People who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will likely remember Peter Pan Records (and its imprint Power Records), which published original audio stories featuring licensed properties during this time.
Peter Pan Records actually got its start in the late 1940s and enjoyed great success during the 1950s publishing 7″ childrens’ records. Peter Pan produced popular recordings of songs like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
In the 1970s, Peter Pan’s began producing book-and-record sets, with a 7″ record tucked into a comic book. The record would be an audio story, using multiple voice actors, music, and sound effects. Most were narrated by “your Peter Pan storyteller.” The book would adapt this same story, so that kids could read along. Typically, when the record reached the end of a page in the printed adaptation, a bell would chime to signal that it was time to turn the page.
The company’s Power Records imprint focused on stories based on licensed characters. These included both DC and Marvel Comics, plus several TV- and movie-based licenses, such as Space: 1999, Kojak, The Six Million Dollar Man — and yes, Star Trek.
The quality of the comics varied, but was often rather high. Major comics creators, including Neal Adams, worked on the comics. For a lot of kids, this was their first exposure to these creators’ work. Furthermore, the audio plays were also rather sophisticated, in an era when such audio plays had long disappeared from the radio.
It’s easy to think of this format as a substitute for home video, which wouldn’t become commonplace (in the VHS tape format) until the 1980s. In lieu of such technology, book-and-record sets were a way of combining audio with pictures in the home. And because most of the audio was repeated on the printed page, these could serve as an aid to literacy.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the pleasure of reading Batman in a comic book, accompanied by what was really an audio play. The combined effect really helped make the story come alive.
In practice, each story was usually released in multiple formats. There were 12″ LPs with several stories and no accompanying book. These same stories would often be released as 7″ singles, some of which would have a book and some wouldn’t. Some of these would subsequently be re-released as new 12″ LPs, with or without books. Everything could be re-released and recombined.
In the case of Star Trek, Peter Pan produced eleven original stories over the course of 23 different records. These fall into two periods: 1975-1976, after the animated series had concluded, and 1979, in time for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The First Seven Stories (1975-1976)
During the 1975-1976 period, seven original stories were produced over the course of eight individual record releases. In fact, all seven of these stories appeared on the first two records, which were 12″ LPs released in 1975.
All but one of these seven stories was written by Alan Dean Foster, the prominent sci-fi writer who’d go on to write the story that eventually became Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In fact, Foster had already worked on the Star Trek Logs books, which adapted and expanded animated episodes into prose, and he’d go on to write a few Star Trek novels for Pocket Books.
After those first two 12″, five of these stories got 7″ singles, two of which came with books. The eighth and final release was a 12″ record with two stories (one had been released as a single without a book, while the other had never gotten a single). This last release came with an accompanying book, meaning that of these seven stories, four ended up being adapted into comics.
Probably because Foster had worked on the Star Trek Logs, adapting and expanding the animated series, his stories were surprisingly close in tone to that show — and the original. References to both shows were common in his stories, which effectively felt like a continuation of the animated series, even using characters from it that didn’t appear on the original show.
The artists for the four stories that got comics adaptations, however, weren’t nearly as familiar with the two shows. The most obvious discrepancies were Sulu and Uhura, the two human characters from the show most identified as being of a race other than Caucasian. Oddly, Sulu was depicted as a black man in a blue (science) uniform, while Uhura was a blond white girl! Clearly, something had gone seriously wrong with the colorist.
This difference in fidelity, between the writing and the art (or at least the coloring), reflects the two different media — audio plays and comic books — in which these stories were created. The audio plays feel so right, so in line with the original, that they ought to be animated as new episodes of the animated series! But the comics art has that wacky, early Star Trek comics feeling that’s also seen in the Gold Key comics and the British comics strips.
“Passage to Moauv”
“Passage to Moauv,” the first track on the first 12″ record, wasn’t the first 7″ single; it was the third. But that single was the first to come with a book, making this the first story to get a comic-book adaptation. The audio play times out at 16:51, and the comic runs 20 pages.
In the story, the Enterprise has to transport an alien ambassador’s exotic pet, called a waoul, back to the ambassador’s planet, Moauv. The waoul escapes, and the crew soon begins to growl, feel panicked, and even turning violent. The waoul is telepathic, and it’s projecting its fearful state onto the crew. Kirk and Spock personally hunt the waoul but fail. All is resolved, however, when Lieutenant M’Ress — who’s a feline humanoid — casually take the waoul into her arms. In the end, the Moauvian ambassador informs the crew that the waoul is pregnant and expecting kittens.
The story is notable for its fidelity to the original series and its animated continuation. Several original plots (and Star Trek: The Next Generation plots) centered around ambassadors, thus providing an easy reason to get aliens on board the Enterprise — and dramatizing the bureaucratic requirements of Starfleet.
Spock also refers to his pet sehlat, which he did in the original series episode “Journey to Babel.” The sehlat was seen in the animated episode “Yesteryear” (in which Spock used the Guardian of Forever to visit himself as a child on Vulcan; widely seen as the finest animated episode).
But the story has stronger ties to the (then-just-cancelled) animated series. The feline Lieutenant M’Ress had been added to the crew for the animated show, although she rarely had much to do. Here, she gets to solve the main plot! It’s a nice gesture and another reason why the episode fits so well as a continuation of the animated series.
However, M’Ress isn’t drawn or colored the way she was on the animated series. On the show, she looked obviously cat-like. In the story, she looks completely different, and this works against the ending, in which her connection with the feline waoul is key to the story. But this is only a problem for the comic book, not the audio play.
“In Vino Veritas”
“In Vino Veritas,” the second track on the first 12″ record, was the first story to get a 7″ single, but no comic book was ever produced for it. The audio play runs 15:47.
The story introduces a trickster named Coriolanus Quince (vaguely of the same type of Harry Mudd). He disrupts a conference between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans by spiking the ceremonial wine with a truth serum. (Hence the title, Latin for “In Wine, Truth.”) Much of the amusement comes from hearing diplomats, including Kirk and Spock, speak with cruel frankness. In the end, Quince is released, since no crime has been committed, and the story ends with the conventional teasing about his return.
The story does have a couple errors: the Romulan envoy refers to his home planet as Romula, and multiple characters refer to the Romulan “Hegemony” (instead of “Empire”). But such errors weren’t unknown on the original series.
“The Crier in Emptiness”
“The Crier in Emptiness,” was the final track on the first 12″ record, was the fourth single, right after “Passage to Moauv.” And like “Passage to Moauv,” “The Crier in Emptiness” got its own comic-book adaptation. The audio play runs 11:54, and the comic runs 20 pages.
The story, which is both simple and charming in the flavor of classic Star Trek, has the Enterprise encounter a being made purely of sound. At first, the phenomenon is mysterious, then charming. But after days, it presents problems. The ever-present sound is preventing sleep and starting to frustrate Bones, in particular. Bones has orchestrated shuttle runs, so that the crew can sleep outside of the ship, to which the sound is confined. If the sound gets louder, will the Enterprise be forced to communicate by sign language? Could the crew go deaf?
Any possibility of communication risks misinterpretation and retaliation. As Spock points out, “It might find a blast of artificial sound challenging, like another of its kind.” After the entity’s sound cracks the glass on the bridge, Spock speculates ominously, “Whether it is doing this intentionally or inadvertently will not matter if it happens to hit upon the resonating factor of the human bone.”
It’s all a fascinating study in the implications of the fantastic — one of the things the original series did so well.
The threat is resolved by navigation officer Connors, who brings his Edoan Elisiar — a fantastic alien instrument — to the bridge and uses it to attempt communication. He responds to the sounds the entity is making and turns to sad tones, trying to communicate the ship’s distress. Connors is strained, and the music reaches a crescendo — and then the entity moves on.
The comic book is particularly notable for its use of interesting perspectives and its architectural precision. In the musical climax, the interacting sounds are represented visually by waves of color. It looks like Kirk and crew are on acid, but it’s visually quite effective at addressing the problem of representing sound on the page.
In the climax, Connors looks like a mad piano-player, his Romantic enthusiasm taking a very physical toll.
The simply story has a lot of poetry to it, playing off the idea of music as a universal language. Spock ponders whether music really is a language, and yet the internal logic of music — which seems to appeal to Spock — is evident in the climax.
Then there’s the idea of space as mostly vacant — an idea accentuated in the story by the fact that the sector the Enterprise is charting is mostly empty. Uhura quotes the line, “I heard a voice, crying in the wilderness,” in the same way that the original show often used such quotations to elevate the tone of an episode. And of course, there’s the title: “The Crier in Emptiness.” At the end of the story, the hypothesis given for the alien’s visit isn’t hostile — it was simply an attempt to reach out, because the entity was lonely.
Kirk ends the story by speaking of how, in a concerto, the other instruments can drop out, leaving the sound of a violin, which sounds so lonely to him. Of course, it would. It’s a lovely story, all around — and very much a classic Star Trek tale.
If there’s one problem with it, it’s the use of Connors, who’s a navigation officer. He speaks with an accent much like Chekov’s, and he’s an obvious Chekov stand-in. The reason he’s called Connors, instead of Chekov, is probably owing to the fact that Chekov was the one original cast member excluded (for budgetary reasons) from the animated series, which closely preceded these records. So essentially, the character’s Chekov, but not by name.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue, examining the four other Star Trek stories produced by Peter Pan Records in 1975-1976.