The music of "The Doomsday Machine"


Of today's Bleat, James Lileks says, "I think this will be the stupidest, most geeked-out thing I’ve ever written."

Lileks reminisces about the record bin at Woolworth's, about the soundtrack album for "When Eagles Dare", about Star Trek (the original series):

When that last episode of Star Trek aired you could almost imagine the Enterprise towing the prospect of additional cool sci-fi off into the inky star-flecked void with it. From here on it was Hee Haw and the Jeffersons. But by 1973 Trek was running in syndication, and I watched them all with slavish devotion. I had to leave halfway through every episode, though; had a paper route.

Naturally, I quit the paper route.

Long time Bleat readers are probably thinking Oh fer chrissakes he’s not going to bring up the fargin’ “Doomsday Machine,” again? Hello! Rigel to Lileks! Enough! It’s just a TV show! Of course. But now I know why it made such an impression then, and why I enjoy it now. A few months ago a reader emailed me re: a bleat concerning music cues in TV; he said the Trek music cues were actually scored to the individual episodes. I thought that was odd – they seemed to recycle the same cues over and over again. They didn’t write scores for individual episodes, did they?

Well, imagine my surprise. There were a few scores written for specific episodes, and their highlights were recycled over and over. On Amazon I found the soundtrack for “The Doomsday Machine,” and of course I snapped it up. It arrived last Wednesday. To my surprise this score, written for the “Doomsday” episode, is the source of half the series' cues. But they're intended to belong together, and that’s one of the reasons the episode works like few others: it has a unique symphonic score. Played start to finish, it holds together.

Lileks favors us with images from the episode and brief excerpts from the episode's soundtrack and commentary like this:

Sol worked hard on this one, and it burrowed its way into the brains of untold Trek lovers. Put it this way: he’s the reason that several dozen million people subconsciously associate a rising melody on a bassoon with Spock’s arched eyebrow.

Although I left Trekkiehood behind years ago (just after freshman year in high school, if I remember correctly), these orchestral cues clear away for a moment all the things we love to ridicule about the original series -- Bill Shatner's scenery-chewing, the cheesy special effects, those expendable redshirts, and all the other cliches -- to let me recall the magical hold Star Trek had on my young imagination.

I first encountered Star Trek in reruns on KTEW (as it then was). Anything to do with space was exciting then. My favorite episodes were the ones with the monsters and other strange creatures -- the mine-dwelling horta, the salt-sucking changeling, the Doomsday Machine, and of course, the tribbles. My best friend at church was a fellow Trekkie. I collected the James Blish paperback adaptations of the episodes. I bought the blueprints for the Enterprise, and the Star Trek Encyclopedia. Overly emotional kid that I was, Spock was my idol -- logic good, emotion bad. Repress, repress, repress.

One Saturday I crossed the line. My sister was allowed to pick a show to watch -- she wanted to see a Brady Bunch rerun, which was of course a stupid choice, and was keeping me from watching Star Trek. I changed the channel and made her cry. For my offense, I received the Star Trek death penalty -- no watching Star Trek again, ever. (The next time Mom suggests that I'm being too harsh with my kids, I'm going to remind her of that.)

Before the penalty was lifted, KTEW stopped running the reruns. Tulsa Cable had them -- I saw the listings in the Sunday paper -- but we wouldn't get Tulsa Cable out our way until 1981. There was the animated series, which was barely watchable. I remember waiting one Friday night with great anticipation for an NBC fall cartoon preview (1973), which was to have a Star Trek theme to highlight the premiere of the animated series. Channel 2 ran an episode of "Run for Your Life" instead. My anger inspired me to draw an editorial cartoon which suggested that Channel 2 was pulling a fast one on NBC. Dad spoiled it by explaining that a network affiliate didn't have to run the network's programming. Of course, Dad was a cops-and-robbers aficionado back then, so he didn't mind Channel 2's switch. Nowadays, Dad's the Trekkie in the family -- more a fan of TNG and DS9 than TOS.

One last Star Trek reference: The first time I had an EKG was back in the days of suction cup electrodes, and I couldn't stop thinking that they were like the suckers at the end of the hand of Nancy the salt-sucker in the episode "The Man Trap". Far from being tense and afraid, I had to repress the giggles and was worried it would mess up the EKG. Seeing the marks after the electrodes made it even funnier.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 24, 2004 11:06 PM.

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