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Monday, December 17, 2012

Adventures in Trek: Red Data Action Figure

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s was an awesome time to be a Trekkie. We Trekkie kids had everything and anything available to us if Paramount was willing to slap 'Star Trek' on it. There were shampoos, Slurpee cups, band-aids, shirts, hats, trading cards, models, and of course action figures. Where every Trekkie kid could indulge their imaginations for an afternoon. Paramount licensed Star Trek to action figure maker Playmates Toys in the early 90s. This would give young Trekkies and collectors a dramatic difference in selection and quality over the previous license holder; Galoob Toys which had held it for most of the late 80s. Here is some quick info about the first wave of action figures.

The action figures produced by Playmates were not new or revolutionary by any means. Playmates had been making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys, and put the same effort into making the Star Trek toys. The heart of the Trek line was Star Trek The Next Generation. By 1992, TNG was a hit and consumers wanted toys for their kids. The first run of  ten 4.5 inch TNG action figures was an assortment of the main crew (minus Beverly Crusher and Wesley Crusher), Gowron, a generic Romulan, a generic Ferengi, and a generic Borg. They all came with an assortment of cookie cutter accessories and some that were unique to the character. All had movable joints and the hands could hold their accessories. They came with a display base and the box featured a info card. This remained the formula with either additions or modifications for well on into the early 2000s.



One of the marketing ploys used to attract the Collector Market was the use of exclusive releases. They would contract out with certain stores and offer an action figure to shoppers of that store only. In the case of the very rare Red Data action figure from 1994, JC Penny's was the only place you could order this action figure from their store catalog as part of a 4 figure promotion. Only about 7,000 were made and released in the United States. JC Penny's catalog were the only way to obtain them in the U.S. This alone might be enough for this 'toy' to be considered rare.

Now the astute student of Star Trek would notice the big problem with this action figure. Playmates claims (according to the box art) that this is a representation of Data from the episodes Redemption. You may recall Redemption was split into two parts to close the 4th season and open the 5th season with the Klingon Civil War. In these two episodes, Data is given command of the starship Sutherland and encounters a little bit of android racism from one of his underlings. He is never seen wearing a red uniform, even though he has been given a field command. We only get to see Data in a red uniform twice during the entire series. The first was in Future Imperfect, where a holographic Data from the future is Captain Riker's first officer. The other appearance of Data in a red uniform is in Chain of Command part II, where he becomes temporary first officer under Captain Jellico. Chain of Command takes place in Season 6.

What they were trying to accomplish with this action figure is uncertain. The box art on the reverse side calls into question if they had even watched the episode. On the yellow index card sized info sheet it gives a brief summary of Data's actions during the episode. At the very bottom it lists a 'Collectors Note" and says that Data had the red uniform on for a special ceremony for Worf. You will recall from the episode that no such scene occurred, and I have not been able to find any references to such a scene in Memory Alpha as either a concept or deleted scene. Are they just making this stuff up at they go along? Did someone at TNG ok this?

Most of the Playmates Star Trek figures were all made from similar molds. Heads were all the same for each version of the crew, just put on a new different colored body. This Data is clearly the same Data body from previous figures, just with a red uniform. It also does not come with a collectable trading card or space cap (the Playmates Toys POG equivalent). 

Even with all the markings of low quality control and lack of oversight, this action figure is still highly sought after by collectors. It had very low production (under 10,000) and the mistakes Playmates made also give this more desirability. It is one of those items that is great because it is so bad. $100 to $150 dollars is probably a pretty fair price for a mint condition example. A decade ago, that estimate could very well have been doubled, but times change and interests change. Get it signed by Brent Spiner and then you'll have yourself a real collectable.

Common problems that will hurt the value of this very rare figure are the yellowing of the plastic encasing. If it was displayed in the direct sun, it the card will lose its color and fade and the plastic will turn very yellow. The plastic can be known to be smashed over the years, or the box could have dents and rips. Typical wear and tear for something that wasn't properly stored.  

With Art Asylum and Diamond Select  making action figures of such greater quality it is hard to compare. This is their Red Data from 2006. Great item. Clearly made for the collector and die hard Trekkie.
They got the episode right, and he comes with SPOT!

It is also probably wise to point out the markets are also very different. Playmates intended for kids to buy or be bought for their action figures and toys. The more and more they realized that collectors, who grew up without a strong Trek merch line up, were buying their toys the more they started feeding that craze. Now, with rare exceptions, all Star Trek action figures are made for the collector (not to be opened) market.
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