have preserved our figures from the time of their release can still look over our display areas, and see characters from four different Star Treks, standing together, reminding us of the finest sci-fi concept of all time -- and a very cool action figure series.