Monday, May 22, 2023

Vintage Space-Themed dolls! Spectra by Mattel and Lustra by Tonka

I feel like there are tons of new dolls coming out these days.  There's the constant stream of new Monster High releases that I was talking about last time, but also all of the live action Little Mermaid dolls (many of which look awesome!), new Barbie dolls in anticipation of that movie, some Jakks Pacific ily 4EVER characters, new My Little Pony figures...and that's not even mentioning the higher-priced offerings like the new Integrity dolls, the new Carpatina girl, the new American Girl of the Year, or the articulated Maru and Friends Mini Pals (who I fear have the same body as my Biggers Marilyn).  And that's just what I could think of off the top of my head!

When I get overwhelmed by trying to keep up with new releases, it can be calming to take a break and look to the past--which is what I decided to do this week.  I discovered Mattel's Spectra dolls during one of my random eBay hunts about a year ago, and was immediately captivated by their metallic-looking bodies and wacky hair and outfits.  These space-themed dolls were produced for only one year starting in late 1986, so they can't have been very popular in their time.  However, they were apparently popular enough to attract a copycat, which was Tonka's 1987 Aurora line.  In this review, I'll take a look at Mattel's Spectra and then compare her to Lustra, who is one of the dolls from the Aurora lineup.

Spectra doll by Mattel, 1986.

Still-in-box Spectra dolls tend to cost around $100 these days, but I was fortunate to find one in a beat-up box for only $40:

The plastic window on this box had yellowed considerably with age, so it was hard to see the condition of the doll!

Right above the yellow plastic window it says, "Outer space star! Leader of the Shimmerons!"

I think "Shimmeroni" sounds better.
The bottom of the box has the slogan for this brand, which is "Lacy...Spacy...Out-of-this-world!"

I know they're using the word spacy because of the outer space theme, but when I was a kid we used that adjective very differently.

I was extremely excited to see that there's a storybook included with this doll!  Fashion doll sci-fi from the 80s is like pure comedic gold:

And it's a fully poseable storybook, too!
The box has a fairly simple design on the sides, with a metallic pattern on the top and the word "Spectra" written in rainbow colors towards the bottom:

The colorful lettering might hint at the fact that all of the characters have different brightly-colored hair and bodies.  In some European countries these dolls were marketed as the Chromatics, in reference to the rainbow of colors in the dolls themselves.  With what we know today, that feels a bit like foreshadowing Rainbow High!

The back of the box is packed with information, including a photograph of the four other dolls in the series:

The top of the box advertises a free Shimmeron Travel Kit that could be ordered by mail (the offer expired in 1988--too bad).  There's also a short blurb about the Shimmerons:

The blurb is hard to read, so I've transcribed it for you:

Meet the Shimmerons!  They're five gleaming, beaming teenaged friends from the planet Shimmeron!

What on Earth are they doing here?  Well, Spectra wanted to discover why the planet Earth is number one for teenage fun, and show you how fun is done on the planet Shimmeron!

Here on Earth, the Shimmerons are discovering skate boards, hot dogs, rock music, and shopping malls!  Wherever the Shimmerons go, they're a glittering sensation!

Introduce the Shimmerons to the latest trends on Earth.  They'll surprise you with their own space magic that's out-of-this-world!

Skateboards, hot dogs, rock music, and shopping malls encapsulate fun in the 80s, I guess?  For me it was more like model horses, Stouffer's TV dinners, Cyndi Lauper, and ok, yes: shopping malls.

Here's a closer look at the five colorful dolls:

From left: UltraViolet, StylaBlue, Spectra, Tom Comet, and AstraGold.
Three of the names reference that character's signature color (purple, light blue, and gold) but Spectra and Tom Comet don't follow this trend.  Predictably, their colors are pink and blue.

For some reason it cracks me up that all of the girls have unusual fancy space names and then the guy is just Tom.  But I love the name Tom Comet and I dig his outfit and blue hair.  Maybe he'll have to join my collection some day?

There were a bunch of accessories included in the Spectra line, too, and these are pictured at the very bottom of the box:

The photos are small and hard to see, but there are a few things that look like fidget toys, an R2-D2 inspired robotic dog named Spark, and a "Buffatron™ Bed:"

Spark is adorable, but the Buffatron™ Bed is confusing.  Is it a bathtub, a bed...or perhaps a frilly torture device??  Also, for some inexplicable reason I find it impossible to write Buffatron™ Bed without including the trademark.  So please forgive me for that.

In any case, Spectra--and her storybook!--were attached to a cardboard backdrop that pulled out of the main box.  It was nice to see her without the yellow cast of the aged plastic window!

In living color!
I feel like Spectra's coloring still shows signs of age and poor storage, though.

Her vinyl face is yellowed, and her pink hair looks faded.

One cool thing about this doll is that she did not have any plastic ties in her packaging.  Her body was secured with two wire ties and some plastic bands, and her outfit was held in place with cardboard tabs from the backdrop:

Ah, the good old days.
In addition to the storybook, Spectra came with a collector's card.  This has a photo of Spectra on one side:

And a little blurb about her on the back:

Spectra's bright idea is to message her friends on Shimmeron by blowing bubbles and sending them through the universe on a shooting star.

On second thought, Mattel is probably using the adjective "spacy" in exactly the same way I did as a child.

But here's what I was so excited about--the storybook!  I can't wait to read what it says:

Ugh!  Except it's not a storybook at all.  It's just a leaflet with a bunch of product information:

The only significant text is a few paragraphs at the beginning that are almost exactly the same as what's on the back of the box.  There's a little extra part about how the Shimmerons shine so brightly that folks have to wear sunglasses, so basically: "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades."

It's fun to see some different pictures of the other dolls, though:

And get a closer look at the strange little Magics Accessories:

All of these small accessories are wind-up toys that spin.  There's a Body Buffer that's a spinning piece of fake fur, a Fashion Selector that's a spinning wheel with little photos of different outfits, and a Game Player/Party Planner that, frankly, baffled me.  

I searched online for some information about that particular accessory and found more details printed on the original packaging.  It's actually two different spinning toys.  One of them, the Game Planner, has exchangeable discs that spin around so that you can "pretend to play a Shimmeron game:"

Spin that wheel, Tom Comet!
There's also a Party Planner with a ball that spins around and lands on a picture that will dictate what kind of party you should throw:

I wish I knew what the different party options were, but I couldn't see any of the photos clearly enough.  Birthday party, probably, and maybe a surprise party, but what other party themes could there be?  Skateboard party?  Hot dog party?  Rock and roll party?  Bubble-blowing party??

The small accessories are strange, but not as strange as the Buffatron™ Bed:

It reads bathtub to me so much more than bed.  I had to look at real life photos of this thing online to fully understand it.  The base of the bed is a conveyor belt of pink fur that spins around to buff Spectra's body to a "spotless shine."  One thing that's clear to me is that the designers of this toy were having a really good time.  Maybe too good of a time.

The rest of the pamphlet has small photos of the extra fashions that were available for Spectra and her friends.  The range here is impressive, especially for a line of dolls that was only produced for one year:

Here's a slightly closer look:

The At-Home Wear and Shopping Outfit crack me up.  They look like pajamas...or clown costumes.  They also look like something from the 1970s.

Now that we have some context, let's take a look at Spectra herself:

She has a pink metallic plastic body with a regular-looking Barbie-style head stuck on top.  So she's a robot with a fleshy head.  Like an android, I guess.  Or a robot that stole a human head.

What are you suggesting, Emily??
Spectra's hair is long and straight in back, but she has a poof of shorter hair on top of her head.  Some of the short hairs hang down over her face like bangs.  It looks like a frazzled pom-pom:

The hair is light salmon pink (faded, I suspect) with a lot of tinsel interspersed among the hair fibers:

My doll had a gross, rotted rubber band in her hair, too:

Her hair was decorated with a lace tie, but this was discolored and adhered to the hair because of another old rubber band:

I don't usually wash dolls before I review them, but I had to make an exception for Spectra.  She was sticky and stinky and her face was covered in mold.

Here she is after her bath:

No Buffatron™ required.
Her right arm broke at the elbow while I was washing her, so I had to glue it back on in a bent position.

Her hair is cleaner now, but it doesn't feel very soft.  Also, the tinsel makes it harder to brush and messier-looking than regular hair.

I trimmed some of the short hairs that were falling into Spectra's face so that we could get a closer look at her features:

I suspect she shares a face mold with Barbie.  The smiling mouth with visible teeth, in particular, is very Barbie-esque.  I'm not knowledgeable enough to tell you what face mold she has, though.

There are still some specks of mold on Spectra's face, but you can see her features more clearly now.  She has blue eyes with large pupils and a few reflective dots.  Her eyelashes are painted, with five lashes on top and three on the bottom:

Her exaggerated eyeshadow merges into light pink eyebrows, and she has some triangular marks underneath her eyes.  Her makeup reminds me of the 1980s Jem and the Holograms dolls!

All of the Shimmeroni, as their slogan suggests, are wearing lace.  This makes sense given how Madonna popularized that fabric in the mid 80s with her Like a Virgin music video.

Spectra's take on lace is a white dress with fuzzy pink straps, a fitted bodice with a sweetheart neckline, and a poofy, asymmetrical skirt:

The skirt falls to Spectra's knees on her right side, but is extremely short on her left!

She wears leggings underneath the skirt, but those are made out of lace, too, so the shiny pink body is visible almost everywhere.

I guess having a metallic body eliminates all need for modesty.  I mean, imagine Mattel releasing a flesh-colored doll with this outfit--in the 80s, no less.

Here's the outfit on its own:

It's very well made, with little metal snaps and everything:

The shoes are peach-colored slip-ons with a molded scroll design on the top, but they have not fared well over the last 37 years:

I couldn't even remove them without the plastic crumbling apart:

I think they used to be pink, too.
Again, I suspect that this doll was stored in very poor conditions, so it's hard to know if her broken arm and crumbling shoes are the result of that, or of a bad original design.  I've read reports from a few people who had these dolls as kids, and they said that the arms broke off pretty easily.  So I think the arms were a problem even in the 80s.

Underneath her outfit, Spectra's body is mostly shiny pink plastic, but her pelvis is a lighter matte pink.  I'm not sure if this is meant to look like underwear, or if it has a structural purpose:

The shiny plastic is lightweight and hollow, and the matte plastic feels more solid and durable, so perhaps it serves to anchor the doll's internal stringing mechanism.

Spectra's back has a small molded factory mark:

The mark says that she was made in Malaysia, but it also has a 1973 copyright date.  This caught my attention.  I did some digging and learned that Spectra is using the same body mold as a 1970s Mattel doll called Melinda.  Melinda is part of a two-doll set called Young Sweethearts.

The Young Sweethearts dolls are interesting to me because they're based on Sunshine Family characters, and the Sunshine Family was one of my absolute favorite toys when I was a kid.  I may have to do a Young Sweethearts review at some point (she says, looking for an excuse to buy the Young Sweethearts).

Anyway, Spectra has ten points of articulation, with several rubber-banded joints that have good movement.  For example, her head can look side-to-side and up and down:

And she can tip her head from side to side, too:

Her shoulders are rotating hinges, so they can lift straight up away from her body:

And they can spin around, too.

Her elbows are very fragile rotating hinges, and they can bend to about 90 degrees:

Her wrists are not articulated, but there's a line in that area that looks like a jojnt:

Young Sweethearts Melinda is articulated at the wrists, so the designers just decided to leave that joint out when they molded Spectra.  This works, honestly, because it gives her poses a more robotic look.

Spectra's waist joint is rubber-banded, I think, and does not have a lot of movement.  But it allows her upper body to tip from side to side a little:

Spectra's hips are strung with a rubber band, so she can do excellent side-to-side splits:

And front-to-back splits:

She can also sit on the ground nicely with her knees together:

Spectra's knees are hinged, but with no rotation.  She can kneel on one knee:

And she can sit in a chair really well:

Her ankles are like her wrists: they have a line artifact left over from the original articulated design, but there is no joint:

Other than the fragile elbows, Spectra's body design is good.  The shimmering metallic finish is fun and unique, and the articulation is excellent--especially for the 80s.  I even think that the static wrists and ankles are a good choice given Spectra's android qualities.  However, now that I know how good the Young Sweethearts articulation must be, with the addition of wrist and ankle joints, it'll be even harder to resist those dolls!

I put Spectra back into her lacy outfit for a few more portraits:

She has pretty good balance overall, and can hold a lot of poses on her own:

But in order to show off her joints' full potential, she needs the help of a stand:

I think I would have loved having Spectra when I was a kid.  It would have been super-fun to invent imaginary games about her life on Shimmeron and her trips to Earth.

The only thing that bothers me about her, and it probably would have bothered my younger self, too, is that there's nothing otherworldly about her head.  It's just a regular Barbie head with a tiny bit of extra makeup.  It looks out-of-place to me, like somebody was playing with random doll parts and decided to stick these two things together.  I'd be great if she had some metallic details painted on her face, at the very least.  Ideally, she'd have a fully metallic head and maybe an extra eye or two!

I wish there was an explanation for why Spectra's head looks so human while her body is so alien.  That might tie the whole concept together for me so that I could better appreciate the design.  

If we'd been given the storybook that we were promised, that could have filled in some of the gaps and helped Spectra make more sense!

In order to give us all some closure, I decided to take it upon myself to write a little story about Spectra and how she came to be the way she is:

Once upon a time, on the planet Shimmeron, there was a young alien named Spectra.

Greetings, Earthlings.  My name is Spectra.
Spectra was the leader of the Shimmeroni, and she had a glamorous life:

You know, just blowin' bubbles and lounging in my Buffatron™.
However, Spectra and her friends liked to party, and there wasn't much of a party scene on Shimmeron.

Shimmeron is, like, soo boring.
One day, Spectra learned that Earth, at least in the late 80s, was the best place for teenaged fun!

I wanna party like it's 1999 1989!
So, she decided to visit Earth and see what all of the fuss was about.

Unfortunately, she didn't really fit in with the locals:

Eeeek!!  You're weird!  We can't party with you!
She tried wearing some trendy human clothing, but that didn't help much.  In fact, it made things worse:

Nooo!  Too much lace!  Make it stop!
Eventually, Spectra figured out that it was mostly her head that was scaring the Earthlings.

So, she decided to decapitate sever hack off steal a human head and use it for herself!

I finally figured out how to get ahead on Earth!
This was the perfect solution!  

Suddenly, all of the Earthlings were friendly...the ones who were left, anyway.

Wow, your shiny skin is totally excellent!  Let's go party!
Before long, Spectra was skateboarding, going to the mall, and eating hot dogs just like all of the other teenagers in the 1980s.

Party on Spectra, Party on.
The end.

Mattel should totally hire me, don't you think?  In any case, if you want your own copy of this epic saga, I have created a totally free download for you right here--like a party favor:

I got a little carried away with Spectra, I'll admit, but I didn't forget that there's still another doll to talk about in this review!

When I was searching eBay to find an affordable Spectra, Tonka's Aurora dolls kept popping up.  This line, with their shiny bodies and flesh-toned heads, were clearly inspired by Spectra.  The dolls are not quite as expensive as Spectra on the secondary market, though, and so I thought it would be fun to grab a doll and do a side-to-side comparison.

The main character in Tonka's series is named Aurora, and she tends to cost between $50 and $80.  The doll I chose is one of Aurora's friends, Lustra, and I was able to find her for $35.

Budget Lustra.
Lustra came in a small pink cardboard window box with angled edges.

At the top of the box, there are some silhouettes of dolls in a variety of poses, and text that says "the ultimate poseable fashion doll!"  This was very encouraging to me:

At the bottom of the box is the Aurora name and the slogan: The Future Looks Beautiful!  That's a little generic, but I prefer it to Lacy and Spacy.

I don't think of dolls when I see the Tonka brand name, though.  I think of trucks.  I had a bunch of metal Tonka trucks when I was a kid, and I loved them.  My kids had them, too, but I don't think they were quite as enamored.  

If Wikipedia can be believed, Tonka had a few other doll lines back in the 80s, including the Star Fairies, which are 6.5 inch fairy-themed fashion dolls, Hollywoods, which are 5-inch vinyl dolls with colorful hair and molded-on glasses, and Maple Town, which is a Calico Critter look-a-like.

The back of Lustra's box has photos of the other characters:

The photo of Aurora does not make her look very appealing:

Possessed, more like.
However, I've seen photos of her on eBay and she's actually very cute.

At the bottom of the box, there's a little backstory, if you want to call it that:

There's not much information here--just that the girls come from a world where everything is bright and beautiful and where the fashion is dazzling.  I suppose that compared to this snippet, the information we got from Spectra's pamphlet is more like a storybook.

On the underside of the box is Tonka's 1987 copyright, notably one year after Mattel released the Shimmeroni:

Lustra was attached to a bright purple cardboard backdrop that pulled out of the main box:

She came with a pamphlet that made no claims about being anything other than a pamphlet:

The pamphlet has photographs and descriptions of all four dolls:

Like the Shimmeroni, these dolls all have different colors of hair, but there's not as much diversity in body color.  From what I can tell, Aurora is golden and the other three are silver.

In addition to Aurora and Lustra, there's also Mirra, who has blue hair, and Crysta, who has pink hair:

I'm getting Jetsons vibes from that outfit.
The back side of the pamphlet shows some of the fashions that were available:

Overall, I would say that these fashions look more interesting and creative than the Spectra outfits.

No clown costumes, anyway.
As soon as I got Lustra out of her box, I could feel that her body is heavier and more sturdy than Spectra's.  She stood up on her own without any trouble, and feels solid on her feet:

Like a truck.
Her hair is also really nice.  It's long and smooth, and the color has stayed vibrant through the years.  The hair came tied back into a single pony tail...with a rubber band that has not rotted yet:

There's definitely lace in Lustra's outfit, but it's balanced by an opalescent pink pleather that makes me think of outer space:

I'm every bit as unnerved by Lustra's flesh-colored head as I was by Spectra's, but at least Lustra has one inhuman feature in her face:

Her irises are actually purple rhinestones!

It's a little hard to see the eyes clearly in these photos, but if the light catches them just right, you can see the beveled edges:

They're like laser beam eyes!
The downside of the rhinestones is that since there's no pupil, they can look a little blank.

Unfortunately, other than her purple hair and jeweled eyes, there's nothing very distinct about Lustra's face.  She has simplified eyebrows, painted lashes, and a regular pink mouth. Her eyeshadow is very pale, so that's slightly unusual, I guess, but it's not a bold statement:

Lustra's face isn't as realistic as Spectra's, and it looks younger to me, too.

I took Lustra's hair out of its ponytail so that I could comb it:

The rubber band left a kink in the hair fibers that I will probably have to wash out:

But before I got Lustra anywhere near hot water, I wanted to look at her clothing and articulation.

I was eager to dissect Lustra's outfit and get a better sense of its funky design.  There's an angular off-the-shoulder top that juts out over Lustra's right shoulder:

This piece fastens with velcro on the left side, and is easy to remove.  Underneath, Lustra is wearing an off-the-shoulder bodysuit:

Lustra is also wearing a lacy skirt with an asymmetrical peplum-like decoration.  The skirt has a velcro seam on the side and is attached to Lustra's wrist by way of a cone-shaped cuff:

I have to say, this is a very creative design!  I've never seen anything quite like it.

Here's a bird's eye view of the whole skirt so that you can see how all of the components are related:

And here's a look at the full bodysuit:

With parts of her body exposed, the first thing I noticed was the configuration of Lustra's hip joints!  Look at these:

The hinges are aligned so that they are facing forwards, not to the side.  Side-facing hinges are much more common in the doll world.  In fact, I don't think I've ever seen front-facing joints like this.

I took off Lustra's bodysuit so that I could see all of her joints clearly:

She has a plastic body with fourteen points of articulation.  Her features are all very simplified, especially her hands and feet:

Here she is from the back:

She has a single word molded on her back ("Polistil"), an "87" (for 1987), and a metal screw that holds the halves of her torso together:

Incidentally, Polistil was an Italian company that specialized in die-cast vehicles.  They partnered with Tonka for a time and--clearly--and made some dolls together.  Polistil went out of business in 1993.

My doll has some missing paint on her right arm, but overall her body is in good condition:

Lustra has a ball-jointed head, which means she has great neck flexibility.  She can look up, down, and all around:

And she can tip her head from side to side:

Her shoulders are rotating hinges, so she can lift her arms up and away from her body:

And can spin them around:

There's a seam in the middle of her upper arm, and this looks like it should be a rotational joint, but I was unable to get it to move more than a millimeter or two (and I tried really hard!):

Not a joint.
I did not include this upper arm seam in my joint count.

Lustra's elbows and wrists are hinged, but with no rotation (so an upper arm joint would have been really useful!):

Her flipper hands are very odd, with no finger shapes at all:

From a water planet, perhaps?
Lustra's torso joint is a large rotating hinge.  It allows her to twist her upper body around:

And also bend forwards...

And backwards:

It's strange to me that Lustra's torso joint is more mobile than her arms joints.  That feels backwards.

Now, let's see what those unusual forward-facing hip hinges can do!

First of all, they allow Lustra to sit on the ground with her legs together:

...and that's about it.  The hinges only move in one direction (forwards) because the shape of Lustra's bottom prevents them from moving back.

The knees are hinges, but--again--with no rotation.  So Lustra can kneel:

She can even kneel on one knee, but her balance is tricky like this!

And she can sit nicely in a chair:

Lustra's ankles are--you guessed it--simple hinges with no rotation:

The hip articulation is extremely limiting, but Lustra is able to strike some action poses:

As I was finishing up this review, I went back and looked at the pamphlet more closely.  Check out this photo:

Crysta's pose in that photo is not something that I was able to replicate with Lustra.  Look at how her left leg is angled away from her body: that's not something that forward-facing hinges can do.

So, I figured either the articulation had been changed between the promotional photos and production...or I'd missed something.  The latter seemed far more likely.

So I went back and played around with Lustra's hip joints again and--sure enough!  She has rotation in those hips.  This adds to her flexibility a bit, but it's pretty awkward:

Should we call this a side-to-side split?
The movement at this joint is really stiff, too, so I have to manipulate the legs with great care.

But now Lustra can do the pose from the pamphlet!  Hurrah!

Come on, Lustra, vogue.
Emboldened by my hip discovery, I tried to rotate the upper arms again, too, but nothing changed.

Overall, I like Lustra's poseability a lot, but her joints are definitely odd.  Many of the joints are stiff and hard to move.  Also, I feel like she should have rotation in her elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles, so I find myself trying to move those areas in ways that they can't handle.  So, basically, posing Lustra takes more care and precision than what I'm used to.  She definitely has more flexibility than Spectra, but Spectra's joints are more predictable.

You might notice that Lustra's hair changed a bit during those last few articulation photos, and that's because I had taken her hair down and washed it before I made the hip discovery.

So, I'll rewind for a second here and show you what I did with the hair.  First, I took out the rubber band that was holding the hair back from Lustra's face.  This rubber band had started to break down:

Once the hair was loose, I checked the rooting pattern--which is great!  The hair is very thick and dense:

Unfortunately, while I was washing Lustra's hair, her head popped off!

And that's how Shimmeroni are born.
Not only did this make the hair washing process easier (I didn't have to worry about getting the body wet), but it gives us a chance to see how the head and body were attached:

There's a large plastic peg that was glued into the bottom of the head.  The peg looks really sturdy, but I guess there wasn't enough connective surface area between the head and neck for the glue to work well.

Anyway, Lustra's washed hair is...lustrous!

You can still see a line where the old rubber band was, but it has relaxed significantly.

As an aside: I didn't use boiling water for either Spectra or Lustra's hair, just because I didn't feel confident that hair fibers from the 1980s would be heat-safe.

Before I get Lustra dressed again, here she is side-by-side with Spectra so you can see the differences in their bodies:

Mattels' Spectra (left) and Tonka's Lustra (right).
I had assumed that Spectra would be the same size as a Barbie doll, but she's actually 12 inches tall, so about a half an inch taller than a traditional Barbie.  Lustra is only 10.5 inches tall, which is interesting because her box advertises otherwise:

Somebody is exaggerating.
I had a bit of a hard time getting Lustra dressed again, in part because of the lack of rotation in her arms, but also because the fit of the bodysuit is tight:

But here she is, back in her full ensemble:

This girl is more fun to play with than Spectra!  She certainly feels less fragile.

I also really love the asymmetry in her outfit and her fabulous purple hair.

...and of course those piercing gemstone eyes!

Here's one last picture of the two space girls together, fully-dressed and shimmering brightly:

Bottom line?  There's definitely an inequality to this comparison, since Spectra was stored in poor conditions for several decades and suffered fading, yellowing, and damage to her body, hair, and outfit as a result.  Lustra delivered more of a new-in-box experience, and she has fewer signs of her 36-year-old age.  On the other hand, Lustra doesn't have a storybook that was written about her, does she?

For fun, I decided to evaluate the dolls based on the following five categories.  I tried to pick a winner for each category, but would certainly welcome dissent and discussion in the comments.

Face: neither doll has a face that makes me think of aliens and other worlds, so in that sense nobody wins.    
However, Lustra has rhinestone eyes, which is unique and cool and gives her extra points.  In terms of the other facial features, it's hard to compare because the two dolls are so different.  Spectra is like a Barbie with a bit of extra makeup, and Lustra is more child-like, with rounded, simplified features.  I guess I prefer Lustra's face overall, maybe solely because it doesn't look like she stole another well-known doll's head to use for herself.

Hair: Spectra's hair has suffered over the years.  I suspect the original doll's hair color was a more vibrant pink; that's what it looks like in the pamphlet photos, anyway.  The tinsel in Spectra's hair is a clever way to make her seem more spacy and different, and I like how it ties into the metallic color of the body, but I find that tinsel is hard to brush, and can make hair look messy.  But even if I try to imagine the original color of Spectra's hair, and even though I appreciate the idea behind the tinsel, Lustra's hair still wins this category in a landslide.  Her purple locks are thick, colorful, soft, and very fun to brush and style.

Outfit: the challenge here was to make something that felt trendy (by 1986 standards) and also futuristic or otherworldly.  Both companies opted for a lot of lace (thanks, Madonna) and some asymmetry, but I feel like Lustra's outfit is more creative and unique than Spectra's dress.  Not only is the shape of the outfit unconventional, but the pieces aren't what you would expect, either.  The angular shoulder piece doesn't really fit into any standard fashion category (is it a top?  A shawl?  A shoulder pad?), and the way that the skirt connects to Lustra's wrist is also outside the box.  So I guess Lustra wins this one, too.

Body: Both dolls suffered breakage (Spectra's arms broke and Lustra's head fell off) and it's hard for me to know if that was because of old age or poor design, so I will set it aside.  The design of Spectra's body is more conventional and easier to manage than Lustra's body.  She feels familiar in my hands--like any of the Barbie dolls with elastic-strung hips.  I don't even mind her rigid wrists and ankles, since this makes her look more like an android.  Lustra's body is confusing.  Her arms move fairly well, but it really seems to me that she was meant to have an extra rotational joint in her upper arms--it certainly would have helped.  Lustra's hips are even weirder.  The joints hinge forward, with some rotational movement that's extremely stiff.  Her movement does not feel familiar in my hands, and many of her poses look strange.  However, I had more fun with Lustra.  I like her oddball body with its flipper hands and strange movement.  And it helps that she feels solid and durable, and can balance quite well.  So this is a really close call, but I think Lustra wins.

Originality: I had to include this category because Lustra is running away with the competition.  I mean, the idea of making a highly-articulated fashion doll with a shiny metallic body and a flesh-toned head was wild enough, but then giving her a wardrobe of weird, lacy fashions, inventing a whole planet for her to live on, adding in colorful tinsel hair, and then offering accessories that include things like a cylindrical robotic dog and a Buffatron™ Bed??  Well.  That, my friends, is what I call a truly unique idea in the doll world, and Mattel came up with it first.  That's a big win for Spectra.


  1. I love them both, such fun and cool dolls! Thank you for the great photos and detailed review. I do agree that they could have had more unique details in their faces, which leads me to slightly prefer the Tonka dolls in the end, because of their strange eyes.

  2. omg these are so interesting!! I had never heard of these before!

  3. I love your vintage doll reviews in particular so this was a treat! I’ve seen Spectra before but the Aurora crew were all new information. Jewel eyes 4 years before “Shimmer eyes Barbie!” I would welcome an examination of the Young Sweethearts’ articulation if you ever decide to get those. And your Shimmeroni story had me rolling!!

    Finally, I was thinking there is a similar metallic doll body out there- some of those color reveal Barbies might be Shimmeroni pod people in disguise! Is it viable to remove heads and just reveal on those (or replace with another head), or would the water-soluble metallic coating wear off with some handling? 😂

  4. These remind me a bit of the paint-coated metallic mystery state of some modern Barbie Color Reveal dolls!

    But what fascinating toys. So weird, and so so eighties cheese! I agree that the human head on the body looks weird, but then again, we've seen sci-fi evolve to have android designs that look much like that-- the film Ex Machina is an example, and some real roboticists have gone for ultrareal heads on machine-looking bodies. I liked the Jetsonsesque retro-futurist clothing of the Tonka dolls a lot, and this reveiw makes them look like the most creatively exciting execution of the concept.

  5. Ooo Spectra was made in Malaysia. That's certainly a name I don't see anymore in terms of doll production - but it turns out Mattel Malaysia recently turned 40 and churns out Hot Wheels: So thanks for that interesting tidbit Spectra!

  6. "and that's how Shimmeroni are made" made me laugh out loud.

  7. Spectra is so bad it's hilarious! That slogan. The OTT lace outfits. The Barbie head on a metallic body. And not forgetting that Buffatron bed. Also the doll is lying naked on the bed (apart from the maybe-underpants) which I realise is the point because they can't buff up their shininess covered in lace.
    Lustra is more conventional and I think if I'd wanted a space themed fashion doll is the better buy.
    I do wonder if Mattel tried to make a metallic head. I can imagine the development meeting where someone had to break the news that it was impossible to get a good result, and they ended up with the extremely strange human flesh head on metallic alien body solution.

  8. These dolls are so bizarre! I love the “original” head you came up with for Spectra, and I think I prefer it to her actual head. Seeing those vintage boxes was really interesting too. Thanks for a great review as always!

  9. What unique and fun dolls! I think it would be fun to paint the heads of these dolls a similar metallic color as the bodies. Then the whole doll would look like it belonged together instead of a natural looking Barbie head stuck on a metallic body.
    - Korglady

  10. I absolutely love your retro/vintage reviews. They being back ao many memories and good feelings and I‘m a sucker for 80s vibes (that‘s why I love that Barbie Re-wind line). I never heard of Space Barbie but she‘s kind of awesome. And I loooove the outfit!

  11. Boyohboyohboy. This was so much fun, but they would have been 100% better if there was something metallic and shiny on their heads. I think the gemstone eyes are cool for a spacey dolls, but in general they missed the boat with their caucasian heads. NoviStars have their own problems—like immobile legs— but they were a complete concept. I can’t imagine the fun you had with this review! —MnGrl

    1. I did think of Novi Stars while reading this! A similar concept but very different execution!

  12. I still have my Star Fairy doll (Whisper) and Maple Town's Patty Rabbit from the 1980s. Maple Town was a cartoon on Nickelodeon. You're right, they look very much like Sylvanian Family/Calico Critters.

  13. I was going to say the Buffatron(tm) was like a tanning bed but it made you ripped instead... y'know... buff. (cue laugh track) I love the storybook. Lena better watch her back. I actually think the two dolls make really good sisters: Spectra looks older (like an actual teenager or adult... and also like Jem lol) and Lustra looks like a preteen. I could easily imagine the Tonka girls as the younger siblings of the Shimmeroni - kinda like the Babysitters' Little Sisters to the Babysitters' Club. Even their outfits look similar enough to carry this fantasy. Lustra's outfit is definitely more creative but I think Spectra's is more attractive, and seems a bit better made, just because the edge of the skirt is finished. I wonder if they can wear each other's dresses? Might be some good mix and match potential between the two lines. Lustra's weird joints and flipper hands make her look more android-like than Spectra though. Maybe as they get older they get better at mimicking humans... so they can get close and steal their heads.

    In conclusion, my favorite toy growing up was a big metal Tonka dump truck. I wish I still had it. I'm loving these throwback reviews.

  14. This review is super fun. Thank you, Emily! You make my day ❤️

  15. I think these girls should pay a visit to Lena 😁

  16. I'll admit, I've always wanted a Tom Comet doll, because he's like if Jem's boyfriend, Rio, was gay and from outer space.

    I kinda assume Mattel was ripping off Jem and the Holograms, but with two doll lines instead of one. To compete with Jem's music theme, they did Barbie and the Rockers. Then to compete with the colorful hair and heavy makeup, they did this Spectra line. Really, the whole thing says less 'outer space' to me than it does 'Synergy', and then I just see the purple girl from the Jem cartoon, and Jerrica touching her earrings.

    Anyway, four fun things to do in the 80s: mine were to play outside, play with kitty cats, collect Happy Meal toys, and watch cartoons. (I hated shopping malls. Still do.)

    'Fully posable storybook' had me giggling for like five minutes.

    I love the story you wrote, instead! :)

    That OG head you gave her is terrific!!

    I think the Tonka doll is a bit more charming overall.

    Ah, and I highly recommend the Mattel Sweethearts line. It's one of my all-time favorites they ever produced. Their first fully-articulated fashion dolls, I do believe, so for historical purposes, you should go for it. Plus, they really are sweet. I have Melinda around here somewhere, and she's aged wonderfully.

    1. I was wondering if these were meant to compete with Jem, same as Barbie and the Rockers! Happy to see I'm not the only one who thinks that, haha.

  17. Comments aren't allowed on older posts, so I'll give you the heads-up here: there's an unfortunate typo on your male Phicen review that you might want to fix. "The whole body is coated in a fine white pow(d!)er that keeps it from being too sticky."
    Thanks for your blog, always a nice read!

  18. These are so weird and interesting! I love seeing reviews for dolls I've never heard of. And your Spectra storybook had me rolling with laughter! Much better than the pamphlet posing as a storybook.

  19. I love when you do reviews of vintage dolls. This was so much fun to follow along with.

    1. Don't get me wrong, I love your reviews of more modern dolls too :)

  20. I just love your vintage doll reviews, especially if they're kinda crazy-looking like these ones!

    The Spectra accessories and Buffatron Bed are so weird, but I like the creativity, and that pretty much goes for the whole line. The fact that Tonka made copycat dolls so shortly after Spectra was released is hilarious to me. It reminds me of all the Monster High copycats in the early 2010s.

    The human head - metallic body combination has always looked a little off to me, but I guess these bodies would be perfect for rebodying oddly colored dolls (Novi Stars?). In general, I slightly prefer the way Lustra looks. The gemstone eyes are really cool and I feel like her youthful features somehow fit better. Maybe it's the Barbie resemblance that is messing with my mind too, but Spectra's head looks more generic than Lustra's to me, even though she has fancier make-up.

    Lastly, the Spectra storybook you made is absolutely fabulous. "I finally figured out how to get ahead on Earth!" -- you never fail to make me laugh, Emily.

  21. I remember these dolls from the 80's and I always hated the human looking heads but if they'd had metalic faces I would have loved them. You should get some metalic paint and give them the faces they desrve! I would love to see you fix them!

  22. What weird dolls! This was a fascinating read. From here, Spectra's body looks the same as Hula Hair and a few others. I don't have Sweethearts to compare. Hula Hair doesn't have wrist and ankle joints.

  23. These are absolutely a trip (that bed!), I love when you go all in on older doll reviews, it's a very fun time capsule every time!

    And the origin of human heads. Oh no oh dear. I love when you show a little twisted dark humour!

  24. Slightly unrelated to the spac(y) ladies but these super articulated dolls
    made me think of how Obitsu has new Barbie-sized bodies! Have you checked out the Obitsu 22/24cm bodies? Also it looks like it has already been copied by others, YMY which are usually used to rebody 11cm Nenderoids also have 22/24cm bodies now.

  25. I would love a reboot of these lines, give me spacy metal dolls! Certainly the technology today maybe even a metal head!

  26. I had a Spectra doll in the '80s and she was great. The body felt sturdy at the time; nothing broke on her, even though I was fascinated with her articulation and bent her a lot in all different directions! It's possible I can blame my fascination with articulated joints on Spectra because I just loved the smooth flexibility of her knees and elbows, and how easily and expressively she could sit and pose her arms compared to my other 80s-era fashion dolls. All those Barbies with their karate-chop hands!

    The makeup on the Spectra dolls' faces was supposed to look metallic to go with the robotic theme. Unfortunately the years have dimmed the paint on this poor moldy girl, but the silver eye shadow and triangles had a metallic sheen on mine when she was new. If you squint at the pamphlet, you can see how shiny the metallic patches could look on their faces. I think the years and the mold took their toll. You're right that Spectra's hair has faded, too. It's yellowed and paler compared to the bright pastel pink I recall from mine.

    I remember trying to share Spectra's lace leggings with other dolls, but the Barbies of the time had those rubbery legs to conceal the slightly bendable knee joint, and the lace leggings were such a hassle to try to drag on, I just gave them back to Spectra. They slid on and off her very easily.

    I'm sorry you only got ahold of Spectra decades later and in such bad shape, because I think when she was new, she was a great doll. This one looks so much the worse for wear, but back then, I found her face more charming than most Barbies and I loved the wild hair colors in the line. Of course now we're used to a wider range of hair colors and much better articulation, so her pink hair and bendy elbows and knees wouldn't wow you like they wowed me as a kid, but in '87 she was different and fun, and if this one weren't so run down, I think you'd still find a lot to like about her.

  27. Thank you for this entire post. I was searching for this doll without remembering the name ‘Spectra’

    I agree with the post above me, if you were there when she came out, you’d understand how futuristic she was. Like, go watch a movie with “special effects” from the 80’s/90’s. 😂 I go back and watch them and think, “Why did that look real? It’s obviously fake,” but back then, it was cutting edge.

    I had the Buffatron, and it doubled as a bubble bath, too! (In my imagination). I can still hear the sound of the conveyor belt running. It was so loud!

    Thank you for adding her origin story with new head. 😂