Playmates Toys, Inc. has the distinction of being one of the most-prolific Star Trek licensees of all time. The famous toy manufacturer released more than 350 of the 4.5” action figure line, more than 30 of the 6” and 12” lines, nearly 90 of the 9” line, in addition to numerous play sets, starship toys and role-playing items from 1992 until 2000, and again in 2009, when the company produced collectibles for that year’s Star Trek movie reboot.
One of the popular features of collecting Playmates Toys action figures then, in retail stores, and now, on the secondary market, is the sheer variety of costumes and styles which action figures were offered. Rarely was the same character released in the same outfit, which is quite a feat considering the number of Kirk, Spock, Picard, Worf and other popular character variants that all received multiple releases. Worf himself had a baker's dozen of the 4.5" action figures alone, each with a different costume.
Examples of this could be seen in the Star Trek: Voyager line, first introduced near the premiere of the pilot episode “Caretaker” in 1995. In addition to the main characters in their traditional attire, variations were offered, especially as retailer exclusives.
Captain Kathryn Janeway, in her Season 1 outfit, was of course part of the initial wave of action figures. In September 1999, however, New Force Comics offered a limited-edition variation of Captain Janeway as seen in the episode “Flashback.” The figure featured the sculpt of the original Janeway action figure on the body mold of the Saavik (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) action figure previously released in the movie line. Limited to 10,000, the packaging was also excellent because it allowed collectors who didn’t wish to open the figure a nice view of Janeway wearing the original movie-era Starfleet costume.
In November 1997, Neelix got his own store exclusive thanks to retailer Spencer Gifts, with the character featured in a yellow Starfleet uniform. Neelix wore such an outfit several times on Voyager, in such episodes as “Year of Hell,” “Living Witness” and “Before and After.” The figure was limited to an edition of 15,000.
Seven of Nine, a character that was introduced around the same time that Playmates Toys was nearing the end of producing Star Trek toys, was the subject of many action figure variations. Target Stores had an exclusive silver costume edition in May 1999, and a cobalt costume edition was available in nations outside the United States.
One of the rarest of the Voyager action figures was Reginald Barclay from “Projections.” Originally, the figure was to be part of the infamous 1701 line – three action figures that would be limited to only that amount. Fan protests resulted in a larger edition of the Barclay figures, with 3,000 being offered at stores.
However, arguably, the most interesting and unusual variation is that of Tom Paris as featured in the episode “Threshold” available in 1997. Now that is quite a variation – or should we say “mutation?"
Considering the technological limitations of the era, Playmates Toys action figures remain a popular item for fans to collect because of their sheer volume, good likenesses, and, as discussed with Voyager, the amazing number of variations and unusual offerings.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.