Why I love Doctor Who (Part 1a)


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?


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)


One comment

  1. As a bit of a companion to the above excellent article, I thought I would share a playlist of various renditions of the Doctor Who Theme which I have personally encountered over the years. There are MANY versions of the theme out there but what I have tried to do is assemble takes on The Theme which work as listenable tracks in their own right. I’m sure I’ve missed some great versions and indeed you may question my choices!
    The playlist concludes with the slightly bonkers version Ron Grainer may well have released had he been allowed to arrange the theme himself.

    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries?list=PLBkv5cLrNPzEpDma01_4DxSe7Jjj6567D&w=560&h=315%5D

    Here is also a little bit of blurb about the various tracks.

    1.DR [sic] Who Meets Metal by Eric Calderone
    Performed by Eric Calderone who has built up a large fanbase of Youtube fans with his wild guitar skills fashioned his own compelling take on The Doctor’s theme!
    2. Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords
    12″ Version of The TimeLords, AKA The KLF track which hit number 1 in the British charts in 1988. Recommended listening instead of the 7″ version (if you can deal with the fact this uses samples from Gary Glitter tracks….)!
    3. Doctor Who (Dubstep Remix) by Jonoesmusic
    Epic and atmospheric remix in a dubstep stylee
    4. Doctor Who by Orbital
    Creepy and brilliant take on The Doctor’s theme, evoking the fear of the original series to small children hiding behind sofas.
    5. Doctor Who Theme on MiniMoog by Hyperdust
    A completely bonkers and unique take on the theme. Move over Moog cookbook!
    6.Doctor Who Theme on Violins by Taylor Davis
    Multi-tracked violins give a stirring rendition, with a slight hint of what the theme might have ended up like if produced for Agatha Christie in space!
    7.Doctor Who Theme on Piano by Sonya Belousova
    Captures a restless energy with a bombastic piano rendition. If The Doctor gets married (again?) this might be appropriate music to be played.
    8. Doctor Who Theme (Fingerstyle Guitar Cover) by Eddie van der Meer 
    Doctor Who in the Australian Outbreak in the 1870s might have sounded a little like this.
    9.Doctor Who by Monster Tubulum
    Bonkers and enjoyable rendition with some obscure instruments multi-tracked performance of the theme.
    10. What if Vangelis did the Doctor Who Theme? by George C Music
    Apparently this came to the arranger in a dream – and what an authentic take the dream had.
    11.Doctor Who Theme on cello and cat keyboard by The Doubleclicks
    Move over Nyan Cat. A slightly silly, slightly compelling rendition finally pairing cats n cellos!
    12. Doctor Who Theme Tune on Saxophone by Sax.co.uk
    Doctor Who in a sleazy New Orleans Mardis Gras bar, getting the horn.
    13. Dr Who Theme on Fostex R8 by Doug Cairns
    Combination of Loop Machines provides a unique take
    14.Dr Who Theme on Metal Violin & Loop Station by Jacob Todd
    Recorded live, this short n sweet version has punch
    15.Dr Who Theme (Jazz/Funk Version) by Andrew Allen
    Sounds like Doctor Who in the style of “Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased”. Moffat approved!
    16.Dr Who Theme on Ukele and Whistle by The Exclaimers
    About 100% better than anything performed on a Ukele and Whistle deserves to sound. Awesome!
    17.Dr Who 1996 Theme on SNES by Casio Maker
    If the 1996 TV Movie had had a SNES game based on it, the music might’ve sounded like this!
    18.Dr Who Theme (Ska/Reggae Remix) by Skamonics
    Move over Easy-Star All-Stars. The best reggae cover of The Doctor you’ll hear today.
    19.Dr Who Howell Theme (8 Bit) by SM124
    Prepare to get your mind blown. If only the C64 had released a game worthy of this back in 1985!
    20.Dr Who Theme (Drum n Bass Remix) by TVTR
    Doctor Who gets trendy. Actually pretty cool!
    21.Dr Who Theme (Rockabilly and Punk) by Jime6688
    If The Doctor had turned up in Deadwood. “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us”
    22.Dr Who Theme (Original Planned version) by Ron Grainer
    Released on “The Exciting Television Music of Ron Grainer”, this is Ron’s first ever actual recorded release of the them in 1980 as the first recorded theme was actually arranged by Delia Derbyshire. How different this subtly might have made the show! Maybe they could use it for an episode where The Doctor visits Studio 54.

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