Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Rob The Smithsonian? Playmates' U.S.S. Enterprise 1701 Toy Is Great!

The Good: Cool sounds, Good light effects, Nice size and sculpt, Stand
The Bad: Minor light effect issue, Decals, Minor scale issue
The Basics: The U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek - the Original Series - as rendered by Playmates Toys makes for an excellent conversation piece (and toy)!

When Playmates Toys first picked up the license for creating Star Trek toys, it focused on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It overproduced the figures and starship toys, but the market was there and for a while collectors were obsessed with keeping their Playmates toys mint in package because they were building their nest egg on them. As the hysteria died down and people came to understand that everybody had the toys - and eventually the market bottomed out - Playmates was able to expand its Star Trek line past Star Trek: The Next Generation.

By the time the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek (click here for my review!) hit, Playmates was producing original Star Trek toys in both the action figure and starship lines. Perhaps the most anticipated and most exciting of these was the ship toy of the U.S.S. Enterprise. This is the Constitution-class, original U.S.S. Enterprise that was featured on the original television show Star Trek, NCC-1701, no suffixes! And it is a beauty!

Indeed, this is a cultural icon - or the original one is, anyway. But because we cannot live in the Smithsonian, the Playmates toy version of the U.S.S. Enterprise offers the best way to nab this starship in a decent form.


Playmates toys released the U.S.S. Enterprise as part of the celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek. Because there was so much swag on the market at the time, many fans and collectors were tapped out when it came time to shell out for this ship. These toys were designed to appeal to the niche of collectors who liked models, but were not married to the building of models. As a result, the U.S.S. Enterprise is seventeen and a half inches long, eight inches wide and just over four inches tall.

The U.S.S. Enterprise defined Federation starship design. As a result, the ship has the standard separated warp nacelles, engineering hull and bridge sections. The saucer section and nacelles are connected to the engineering hull by thin, graceful pylons. Reflecting the StarFleet values on starship deign, though, it is a standard gray color. This is actually one of the more intriguing designs for a ship in the Star Trek and it is arguably THE indispensable Star Trek ship.

The hull of the U.S.S. Enterprise is characterized by smooth lines and minimal detailing. There are window ports on the engineering hull, but for the most part, this is a sleek and stylish space ship that has clean lines and a smooth surface.

It is somewhat surprising that with such attention to detail for the sculptural lines and indentations, Playmates would resort to a decals for the lettering and lines over the various sections of the starship, as opposed to painting it on or making it part of the actual sculpt. This is nitpicky, to be sure, but it is irksome that Playmates did not do the work of applying the decals. There are small Federation symbols, racing stripes and serial numbers along the ship and while they are accurate, they are not the most flattering aspect of this toy.

The light effects are not bad, but they are contained exclusively to the warp nacelles. This is disappointing as there are red and green running lights on the saucer section that could have been made with lights, but instead are painted on. Furthermore, the only other reasonable light source - the bridge dome - is not lit either. This lessens the overall effect of the lights that do come on when the buttons are pushed. Given that it is just the two tiny nacelle tips, this seems understated.

The only other issue comes in the way it interacts with the other starship toys. The U.S.S. Enterprise 1701 is a smaller starship than the others in the Star Trek universe, most notably the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D. That it is actually longer in this iteration than the Vor'cha class cruiser and the U.S.S. Defiant might upset some fans, though I am mostly indifferent to that. After all, all of the ships are being made in about the same physical size, so the scale issues became an issue the moment they made the Shuttlecraft Goddard the same size as the Romulan Warbird!


Fortunately, the U.S.S. Enterprise does come with a stand. The Enterprise plugs into a StarFleet symbol stand which holds it a foot above whatever surface the ship is on. Playmates responded to the adult demand for making the toys more like display pieces when they began to include stands that the starships would rest upon. The U.S.S. Enterprise continues that tradition and it is nice to have a stable stand to suspend the toy upon. Equally nice is how the Enterprise sets into the stand's cradle so it may be easily removed, without removing the battery panel on the bottom!

The toy is outfitted with four buttons on the top and center of the ship which generates sounds from a sound chip. When pressed, the toy emits sounds of: photon torpedoes, phasers, the warp drive and the background beeps and whistles from the bridge of the Enterprise. The best sound is the last one as it is such a distinctive and unique sound. The sound effects are easily more memorable than the light effects and they make for an interesting selling point and conversation piece.

The U.S.S. Enterprise requires three AAA batteries, for the light and sound effects and they are included in the ship when one purchases it.


The U.S.S. Enterprise is a starship toy, so it does not open up (save the battery slot) and does not naturally interact with the 4.5 (or any other) action figure line. It comes out of the box completely assembled, though there are decals that need to be applied.

This is a toy that - outside lighting up and making noise - does nothing. As a result, it is a good toy for children who have an imagination. They interact with other children to create space battles or just soar through the galaxy until they are tired out or whatever kids do.

Honestly, this is a toy created with the intent of selling to adults who are into collectible toys. That purpose was mostly met and the U.S.S. Enterprise is a good display piece.


The most severe limitation to the collectibility of the U.S.S. Enterprise as a collectible comes in its selling point as a toy; because the toy comes with batteries and browsers are encouraged by the box to test the sounds, collectors are left with a real dilemma. As most collectors know, almost everything that is collectible is made more valuable by being Mint In Box. The potential consequence of leaving the U.S.S. Enterprise truly mint in box is that the batteries, well after they are dead, will leak and eat apart the starship and packaging.

As a result, many collectors - even those who do not display the ship because they want to keep it mint in package - opened the package to remove the batteries. It is difficult to assess the effect this has on the collectibility because these near mint in box ships might well be in better condition than a truly mint in box one which might reasonably have suffered serious damage from battery degradation by this point (especially in more humid climes).

That said, Playmates made the U.S.S. Enterprise more collectible by including a limited edition number on the box to each toy. Then again, they made it less collectible by producing the toy in the volume that they did. My toy is numbered #102432 and so with at least 102,433 of these out in the world, it's hard to consider it especially limited. Moreover, many collectors - who could afford to - purchased these and stockpiled them when they were first released, though the market does seem to have gone up on them lately.


I love my U.S.S. Enterprise because I'm not big on making models. Actually, I've discovered I am not very good at making models. This offers something about the same size and it fits the decor in my computer room well.

It's a decent toy, but buyers who are looking to buy one need to be exceptionally careful about what they are buying. If the seller has left the toy truly mint in box, be sure to have some form of guarantee that if you open it and discover the batteries have bled, you'll be able to get your money back!

Anyone wishing they could explore the galaxy or own a cultural icon, this is the toy to do it with!

For other Star Trek toys, please check out:
"Arena" Minimates collection
Scotty Wacky Wobbler
"Amok Time" Hallmark ornament


For other toy reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2008, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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