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The Evolution of the Doctor’s Music

May 29, 2013



Doctor Who has been around for a long time.  I have very brief flashes of memories of seeing the show on PBS at random times during my childhood but I don’t remember ever watching a full episode.  All of that changed in September of last year (2012).  I had seen the fandom of a few friends via Facebook and it was frequently mentioned on a podcast I listen to regularly. At the time I was getting ready to go on my first mission and after an evening of preparation I found myself with nothing to do, so I decided to watch something I had never seen before.  I queued up some Who and started off with “Rose.”  

What immediately captured me was the opening title sequence.  I’m a sucker for a good title sequence.  Through the imagery and the music it tells you what the show’s about and gets you hooked.  

I knew enough about Who to know that it was this weird science-fiction show from way back in the day and that it involved a blue police box and time travel.

Instantly you’re thrust into the time vortex and the iconic chords begin thrumming in their low register – “Duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh, duhduhduhduhduhduh, duh-duh-duh-duh…”, an orchestra sets the tone in the key of adventure and then the TARDIS flies wildly onto the screen!  The theremin begins the wobbly, haunting melody and we see the names of the main characters (the Doctor and his companion(s)), and then the title of the show – DOCTOR WHO.  Oh, man, I was hooked on the title sequence alone!

Anyway, as time went on (and 0ff) and I delved deeper into Who lore, I discovered that the theme changes every couple seasons or so.  I wondered if this was a regular thing, so I did a little research and discovered a YouTube treasure in which user BrianRimmer has sewn together all of the variations of the Doctor Who title theme along with their visual sequences – from the beginning to the current sequence and song we have today.  Below is the embedded video:

It’s only 13 minutes long.

For those of you who be Whovians, you’ll see some really interesting things, and some right off the bat.

The iconic thrumming and theremin are prominent throughout the whole run; and some of you will remember that rhythm as being the heartbeat of a Time Lord from the end of the Tenth Doctor’s stories.  But there are subtle differences you begin to see as time goes on – the addition of sound effects, the cheesy visages of the Doctors, and computer graphics (I’m looking at you, 1996)!!

Personally, I really start to enjoy it with the current seasons – starting with Eccleston’s run as the Doctor.  I won’t retread my reasonings behind digging that season’s music, but I will point out that while the relaunch of Who is all about telling new stories of the Doctor, the show’s creators are constantly honoring the past in all manner of ways, not the least of which is in the opening sequence.  

We see the closest connection between the 1996 opening (for the movie) and the relaunch in 2005.  It has the time vortex and the musical arrangement is the closest to the 2005 run.

The next season’s arrangement has some orchestral augmentation to make it sound a bit more triumphant and in 2007 even more tweaking is done and it sounds as though the Doctor is not just on a quest, but a conquest.  In 2008 that aspect is dialed back a bit and it’s just about adventure and fun again.

Then – oh, ho ho!  2010 – the advent of the Eleventh and current Doctor – we’ve got some percussion and epic orchestral build-up – and the first dramatic change to the visuals: we’re still in the time vortex but now it’s all cloudy and lightningy!  We see the TARDIS tumble onto the screen and BAM! eviscerated by a bolt of cosmic electricity!  This is the wild Doctor; as adventurous as ever but now really embracing the danger inherent in intergalactic time-travel.  It’s not just fun but menacing and downright ominous.

In 2011 it’s basically the same sequence, they’ve just moved the “brightness” slider all the way over to the left in AfterEffects making it even, well, darker!  And it works!  Tonally, it is a darker season of the show as the Doctor take Rory and Amy through even more scary, yet thrilling, adventures.  

And then season 7 part one – same sequence but now all green and yellow…oh, and the fonts of the titles are textured with whoever the antagonist of that episode is.  Kinda neat, but more gimmicky than anything.  

Finally – season 7 part two!  Within the year of the 50th Anniversary of this whole big thing we call Doctor Who!!  I absolutely love the sequence, because if you watched the video you’ll see how elements from basically all of the sequences are incorporated here. It’s almost chaotic, how it all works together…

First off, we still have the orchestral augmentation, but visually – where in the world are we?? There’s no discernible vortex at first, but all these weird, ethereal lights – and explosions and it’s scary, yet always thrilling and exhilarating!  It’s SPACE!  Supernovae, stars, galaxies from all across the universe and all over history!  Then when the theremin kicks in, the orchestra suddenly all but disappears and we have a minimal instrumental arrangement hearkening back to the days of yore…  And then the face of the Doctor briefly appears, all so understated, and then evaporates into dust.  The vortex doesn’t appear until the end and then the TARDIS comes into the camera, opening her doors and letting us in on that week’s adventures – oh, it’s so delightful and makes me glad to be a fan!

So hopefully you enjoyed that and see how it all ties together.  There aren’t any new episodes ’til November when the 50th Anniversary special airs, but in the meantime there’s more stuff like this on YouTube and a delightful little series called Doctor Puppet in which some creative folks have taken it upon themselves to produce mini-adventures featuring the Doctor as a stop-motion puppet.  It’s very charming and fun to watch.

Until next time…


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