The Sound of Star Trek Part 31: The Doomsday Machine/Amok Time
It’s back to the early years of Star Trek this week as we look at the 1991 release Star Trek Volume 2 – The Doomsday Machine/Amok Time from GNP Crescendo.
In a time of no social media, of no internet as we know of today, of no file sharing or self-created streaming videos, of no music apps where any tune you wanted (more or less) was accessible within seconds, it was something real special to go into a record store and buy music in a physical format for the first time (particularly when it came to screen themes where they hadn’t been heard before outside of the finished productions they were written for).
I could wax lyrical about simpler times, gentler times, when the very smell of a record store could emote such feeling of contentment. Now I might be in a minority here (for my family owned such a store for many, many years, so my recollections could be biased) – but I’m hoping you understand the picture I’m trying to paint: one of excitement and anticipation of finally getting to own something you longed for that had never been previously available….in this context: the music from The Original Series of Star Trek.
And back in the day, GNP Crescendo fulfilled a big part of that longing, especially when personally (and in those days) I was still learning and discovering about my favorite show.
With ‘The Doomsday Machine/Amok Time’, this was only GNP Crescendo’s third release for the series but the second for The Original Series music (‘The Cage/Where No Man Has Gone Before’ and ‘Encounter At Farpoint‘ both appearing in 1988). As is common knowledge,TOS re-used a lot of music from other episodes as a cost-saving exercise, but it did mean that the overall series, by serendipity, gained a distinct musical identity. Here we are presented with a selection of 52-year old cues that are very familiar from two season 2 episodes that are themselves still fondly remembered.
Naturally opening the collection is Alexander Courage’s famous main title, the original version as heard on TV, not a cover. In fact, this whole album is the pulled from the original soundtracks.
Sol Kaplan composed ‘The Doomsday Machine’ and what a delight it still is. This is good solid action music, helping to tell the story of a deranged Starfleet commodore and his one-man battle against a giant planet eater. It must be a family trait, a Decker becoming obsessed with a giant machine-creature capable of destroying entire civilizations.
Kaplan uses strings and brass to emulate the progression of the alien device, with alot of rhythmic percussion leading towards inevitable destruction. ‘Approach of Enterprise/ The Constellation’ sets the scene, with Courage’s fanfare making a welcome appearance (following suit across much of the score). There’s drama here and the audio landscape is enriched as a result. It’s easy to see why a lot of music was tracked for other episodes: digestible chunks of these musical cues are wholly adaptable.
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Kaplan injects fun, too: the style of story-telling was such that the coda usually consisted of a scene on the bridge with Kirk in the center seat normally poking fun at Spock’s inability (or unwillingness) to understand the joke while McCoy looked on. Music for these scenes were always lighthearted, thereby ensuring the reset button was pressed in time for the next episode, irrespective of what dire emotionally and physically draining events the crew have encountered.
Which leads nicely to:
‘Amok Time’, which introduces the concept of pon farr: basically, the seven-year mating cycle of Vulcans (both male and female) and how it turns a stolidly logical race into a gang of lustful, murderous lunatics (which sounds horribly like the locals in the bar down the street from me on a Saturday night after the beer’s been flowing for a few hours).
‘Vulcan Fanfare’ heralds the start of the selections, a composition not actually used in the episode itself and we are presented with a selection of cues that take a low-note electric guitar to emphasize Spock’s alien nature. It’s the only true time in TOS where one character is given such an identifiable sound. Music for Spock would progress into the movies but one can here the basis coming from Gerald Fried’s unforgettable score.
Cymbals and sleigh bells come and go as the brass section undercuts the action. The fight sequences between Kirk and Spock are wonderfully accompanied by a clashing of sounds: the desperation in Kirk fighting for his very life and to save his friend is perfect Star Trek both story-wise and by the compositions Fried has presented to us here. TOS was littered with great music, and ‘Amok Time’ raised the bar high.
And what better way to finish than with the perfectly constructed ‘End Title’ composed by Courage. It’s neat and tidy but leaves a sense of longing….for next week’s exciting episode!
Next time: we look at a ‘wish list’ of composers who would be a great addition to the Sound of Star Trek