Time signatures : music and sound design in Doctor Who (1963–89, 1996, 2005-)




Kausalik, Emily Anne

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On November 23, 1963, the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) premiered a small, low-budget science fiction series titled Doctor Who. The BBC foresaw the program as a tea-time filler on Saturday evenings. Much to their surprise, the show went on to be one of the most popular and influential British television series in the BBC’s history, running with little interruption for nearly thirty years. One of the most striking features of the show is its sound design, something so impressive that many avid viewers recorded the sound of the early episodes during broadcast. Thanks to these viewers’ recordings it is possible to glean a rather complete picture of the aural history of Doctor Who, even in the face of the missing episodes from the 1960s that were wiped or lost by the BBC. This study aims to address the sound design, musical composition, and industrial practices of Doctor Who during its initial run from 1963-1989 on BBC Television, a previously underexplored area of film and television music research. The focus will be on the program’s musical aims in a historical stylistic analysis; how the sound design has been constructed and deployed, why constraints in production standards affect the type of music the program uses, how the highly variable narrative with nearly infinite genre possibilities allows for seemingly infinite approaches to representation through sound, and ultimately the different sounds of the program as well as how the program “sounds.” And at the core of these considerations is the central tenet of the familiar vs. unfamiliar, a focus instilled by producer Verity Lambert that the program relies upon as a unifying concept. In doing so, reinforcement of continuity, expectations of television sound, science fiction sound, British television sound, and perhaps even television sound in Western culture, can be addressed throughout a fifty-year span of television through a single program.



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