Why You Should…
If you’re looking to acquaint yourself with the music of one of the most iconic and celebrated concepts in science fiction, and familiarise yourself with arguably the most memorable television theme.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If the absence of missing tracks, or a fairly tame underscore for the most part isn’t quite your cup of tea.
Release Date: December 4th 2006 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Murray Gold
Recorded By/At: BBC Wales, Cardiff & Air Studios London.
Label: Silva Screen Records
Conducted By: Ben Foster
Orchestrated By: Ben Foster
Performed By: BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Produced By: Murray Gold & Ben Foster
Vocals By: Melanie Pappenheim
“Doctor Who Theme” originally composed by Ron Grainer, realised by Delia Derbyshire, 1963. Adapted & arranged by Murray Gold.
Among one of the earliest precursors of science fiction in dramatised television as popular culture is defined today is the iconic DOCTOR WHO. A seminal breakthrough in British television, it introduced the concept of time-travelling as a stronghold notion, and stands as a groundbreaking identity of human imagination. Originally running from 1963 to 1989 as compartmentalised serials, a hiatus marked the sixteen-year absence of the show, despite a direct-to-TV film being aired in 1996. The eventual revival by show-runner Russell T. Davies re-consolidated its place in contemporary television once more, resurrected in 2005, showing no signs of slowing down with its revamped success. It’s a product that has grown from its humble black-and-white beginnings with adequate special effects and an intangible air of haunting excitement, to a full-blooded vehicle of exploratory storytelling and thematic convergence, airing for over fifty years. The titular character, The Doctor is depicted consistently as a highly articulate and humanoid alien belonging to the Galifreyan race known as the Time Lords- a superhuman civilisation that are universally renowned for their advanced intelligence and physiological capabilities. The premise dictates that following a Time War between the Time Lords and their greatest adversaries, the Daleks, the Doctor sought refuge by escaping in a transport known as the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space)- a phenomenal product of design that grants its owner the ability to travel to any fixed point within the fabric of time and space itself. The show’s longevity is primarily attributed to the concept of the character’s regeneration, a feat that allows the Doctor to evade cellular permanent death by transforming into an entirely different physical form, whilst retaining the prior consciousness and memories in abundance. This trait has allowed various actors to inhabit and portray the beloved role, starting from First Doctor (William Hartnell) to Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (at the time of writing his review, though the subsequent season at the time of release would mark his final tenure). The Ninth Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston is the first facet of the character in the contemporary revitalisation, his mysterious presence coinciding with a mysterious alien entity that threatens inner-city London and the life of shop-worker Rose Tyler, who eventually becomes his travelling companion, as the alien continues righting wrongs wherever he goes, and stopping sinister alien threats. As BAFTA- nominated composer Murray Gold‘s initial album release entailed the first two seasons, one of which was occupied by Eccleston, it’s contextually important to mention his transition into the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)- whose own interpretation would compete with Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) for perennial favourite. A watershed landmark for science fiction and a staple of British culture, it remains so in the United Kingdom, whilst gradually accumulating a cult following in neighbouring regions and global prominence.
Much of the show’s music remains firmly rooted in British orchestral tendencies, with occasional detours and integrations into electronic and synthesised realms. Gold has since served as composer for the entirety of the show’s revival, and his loyalty to the concept has to be applauded, irrespective of your preference or indifference towards the show. To devote over a decade of your life’s work to a particular idea requires patience and dedication, which can be heard in these album releases from Silva Screen Records. Gold’s recurring compositional approach is anchored around the iconic Doctor Who theme, originally penned by Australian composer Ron Grainer in 1963, with additional modulations through a series of meticulous, manual synthesised loops by Delia Derbyshire, at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This thematic identity has evolved hungrily to the point of instant recognition, marked immediately by the sonic distortion heard at the very outset of the theme, to imply the TARDIS taking the viewer/listener off on an adventure of their own. This sonic distortion (EWWWOOOORPPPP for faux-pas phonetics), is heard at the beginning of every episodic instalment, and at the end, often working brilliantly as a chilling cliffhanger motif. The structural backbone of the theme itself is rooted in E minor, in Phrygian mode, and is held together by a bass loop of E-G slurred triplets, wobbling anonymously with swinging effect. Melodically, it’s a rare example of musique concrète achieving mainstream success and recognition, and in that respect, it’s perhaps an irony it itself for anyone acquainted with the particular sub-genre. Splicing, cutting and acclerating of every note with harmonic waveforms from test-tone oscillators mark the theme’s origin, with modulated effects of hissing white noise. The actual melody itself is a rising and falling progression that echoes the TARDIS’s descent into the Time Vortex, its state of realm during travelling. It’s ingrained in pop culture to the point where the first two notes are enough to recall the remaining progression. Its absolution was signified when a reader of the British RadioTimes magazine complained about her son being “terrified”, its intended effect having worked clearly well even to this day. Gold’s technique upon this interpretation involved integrating it with his own orchestral arrangement with taut staccato string triplets in a “Chase” motif, Wagnerian brass statement, Dalek ray-gun effects and muscular snare riffs that perfectly complement the nocturnal design of the Time Vortex’s visuals and the TARDIS’s wild revolutions. Key to the structure is the “Middle Eight”, referring to the central interluding eight bars that take a more flightier approach, allowing for woodwind flourishes and violin trills. The modern ending to theme is marked by an ominous four note piano and horn progression, before ending with orchestral triplet hits fading into atmospheric echo, to signify that time itself is a constant presence, and the Doctor’s adversity against evil will never truly be over so long as he lives. Gold has since used the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, whose performances will be studied in this extensive review. The actual modernised thematic presentation however, remains a fantastic example of paying respect to the ways of the old whilst pioneering sensibilities towards a new frontier. This version of the theme is the most successful at representing the unknown, and the subsequent myriad of excitement and fear that comes with the Doctor’s adventures. The underscore, remains a blend of orchestral and synthetic study. So popular was the score’s release that it managed to fend off David Arnold‘s Casino Royale in the iTunes charts for the soundtrack category.
The first episode brings the Ninth Doctor into contact with the companion Rose Tyler, whose inner city London upbringing and lifestyle is reflected in “Westminster Bridge”. Opening with Goldsmith-esque chords to show the viewer’s view of Earth before a zoom into the urban sprawl, it segues into Brit-funk with thick layers of electric guitar that evoke Arnold in the brightest of ways, inspired by the Pixies‘ song, Cecilia Ann. But the writing is unmistakably Gold, as evidenced by the shifting density of the cue. “The Doctor’s Theme” is simply a vocalised rendition of the main theme by Melanie Pappenheim, Gold’s frequent collaborator on the franchise who is described the in sleeve booklet as singing from the time vortex itself. The melancholy tone and wistful piano-woodwind represent the Doctor’s loneliness and isolation, as well as as his survivor’s guilt in haunting fashion, a tactic that Gold often used for the Tenth Doctor. “Cassandra’s Waltz” is an oddity of a cue for the second episode, a theremin-built piano waltz that gently eases the listener into the distant future, as the TARDIS lands the Doctor and Rose in the year 5 Billion. The cue refers to the titular character of Lady Cassandra, a plastic lifeform stretched to abnormal parameters, who claims she is the last remnant of purely human life. The British sensibilities are present, with gentle mute trumpets, and sudden clarinet trills, to mark the hidden sinister plans she has in mind. “Clockwork TARDIS” uses a undulating puffing layer of reed instruments and harp pizzicato with clarinet exploration in this brief cue, in the lighter veins of the show’s musical continuity. “Rose’s Theme” is by far the most important cue of the episode in context, a gentle piano solo with poignant strings. The melody’s ascending progression identifies her desire to escape her normal, mundane routine of a life and venture further than the known with the Doctor. There is no music on this album that extensively attributes to the third episode- a shame given the supernatural narrative turn. “Slitheen” uses a fast-paced syncopation rhythm of percussion underneath fluttering string lines to characterise the obnoxious green enemy the Doctor and Rose as they return to London a year after they first met, where the city has been overrun by the villainous Slitheen, one of the show’s most regrettable creations when looking back in retrospect. Much of the first season doesn’t age well, so it’s a hidden blessing that the music fortunately remains as enticing as ever. This theme is noted for its stabbing string hits, and is carried over to subsequent episodes featuring the villains. It returns in World War Three, the fifth episode and second of the two parter, which also features the “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister” cue for the fictional political figure. Here, Gold takes a more urgent tone in his string layers, slowing tempo and dynamic expression to an adequate volume with noble horns. “The Lone Dalek” explores the minor-key roots of the Doctor’s greatest adversary, the Daleks with a surprising amount of expression. In the sixth episode where they are first introduced, their presence although unnerving is intentionally designed to create sympathy for the viewer, hence the somewhat falsely ethereal tone. Don’t let it deceive you however, these creatures far more dangerous than the music suggests. There lies no music for the seventh episode either. “Father’s Day” is the eighth episode’s cue, with atmospheric reverb, its melancholy piano and synth layers interrupted by ostinatos to hint the arrival of the Reapers, the creatures of the episode. No music is left for the ninth or tenth episodes either, a loss of opportunity for horror enthusiasts.
The “Boom Town Suite” is the album’s first detraction in its carnival introduction, a harmless piano solo not offering much with its oboes and pizzicatos. It’s a tedious experience with little symphonic activity. Fortunately, “New Adventures” is a compensatory track with slurred strings atop bold brass and synth bass-drum percussion to evoke a heartbeat chase rhythm. Sitar-like drones are effective, with trombone and tuba puffs and snare riffs. Similarly, “Monster Bossa” uses a sharp series of brass layers before dissolving into comedic undertones with pizzicatos and shakers. Its timbre and textures are of appreciation, as are its timpani slaps. “Rose in Peril” uses strings in a gradually heightening manner before a gentle refrain is interrupted by ostinatos and screeching treble region violins. “I’m Coming To Get You” expands upon the brass and ostinato string approach that solidifies the Bad Wold motif in flourishes in deceptive fashion. “The Daleks” finally reaches into the onimous fear that the sentient species pose, always characterised by liturgical chanting that echoes in spades in successive seasons. Hebrew chanting of “Oh Mah Koreh” (Oh, what is happening?) is omnipresent above heavy bass layers and timpani switches. Throbbing synth bass accentuates their hybrid design, with satisfying chants of scale ascent and trumpet flashes. “Finding Jackie” uses staccato string chops with awesome brass backing, a short but thrilling cue. “Hologram” incorporates choral wonder and tinkling curiosity, with fluttering woodwinds as Rose is perplexed by the holographic emergency projection of the Doctor, whilst “Rose Defeats the Daleks” doubles down on the Bad Wolf motif with ethereal quality, as Rose uses the Time Vortex to eliminate the Daleks, before the Doctor saves her by absorbing it himself, thus triggering the regeneration into the Tenth Doctor aboard the TARDIS, before the time machine plummets down towards Earth as a result of the regenerative overload.
“UNIT” opens the material for the Christmas special, with ostinati and pyschedelic guitar-bass hybrids, as a motif for the task force that counters alien operations appears midway, a synchronised string rhythm. Following reprises of “Westminster Bridge”, “New Adventures” and “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister”, the “Sycorax Encounter” switches to more raw, primal brass and percussion. Vicious slams and rippling tom toms counter a tremolo of strings effectively, creating necessary dread. For the first episode, the beautiful “The Face of Boe” offers a pathos piano solo with new-age synth layers, gorgeous in its simplicity and warmth. The second episode, “Tooth and Claw” uses a titular cue to shift percussion and choral chanting with ethnic implementations, as the Doctor, Rose, and a precocious Queen Victoria battle a gruesome werewolf, with sharply, empirical horns and choral grandeur. The Bad Wolf motif is repeated intelligently here, to correlate between the name and animal despite no actual narrative connection. No music exists on album for the third episode, a shame given fan favourite K-9’s presence. The fourth episode focuses on a Reneissance-steampunk blend, solely presented in the lovely “Madame de Pompadour”, offering romantic piano and string interactions in a gentle waltz. Where the composer truly strikes gold, however, is the raw, unadulterated and menacing theme for the Cybermen, in “The Cyberman”, with low brass and tuba 6-note statements. A calling card is offered by a 2-note string ascending slur, with stocky trombones to represent their terrifying mechanical exoskeletons and emotionless villainy. As the Doctor and Rose lead a team of rebels to free a parallel Earth from the rule of the Cybermen, an action rhythm is built around rapidly changing strings and timpani hits, and chord progressions taking flight. No material is offered for the seventh episode, but in the eighth, “The Impossible Planet” takes a more dystopian approach in its solo performance and apocalyptic glissandi, though dominated more by the softer portions and floating strings. A minimalist finale is offered in the final episode, “Doomsday”, a rock ballad with Pappenheim’s vocals. Trivia is aplenty with her involvement, as fans liken her to the Time Lady President Flavia in affection. The vocals bring back the Doctor’s theme atop a bed of light drums and strings, as an unfortunate series of events cause the Doctor and Rose’s partnership to draw to an untimely close, remaining a sentimental favourite among the fans of the show, despite its inherently clunky tone. When pitching the track to the production team, Gold described the track as representing Rose’s unbridled energy and determination as she searches for the Doctor. He later said, “I wanted to get that kind of throbbing, sort of hurt sound of quite emotional rock, because I thought that’s what Rose would do if she was hurting and ran up to her bedroom and locked herself in her room and had a good old cry, really.” This creates a musical arc resolution, as the vocal melody is that of when Rose enters the TARDIS for the first time. The two songs by Neil Hannon are unnecessary to consider, particularly in terms of impact as the album draws to a close with a satisfying, full-blooded orchestral and synthetic performance of the theme with the middle eight, commonly reserved for the ending credits. An extended suite was created in “Doctor Who Theme (Album Version)”, with Wagnerian horns and tapping timpani shuffles. This reprise is ferociously engaging with its enhanced sonic wizardry and flight, and lengthier statements, ending with the triplet hits fading into obscurity. If you can overlook the dated schmaltz that frequently inhabits the album, and can forgive the missing cues of music from several episodes, then this makes a decent album experience. Gold continues to compose for Doctor Who, having entered a tenth season of musical responsibility. Despite its flaws, and odd spotting errors, in many ways this is another example of a fine young composer breaking into the field, despite his role in cinematic production being minimal compared to his television projects. As it stands, the theme alone is worth checking the score out, as are the thematic suites for the characters and particularly the Cybermen suite. Editor’s Note: Dematerialisation is happening…
(all music except for where noted written by Murray Gold)
1) Doctor Who Theme (TV Version) (0:41)
2) Westminster Bridge (2:08)
3) The Doctor’s Theme (1:18)
4) Cassandra’s Waltz (3:08)
5) Slitheen (1:22)
6) Father’s Day (1:55)
7) Rose In Peril (1:40)
8) Boom Town Suite (3:02)
9) I’m Coming To Get You (1:12)
10) Hologram (2:15)
11) Rose Defeats The Daleks (2:31)
12) Clockwork TARDIS (1:18)
13) Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (2:13)
14) Rose’s Theme (2:14)
15) Song For Ten (3:29)*
16) The Face Of Boe (1:16)
17) UNIT (1:44)
18) Seeking The Doctor (0:44)
19) Madame De Pompadour (3:44)
20) Tooth And Claw (3:50)
21) The Lone Dalek (4:59)
22) New Adventures (2:19)
23) Finding Jackie (0:54)
24) Monster Bossa (1:37)
25) The Daleks (3:01)
26) The Cybermen (4:32)
27) Doomsday (5:09)
28) The Impossible Planet (3:11)
29) Sycorax Encounter (1:13)
30) Love Don’t Roam (3:57)*
31) Doctor Who Theme (Album Version) (2:36)
BAFTA Cymru Award for Best Original Music Soundtrack (Y Trac Sain Gerddorol Wreiddiol Orau) (2005) – for “The Christmas Invasion” episode.