Abstract.


When the BBC premiered Doctor Who on November 23rd, 1963, they foresaw the program as a low-budget, teatime filler program on Saturday evenings. During the planning stages of this new show, the internal discussions surrounding Doctor Who’s development show that the BBC did not want a categorically science fiction (SF) show. As stated in documents from the BBC’s Script Department:
We are not writing science-fiction. We shall provide scientific explanations too, sometimes, but we will not bend over backwards to do so, if we decide to achieve credibility by other means. (BBC WAC T5/647/1)
The BBC believed that the British public was not ready for a mainstream SF show, nor that the SF writing community was prepared to produce stories that could reach to a wider, mainstream audience.

The highly eclectic, dissonant, and avant-garde sound design of Doctor Who tells a different story. Although the scriptwriters wanted to avoid making a SF show, the musique concrete and electronic techniques developed by Doctor Who’s freelance composers and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop utilized tropes and coded musical idioms associated with SF. This generic tension between the show’s dramatic intent and musical signifiers mirror the tensions found within literary SF, most notably the dialectic between estrangement and cognition. This article will examine the power of music in Doctor Who, and how the show’s sound design provided coherence of narrative and an aural link to established SF music conventions that helped define Doctor Who as SF.