The Final Four Stories (1979)
Although Peter Pan Records hadn’t produced a Star Trek record in three years, it apparently still had the license to produce them. With the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the record company went back to press on its original seven stories, reissuing them, both as singles and as 12″ collections but now under covers bearing photos from the new movie. Despite this, when comics were contained inside, the art for those comics reflected the uniforms of the original five-year mission, rather than the uniforms seen in the motion picture.
After six such reissues (the two original 12″ records, the two 7″ singles with comics, the record with both “A Mirror for Futility” and “The Time Stealer” that had comics adaptations for both, and a new combination of “Passage to Moauv” and “Crier in the Emptiness” that included both their comic adaptations), Peter Pan issued an all-new 12″ record containing four new stories (its fifteenth release overall).
This echoed the pattern Peter Pan had taken in 1975-1976, in which all seven original stories were first released on two 12″ records without comics, and only then re-released as singles, either with or without comic books. Following this all-new album, Peter Pan re-released the three book-less singles from 1975-1976 (even though this meant two singles again for “The Time Stealer,” one with a comic book and one without, and no single for “The Logistics of Stampede” or “A Mirror for Futility”). It seems as if Peter Pan was trying to churn out as much product as possible, while avoiding pressing new records — the only new pressing of old material was the combined 12″ record for “Passage to Moauv” and “Crier in the Emptiness.” With these re-releases exhausted, Peter Pan released three singles from the four stories on its all-new 12″ album, the latter two of which had new comic-book adaptations.
Then, after 21 albums containing various permutations of the same 11 stories, Peter Pan released two final 12″ records (its 22nd and 23rd releases), mixing all 11 stories in a new order onto two albums instead of three. Visually, these final two albums were distinguished by using images of the new movie’s Enterprise, whereas prior albums had only used photos of the new movie’s cast.
And that was it for Peter Pan’s Star Trek offerings.
This flurry of albums, released around The Motion Picture, apparently did good business for Peter Pan. They still exist in such quantities that it’s not rare to find them sold online still in their shrinkwrap.
Besides having photographic elements on their covers, the 1979 releases didn’t carry the Power Records logo, instead going with the logo of parent company Peter Pan.
These four new stories aren’t up to the quality of the seven original ones, especially those written by Alan Dean Foster. In fact, it’s not known who wrote these four new stories. The two original 12″ records, which had contained all seven original stories and which were released in 1975, had specified the stories’ writers on their album covers. No such information was given for the four new stories.
And instead of tapping some of the best comics artists to produce the two new comics released in 1979, the art for those stories also isn’t up to the par set by the 1975-1976 comics.
If the album covers and the art produced for the two new comics is any indicator, these stories are supposed to be set after The Motion Picture. But there’s nothing in the stories themselves that reflects this. Indeed, these feel like they’re supposed to be missions from the original (or animated) series. It’s likely that Peter Pan Records wasn’t privy to the movie’s plot, when it produced these four tales to capitalize on the movie’s release.
“The Man Who Trained Meteors”
“The Man Who Trained Meteors,” the first track on the new 12″ record containing all four new stories, was the one new story that never got its own single. It was included, however, on Peter Pan’s penultimate release, a 12″ record collecting various stories in a different order. (The story thus appeared on only two records, the lowest number of releases for any of the eleven stories.) The audio play runs 15:23; no comic-book adaptation was ever produced.
In the story, a meteor storm wipes out Parynda City, capital of the colony on Parynda IV. In a rare scene of brutality, Kirk and Spock visit the devastated city and learn that it received threats a few weeks ago.
The same man soon threatens the Enterprise with his meteors. After Scotty traces the signal to a hollow meteor at the center of a swarm, Kirk, Spock, and Scotty take a shuttlecraft to investigate. Tyranneous, the villain in the hollow meteor, takes control of the shuttlecraft with his mind. Tyranneous says he deserves to rule by virtue of his powers and attacked Parynda IV to drive people away, since there are too many people there to control.
Tyranneous orders Scotty to take the shuttlecraft back to the Enterprise and blow it up. Spock uses a “Vulcan mind lock,” so he’s unaffected by Tyranneous’s powers, and stops the villain. He then has to use Tyranneous’s mind to steer the meteors to the Enterprise, where Kirk calls to be beamed aboard and instructs that Scotty be stopped “at all costs” — and he is when he hesitates, resisting his orders.
The story ends with Kirk saying that Scotty’s “not just a good Scott… but a great Scott” — and everyone laughs.
Despite the intoxicating idea of a “man who trained meteors” and is headquartered in a hollow meteor base, the story’s a lackluster one, relying upon poorly-articulated psychic powers, Spock’s “mind lock,” and massive death with no follow-up (and even a laugh at the end, despite the dead).
“The Robot Masters,” the second track on the new 12″ record containing all four new stories, was the third and last of those new stories to get its own single — which included a comic book. It was included on the same penultimate compilation record as “The Man Who Trained Meteors.” The audio play runs 14:21; the comic-book adaptation runs 20 pages.
Things are quiet with the Romulans and the Klingons, but Kirk learns that there’s a scourge of robots going missing — including the robots that Scotty’s ordered. Kirk learns that the robots aren’t being stolen, but being “trained” to be “soldiers… for the Romulans!”
Spock arranges a decoy ship to attract the Romulan pirates. It does, and the Enterprise quickly captures the Romulans. Although interrogations don’t produce useful information, the captured ship’s computers show its destination. So Kirk and crew disguise themselves as the pirates and pretend to deliver the stolen robots — which Scotty says he’s reprogram so they won’t fight. (His explanation of how this is possible is completely absurd and certainly doesn’t sound like someone who knows how to program anything, let alone a complex robot’s systems.)
The pirate ship’s path takes it to “unexplored regions outside the galaxy” (which, in Star Trek, is supposed to be a big deal). The ship’s destination is “a small moon on the edge of the Federation galaxy!” Incidentally, the Federation doesn’t have its own galaxy, and that’s central to the premise of Star Trek. Such a mistake recalls the notion that the Enterprise explores multiple galaxies, as is the case in the first Gold Key Star Trek comic.
Also recalling the Gold Key comics, the pirate ship seems to be a rocket, with a large flame coming out of its back.
Upon landing, Kirk and crew discover that the robot ringleader is a humanoid, green-skinned alien named Pragmar. He wears a hat with a red “M” on it, though it’s not clear why. He obviously looks nothing like a Romulan, and we might hope that he’s not intended to be one… until he uses the phrase “my fellow Romulans.” Multiple times — almost as if some sick writer is trying to increase our pain. Soon enough, we’re shown these “fellow Romulans,” who are also green-skinned and wear silly hats.
Kirk, Spock, and Scotty deliver the robots — including their leader, who Scotty says is named Mastero and whom Scotty’s been trying to reprogram, although he’s unsure if he succeeded. Mastero delivers a speech about destroying the Federation, so Scotty assumes he’s failed.
Pragmar then orders the robots to capture Kirk, saying he’s recognized Kirk all along. “Every Romulan warrior knows your face,” he says, referencing how Kirk’s defeated the Romulans time and time again. One wishes the artist knew a Romulan face.
But when Pragmar orders Mastero to kill Kirk and company, Mastero hesitates — and then orders his robots to attack the Romulans instead.
With the Romulans defeated, Spock talks admiringly about the robots’ logic. Kirk then introduces Mastero to Spock. Laughs all around, of course.
It’s not as terrible a story as it sounds, but it’s made much worse by its incongruities with the Star Trek universe. Beyond the Romulans’ appearance and the “Federation galaxy” business, robots in Star Trek were always limited. (That’s part of why the first British Star Trek strip, with its futuristic robots, feels so out-of-sync with the Star Trek universe.) When did the Federation get filled with so many robots?
But what’s really unpardonable, at least in the comic-book adaptation, is how not futuristic the robots look. They look like something that might have looked cool in the 1950s. In fact, they look decidedly retro-futuristic today. And in the audio play, they even clang around loudly. They can’t even speak well.
When robots are used in Star Trek, they’re far more likely to look like Data, of The Next Generation, than the clunky designs seen here.
The robots in the story also all look the same. You’d think an artist would seize the opportunity to draw some wild robot designs. Instead, all the robots the Romulans have stolen look alike. Is the Federation filled with robots of this same, bizarrely retro-futuristic design? If so, why haven’t we seen them before?
There are a couple indications that the robots weren’t meant to all look alike. Scotty identifies the robot leader as “the one with the almost human arms, legs[,] and head.” Later, Pragmar says Mastero looks “magnificent! So big! So life-like!” But in the comic, the robot looks like all the others and certainly not any more “life-like.”
The comic-book adaptation, thanks to its wild infidelity to the show and its unimaginative designs, is worse than the audio play. But even it’s not good.
Like these other stories, there’s no reason this one should be set after The Motion Picture — except that drawing the uniforms that way might have led to increased sales. Oddly, the story briefly features Commodore Decker, who died in the classic “The Doomsday Machine” — long before The Motion Picture. But then, the story can’t even get his first name right (it’s given as Steve, instead of Matthew).
Heck, at one point Chekov refers to the Klingons, when he means Romulans. It’s a silly mistake, but if you don’t know what Romulans look like, it’s not surprising you can’t tell them and Klingons apart.
“Dinosaur Planet,” the third track on the new 12″ record containing all four new stories, was the second of the three singles culled from these stories. It was also the first of these stories to get its own comic book. It was the only one of the four new stories to be included on the second of the two 12″ compilation records — and thus on the final Peter Pan Star Trek release. The audio play runs 13:45; the comic-book adaptation runs 20 pages.
The Enterprise arrives at Oblik III, an unexplored world teeming with violent volcanoes — which surprisingly has intelligent life on it. Kirk leads a party that beams down and discovers a planet much like Earth’s distant past.
Soon, the crew’s attacked by a pterodactyl, but phasers aren’t effective on it (said to be due, absurdly, to thick skin). The creature’s soon joined by others, and the crew takes refuge within a cave.
Unable to go back outside, the crew follows a stream “of golden liquid” deeper into the cave, coming upon a cavern made of rare gems. (We later find out the liquid is literally gold.) Security officer Wodsworth instantly wants the gems for himself — but corrects himself to advocate instead that Kirk wipe out the dinosaurs and claim the gems for the Federation. (On the original show, gems can be manufactured, and money is said to be unimportant. This wasn’t always consistent. Still, Wodsworth’s reaction is completely out of character for a member of Starfleet, and Roddenberry did his best to prohibit such behavior.)
In the cavern, the crew is attacked by a couple tyrannosaurus rexes. But Spock notices that these dinosaurs differ from those of Earth’s past — they have longer arms and larger heads. (It’s not just the artist!) Spock reasons that these were the intelligent lifeforms the ship scanned. And then the tyrannosaurus rexes communicate via telepathy, explaining that since it’s been “eons” since they communicated with anyone other than themselves, they “naturally attacked without first trying to communicate.”
But Wadsworth, furious at the dinosaurs, blasts at one — destabilizing the cave. Spock absurdly informs Bones that there’s “not enough time” to beam up. Instead, Kirk asks the tyrannosaurus rexes for help, and the dinosaurs (of course) insist the crew rided on their backs.
Clearly, this is what the story’s really all about: getting Kirk and company to interact with dinosaurs — including the obligatory ride on their backs. In fact, this is the climax of the story — there’s no threat, outside of escaping the crashing caves; the joy of Kirk and the others riding telepathic tyrannosaurus rexes is supposed to substitute for any other drama. It doesn’t even really matter that they’re telepathic; they have no dialogue during the escape.
We don’t even get to see (or hear) Kirk and the others saying goodbye to these intelligent dinosaurs. Instead, after the escape, we’re right back on the Enterprise, where Kirk’s congratulating himself on “another solar system explored and another planet signed up as a member of the Federation.”
Wait… these dinosaurs are in the Federation? That’s always been depicted as involving time and diplomacy, but here Kirk treats it as little more than getting someone to sign a form. In fact, he sounds like a salesman who’s getting a commission — “another planet signed up.” Perhaps the dinosaurs are paying with some of those gems…
The episode ends with the conventional banter between Bones and Spock, who’s been a bit uncharacteristically harsh during this story.
As terrible as the story is on logical and structural levels, it manages to pull off its real agenda pretty well. Dinosaurs are cool — and beloved by kids — and it’s fun to see Kirk and the others interact with them. (If you think this is too absurd an idea, it’s worth noting that the revived Doctor Who did this, in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” in late 2012!)
And there’s no reason why, given all of these Earth-like planets in the galaxy, the Enterprise would have encountered so many humanoids and so few dinosaurs. After all, dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years — longer than humans have even been around. In this sense, having the Enterprise encounter dinosaurs — while done in this story purely for fun — is actually a step towards realism, not a silly divergence from it.
This doesn’t redeem the story by any means. But the story’s so bizarre that it’s great it exists, if only for novelty’s sake. And the story’s strengths, despite its quality problems, illustrate that its premise is still worth exploring.
“The Human Factor,” the fourth and final track on the new 12″ record containing all four new stories, was the first of the three singles culled from these stories — which was the only of those three not to come with a comic book. The story was (like “The Man Who Trained Meteors” and “The Robot Masters”) included on the first of the final two compilation albums, Peter Pan’s penultimate Star Trek release. The audio play runs 13:56; no comic-book adaptation was ever produced.
Kirk’s opening log refers to dinosaurs, Romulans, and meteors — the last three stories, in other words. The Enterprise is on a mission to convey the diminutive ambassador from Garus, a new member of the Federation, back to his home planet. The ambassador asks to see the Enterprise’s computer, and Uhura is assigned to assist him. But when the ship arrives at Garus, a shuttlecraft goes missing — along with Uhura and the ambassador.
Kirk, Spock, Sulu, and Chokov beam down to the surface and meet the planet’s president, Garmin. Kirk challenges Garmin, who reveals he’s in on the kidnapping and orders his men to capture Kirk and his crew. Sulu and Chekov are subdued, but Kirk and Spock escape into the capitol’s mile-long hall of worship. Spock picks a lock on a huge door, and inside he and Kirk discover a huge room with a fabulous computing system that monitors the whole planet. On one monitor, in what seems to be a religious ritual, Sulu and Chokov are helpless as Uhura is escorted away to serve “the Master.”
When Kirk and Spock arrive on the scene, they find out the truth: that the Garusians worship their vast computer (which presumably runs their society) as a god. Their religion forbids them to touch this “Master,” and so they have kidnapped outsiders to be trained to work the computer, which they regard as the highest honor. When Kirk asks why the Garusians didn’t simply request help, they explain that even speaking of their deity is forbidden. Kirk and crew return to the Enterprise.
To solve the Garusians’ problems, the Federation will deploy a satellite that will send “peaceful programming” to the computer on Garus. It’s an unsatisfactory — and very quick — explanation that seems to suggest that the computer doesn’t really need an operator; it’s just hungry for programming, which it seems to need a constant supply of. That’s how computers work, right? They eat programming?
Despite this, the story’s not bad overall. Very different planetary cultures were often used on the original show as a source of conflict, and the idea of a religion based on an advanced computer also reflects the religious messages of the original show. The story’s not as good as the best of the first seven stories (such as “A Mirror for Futility”), but it would be solid with a few minor changes.
Unfortunately, this was the final Star Trek story Peter Pan Records ever produced.