Whither the Micronauts

Neatorama has this funny post about this guy in the US who has modded his Honda Gold Wing motorbike to look like a miniature F15 all-weather tactical fighter jet. It looks amazing, but to me it looked like a toy I had as a kid – the Micronauts Photon Sled. It brought the memories back, I can tell you.

I had a couple of these toys, and they were quite common in the shops where I grew up. I remember visiting Debenhams in Bedford with my Mum, and wandering around the toy department, which I remember felt like it was in a different building, almost like an extension with a couple of steps up into it, and different lighting.

Anyway, one Xmas, probably 1977 or 8, I got the Time Traveller figure. It was a little poseable toy figure (knee joints and everything, better than the first Star Wars figures), about 8cm high, and made of transparent plastic. It had shiny metal-plated parts, and could be taken apart and reassembled, so you could swap parts between figures if you had more than one. I think I had one extra figure – I wasn’t the kid you were jealous of down the road who had not only all the Star Wars figures, but had the AT-AT, the Millenium Falcon and the Star Destroyer playset.

I got the Photon Sled the same Xmas, I think. The little guy sat in it, and it had a wind-up motor which would propel it at speed across the gorgeously patterned 70’s carpet. This too was modular, allowing you to remove the wings, use the wind-up module in a different vehicle, and so on. Excellent replay value.

A year or so later, I got the Star Searcher vehicle, which was frankly awesome. It was a modular planetary excursion vehicle, with a crane, a cockpit, missile launcher, tractor and bulldozer, and you could rearrange these elements in any way you wanted. I had so much fun with these things.

Some friends had similar toys, including one who had the Battlecruiser, and the Stratastation, and several Acroyears (which look like those flying guys from Quake 2). Hmph. But this did mean we could all bring them together and set up some pretty spectacular scenes and inevitably, battles. Some of the vehicles were powered by the wind-up modules (all interchangeable) and others were driven by battery-powered motors, but in a head-to-head pushing match, the wind-up always won. I think it’s time for a return to wind-up toys. At least some form of wind-up recharging mechanism, like in the Freeplay radios and torches. How many batteries do toys get through? Parents! Instigate a rechargeable battery regime in your household now!

This was all around the time Alien came out, and there was a toy Alien figure released, which I remember seeing in this one toy shop in Bedford. It had a transparent dome on its head, which ties in with Giger’s original plan to have a transparent creature in the film. He was overruled, but Giger got his way for the creature in Species. Apparently the Alien toy had to be withdrawn, due to parental complaints that it was too scary. Perhaps in the US, but I don’t remember what happened here.

The transparency of the figures was carried into other toys too. I was lucky enough to have another couple of toy figures called Cyborg and Muton (warning, Geocities). It appears these came out before the Micronauts, and they had a fantastic comic-book backstory on the boxes. These also had interchangeable bits and pieces, including an arm-mounted rocket launcher which could fire a plastic projectile directly into your eye.

Just to complete this whole thing, I read a couple of books from the Micronauts series (written by Straw Dogs author Gordon Williams, of all people), which had nothing to do with the above, but were about miniaturised people, getting lost in a garden, only to face the horrors of the tiny world of insects and so on. I remember one gruesome scene where one of the team is eaten by a whip scorpion. Nasty.