- Music in Science Fiction Television: Tuned to the Future eds. by K.J. Donnelly and Philip Hayward
Despite a continued focus on film in screen sound studies, television has long been a unique place of sonic engagement. Since television began, the ambition and imagination of sf writers has been much more advanced than the technological means for realising these. While scholars have acknowledged the genre’s fans, a focus on the sound of sf television helps to demonstrate how the genre has become so effective.
This volume explores the distinctive traits of the medium and the specifics of genre, laying an important foundation for researchers interested in television sound. As editors Donnelly and Hayward note in the preface, the collection aims to ‘offer an alternative to the simple “wheeling over” of film soundtrack studies to a significantly different medium’ (xv). This is a challenge they address by including essays that acknowledge television as episodic, historically contextualised and at times scarce, while at others reborn via reruns, reissues and remakes in emerging post-broadcast formats. The flexibility of the medium and its reach is also acknowledged with the range of mostly American and British case studies, drawing on live action and animation, as well as programming aimed at both mainstream and specialist audiences. As Donnelly and Hayward conclude, sf television has often been a place of contradictions and controversies while also being almost constantly present, having ‘often functioned as a philosophical Trojan horse, introducing complex ideas within simple shows’ (xvii). Of course, they continue that the genre ‘has achieved a similar thing in musical terms, introducing cutting edge electronic music, and on occasion challenging avant-garde music to children’s programs on prime time television’ (xvii).
The following chapters are focused mainly on individual case studies of long-running programs, with some double-up where shows have been reborn or recontextualised. Particularly impressive is David Butler’s chapter on the music in ‘New Doctor Who’, which provides a nuanced and in-depth discussion of Murray Gold’s score and its application in the evolving text. While common terms for film music (like ‘leitmotif’) appear, Butler’s usage acknowledges television’s distinct use of such musical devices. His claim that ‘the new series of Doctor Who has challenged the prevailing wisdom about the function and position of music in mainstream screen drama’ (163) issues a challenge to other genre television scholars to consider changes in the form in recent years.
Continuing with Doctor Who (UK 1963–89; 2005–), Phil Hayward and Jon [End Page 301] Fitzgerald explore music television’s reach and influence beyond the original series, with a focus on reinterpretations, covers and new contextualisations of Ron Grainer’s iconic series theme tune. This extra-televisional study is impressive as it provides scope for television’s influence to be measured beyond ratings, offering a model for considering broader cultural influence and crossindustrial cultural creation. The volume and diversity of reimaginings of the musical theme provides insight into the viewership of the programme both at the time of its original release and in various replayings and rememberings. This chapter also provides a useful counterpoint to Neil Lerner’s entry on the developments of the Star Trek (US 1966–) musical theme during that show’s run, with differences in instrumentation and arrangement of the key piece providing a method of tracking audience and medium changes over time.
Also impressive, and somewhat unusual, is Rebecca Coyle and Alex Mesker’s chapter on animated series The Jetsons (US 1962–3; 1987–8). As one of the first of a series of sf-inspired animated series from around the same time (such as Roger Ramjet (US 1965)), Coyle and Mesker note that content and form were distinctly different from that of sf film, with the show’s ‘simplified line drawings, crisp graphic figures and iconic characters … easier to view on low-resolution TV screens than on painterly cinematic animation film’ and ‘the restrictions on action and drawing complexity provid[ing] opportunities for inventive sound and music’ (18). In...