Culture Focus// The Music of Doctor Who
Throughout its half-decade of existence, Doctor Who has been seen in many different media. But one form that remains largely untainted by any accusations of geekery is its music. Not just the instantly recognisable theme tune that we all have heard at some point – but it’s incidental music and even the occasional novelty single that crept out of the pen with a vaguely connected idea.
Of course, the first thing anybody saw (or, indeed heard) of the show was the haunting, instantly otherworldly theme tune arranged by Ron Grainer and (an initially uncredited) Delia Derbyshire. It’s probably true to say that the combination of this unnervingly strange music and the sci-fi trappings of the initially very serious show took people’s imaginations by storm, in fact. Listen just why below:
But of most importance is to note that the person who actually realized the music is Delia Derbyshire, then of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Her work in the pioneering of experimental music cannot be understated, although it was probably not the intended idea at the time. Her work still stands serious consideration to this day – and it’s arguable that the Doctor Who theme has most certainly helped this reputation last. Listen to the much sampled ‘Zimzih Zimzih OO OO OO’ to get an idea of just how good (and presaging) her work actually is!
But whilst the tv series was battling aliens to the often very atmospheric experimental sounds of the BBC Radiophonic workshop - somebody, somewhere had a bright idea. Let’s release a novelty single! (Although to be fair it probably wasn’t considered anything as much of a novelty as it would be if it were released now.) The Go-Go’s released the frankly odd sounding ‘I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas with A Dalek’ in the wake of the then raging Dalekmania – and if the idea of a trained killing machine demanding plum pudding and custard with a cod-sweet tone to its inflections sounds good then you’ll love this:
Skipping forward to 1972 we find something that, on greater reflection, is actually quite cool. When Jon Pertwee took on the role on 1970 he was instantly different, flamboyant and most definitely a man of much energy. This single, released in 1972 on Purple Records, is now rather hard to find – and also quite brilliant in some ways. Not as teeth-grindingly annoying as a record like this could be, it is most definitely very Jon Pertwee and very Doctor Who.
This is in contrast to another 60’s novelty single; that features the voice of the Peter Cushing movies’ Roberta Tovey and is entitled Who’s Who - which shall remain up to the reader to hunt for should they feel brave enough. (It’s not pretty, but it could have been a whole lot worse!) Not in the same league of sheer cheese though is a little known single from Frazer Hines, who played companion Jamie opposite the Second Doctor. Entitled Who’s Dr Who it’s a sixties rock take on the oft-asked question and leaves you rather puzzled rather than inclined to hit the off button.
The most notable (and in all honesty, somewhat over rated) novelty song concerning Doctor Who came in 1988 when the KLF released Doctorin’ the Tardis under the pseudonym of The Timelords. (It’s definitely not in the league of Jon Pertwee’s weirdly brilliant effort.)
But our search did lead us to some more recent musical tributes to the show. Some were just plain scary to us but one project just about balanced the musicality with the fandom. Chameleon Circuit released a whole album of songs based around themes from the show – and below you can find one:
Now, there are doubtlessly many more tributes and novelty songs on the theme of Doctor Who just waiting to be discovered. This list is not intended as a complete one, for it isn’t. You can enjoy incidental scores from every era of the show on disc, even listen to John Barrowman if you really want to put yourself through it but the one thing to remember is this…
Don’t forget to wear a fez.
Words by Culture Agent #1.