PHOTOBER THE 19TH – Lieutenant Thomas Riker

I was deeply in to the Playmates Star Trek line when I was 9 and 10 years old. Though there was not a small amount of competition for my attention at that point, and I think the only reason Power Rangers didn’t fully oust Star Trek as a main collecting interest was simply because for that whole first year it was damn near impossible to find any. Honorable mention to Exo Squad here though, another Playmates line that was way better than it had a right to be at that point in time, and which was sadly too expensive to get a good condition example of second hand to run for this month. I did try…

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The Star Trek line had an unusual challenge in that it was in support of a show, but the show itself was not made to sell those toys. If the show sells toys, the production tends to work in such a way that the show follows the lead of the merchandise. In this case, while Playmates was probably in the loop to some extent, they were definitely the followers in the equation. This led on a few occasions to some mismatch with what was happening on screen. One subtle example of this was at least one early piece of merchandise for the Defiant calling it a “Valiant Class” ship. Valiant was an early working name for the ship, and had that stuck, the class would indeed have been named such. This error had to have made it in some other materials too, since even though I had moved away from buying the toys before the Defiant was introduced, I still remember thinking of it as “Valiant Class” early on. That had to have come from somewhere. But I digress, as usual.

One of the wackier outcomes of how things worked was this figure I’m featuring today, Lt. Thomas Riker in DS9 uniform. This is from the 1995 series of Star Trek figures, and represents Will Riker’s transporter clone being on special assignment to Deep Space Nine. Meanwhile, just before Thanksgiving, 1994, the DS9 episode “Defiant” aired, which revealed (spoilers) that Tom Riker had left Starfleet and joined the Maquis. It’s very possible some of the 1995 line of figures started hitting stores in late 1994, in which case these two events may well have directly overlapped. Even if not, this would be a case of Playmates padding out an assortment with an easy reuse of assets without knowing what the studio was doing with this (probably expected to never be seen again) character until it was too late. But if anything, that just makes it more interesting.

Tom is a mix of a DS9 O’Brien body, and a Riker head. You can tell that it’s O’Brien from the rolled sleeves, a unique feature for that figure. You can also get a clue by looking at the collar. Lieutenant Riker would have two full rank pips. This body only has one pip in the sculpt, with the other being represented with a dab of gold paint. It’s interesting that they went this way, since there is a DS9 uniform body that should have the right rank pips: Dr. Bashir. Two possibilities strike me for why it turned out as it did. First is that whoever was in charge of planning this figure decided that Riker should be on a little bit bigger body, or possibly the Riker neck needed more space than the regular body would provide. Though the neck has a lot of excess space on this body, so who knows.

The accessory loadout is a mixed bag, and it’s pretty obvious this sculpt was never meant to have any of these parts. Of course there’s the phaser, captured in a perpetual moment of discharge. It can be held in either hand, to varying degrees of ineffectiveness. The left can’t hold it in a way to be able to have a thumb on the trigger, while the right can’t hold it at an angle that actually looks like firing at something.

The scanner accessory is completely unusable by these hands. For the one photo I had to literally wedge it between both hands to make it stay put for demonstration purposes. The larger “DS9 monitor” which I’m pretty sure should be a Bajoran Tricorder is thick enough to wedge in the left hand solidly. But it also has a hand loop attached to the back, usually done when the accessory is made for a figure with hands they know won’t be able to directly hold it. Conversely, in this case Riker can hold the part, but can’t use the hand loop. The Starfleet Tricorder is also not really able to be held effectively. For the record, the only accessory shared between this figure and the O’Brien it was derived from is the phaser, and damn near every Starfleet figure had one of those.

As goes poseability, you’ve pretty much seen what the arms give you in that accessory roll. For the era these were designed and produced, the articulation of them was really impressive. That sort of diminished later, with a number of figures that came out during and following Star Trek: Generations falling backward to more the 5 POA methodology. Even so, the better Star Trek figures still weren’t perfect. Perhaps in pursuit of keeping the uniforms looking as unbroken as possible, the hip joints are routinely V-cut swivels. So anyone and everyone sitting in a chair is doing so with a real wide spread. That’s probably more than a little in character for Riker, but it’s definitely not a great universal decision.

Oh, and I included shots of the original packaging here somewhat as a demonstration of how easily-obtained these toys are still sealed on card, and with the shop’s price sticker on to show how cheap these things can be. A few figures tend to go higher, but if you have comic shops, the right kinds of flea markets or antique malls, or honestly even ebay to peruse, pricing like this is very very common, making it a super-accessible vintage line to collect. Tom’s packaging was actually unusually beat up compared to most of what I find, too. You’ll see some much nicer examples later this week, so come back for more Star Trek tomorrow on the 20th of Photober!