Nowadays, many TV shows spend as little time as possible on the opening credits, racing to the main action after a few seconds. There are reasons for this (shorter credits can mean more time for the actual show for one), but a side effect is that there is less room for a theme to hit its stride. This is a pity, as a great theme can not only pull you into a program's world, it can also become a shorthand for the entire show's vision: just whistling the first few notes of The Twilight Zone theme still speaks volumes, nearly 50 years after the show first aired. So, as nod to a fading art, here are my favorite science fiction TV themes from the good old (pre-1980) days:
The Twilight Zone: (1959) Yes, it has those distinctive notes, but also has Rod Serling's mesmerizing monologue.
Doctor Who: (1963) Not only a great theme in itself, it is an important composition in musical history that introduced electronic music to a mass audience.
Star Trek (1966): William Shatner's "Where no man has gone before..." monologue might have been a little too much Horatio Hornblower without the fast-paced music that evoked adventure on the high frontier.
Captain Scarlet: (1967) Actually, I love the theme music of allGerry and Sylvia Anderson's classic Supermarionation shows such as Thunderbirds or Stingray, but Captain Scarlet's theme wins for being the perfect expression of space-age pop.
The Six Million Dollar Man: (1974) It just doesn't get any more iconic than this. Incidentally, Bruce Peterson, the test pilot whose real-life crash provided the film for the introductory sequence, was none too fond of seeing the accident that cost him an eye and his testing career constantly replayed on television.
Battlestar Galactica: (1978) While I prefer the re-imagined version over the original in many respects, have you ever tried humming the new theme music? The sweeping orchestral score of the original perfectly set up the grand tone needed for the space opera that followed.