Why I love Doctor Who (Part 1a)

Or

The scary wary music that I lovey wovey

There is something to be said about a TV show that has lasted for fifty years, and I think that a major part of this is the theme tune.

Back in 1963 when Ron Grainer composed the, now iconic, theme for a programme that was supposed to run for about 6 weeks, little did he know just what he was creating.

The credit for the popularity of this composition has to go to the fabulous and immensely talented Delia Derbyshire. Without her dedication to running round the Radiophonic Workshop with miles of tape that she had cut together there would be no Doctor Who there today that we know and love. Of course, being the 1960’s they weren’t going to allow a woman to take any credit for the arrangement of the theme so her name is a mystery to most people that don’t love the show.

I can’t even begin to think of the hundreds of hours that her and the team put into creating each and every single sound for the theme… individually… on tape… then splicing it together and recording miles of tape onto a master tape. It’s a work of dedication and genius.

Delia is sadly no longer with us, but her fantastic legacy lives on.

Over the first twenty years of the show, the music stayed virtually the same. There were a few changes made here and there – for example the music was cut to fit with the lengths of the credits rather than just fading out. There were tweaks made for new doctors, or new opening titles, but it remained essentially the same.

Then came along Peter Howell. As I remember Doctor Who from approximately the late 70’s and early 80’s I grew up with this version, and it still brings a joy to my heart and tear to my eye when I hear it.

Sounds a bit daft that, but I don’t care. It reminds me of being a kid, enjoying the summers and not having a care in the world – apart from catching Doctor Who that is!

To me, the Peter Howell version of the theme – along with the fantastic title sequence by Sid Sutton – is perfection. If I could have it playing along with the show today I would. In later years, I have seen how this was created in the Radiophonic Workshop. Not quite the level of work that Delia had to go through – thanks to these modern synthesiser things – but still a labour of love no less.

This version of the theme said goodbye to Tom Baker and ushered in Peter Davison. It stayed with the show for six years in total and even captured the first season of Colin Baker.

Then things start to go a bit weird for a while. The show had been cancelled – for the first time – and came back with a thirteen part story – The Trial of a Time Lord. I duly sat down – after the Roland Rat show – and watched… little did I know that they had decided to change the theme tune to something that was completely different. At the time I don’t think it bothered me that much but now, years later, it was a bold and brave move.

Dominic Glynn was the arranger of this version and at the time it may have seemed strange, but listening to it, as I am right this minute, it is just brilliant. While I will love Peter Howell’s version until I die – I want it played as I go behind the curtain – this has a real darkness to it and an edge that you don’t notice until you listen to the whole version, which of course you never got to do watching the show.

It has a real depth to it that not many other versions have. I know that people in the know aren’t overly keen on this version but it has its merits and is a valid arrangement that suited the tone of the show at the time.

Of course, Doctor Who was cancelled again!!

Joy of joys, it was coming back with a new Doctor. Mr McCoy.

Again, I duly sat down in front of the telly and switched on. WOW! CGI Titles and this amazing version of the theme tune.

Keff McCulloch had arranged the theme into a dance track and it was bloody great. It’s my second favourite version of the theme.

It really worked with the title sequence and as the adventures of the Doctor unfurled in his seventh incarnation, it became – like the seventh Doctor – a new start for the show. It was fast and furious and completely different to anything that had come along before.

Again, I know that some people were not happy with this arrangement – among the Delia Derbyshire and Murray Gold (more on him later) – but I have to err on the side of Keff, it is a bloody good version and deserves a lot more recognition than it gets.

So, Doctor who was cancelled again… this time for a long, long time… was it ever going to come back?

Yes!

1996, with a wonderful tribute to the late Jon Pertwee, the Doctor was back on our screens – all be it in an American way.

Paul McGann was instantly fantastic as the Doctor, and John Debney did a good job with the theme tune. I don’t know if he’d ever seen the show or knew anything about it or had even heard the theme before he put pen to paper, but he did a damned fine job.

It’s only on careful listening that you realise just how clever he was. The theme starts in the bridge, the bit you don’t usually hear. The bit that the fans always want to hear cos then they know it’s a full version. It then triumphantly blares into the main theme that we know and love.

Yes, it’s a bit panto in parts, and it’s not quite right… but the orchestral arrangement is fantastic and it does give a little foreshadowing as to what is to come.

Nine years later, the Doctor is back. He’s all 21st century and streetwise and stuff, but he’s back. Easter 2005 I sat down to watch the show – I didn’t download it the week before off the internet to watch the slightly unfinished version… honest – and we are treated to the Murray Gold arrangement of the theme.

I have to be honest, I’m not a fan of Murray Gold.

I think his music is bombastic and derivative… and this goes for his version of the theme.

He also slagged off the Keff version on the internet and that really made me hate his guts.

It’s great to have a full orchestral version of the theme, but he ripped the heart and soul out of it. The  duh duh duh duh’s were virtually gone, there were bits – now called chasers – all over the place and it just felt wrong.

In the last 8 years, his version of theme has been modified so many times, it’s difficult to keep track. There was the original version, the rock version, the other one that I can’t remember and the Pet Shop Boys version – if you don’t believe me, look up the song Pandemonium on YouTube and just see how similar they are.

The closest that he has come to the original is the latest version for Matt Smith, and even then that’s been altered already!

I love Doctor Who, I love the music and I always will – whoever the arranger is.

Some I like more than others, but that’s life.

Below is a compilation by Brian Rimmer of all the themes (well up to today)

Enjoy!

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