Playmates Toys

Playmates Toys


 

“Playmates wanted extreme realism in aesthetics and function.  We were asked to design the articulation to pose as naturally as possible, like being able to sit in their vehicles the way humans really do without having unsightly joints…”

 – VARNER STUDIOS

With its unprecedented order of a full season by the NBC network in advance, seaQuest DSV was hot property and licencees were keen to cash in.  First to strike a deal with MCA/Universal merchandising were Playmates Toys to produce the obligatory action figure line.  Having successfully marketed multiple lines based on Star Trek, seaQuest seemed like a natural expansion with the first prototype debuting at the New York Toy Fair in 1994…

Though produced by the same company, the SeaQuest figures would represent advances in both articulation and likeness compared to the ‘softer’ sculpts of the Star Trek: The Next Generation figures (background)

The highlight of the 1994 Playmates catalogue  – seaQuest was showcased over no less than eight glossy pages previewing both the action figure line and impressive vehicles.  A multi-million dollar advertising campaign featuring everything from TV ads starring Darwin the Dolphin to an attraction in Universal theme parks were scheduled to surface that summer…

The eye-watering demonstration of the complete range at the 1994 New York Toyfair (starting at 06:12 in the video) and the subsequent reports from US magazines Action Figure News And Toy Review plus the ‘Hot Pick’ from Tomarts Action Figure Digest had fans in eager anticipation of release…

..But astonishingly, the campaign would never materialise.  The significant ratings drop after the pilot premiered plus poor critical reception to subsequent episodes lead to the line being cancelled after the release of just nine figures.   Frustratingly, none of the amazing vehicle prototypes made it to production despite being most anticipated.  Meantime, sales were average but the figures were well-received by collectors due to their authentic styling and wealth of accessories thanks to the innovators at Varner Studios

From the Portfolio Archive of Varner Studios comes this detailed profile of the SeaQuest line and the considerable effort and research it took to produce them

SeaQuest figures in Europe were distributed by IDEAL on simplified cards similar to the Canadian versions but lacking the details and photo on the left side.  the pink character labels would also be omitted.

The spread from their 1995 catalogue (below) shows the Bridger figure with white cuffs which was exclusive to the European issue.  The only other variant known is Lucas placed backward in the blister.  The assortment lists Ensign Darwin and Dr.Z for the second wave but no examples on IDEAL cards have been found to date.  This listing is also the only evidence that the Kristin Westphalen figure was next in line to be produced…

The assortment according to IDEAL would also have included the vehicles and the much sought-after Dr. Westphalen…
Made in Macao, a case of 16 figures would consist of only one complete set of nine from the range, with The Regulator being most common and Dr. Z, Bridger & Ford limited to one unit each…
Originally offered as a subscription incentive, the four figures personally signed by Jonathan Brandis are now arguably amongst the most coveted of all seaQuest merchandise…

Despite its short-lived run,  the Playmates toys have stood the test of time and remain one of the best-looking action figure lines ever produced in the 4 1/2″ scale, winning awards in contemporary toy publications and online reviews.  In retrospect, its easy to see why the line may have somewhat limited appeal, with five out of nine figures head-to-toe in black and uninspiring adversaries.  The Ensign Darwin figure, however,  is a delight and one can’t help but wonder what the influence of the show’s change of theme from Science Faction to fiction would have had on subsequent releases.

The SeaQuest line came a very respectable third in a poll of the best action figures of all time by short-lived UK Toy magazine Area 51…

For the completist, the answer to this question can be found here in this document I created years ago listing all the products Playmates could potentially have produced had the line been as popular as their Star Trek portfolio – SQ Action Figure Archive

While it may be a work of fiction (borne of frustration and fuelled by imagination) like most things seaQuest its enjoyable to speculate about what might have been…

Actor Ted Raimi with his SeaQuest Lieutenant J.G. O’Neill figure – still a popular item to sign at Cons more than two decades later…

ML