In August Master Replicas released their new Star Trek V assault phaser (see review) and in a few weeks they debut their version of the Starfleet Mark IX Science Tricorder from Star Trek’s TNG era. If you want to know if it gets the right readings, check out our early review below.
EARLY REVIEW: STARFLEET MARK IX SCIENCE TRICORDER
Master Replicas — MSR $399.00
A tricorder for a new generation
When Star Trek The Next Generation was in development one of Gene Roddenberry’s goals was to completely reinvision the familiar technology of The Original Series to bring it in line with advances in prop making capability and miniaturization, radically altering the aesthetics of the Star Trek universe. While the Starfleet uniforms and, to an extent, the spacecraft retained many of the design elements and color schemes from the Sixties (as well as the first series of movies with the original cast), the show’s props went off in a completely different direction. The pistol-shaped gray and black phasers morphed into elongated gray “dustbusters,” the black clamshell communicators became functional insignia uniform pins based on the Starfleet pendant, and the black compartmented tricorders turned into fold-open, data-rich instruments that would look at home in a high-tech operating room.
The initial gray plastic look for many of these devices gradually changed to metallic silver and finally a brushed gun metal look by the time of Star Trek Voyager. Of all these props the Next Gen tricorders probably had the most realistic and functional appearance. When Wah Chang built the original Sixties tricorders the idea was to combine something like a cassette tape recorder with a television (the tiny two inch screen seemed radically advanced at the time) and a computer that could store and analyze data. Making the data screen work depended on post production compositing work since no TV show of the day had the budget to miniaturize real video technology down to this level and make it operate. Even small operating lights were difficult to achieve in the Sixties, so the three indicator lights on the original tricorder (and the show’s communicator) were simply light-reflecting rhinestones.
Flash forward twenty years or more later and LED technology and miniature power sources and wiring had advanced to the point that the tricorder could now be shown as a very complex device. Just as on the original series, several versions of tricorders were developed and shown, including ones with removable medical scanners. When Playmates was in operation they produced two different toys of these devices with operating LEDs, buttons and sounds (although the removable scanner on the medical tricorder was just a non-operational piece of plastic painted silver).
Tricorders – one of the bigger changes from TOS to TNG era
Master Replicas takes a reading
Master Replicas keeps its line of superb Trek prop recreations going with this, their second TNG-era plot after the “cobra” phaser from Voyager. The whole thing comes in the usual navy blue MR Trek packaging, about the size of a large shoe box, all encased in an almost solid block of Styrofoam inside. With the big plexiglass display case and brushed aluminum stand occupying the bulk of the packaging you could almost overlook the tricorder itself. When folded up this thing is SMALL—just slightly wider than the TOS communicator and about as long. What it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up for in weight—the diecast metal body (with its cool gunmetal sheen), batteries and internal workings make this thing feel kind of like a lead weight in your hand.
Closed up, a few details are visible at the top edge of the device including three rows of extended sensor lights and a number of other readout apertures. It’s when you open the tricorder up (extending its length by about three inches) that the action begins—it’s kind of like unveiling a miniature Vegas! I counted something like 80 LEDs lighting up on the top and internal display faces, from power and emergency indicators to the “Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta” er, radiation signifiers, device input lights and a readout on the main display that creates a kind of upward-trending bar graph. Sequential LED displays create all kinds of cascading effects, particularly along the top of the machine. The familiar, layered tricorder operating noises, which are rather hypnotic to listen to, play as the lights operate, and the neat, ratcheting closing and opening sound adds another layer of realism to the prop.
As far as I can recall this was all the Next Gen tricorders were ever shown doing onscreen and the recreation of the elaborate sound and light display is spot on. In fact it’s a bit on the garish side—I always felt the Next Gen era designers went crazy with all the LED light-up effects just to show that they could when all the razzle-dazzle really wasn’t that necessary and now looks a bit dated. In terms of functionality, the Master Replicas tricorder just does one thing—albeit one incredibly complicated and impressive thing. Playmates actually had buttons you could press on their tricorders to get different sound and light effects and that would have been a nice addition, although it must be said that the Playmates tricorders featured only a few dimly-lit LEDs and inferior sound. The MR light-up display is bright enough to probably be seen several blocks away.
If you’re a fan of this prop and have the scratch you probably won’t find a better presentation than this, particularly done in diecast metal—the combination of weight, authentic sounds and light effects and the metal feel creates an impressive sensation of reality that in all likelihood outdoes the original plastic props that this replica reproduces.
VIDEO: MR Tricorder in action
Master Replicas Mark IX Tricorder
The new tricorder is slated to begin shipping in December. You can reserve yours now via pre-order at masterreplicas.com or at Entertainment Earth. Master Replicas new Star Trek V assault phaser is currently available (see TrekMovie review).
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