As I write this, it’s more than a week after Christmas Day, 2014. What kind of Star Trek goodies did you get this year? For me, the item that was far and away the most awesomely Trekish was the Phaser Universal Remote Control, gifted to me by my co-writer, best friend and hetero life mate, Kevin Dilmore. It’s ridiculously fun to play with, and one of these days, I may even get around to programming it to actually work with my TV.
Nah, probably not. After all, there’s still so much pew-pew-pewing to be done.
Anyway, receiving this swank new gadget started me to thinking about the Star Trek toys of my childhood. That was a time when the only Star Trek to be had were reruns of the original show after school and — for a while — The Animated Series on Saturday mornings. Granted, toys from that era were simpler, cheaper, and as often as not completely inaccurate with respect to their on-screen counterparts. That said, they possessed an undeniable charm and style that remains undiminished by the passage of time. What sort of toys and other items of geekery might we be talking about? Well, presented here in no particular order, are ten of my favorites to get the discussion started:
Mego Action Figures – No 1970s Star Trek-dominated childhood was complete without these babies. Standing eight inches tall, the figures boasted uniforms, accessories and likenesses that rival or even surpass similar toys that would come later. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and most of the Enterprise gang (No Sulu or Chekov back in the day) facing off against the lone Klingon figure who may or may not have been Koloth from “The Trouble With Tribbles” provided countless hours of adventure. Things got even more awesome with the inclusion of the “U.S.S. Enterprise Action Playset,” which looked more like the inside of a disco club than the bridge we all remember from the series. A second wave of figures consisting of various aliens that bore little or no resemblance to actual creatures seen on the show was harder to come by. Recent years have seen reproductions of the original figures as well as new additions to the roster and more accurate representations of various Star Trek aliens, which largely succeed in recreating those fun times of yesteryear.
Rayline Tracer Gun – I’m pretty sure nearly every kid who grew up in the 70s remembers some version of this thing. It was one of several toys that bore a Star Trek label while looking absolutely nothing like anything you might recall seeing on the TV show. So far as I can, tell it remains the most popular of the bunch, surpassing such oddities as the “Rocket Pistol” or the “Space Fun Helmet.” As for the Tracer Gun, it looked nothing like a phaser and yet was still completely awesome. I must have had six or seven of these things over the course of my single-digit years. You could load it up with these little plastic discs that came in all sorts of colors, and proceed to shoot out the eyes of all your friends. Fun for everyone! Of course, this was back when child safety was pretty much an afterthought when it came to toys. Ah, those were the days. Later versions did somewhat resemble a phaser, but it’s the “classic” model that collectors still go after.
Mego Super Phaser II Target Game – Speaking of phasers, how about this gem? Well before Laser Tag and Paintball were cool, there was this. Mego strikes again! The “game” consisted of an oversized phaser-like gun that was basically a flashlight, and a reflective target featuring art of a Klingon battle cruiser. Hit the target and you get a satisfying buzzing sound from the gun. Ingenious tykes like myself partnered with a friend who also had one of these—and both of his eyes after surviving any number of engagements with our Tracer Guns—and we would wear the target reflectors strung around our necks while running around the neighborhood and trying to take each other out. Fresh air, exercise, and the thrill of the hunt: Tell me how Call of Duty competes with that.
Remco Utility Belt – Now we’re talking! So, you say you wanted to inject at least a little accuracy into your playground role-play? Remco was your dealer, with this “utility belt” that featured a phaser, communicator and a tricorder, all of which made a heroic attempt at looking somewhat like the equipment carried by Captain Kirk and his landing parties. As a bonus, the phaser fired those wonderful little Tracer Gun discs. Jiggity.
AMT Models – Specifically, the Enterprise and the “Exploration Set.” I built a couple of the other kits in this line at different points during my childhood, but the Enterprise? I must’ve assembled a half dozen of those things, mostly because I kept breaking them after I was finished building and painting them. Likewise, I went through several of the Exploration Sets, which included a phaser, communicator and tricorder. Those were prone to breakage thanks to the irresistible urge that compelled me to take them outside and play with them even though they were fragile plastic models. Whoops! Guess I had to go and get another set to build. Just my tough luck. Another favorite was the truly cool “Mr. Spock” model, where he’s depicted shooting his phaser at a giant three-headed snake. There also was the Enterprise bridge diorama, but I actually didn’t attempt to tackle that one until my twenties (Hint: I’m a horrible model builder.). Most of these kits have been reissued in recent years, and yes, I’ve been tempted to buy and build them all over again.
FASA Role Playing Game – This came along in 1982, when I was in my teens. Before Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, material like this fueled fans’ imaginations and need for new Star Trek material. I remember begging my mother for an advance on my allowance so that I could run to the hobby shop at the local mall in order to buy the big box that was the first edition of this game and—a bit later—the expansion set focusing on the Klingons. The original edition of the game was jam-packed with rulebooks, game scenarios, playing pieces and deck plans for both the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser. FASA would continue to produce new rulebooks and supplements until 1989, and I’m almost embarrassed to tell you just how much of this stuff I still have in my library. Hey! It’s good reference material. Honest.
Dinky Toys U.S.S. Enterprise – A die-cast metal model of everyone’s favorite starship, with a truly dinky (Yeah, I said it.) shuttlecraft stored in the secondary hull, and which fired little orange discs from the front of the saucer. Totally screen-accurate, right? Of course not, but nobody cared. There also was a Klingon ship, but I never managed to get my grubby paws on one of those. There aren’t many Star Trek toys that I’d like to reacquire now that I’m older and possessing more disposable income, but the Dinky Enterprise is near the top of that short list.
Mego Communicators – Long before everybody started carrying a phone in their pocket, walkie talkies were the toys to have. They came in all shapes, sizes, and broadcast ranges, which varied between two and two hundred feet depending on line of sight, weather, interference from metal or magnetic objects, and whether or not you could last an hour before finding a way to break the three-foot antenna sticking out of the things. Mego made sure Star Trek got in on this action, by producing a pair of walkie-talkies that looked suspiciously like oversized communicators from the original show, complete with flip cover. When it came time to “play” Star Trek with your friends, you grabbed these and your Tracer Guns and hit the streets, ready to defend the neighborhood from whichever kids in the group got saddled with playing Klingons or some other alien menace. Good times, those.
Puzzles, Comic Books and Colorforms -- Hey, remember the era we’re talking about, here. It was before video game consoles, computers, tablets, and smart phones. Hell, VCRs were still years away. A kid’s imagination was his or her greatest weapon against boredom, and Star Trek stuff helped to fill that void. I probably had ten different Trek puzzles, including three or four inspired by The Animated Series. And let’s not forget those gloriously cheesy comics from Gold Key that had the Enterprise shooting fire out of its nacelles and Spock with ears big enough to pull in radio signals from Neptune. Lastly, there was the Colorforms Playset, which let you create your own Star Trek scenes on something resembling the Enterprise bridge. I also had the Planet of the Apes Colorforms set, which let me create my own crossover adventures decades before comics got in on the act.
Mego’s Mission to Gamma VI Playset – I saved this one for last, as it actually is something of a “Holy Grail” item; a toy I wanted but never received. I remember drooling over pictures of this in the Sears Christmas catalog. The set’s centerpiece was the large, lizard-like idol which may or may not have been Vaal from “The Apple,” and which was worshipped by a quartet of small aliens that looked as though they may have escaped from one of those Barrel of Monkeys games. Hey, it was the 70s. Vaal had his very own trap door, and sticking out of the “mountain” which housed the idol was a fabric glove. Putting your hand into the glove allowed you to terrorize your Mego Captain Kirk and other figures. If I ever manage to snag one of these off eBay—maybe along with a Bionic Bigfoot or Venus Space Probe to fight my Six Million Dollar Man figure—I could die a happy geek.
Okay, that’s my ten, and that included a bit of fudging. Sure, there are others out there, but now it’s your turn to hit me with your favorite childhood Star Trek toys and other bits of nostalgia. Who had what?
Check out the “Ten for Ward” Backlist.
Dayton Ward is the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of numerous novels and short stories, including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often working with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. He’s also written (or co-written) for Star Trek Communicator, Star Trek Magazine, Syfy.com, and Tor.com, and is a monthly contributor to the Novel Spaces writers blog. As he is still a big ol’ geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog, The Fog of Ward.