A Few Parting Words on the Doctor Who Theme

“Every time a new producer came or a new director came, they wanted to tart up the title music. And they wanted to put an extra two bars here; they wanted to put some extra feedback on the high frequencies—they kept on tarting it up! Out of existence! I was really very shocked with what I had to do in the course of so-called duty.”

—Delia Derbyshire on the Doctor Who theme, quoted in Sculptress of Sound

Considering that I’ve devoted three posts to the Doctor Who theme, and also its status as Most Recognized BBC Radiophonic Workshop piece, it seems like I ought to say a few words about its latest incarnation. But my mother always told me that if you can’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. 

Oh, all right. The 2005-2007 version, posted at the top here, is tolerable; sure, there’s a lot of orchestral frippery, but at least the bones of the original are detectable; Murray Gold gets the bassline right, for one thing, and there’s a good amount of the old-fashioned electronic weirdness mixed in with the big new sounds. The 2008-2009 version isn’t that bad either, even if it’s accumulated more frippery. But in the latest renditions, Gold has managed to almost completely bury the signature bassline under a thumping mess of bombast—the terrible new opening counter-melody, the backing choir, for pity’s sake. “Tarted up” barely begins to cover it. It’s absolutely the wrong kind of cheese (to which, alas, the show itself has been occasionally prone in the last six years—not that the classic series was without its flaws either, of course; they were just different kinds of flaws). (But that is another discussion for another blog.) And the soundtrack in general, despite having some enjoyable moments (such as Donna’s theme in series 4), has become increasingly overwrought, and often it also seems to be mixed far too loudly in comparison to the rest of the sound on the show. It’s enough to make one long for Malcolm Clarke’s score for “The Sea Devils”.

(Who fans being largely contentious sorts, I encourage the direction of any disagreements on this matter to my personal tumblr. Thank you.)