One of the toughest challenges for any composer with hours of score from a long-running TV series (long-running, in this case, being defined as having matured through 2+ seasons) is to winnow the material down to a faithful representation of the show, its characters, and best-remembered episodes.
In most cases, an episode's score consists of short cues and the reiteration of character themes, the latter, in the case of Doc Martin, often recurring to punctuate moments of mounting embarrassment. The trick is how to revisit and mimic a series with dramatic and humorous peaks & valleys within a much shorter album format and not be gratingly repetitive.
Most of Colin Towns ' cues are relatively short, so it made sense to craft and re-record longer versions of favourite cuts, and the extant CD is a compact portrait of Doctor Martin Ellingham's experiences in the small harbour town of Portwenn .
Towns is best-known for some enigmatic thriller scores – The Puppet Masters and Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse being among his best orchestral works – but Doc Martin is a polar opposite from his shocker scores, and the show's title music best illustrates his clever blending of lightness, and unease.
Towns' main titles – basically the Doc's pivotal theme – is a perfect example of how Towns maintains the show's ongoing contrasts between an arrogant doctor and Portwenn's lighthearted (and sometimes light-minded) townsfolk.
The rhythm established by solo acoustic guitar is breezy and wholly affable, yet the addition of a snare drum shifts the tone to a march, perfectly evoking the Doc's over-starched and stiff bedside manor, and standard approach to tackling any potential village malady: order the idiots out of the way, and give the genius healer a wide berth to rescue a patient from the stupidity he or she is responsible for, due to a complete lack of common sense.
That's the basic tenor of every episode's conflicts, and Towns nails the whole thing in the opening titles, contrasting Doc's stiff demeanor with playful hits on piano, keyboards, and some little bits of jazzy improv that sometimes played over scenes when Towns applied longer arrangements of his theme.
The CD includes a number of theme variations – “Going Bodmin,” for example, builds to a fast close with a rush of synth percussion – and a few less overt renditions, like “Plain English,” where Towns maintains the same chord shifts, but applies a Latin riff on the theme, enhanced by a thick electric bass. In the series, the Latin-styled cues usually denote the Doc's hurried arrival during an emergency, or when he chases down a lead to solve a show's mystery ailment.
“There Were Good Times Too” is a somber theme variation for guitar, strings, and subtle woodwinds, and both for the series and album, it adds some sober emotional reality to the eccentric elements that determine the show's clear comedic bent. “I Don't Like Hospital Coffee” is probably the album's most formal dramatic cue, and the urgent tonal progressions, mimicking a small orchestra, support the Doc's sudden run to the loo to shield his phobia of blood from all hospital staff and visitors.
The elegantly orchestrated cures ensure clean transitions between melodic statements and short jazzy improvs, and while the album boasts 19 tracks, most are under 3 mins., which isn't a bad thing considering most of the cues are based around the main theme.
More importantly, neither the series writers nor Towns treat the characters as rustic clichés – buffoons, mystical flakes, or sitcom archetypes – and that ensures the music itself doesn't swerve into predictable realms. Not dissimilar from Daniel Licht's refreshing music for the TV series Dexter, Towns' musical palette is sparse, yet rich in rhythmic textures and sometimes oblique theme versions, and he frequently alternates between instrumental groupings when switching to rustic, jazzy, and contemporary styled music.
The album is basically 19 theme variations, but certainly for series fans, each track is pure gold.
To read an interview with Colin Towns, click HERE.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan