This week we explored strange new worlds with Big Finish in Doctor Who’s Divergent universe in Scherzo. Then we sought out strange new life forms in Star Trek with The Changeling. Before I start a different Thursday series, I wanted to come back to something I mentioned in the earlier article this week. I went into the basement, pulled out the old turntable and listened to The Crier in Emptiness after a very long time indeed. Was it worth the effort?
On a purely technical level, I have to say that putting on a record after all these years is a strange experience. I had to remember how to change the speed from 33rpm to 45; the crew sounded weird enough – we didn’t need to slow them down. But once on, there’s a sense of nostalgia and I was whisked back to my youth in an instant. That joyful sound of a bygone era brought a smile to my face, and a tear of melancholy to my eye. Our musical endeavors can be heard in perfect, crystal clarity nowadays but when I grew up, there were pops and hisses; a secret language of the vinyl disc heard only as it spun round and round on the turntable. It’s a snap-crackle-and-pop that didn’t require milk to be heard. The fact that the short story has to be flipped over to hear the second half is downright funny; the entire thing had to be less than 15 minutes, but I was too engrossed to really clock it. (How strange that I can fit 1500 songs on a flash drive, but this album only held 15 minutes of audio!)
This is a perfect audio story to review from an album too. The story features the crew of the Starship Enterprise exploring the very desolate Moran sector when suddenly a sound rings out. That sound will continue to drive the crew mad over several days; an unending array of musical notes of seemingly no significance. Interestingly, when it starts, Jim Kirk thinks it might be a prank. While that might be a weird assumption on a military vessel, it would hardly be the strangest thing to happen on our favorite starship. I like the mistake, though; it represents a level of humanity, trying to make sense of something that is otherwise nonsensical. But we know things are not always black and white.
Speaking of black and white, let’s talk about the comic book that comes with the audio adventure. The artwork is marvelously colorful, and having recently re-watched the entire original series, I’d say that’s spot on; the original series was very colorful. But the artist may have benefitted from watching Trek before committing pen to paper. Looking at the cover, one sees Kirk, Spock and Uhura. Clearly the cover was made in our universe! The interior, by comparison… the moment we meet Lt. Uhura in the book, she’s a white woman! As if that’s not startling enough, Sulu is a black man! Weirdly, Kirk, Spock and Bones are all in character; Bones even sounds like the southern country doctor he is and makes some of those quips that make you wonder who gave this man a degree, but non of them sound quite right. I’ve checked front and back but there is no indication of who voiced the characters but it was not the original cast. (And if it were, that just serves to illustrate that our recording techniques have improved over the decades!)
Along the line of the strange, to solve the problem, Lt. Connors (a typical one-episode character) figures out how to communicate with the creature: the universal language of music! So he does what anyone else would be expected to do: he drags a bloody great big organ to the bridge – why was the bridge the only place to play the device when the sound was heard throughout the ship? Who can say. He just wanted to show off that he dragged the organ all the way to the elevator on his own before asking for help from the rest of the bridge crew. Then he plays until his arms are rubber bands, but the being of pure sound vanishes. And the episode comes to a hasty conclusion. I couldn’t help but wonder if they waited 5 more minutes, would there have been a part two?
A bit of research shows that this was printed in 1975. Thankfully, my copy is in very good condition and it was a delightful thing to listen to and “read” at the same time. The episode ends with the Uhura making a comment: “I heard a voice, crying in the wilderness”. Amazingly, that phrase has stuck with me all my life, and to hear her say it resonated with me very deeply. I would have been 3 when this was released and even if I hadn’t heard it for a few more years, it means that line etched itself into my memory. There was something sad and melancholy about that phrase even then; perhaps something in it linked to my future where I’d be listening to it as a much older man pining for the days of his childhood. Who can say? There are more things in heaven and earth, eh, friends?
In typical Trek form, the episode ends with a little monologue and as I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, I can share it here. “There are times when that lone violin is up there, against all those other instruments, and they’re quiet, and that one violin is the loneliest sound in the world. I think our visitor meant us no harm… it was just plain lonely.” And you know what? I love that! A creature that just wanted a friend and finds it in a brief musical interlude. I wonder how much of my appreciation for aliens and other life forms might have started right here. It makes me happy to speculate that it might just be the case. And it was a nice return to a chapter from my youth and fun to tie it together with two other articles this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. ML