Where are the audio dramas? - Acrux Fanzine

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Monday, 8 October 2018

Where are the audio dramas?

Last month, Star Trek audio drama fans - yes we do exist! - saw something happen in the world of Star Trek licensed works that was most unusual: the release, by one of the most successful indie audio production houses, of Star Trek professional fiction that did not come from Simon & Schuster!

Star Trek: Prometheus is written by Bernd Perplies and Christian Humberg which was released in 2016 to celebrate Trek's 50th anniversary. The first officially licensed novels released in German, they were followed the next year by their release in English. The trilogy has been picked up by Big Finish! - an award-winning, British producer of audio dramas, both original and based on TV franchises, the best known being its Doctor Who productions.

Sadly, this is not the leap into audio drama I was hoping for but an audiobook, narrated by Alec Newman, a regular at Big Finish who played Malik on TV in the Star Trek: Enterprise Augments arc.

Scripting audio drama seems to be just a step too far for CBS Paramount! Yet the advantages of modern audio drama are quite unique. With skillful audio production, distinctive musical themes and a well crafted script, an audio drama can be immersive enough so that the 'Cinema of the mind' can create alien landscapes and space battles that would cost millions to create on the big screen or small!

There are advantages to the major franchises though that I would have thought would have made audio drama quite attractive, primary among which is money! IMDB says that a Star Trek Enterprise episode cost an average of $5 million to make whereas Variety says that Discovery costs over $8 million an episode!

By contrast, an audio drama production has few of the expensive costs of TV production: No sets, costumes, CGI or film/video capture & production costs. Actual costs are hard to find details of, but this post by an audio playwright will give you an idea of where the money goes, if not how much. It would be safe to say that they would probably be less than one percent of TV video.

Audio drama of a well known TV or movie franchise has a huge head-start with regards to the ease with which an audience can understand and relate to it in audio only. Looking past the vast body of work created by amateur audio drama groups in Star Trek, the perfect example would have to be the three Star Wars radio dramas produced between 1981 and 1996.


The integral role that the audio track played in the success of the movies is seldom touched on. From John Williams’ classic use of musical themes for the main characters to characteristic sound effects like the scream of the Tie fighters and rasp of Vader’s breathing or R2D2’s whistling and the electric hum of the lightsabers. All these things would create a visual cue in most people’s minds.

In the same way, Star Trek has iconic music and sound effects: the fight scene & Klingon themes from TOS or the communicator tweet, the phaser blast and transporter hum. Once you identify a scene as being on a bridge, shuttle or Quark’s bar, most people will be able to visualise it. Because of this an audio drama for Star Trek has a head start over an Indie audio drama because it’s fictional world already exists in most people’s minds, saving the writer countless pages of exposition to create a new one.

There have been officially licensed Star Trek audio dramas. Between 1975 - 1979 eleven stories were released by Power Records, a label of Peter Pan records, under various guises: as individual single episode records, compilations and, as they are more commonly remembered as. "Read-along" books. Curt Danhauser has done an amazing job of putting together a reference website about them, A Guide To The Story Records. Curt has put three of these episodes on Youtube as animated comic books…
Eight of these records have been made into an animated series, The Federation Files, using the Go!Animate system by Glen Wolfe, a prolific fan film-maker who has gone on to make a number of short live-action films which can be seen on his Youtube channel, Starfleet Studios. For details of his Go!Animate works check his page on the Star Trek Reviewed site.

These audio dramas give newbie animators a "paint-by-numbers" way of learning their skills. Crier In The Emptiness, for example, has been used as the audio track for a stop motion animation using Star Trek action figures.

Peter Pan / Power Records weren't the only studio making Star Trek read-along books, the House of The Mouse acquired the license to add the early Star Trek films to it's popular stable of similar 'books' released through Buena Vista Records ...
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (#461 pub.1979) Youtube
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (#462 pub.1982) Youtube 1, Youtube 2
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (#463 pub.1984) Youtube
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (#452 pub.1986) Youtube
Strictly speaking, I would actually call the Buena Vista recordings "Full Cast Audiobooks" because although they rely heavily on their narrator for the exposition of the story, they have the different parts read by different voice actors, unlike an audio book where all the parts are read by the narrator. There have been many audio books made of Star Trek books but an audio book is subtly different. The exposition, the plot of our story, is driven forward by a narrator who fills in the reader on the aspects of the scene that have to be described, just as in the case of a book.


https://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Spock_Vs._Q
The short-lived production company spearheaded by John de Lancie and Leonard Nimoy between 1996 - 2000, Alien Voices, is the only other commercial audio production group to do audio dramas with their two-man, live recorded shows, Spock Vs. Q and Spock Vs. Q: The Sequel.

So, as a fan of audio dramas, I have to ask the question, "CBS Paramount, where are the Star Trek audio dramas?" The answer probably boils down to, as with most professional media questions, money - they don’t see any money in it for them.

CBS and Paramount are TV and movie studios and that is pretty much all they do - the creation of TV shows and movies. That's not to say that they are not interested in the money that can be made by the use of their 'Intellectual Property' by others, they will actively encourage anyone who wants to use Star Trek properties in any media imaginable - for the price of a license.

However that is the problem in a nutshell: nobody has approached them to make Star Trek audio dramas. Audio books, yes! Simon & Schuster have a license to market books and has regularly released them in audio book format, over a hundred at the current count.

There is a whole article that could be written about the difference between an audio books and an audio drama. To my mind they are, shall we say, cousins. They share the same physical creation process: the human voice recorded by microphone and edited. They use music and sound effects albeit to different degrees. They share the same physical media and distribution process: CD's and direct MP3 downloads.

However creatively they are two entirely different animals. An audio book is, as the name says, an enhanced narration of a book whereas an audio production is the performance of a script.

The question is, do you want a bedtime story or a movie played out without video on your sensorium?

I still hold out hope that Big Finish will pick up the torch on this but until then – try a fan produced audio drama.

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