A Brief Musical Tour Of Doctor Who – Look! It Moves! By Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh writes:


I'd been thinking about the music of Doctor Who for a while and had hoped someone would write about it. Since no one has, I thought I'd give it a try, since it's a major component of the show that's become indispensible. The music has been present in every dramatic, epic, tragic, emotional moment of the show, creating the right mood, atmosphere, emotion for the scene and unifying the story, even papering over cracks and holes in the story, which is what soundtracks are supposed to do. And the music has become as much a major character in the show as the people in it.

Composer Murray Gold is the most underrated and unsung hero of the show, having been there at the start of the 2005 revival of the show under Russell T. Davies' run and continuing to the present day, composing new themes, cues and motifs for every series with a full orchestra of the like you would find for any Hollywood blockbuster movie.  His music for the show is up there with other great film composers like John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, creating emotive, epic soundscapes to supplement the mood and emotions of the stories.  Gold's soundtracks for the show have also served as a gateway drug to lure children into an appreciation of Classic Music with its influences on his work on the show, prompting the annual ritual of have Doctor Who concerts at the Proms in London.


Apart from remastering the main theme every series to the point where the current version barely resembles the original 2005 version anymore, Gold has also composed themes and suites for different Doctors, companions, and key story moments that would be used as cues throughout the series to maintain tonal consistency for the show.  What I want to do here is present a brief audio tour of the most used music throughout the show to date. Gold has composed literally dozens of compositions for seven series of the show, well over a hundred, but I want to present the most recurrent themes.  I'm no music expert, but it's fascinating to listen to the many classical influences, references and genres in the soundtrack for seven years of the show, there's something very British about its musical conventions, its optimism, its whimsy and playfulness, its melancholic turns and bright highs.

You can hear Gold taking influences from Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Vaughan Williams and many others, including pop music.  Rather than a brisk read, this column could take you awhile to get through as you listen to all the themes and suites.  To me, Gold's pieces are amongst the most joyous and creative parts of the show. Every piece tells its own story, keyed to the personality of the character he composed it for, their thoughts and dreams, and the changes, ebbs and flows of the melody constitute the character's own story arc summed up in a single piece of music.

I've picked the most prominent pieces from the last seven series that are used as cues again and again throughout the series to help unify each series.  There are many more keyed to specific situations and stories that I didn't have room to include, but you can find them on your own by doing a search. Who knows how long these links will be up, so we might as well take advantage of them while they're still around.

Let's start with the remastered, rearranged 2005 version of Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer's original theme for the show:



To herald the new show back in 2005, the most evocative theme from the first two new series was "The Doctor's Theme", alternately referred to later as "Bad Wolf". It also introduced the vocals of Melanie Peppenheim, who would sing on many other compositions throughout the show.




This in contrast to the warm earthiness of "Rose's Theme", which was used all the way to her departure in Series Two.




"Doomsday" marked the end of Series 2 and Rose Tyler's departure,  a combination of classic choral vocals with a driving bass guitar perhaps influenced by the scores of Ennio Morricone.




Series 3 introduced Martha Jones with her own theme, full of wistful dreaminess that suffused the whole series as it was used throughout the season:




It wasn't until Series 3 that Gallifrey was reintroduced to continuity, and a theme was specially composed for it:




"Yana" was the theme signaling the return of The Master, and also used again later on for suspense.




By Series 4, the opening theme song had been elaborated on and revised with the addition of a guitar and more strings.




For Series 4, "Donna's Theme" highlighted the character's comedy and brassiness:




Even "The Doctor's Theme" underwent a revision in Series 4:




When David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, it was virtually a new show with an entirely new cast, and all of the old themes and compositions from the first four series were completely replaced by a new set that Gold composed to signal a new Doctor, a new tone for the show.

Even the opening theme has been rearranged almost completely, a far cry from the instrumentation of the last four series:




Then there's "Amy Pond's Theme", which evokes young Amelia, her dreams and disappointments, and the childhood wounds that carried into adult Amy.




There is, of course, a new epic action hero theme for The 11th Doctor with its propulsive strings:




And the summation of The Doctor and Amy's relationship with "A Madman with a Box", which also evokes the fairy tale feel of The 11th Doctor's run:




By Series 6, there's "River Song's Theme" for the arc about the mystery of her identity and its link to The Doctor's fate.




The second half of Series 7 introduces "Clara's Theme" with its playfulness and mystery of the Impossible Girl.




And "Long Song (Rings of Akhaten)", whose lyrics foreshadow The Doctor's regeneration. I've often wondered if the episode was also written as an excuse to introduce the audience to this style of choral music.




And "Trenzalore", the site of The Doctor's final battle and resting place, full of mystery and melancholy:




This was in turn transformed into "Infinite Potential":




While there were many one-off compositions for the 50th Anniversary special The Day of The Doctor, I noticed that this was also the first time since the end of the fourth series that musical cues from the 10th Doctor's run were used, including recognizable parts of "The Doctor's Theme/ Bad Wolf" and "This is Gallifrey".  Too bad I couldn't find any clips.

Now here's the music from the final minutes of Time of The Doctor as Matt Smith's Doctor says his goodbyes and prepares to regenerate.  Listen to the combined cues from "Trenzalore", "Infinite Potential", "The Rings of Akhaten" and an entirely new piece for the regeneration into Peter Capaldi's Doctor that combines enigma, menace, mischief and wackiness, evoking thoughts of clockwork to coincide with us wondering what the new Doctor will be like.




With that, I leave you with a video of the final minute of Time of the Doctor with the regeneration and the introduction of Peter Capaldi and the new music all cued up together:




You can find the other composites from the show just by doing a search or buying the soundtracks either on CD or MP3 if you want to continue exploring.

All music and compositions from the videos here are the copyright of the BBC. 

Humming like a TARDIS at lookitmoves@gmail.com

Follow the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture, stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about. 

Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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