Power Records’ Star Trek Adventures
One Christmas morning in the late 1970s, snow at the window (one of the few times I can remember an actual white Christmas in the UK), I tore open a small, rectangular-shaped present. Slowly at first, I soon sped up upon seeing the words “Star Trek”, frantically ripping away the last of the paper to expose its contents. It was a Peter Pan read-along book and cassette set!
These were the days before streaming, before the Internet, Blu-rays, DVDs and even the widespread use of VHS. Back then, there was no such thing as “physical media,” with no way to watch our favourite shows. The closest we got were records or audio cassettes of dramatised audiobooks.
The two in this particular set were “Passage to Moauv” and “The Crier in Emptiness”. I almost wore the tape out, listening to it so many times. I couldn’t listen to “The Crier in Emptiness” as much as “Passage to Moauv” back then, not unless I was feeling particularly brave. It terrified me!
Recently, I returned, out of curiousity, to these two stories. Would they hold up after all these years? As it turns out, they did, surprisingly well. Inspired by the rediscovery of these childhood favourites, I proceeded to devour Power Records‘ entire Star Trek collection…
Based in Newark, New Jersey, Power Records was an imprint of Peter Pan, which began in the 1920s. The company’s initial releases were a combination of stories and public domain children’s songs, but they began to experiment with licensed characters in the early 1970s, producing records that featured Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones, and Popeye, amongst others. These proved so popular that Peter Pan created a division solely for their more adventure-oriented licenses, such as Spider-Man, Planet of the Apes, The Six Million Dollar Man, Batman, and of course, Star Trek.
Thanks to syndication, Trek’s popularity had only grown since its cancellation in 1969. Its worldwide prevalence on TV screens had built a loyal fanbase of both adults and children clamouring for Trek merchandise. The Animated Series in the early 1970s had only cemented Roddenberry’s creation as a touchstone of popular culture. Companies such as Mego and Gold Key saw the merchandising possibilities and a growing demand for new adventures featuring the crew of the Enterprise.
As one of the companies that realised the potential of Star Trek, Peter Pan snapped up the licence for their Power Records imprint. In 1975, they released seven new stories set during the Enterprise’s five-year mission: “Passage to Moauv”, “In Vino Veritas”, “The Crier in Emptiness”, “The Time Stealer”, “To Starve a Fleaver”, “A Mirror for Futility”, and “The Logistics of Stampede”.
Each of these releases was accompanied by a comic book from Continuity Studios, an independent house formed by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. With these comics, the listener could read along with the action. And while the company’s adaptations of its Marvel and DC audiobooks were accurate, the Star Trek ones are infamous for misrepresenting some of its most famous characters. Though the triumvirate are a good likeness to their onscreen counterparts, the rest of the crew do not fare as well. Uhura is drawn as white with blonde hair, and Sulu is African. Lieutenant M’Ress, meanwhile, looks more like an Orion than a Caitian – a result of a dispute on ownership of the character’s image from The Animated Series. For the same reason, Arex was refashioned from an Edoan into the human crewman Connors.
The stories, for the most part, are surprisingly mature considering they were marketed for children. Some were reportedly written by science-fiction novelist and Star Trek Logs writer Alan Dean Foster. At ten to fifteen minutes each, the limited runtime prevents deep character studies, relying on the defining attributes of each crew member in The Original Series. It works well for the most part, allowing the listener to dive straight into the action.
The voice cast does an admirable job of portraying the original actors, even though they were stock artists used in all Power Records productions (for example, the actor playing Kirk also provided the voices for the Space 1999 and Six Million Dollar Man series). The voice actors portraying Kirk, Spock and McCoy sounded the most like the original actors. They may not have been pitch-perfect, but they did a great job with the material and leant some verisimilitude to each production.
Though the Power Records imprint folded in 1977, the Star Trek series continued to prove itself a great seller. So much so that they were re-released several years later – now under the Peter Pan label – with new covers featuring stills from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, to coincide with the movie’s run in theatres.
The popularity of that initial movie outing saw increased sales of these previously released tales. So, in 1979, four new adventures followed: “The Man Who Trained Meteors”, “The Robot Masters”, “Dinosaur Planet”, and “The Human Factor”. Again, these came as separate releases, followed by compilations which bundled them together with several from the original 1975 run.
This new series had a slightly different cast, with the most notable changes being the replacement of Spock and McCoy – who both sound little like the previous actors – and the addition of Chekov. The stories were also more fantastical, with emphasis on spectacle rather than character. It’s a little jarring compared to those earlier releases, and these four feel to many like a lesser – almost cheaper – product.
Although Peter Pan/Power Records released only eleven Star Trek adventures (not including film adaptations), these were released/re-released in a variety of different packaging twenty-three times, in 45 RPM & 33 1/3 RPM vinyl and cassette format.
In 2004, Peter Pan was reformed as Inspired Studios. And nowadays, while it still does feature a Peter Pan audio division, the licensed Power Record releases have long since ceased. Fortunately for fans, its Star Trek adventures can still be found on eBay. In recent years, several devotees have sought to archive these adventures on sites like YouTube, with some fans even going so far as to lend animation to these audio classics.
With the renewed interest in early Trek due to the success of Strange New Worlds, many fans who came into the community from The Next Generation onwards are only now venturing into the original TV series. For them, many of these mini-episodes are out there, waiting to be discovered. And for those of us – like me on that snowbound Christmas morning – who remember the thrill and excitement of these adventures, the Peter Pan/Power Records Star Trek audios are as unforgettable as the TV series itself.