If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you might have seen them. Amazing Trek action figures pop onto your feed, which appears to have been made by Playmates Toys, but clearly could not have, since the company essentially ended their line in 1999. So, how then could a Playmates style Raffi action figure from Star Trek: Picard exist, without Playmates or another multinational corporation pumping them out?
Meet Chris Mitchell. His day job in Stirling, Scotland, is as a mild-mannered Community Library Officer. In the evenings and in spare time, he becomes a one-person toy corporation, whose sole ambition is to boldly mold Star Trek action figures!
Mitchell started making his version of the figures after the series of popular toys ended. He’d been collecting them since 1992 and amassed quite a few of their Next Generation models.
“I picked them up in a shop called Woolworths at the time,” says Mitchell. “After that, they became very hard to find in my area, and I had to go to Glasgow to a shop called Forbidden Planet and spend my pocket money there.”
Since Trek continued in one form or another after Playmates ended making the figures, Mitchell took it upon himself to create the new characters in the classic Playmates style.
“I guess my first attempts were using the ‘boil & pop’ method, to swap heads,” says Mitchell. “I then starting sculpting using a product called Milliput, then onto casting and repaints. I always enjoyed working on different characters, so when time allowed, I tried different customs.”
With his figures, his goal has always been to maintain the same style that Playmates used back in the 1990s, which was set by master sculptor Steve Varner. According to the Netflix documentary “The Toys That Made Us,” it was Playmates and their Trekkie sculptor (Varner). They breathed a new vibrancy into Star Trek toys, which had never been there before.
Mitchell says that some figures take longer than others. A simple “head swap” and repaint might take a few days, but other, more complicated designs can take many weeks. He says that making the bodies can be difficult as well if they need a brand new sculpt. Mitchell casts molds of the originals figures in resin then he repaints them as well.
“Figures I’ve produced like the ‘Unimatrix Zero’ Janeway, Tuvok and Torres as Borg took a few weeks because of all the sculpting work and trying to reference as much as I can,” says Mitchell. “[It was the] same with figures like L’Rell, Kol and Saru.”
As you might imagine, the face is often the most challenging part of the whole process. After the high bar set by Varner and Playmates, Trek fans are accustomed to figures which have a very good resemblance to the character or actor who they are patterned after.
For example, many fans point out that the new MEGO Wrath of Khan “Admiral Kirk” figure bears only the most basic resemblance to William Shatner.
Mitchell takes extra care to craft a good face worthy of what fans saw on television or at the movies.
“I’ve produced a few [faces] I’m happy with, but also a few I’d love to go back and have another go at,” says Mitchell. “I’ve so many sculpted heads I haven’t shared, including Tuvix and different aliens.”
After all of the sets of figures, he’s created — the multiple Borg version of our heroes, characters from the Kelvin films, Discovery, and Picard — there’s still one that he likes the best. It might not be due to a better face or a superior paint job.
“My favorite character is B’Elanna Torres, so her figure will always be a favorite,” says Mitchell. “I do love the Unimatrix Zero Borg figures. I was pleased with Saru, Kol, and a few others as well.”
Just so you know, Mitchell does not regularly sell his figures. His work is all for fun, and to see how well he can create these new updated versions of the characters. He’s not heard from the big Trek bosses at CBS or Paramount, but he has been in touch with a different group of important people from Hollywood.
Recently, Evan Evagora (Elnor from Star Trek: Picard), gave Mitchell a shout-out on television when asked about an Elnor action figure. Mitchell says that was “so cool!”
“I’ve had a few comments, messages, and retweets over the years,” says Mitchell. “Jeri Ryan, Kenneth Mitchell, Mary Cheiffo, Doug Jones, Aron Eisenberg, Jeffery Combs, Jonathan Del Arco, and a few others.”
“It’s amazing that the stars of these shows take the time to recognize and comment their fans’ work,” says Mitchell. “I always really appreciate it.”
When he’s not creating incredible Trek figures, Mitchell spends his time working on yet another Trek-related passion project.
“The comic I’m working on is based on a story I’ve had in my head since Voyager ended in 2001,” says Mitchell. “The finale left so much to the imagination. I’ve written and sketched many pictures over the years with the ideas for the story.”
“It’s a B’Elanna Torres story called ‘Sins of the Mother’, set after the events of Endgame. I’m not sure how most people will react to it when I finally share it, but I’m hoping it will be liked.”
Follow him, and perhaps he’d take a request or two. For example, I might ask, “Hey Chris, can you add the alien with the big ears from Star Trek III to your collection next?”
Who knows what he might say.