REVIEW: EMCE TOYS MEGO-RETRO STAR TREK ENSIGN CHEKOV
As I said when I reviewed the EmCe Toys figure of Lt. Sulu a while back, when the Mego Corporation had the license to do action figures of the Classic Star Trek crew and assorted aliens -- along with having the license to do action figures of just about everything else in pop culture creation at the time -- they did a very effective job of bringing to plastic life most of the command crew of the starship Enterprise, as well as an interesting host of assorted aliens and most of the command crew of the starship Enterprise.
Two that got left out, for reasons that have been speculated about for thirty plus years, were Lt. Sulu, and Ensign Pavel Chekov. Fans would have to wait for Playmates Toys to release a fancy boxed set of the Classic Star Trek Bridge Crew to get their first action figures of Sulu and Chekov, and although there has been no shortage of those two since, in several scales, mostly from Playmates or Art Asylum, their absence in the Mego line remained something of a sore spot with longtime Trek fans as well as Mego fans.
It was a sore spot that EmCe Toys, in bringing back the Mego-esque Star Trek action figures, was determined to correct.
Billed as the "First New Megos" in over thirty years, with Mego's founder Marty Abrams finally regaining the legal rights to his former company's name, Lt. Sulu and Ensign Chekov have finally been inducted into this popular figure format. I reviewed Lt. Sulu separately, prior to this. This review will take a look at the Ensign Chekov figure.
A word about the packaging. EmCe Toys has very carefully taken the original backdrop, the Enterprise flying past a planet on a field of stars, the Star Trek logo developed by Mego, which is close if not exactly like the official Star Trek logo, and even added the circles of artwork, paintings of the individual characters who are available as figures. It's really as superb a reproduction as the figures.
So -- where did they get such excellent matching artwork of Sulu, Chekov, and for that matter, the improved Gorn, who was available in the same assortment as Sulu? This will show how dedicated the people at EmCe Toys are -- they found the original Mego artist, one Harold Schull, and commissioned new illustrations from him! Now -- THAT'S impressive to me. Schull is credited on the back of the package card, some long overdue kudos, in my opinion.
As to Ensign Pavel Chekov. He was introduced in the second season of the original Star Trek series, for reasons that seemed more market-driven than anything. He was brought into the show to try to attract both more of a youth market, and more of a female audience. He was intended to be young, good-looking, and he had a hairstyle that seemed more geared towards an early 60's rock band than a 23rd century starship. In point of fact, actor Walter Koenig had to wear a hairpiece for a few episodes until his own hair grew out to a comparable length.
He was also the first Russian on the show. In this, one tends to see the hand of Roddenberry. Star Trek already boasted multi-national characters. You had Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura, all representing different nationalities, and you had Spock, representing a different planet.
It made sense to have a Russian in the mix for two reasons. In the 1960's, the United States was very much in a "space race" with the Soviet Union, and both sides had had their share of victories. Fortunately, we beat them to the moon. For that matter, they have yet to get there.
At the same time, in the 1960's, the Cold War was in full swing, and the Soviet Union was seen as the absolute antithesis to the United States, and the greatest threat to world peace and freedom imaginable. Roddenberry was a great believer in peaceful co-existence and all that, so one has to believe that putting a Russian on the bridge of the Enterprise was at once an acknowledgment of the Soviet Union's then current capabilities in space, and the hope that by the 23rd century, the national differences -- wouldn't make much difference.
Technically, actor Walter Koenig wasn't Russian. Then again, James Doohan wasn't actually Scottish, for that matter, but both men were highly proficient at the required accents.
Chekov would get to shine perhaps a little more than initially intended, when actor George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu, left briefly for a fairly significant movie role. The easiest thing to do was to have Chekov take over the scenes, which actor Koenig did, doubtless with a little rewriting.
Chekov was first of all very dedicatedly Russian. He was fond of commenting that practically everything in the known universe was somewhere along the way a Russian invention. He even tried to persuade Mr. Scott that vodka was an immensely superior drink to scotch, which he claimed was invented by a little old lady from Leningrad.
Chekov was secondly extremely loyal to Captain Kirk. Chekov was portrayed early on, and for a while, as a fresh-out-of-the-Academy Ensign who nevertheless had obviously showed some sort of considerable potential that was recognized by Kirk and the rest of the command crew of the Enterprise, and so he was being given more than a few "pushes" along the way. On a ship that doubtless had no shortage of ensigns, Chekov had an important position on the Bridge and was frequently included in staff meetings and landing parties.
Best of all, he didn't wear a red shirt, but rather a gold one, which doubtless increased his probability of survival exponentially.
Chekov's enthusiasm sometimes got the better of him. In the classic episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles", Chekov is more than ready to bash a Klingon into next week who's bad-mouthing Captain Kirk. Mr. Scott manages to hold the young ensign back and play peacemaker -- right up to the point where the Klingon made the mistake of turning his insults from Kirk to the Enterprise itself, and found out the hard way that it's not a good idea to insult a Scotsman in a bar about his ship.
On another occasion, Chekov starts rattling off endless statistics about something or other to Captain Kirk, and when asked to please keep the summary a little more -- well, summarized, claims that Captain Kirk requires precise and accurate information. Whereupon Dr. McCoy comments to the Captain that Spock has been a horrible influence on the young Engisn.
All of this loyalty and enthusiasm didn't help Chekov get into the animated series which followed the Original Series. Chekov was the only major character who didn't make it into the show, which even included Nurse Chapel from time to time. Granted, Sulu and Uhura only made it into the show, voiced by George Takei and Nichelle Nichols, at the insistence of Leonard Nimoy, who threatened to walk if they weren't included.
Chekov's absence did allow for the introduction of the fascinating alien crewman known as Lt. Arex, a strange being with three arms and three legs that might only recently be possible in a live-action setting through the use of CGI. But with conventional animation, you could basically do anything that you could draw, and not bust the budget in the process. Though Chekov-less, the Animated Series took great advantage of the design freedom allowed by animation, and in fairness, actor Walter Koenig did manage to have some involvement with the show, by scripting one of its episodes.
Chekov would return for the first Star Trek movie, where he had been promoted to Lieutenant, and was now in charge of weapons and security for the new Enterprise. By the time of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Chekov was a Commander, and was serving on board the Starship Reliant, under the command of Captain Terrell. This ship had the bad luck to run across Khan and the surviving genetically-engineered supermen that Captain Kirk had encountered years before. Chekov also had the misfortune of having a mind-controlling worm put in his ear.
Here's a little Hollywood secret -- one of the reasons Chekov always seemed to manage to get into some sort of desperate trouble was because the actor had one of the best "screams" in the business. If there was some opportunity to frighten, terrify, or otherwise put Chekov into some sort of peril where Koenig had to scream his lungs out, it was likely to happen.
Chekov continued to appear throughout the Star Trek movies, including "Generations", where he and Scotty accompanied Captain Kirk at the christening of the Enterprise-B. The scene originally called for the threesome to be Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, but Leonard Nimoy didn't feel like donning the ears for a virtual cameo, and without Nimoy, DeForest Kelley apparently saw no reason to reprise his role, either. Koenig and Doohan were more accommodating, although some elements of the intended Spock/McCoy roles are still evident, with Chekov seeing to some of the medical needs of survivors from a damaged starship, and Scotty making more than a few wry remarks to Kirk that he wouldn't've dared made in earlier times.
Chekov's ultimate fate is unknown, and he's one of the few core classic characters whose fate we really don't have anything about beyond that movie. We know that Kirk died in "Generations" (although a series of Shatner-produced novels brings him back). We know from the opening episode of Next Generation that McCoy survived to the 24th century. We know Scotty survived 75 years in a transporter buffer thanks to the Next Generation episode "Relics", and we know that Sulu earned the command of the Starship Excelsior, and presumably served with distinction. On Voyager, Captain Janeway made the command that Sulu, whom she "encountered" in a mind-meld flashback with Tuvok, who had served on the Excelsior, didn't look anything like his portrait in Starfleet Headquarters, so one might assume that Sulu achieved a number of lofty goals along the way. And of course, Spock survived into the 24th century, to try to bring the Romulans and the Federation to peace.
Uhura remains a mystery, and so does Chekov. We can only hope that perhaps someday, their stories will be told, and that they fared well in their respective futures.
So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. I'm going to have to say something here that's a little bit negative, and I'm afraid I may be raising a few comparison points, but there are respects to which I was rather disappointed with the other "new" Enterprise crew figure. Lt. Sulu, and I was afraid that they might have carried over to Chekov. Fortunately, they don't.
Also in fairness, my emphasis on this Star Trek line has been on the aliens. While I may want to own the Enterprise crew at some point, I've been putting a priority on figures like the Klingon, the Romulan, the Andorian, and the Gorn. Sulu was the first Enterprise crew figure that I had picked up. I have reviewed Sulu, and his review should be elsewhere on this Web Site.
Whatever my concerns may have been with Sulu, they are non-existent here with Chekov. The shirt is nicely made and of a proper length. Sulu's shirt seemed a little short. The body colors are appropriate and consistent. Sulu's body colors seemed to vary somewhat from one piece to another. Chekov's articulation points are, for the most part, decently tight. He's a little loose in the hands, but not to the degree that one of Sulu's hands was, and honestly, neither Sulu nor Chekov were the first time I had encountered this.
And while it's obviously not fair to compare the headsculpts, since they're two entirely different characters, Chekov's head is certainly sturdier. Not only was Sulu's head clearly lighter (I am reluctant to say "more hollow" since that sounds faintly insulting, but it is technically correct), but it didn't even seem to want to stay put on the torso as well. Sulu's head was an excellent likeness, don't get me wrong. It was some of the technical details relative to the other figures in the line that bothered me.
Chekov does not have this problem. His head feels decently sturdy, and it stays put well. As to the likeness, it's excellent. The headsculpt is, shall we say, a superb likeness of the character within the parameters established by Mego in the 1970's, and carried over to this EmCe line in 2009. It would be entirely possible to place this figure in a lineup of original Megos, and the headsculpt especially would allow him to be a perfect match – as long as you didn't notice the 2008 copyright date on the back of his head.
Put another way, if it were possible to transport this figure back in time 35 years or thereabouts, you could put him in with a loo se display of then-brand-new Megos, and anyone seeing it would be pretty well convinced that it was an actual, original, Mego figure of Ensign Chekov. The headsculpt blends in that well.
It looks like the Chekov character, but also has the somewhat limited detailing that was the order of the day in the 1970's, especially with regard to the hair. These days, we expect to see an action figure's hair sculpted down to the last strand. That wasn't necessarily the case in the 1970's, even in the Star Trek line. Spock's very straight hair was very intricately sculpted. Scotty's and McCoy's were rather less so, with basically just a few ridges and lines denoting any sort of hairstyle under the paint.
Chekov sort of splits these two extremes. His hair is nicely detailed, moreso than some, but not down to the individual strand count of Spock. In this, he's pretty much like Sulu, and it was a good call to make on both headsculpts.
Chekov's eyes are neatly painted, with whites, brown irises, black pupils, and a line over the eye representing eyelashes. The eyebrows have also been neatly painted. Really, everything about this headsculpt screams, "Match it as closely as you can to the parameters of an original Mego, while making it look like the character." And whomever did the sculpt certainly succeeded. There is no doubt in my mind that had Chekov been made by Mego in the 1970's, this is what he would have looked like.
The uniform is also nicely done. It's a minor point, but it's worth mentioning that this is the first Star Trek Enterprise uniform shirt ever done for a Mego or Mego-esque line that doesn't have any rank braid on the sleeve cuffs. That's because Ensigns didn't have any.
The black trousers are of a superb design and appropriate length. Here's another unfortunate Sulu comparison. Sulu's trousers seem to come up a little short. I really hate to harp on the negative, but I'm almost wondering if the only way to get a really good Sulu would be to buy a Captain Kirk, swap the heads (and deal with the fact that Sulu's head, while a good likeness, isn't manufactured quite as well), snip two of the rank stripes off, and give him Kirk's uniform. I've heard reports that EmCe is planning a second production run of some of the early figures in the Star Trek series. If anybody needs a second run, it's Sulu – to get the bugs out.
Chekov, fortunately, doesn't have any such bugs. The trousers fit well and come to just below the black boot tops. The boots are not removable. When Mego crafted the Star Trek line, they realized that the rather narrow boots worn by Starfleet personnel couldn't really be designed as loose footwear on a conventional Mego leg. So they crafted a lower leg that WAS the boot, and molded it in black. That has been carried over by EmCe, and it works very nicely.
Chekov comes with the accessories one would expect for a crewman on the U.S.S. Enterprise. This includes a narrow black belt with a communicator and phaser, molded in the traditional light blue used by Mego, and a light blue tricorder slung over one shoulder. If you're more inclined to have Chekov without his accessories, as he wouldn't generally wear them in his position as navigator on the Bridge, all are easily removed. And since the package Chekov comes with can be resealed, you've got a convenient storage locker for them, as well. And really, you should save the package. The retro artwork is worth it alone.
Of course, Chekov is superbly articulated. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees.
So what's my final word here? I'm abundantly impressed, and I'll admit that after my Sulu experience, I was a little concerned. But there was clearly no need to be. This Chekov figure is made entirely correctly, and really looks great. More to the point, he looks like a Mego. He was well worth the 35-year wait. Makes me wish I'd preserved my originals better, but hopefully, I can round up more of the EmCe's as I am able.
One additional note: I'm not sure what plans EmCe may have for Star Trek beyond this, but I hope we haven't seen the last of the Star Treks. If they can remake the larger body that was used for some of Mego's super-characters, such as the Penguin, then they could conceivably do popular characters like Harry Mudd or Cyrano Jones. Heck, I wouldn't mind seeing them take this line into the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Picture a Mego-style Quark! Or Odo! Or Worf!
Meanwhile, I'm truly pleased to have this figure. And obviously, the EMCE TOYS STAR TREK MEGO RETRO figure of ENSIGN PAVEL CHEKOV (okay, so he's just called CHEKOV on the package, I'm trying to build the guy up a bit, okay?) most definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!