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The Doctor Who theme was composed by Ron Grainer and made its debut with the first episode of the Doctor Who series in 1963. Although it has undergone many rearrangements, this piece of music has remained the sole theme for the series throughout its history, making it one of the most recognisable themes in television. It is also one of the longest continually-used pieces of theme music in Western entertainment history, surpassed only by the theme from Coronation Street (in use since 1960), and the "James Bond Theme" (in use since 1962).
It has also been used for most licensed works featuring the central Doctor Who characters, with the exception of the two Peter Cushing films of the mid-1960s, spin-off programmes, and the occasional audio production that has not featured any theme music.
The original version of the theme (heard from 1963-1967, and in a modified arrangement from 1967-1980) is considered a milestone in electronic music and a predecessor of the electronica genre of music. [source needed]
Although Grainer has always been credited as the theme's sole composer, several histories of the series indicate that, due to Delia Derbyshire's involvement in creating the theme's iconic initial arrangement, Grainer attempted, without success, to have her credited as co-composer.
Theme format Edit
The Doctor Who theme consists of several sections which appear variously in the different arrangements, sometimes in different order, and sometimes omitted or modified:
- Introduction section: This consists of the iconic "unnh-ba da-bum, unnh-ba da-bum, unnh-ba-da-da-bum, unnh-ba daa-unh da-danh-ba-da-da-dum..." bassline melody that begins most versions of the theme and carries on underneath...
- Main melody: This is the main tune (ooo-weee-ooooooooo eee-yoo-ooooooooo...) which dominates most arrangements of the theme.
- Middle eight: This is a sweeping phrase of melody that is used to separate repetitions of the main melody. This section of the theme has often been omitted on TV broadcasts, particularly the opening credits, although it became a major part of the opening themes used during the Sylvester McCoy era and the 1996 TV movie.
- Bridge: a brief, percussive phrase that occurs midway through the theme. The bridge is heard on the full-length versions of the Derbyshire, Howell, and Glynn arrangements but has generally been omitted in all other TV versions of the opening theme. However, it's heard in one of the 1970s Derbyshire closing arrangements, as well as both the Howell and Glynn closing arrangement, both the McCulloch opening and closing arrangement, the second 2005 Gold closing arrangement, the 2007 Gold closing arrangement and one of the 2010 Gold closing arrangements.
Original series Edit
Although Ron Grainer has always received sole credit for the theme music, Delia Derbyshire with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was responsible for all the arrangements for Seasons 1 through 17. She was given the composition by Grainer and asked to create the music. The method she chose was to create each sound from scratch using a variety of methods from pure tones to piano strings. Each sound was then changed in pitch and duration using purely analogue equipment. The final arrangement of the theme was made by making a recording of each section (bass line, melody, etc.) and putting them together to form the final mono track. Her first arrangement was released as a single, but never used as the opening title music. It consists of the main theme and the "middle eight" in an ABABA pattern.
Two versions of this arrangement exist, one with the TARDIS' dematerialisation sound and one without. In addition, a variant version was used for the unbroadcast pilot episode version, which incorporates the sound of a thunderclap at the beginning.
Seasons 1-4 Edit
The studio requested some changes and the second arrangement, used until the middle of Season 4, features some wind/wave effects. The master recording for this arrangement has a section that comes after the second repeat of the main melody (which in turn follows the first instance of the middle eight) where the bassline start a loop of two bars each instead of repeating the main theme or the 'middle eight'. This version was heard through the start of the repeated bass in An Unearthly Child. On subsequent episodes, it just faded out as needed.
Grainer attempted to obtain co-writer credit for Derbyshire, but was prevented from doing so by BBC rules. Derbyshire, as a result, never received screen credit for this work, although the BBC Radiophonic Workshop did.
Seasons 4-18 Edit
Version one Edit
With Patrick Troughton now playing the Second Doctor in Season 4, came a new title sequence and another request for Derbyshire to change the arrangement of the music. This arrangement would be used for by far the longest.
She returned to the first arrangement and added what has been called a "spangle" sound effect. Again, this arrangement was just faded out as needed for the opening title sequence. This third arrangement formed the basic theme from mid-Season 4 through Season 17, although as noted below there were some modifications. The opening video was the first to feature the Doctor's face in the opening credits; this would continue until the end of the classic series in 1989.
Version two Edit
In Season 7, Jon Pertwee took over from Troughton as the Third Doctor. The music was now an edit of the 1967 arrangement. An overlap edit shortened the lead-in by about 8 seconds and, after the main theme, the music moves to a repeat-to-fade ending. Early episodes have a stutter effect at the start, which disappears after Season 9. For unknown reasons, several episodes at the beginning of Season 8 reverted back to the 1967 arrangement.
In addition to editing the opening theme, the closing theme was edited too. Until Part 1 of The Ambassadors of Death, the closing credits had faded in to the main theme and then faded out after the credits. Four new edits were created for Season 7. The first was used in the first few episodes. The other three, were the same except in length. They were 42 seconds, 52 seconds, and 72 seconds long. Each started with a scream sound that was created by using a generated tone falling in pitch and the first few notes of the theme rising to pitch; this sound effect (or variations thereof) would be used to lead into the closing credits of most episodes up until 1980, and be revived in the 2005 revival. This was followed by the main theme. Each one ends with the same whirling sound effect.
- 42-second version: Theme is repeated once before the ending; this version only appeared on the audio LP of Genesis of the Daleks.
- 52-second version: Theme is repeated twice; this was the most commonly-used version.
- 72-second version: Features the main theme, the "middle eight", and the main theme again; this was only used on a few of the Fourth Doctor's stories, including Season 15's The Invasion of Time and Season 16's The Armageddon Factor, both six-part stories that ended their respective seasons. It would likely have also been used for the planned Shada, which would have ended Season 17.
Unused arrangement Edit
In 1972, the BBC played with another arrangement, the first not based on the work done in 1963, using the Delaware synthesiser that the Radiophonic Workshop had. Brian Hodgson and Paddy Kingsland, with Delia Derbyshire created what has become known as the Delaware Theme. It was not well received and was not used on any BBC Broadcast in the UK. However, it had already been applied to several episodes before being replaced. At least two episodes sent to Australia and broadcast on ABC still had the Delaware Theme.; these were Carnival of Monsters, part 2, (a longer edit than the one used for uk broadcast) and Frontier in Space, part 5 (which is a few seconds longer than the uk broadcast).
Black and White test footage, made for the original Pertwee titles in 1969, were coupled with this arrangement on the The Pertwee Years VHS release.
Seasons 18-22 Edit
Season 18 saw a new producer (John Nathan-Turner) and many changes. The first was a new arrangement of Grainer's theme and a new opening sequence. The new theme was arranged by Peter Howell using his Yamaha CS-80, ARP Odyssey and Roland Jupiter 4 synthesisers as well as his EMS Vocoder, and some additional processing to that recording. He created three recordings — the opening theme, the closing theme, and an extended cut for release as a single. The opening and closing themes followed the pattern set in 1970 with the opening doing a repeat to fade and the closing starting with a scream, the only significant change being that the opening now also started with a scream. However, Howell's theme began in the key of F-sharp minor. This obligated incidental music composers to end their final cue of the episode in the highly unusual key, or something complimentary. Howell therefore has called himself "the guy who just made it difficult for everybody". (DCOM: Meglos) Beyond this unusual feature, his opening remained unchanged aside from some very minor alterations to coincide with the revised Sixth Doctor opening sequence from The Twin Dilemma and his closing included the "middle eight" and ended with an explosive sound. This theme was used from Season 18 through Season 22 unchanged, save for a variation created especially for the twentieth anniversary story The Five Doctors. The extended theme also contains a section which Howell himself refers to the Howell Trombone. This section comes after the middle eight plays for the second time and the triads change chords up to the next octave.
The Howell opening arrangement would be revived in the 2000s when BBC Video chose to standardise the menu music for its original-series Doctor Who DVD releases. As of 2012[update] most classic-series releases continue to use the Howell arrangement.
Season 23 Edit
Season 23 saw another new arrangement by Dominic Glynn. It was more haunting and ethereal than the previous themes, but very similar to Peter Howell's arrangement in most respects (enough so that the opening graphics remained unchanged from the final Howell season). The theme was in the E Minor key. Again three versions were created: opening, closing, and extended for release as a single.
Seasons 24-26 Edit
The arrival of the Seventh Doctor called for a new title sequence. Keff McCulloch's arrangement, in the key of A Minor, was the first to feature the "middle eight" as a default part of the opening (although the rejected "Delaware Theme" and the theme used in TV:An Unearthly Child, Part 1 also featured the "middle eight"). The opening and closing themes are very similar, with the opening being longer. No version was made for release as a single. It was used from Season 24 to the end of the regular series at Season 26.
The wilderness years Edit
Remixes and variants Edit
After the original series ended, a number of wildly variant renditions of the Doctor Who theme were recorded. An EP release, Doctor Who - Variations on a Theme (released in vinyl, standard CD, and an unusual square-shaped CD variant) featured new arrangements of the theme by Mark Ayres, Glynn and McCulloch. One of these, a Latin-based arrangement, was adopted by BBC Video and used as the theme for its series of "Years" retrospective Doctor Who videos (i.e., The Hartnell Years, etc.). Another CD release, The Worlds of Doctor Who, included several more arrangements, including a dance mix that featured Sylvester McCoy playing the spoons!
Ayres also recorded a unique arrangement of the theme to lead off the soundtrack album for the music he composed for The Curse of Fenric. In 1988, a dancehall group called The Timelords had a hit single with "Doctorin' the TARDIS", which melded together a pop arrangement of the Doctor Who theme with "Rock n' Roll Part 2" by Gary Glitter.
Back on the BBC itself, a very brief new arrangement was used for the 1993 charity Doctor Who mini-episode Dimensions in Time which was created by Cybertech. According to The Television Companion by Howe & Walker, this was Mike Fillis (who appeared as a Sea Devil in the special) and Adrian Pack, and was chosen by John Nathan-Turner during filming of the special after the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure had declined invitations to create their own arrangements.
In the early 2000s, the electronica group Orbital recorded a new version of the theme that proved popular with audiences. Orbital's theme would be reused by US talk show host Craig Ferguson for his lyrical version of the theme (see below), and during his time as the Doctor, Matt Smith helped the group perform the theme at the Glastonbury Festival.
The TV movie Edit
The next new Doctor Who did not appear until 1996. For the made-for-TV movie, composer John Debney did the incidental music and arranged Ron Grainer's theme. Unlike all other versions, Debney's arrangement begins with a building introduction (to coincide with the on-screen narration setting up the tale), before opening with the Middle 8 (in similar fashion to the Delaware theme). The familiar bassline was somewhat muted in its melody and did not drive the theme the way it did in previous arrangements. The closing theme is a similar but different arrangement. Again, no extended version was created. Two different accounts are circulating regarding the disposition of the theme in the TV, with some accounts suggesting that Debney wanted to replace the Grainer composition with one of his own, but was overridden by the producers and the BBC, and others claiming that licensing costs for the theme were considered too high and a replacement was considered before it was decided to go with the original. Grainer did not receive screen credit for composing the theme, leading to some reference works -- as well as reviews of the film -- erroneously crediting Debney with composing the theme. This theme was published onto CD as part of a promotional CD featuring all the incidental music from the TV movie.
Big Finish Edit
Three new arrangements were made for the Doctor Who Unbound range. The first, unofficially referred to as "Unbound A", was used for Auld Mortality and Full Fathom Five. The second, known as "Unbound B", was used for Sympathy for the Devil and He Jests at Scars.... It was composed by Lee Mansfield. The "Unbound B" theme was remixed for Exile by Nicholas Briggs. A new "Unbound" theme was composed by Blair Mowat for The Unbound Universe.
Another arrangement of the theme was commissioned for the Eighth Doctor audio adventures produced by Big Finish Productions starting in 2001. Instead of licensing the Debney arrangement (which was unpopular with some fans), David Arnold — best known for his association with the James Bond film series — created a sombre new arrangement.
Nicholas Briggs created a remix of Delia Derbyshire's version for the second through fourth series of Eighth Doctor adventures with Lucie Miller. From 2011 and forward, starting with The Silver Turk, a new theme by Jamie Robertson was used for Eighth Doctor episodes in the Main Range. A slightly remixed version of the Arnold theme, however, was used for the Dark Eyes series.
Robertson also created a new theme arrangement for the fiftieth anniversary special The Light at the End which incorporated many different elements from previous arrangements, but kept the same style as his previous arrangement. The Novel Adaptation Damaged Goods also received a unique theme, composed by Howard Carter.
Big Finish began their War Doctor series with a new theme arrangement, also composed by Carter.
In 2003, Creation Music devised a new theme arrangement for the Scream of the Shalka webcast, which, like the later Murray Gold arrangement, incorporated Delia Derbyshire's original electronic melody from the 1960s.
Revived series Edit
Preliminary themes Edit
The return of Doctor Who to television required a new arrangement of the theme. An advance version of the series 1 debut episode, Rose, not intended for broadcast, used a version of the original 1963 Delia Derbyshire arrangement, which had been recreated by Mark Ayres in 2002.
Ultimately, BBC Wales commissioned Murray Gold to create a new theme arrangement. A trial arrangement, bass-dominated and bearing little resemblance to what came later, appeared on TV ads promoting the series (and can be heard on the "Series 1" DVD release of these trailers), most notably the "Trip of a lifetime" trailer. It's unclear whether this version was ever actually intended for use on the series proper.
Series 1-3 Edit
Version one Edit
For the broadcast versions, Gold went back to basics. Gold's theme is based on the electronic melody sound sampled from the original 1963 Derbyshire arrangement with rapidly upward- and downward-arpeggiating strings added as a counter melody, later nicknamed by fans as the "chase". The opening theme follows the normal pattern of the main theme and a repeat to fade. The closing theme again has the scream followed by the main theme and an ending effect. Although the revived series, unlike the TV movie, did give Grainer screen credit for his composition, some reviewers of the new series, unfamiliar with its history, erroneously considered the theme music a Murray Gold composition.
Version two Edit
Initially Gold was reluctant to use the "middle eight", so during series 1 only the main theme "chorus" is heard in the opening and ending. For The Christmas Invasion and almost all future episodes, the music was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and a new version of the closing theme was recorded by the orchestra. For this version, Gold restored the "middle eight" to the closing theme; the opening credits were as per series 1. For series 2 and 3, the same opening as series 1 was also used, but the closing theme continued to feature the "middle eight". A modified version of this new arrangement was recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for a soundtrack CD release (the CD version is notably missing the "howlaround" sound effect at the end). Yet another, abbreviated Gold arrangement of the theme was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the conclusion of the 2006 "Music & Monsters" charity concert, which was broadcast on the BBC. This version focuses on the orchestra and omits the electronic sound of the TV version.
Series 4-2009 specials Edit
For TV: Voyage of the Damned and series 4, Gold created a second theme arrangement (although if one counts the unused trial version, it was actually his third), referred to by some fans as the "Riverdance Theme" due to its pacier sound and heavier emphasis on strings. It still features the original electronic Derbyshire melody, but the strings are different and drums and piano have been added to dramatically change the feel. A new ending arrangement, with "middle eight" intact, was also composed and again recorded along with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Reflecting new closing-credits standards introduced by the BBC in 2008, this new arrangement is also considerably shorter than that used previously, and is more directly linked with the "Next Time" trailers at the end of most episodes; in most cases the closing theme "plays under" the sound of the trailer, and comes to the front with the "middle eight" as the credit scroll begins.
For the 2008 mini-episode, Music of the Spheres, while Gold's current theme arrangement was used in the opening credits, for the closing credits the original 1963 Delia Derbyshire/BBC Radiophonic Workshop version was played (the DVD version of the concert, however, strips away the two credit sequences). The mini-episode was created for the 2008 Doctor Who Proms concert, which concluded with yet another new arrangement of the theme by Gold (his fourth major new arrangement); this version incorporated the "bridge" section which existed in the original Derbyshire, Howell and Glynn arrangements though it was never heard on TV. Unusually, the bridge in the Proms arrangement was placed between the first "verse" and the "middle eight" (in most other arrangements the bridge occurs sometime after the first appearance of the "middle eight").
The series 4 arrangement was subsequently used for 2009-10 specials, appearing for the final time in The End of Time. It was also used on promotions for series 5 until the newest version of the theme was unveiled on 3 April 2010.
Series 5-7 Part 1 Edit
Gold composed yet another new version of the title music for the new title sequence used from The Eleventh Hour to The Angels Take Manhattan. This version of the theme is noticeably more electronic than his previous themes, yet with the opening bass line lowered in volume in favour of a new counter-melody. This element is reminiscent of the Debney arrangement from the 1996 movie, while the main melody line is reminiscent of the Glynn "Trial" arrangement, with the added element of the melody being partially rendered by a vocal choir.
As broadcast, the theme is punctuated by lightning-strike sound effects, but the version released on the BBC's website and the series 5 soundtrack album does not have this effect. This version, promoted as being "full length", runs exactly one minute in duration and is by far the shortest official rendition of the theme yet released. And the closing theme on nearly all episodes (except for The Beast Below) has the entire interlude from the full and opening themes, but cuts right away to the closing bars instead of featuring much of the main melody. The brevity of this arrangement is due to recent changes in the BBC's policy on closing credits. This arrangement was performed (with slight modifications) at the 2010 Doctor Who at the Proms concert in July 2010 and again in Doctor Who: The Monsters Are Coming! (also with slight modifications). This theme had a hostile reception from many viewers, at least at first.
The opening credits for A Good Man Goes to War features a unique variant of the theme that incorporates TARDIS sound effects.
Series 7 Part 2-2013 Specials Edit
Version one Edit
Alongside the introduction of a new title sequence, Gold created a fifth arrangement that was shown at the start of the 2012 Christmas special, TV: The Snowmen. This version has different drums than the previous arrangement, omits the "chase" strings counter melody that featured in all previous Murray Gold arrangements and is generally far more minimalistic in sound. The theme also incorporates the TARDIS dematerialisation sound as well as electronic noises, and in the first part of the main melody the lead slightly dips down in pitch during each sustaining note. For some reason a closing edit was not made yet by the time The Snowmen was first broadcast, so instead the 2010 closing theme was used. A shortened version of this arrangement was used to open TV: The Night of the Doctor. Both these uses would be the only uses of this theme. According to The Official Guide to the 2013 Series (Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition), this version of the theme was not a new commission, but was in fact created using elements from Gold's 2010 arrangement; it was a late addition to The Snowmen, which up until pre-production began was originally intended not to open with a credit sequence at all.
Version two Edit
A sixth Murray Gold arrangement of the theme debuted with TV: The Bells of Saint John in 2013. Although it's otherwise identical to Version 5, the arrangement includes additional orchestration and eliminates most of the non-musical sound effects heard in the Snowmen opening, as well as the downward-dipping in the first section of the melody from that arrangement. It is also reminiscent of the 1986 Glynn arrangement. The closing theme also follows a much more traditional pattern, similar to the main Derbyshire 1970 closing theme - The theme starts from the entry of the main melody, which repeats twice, before the first three notes of the main theme repeat in the closing bars, after which the theme ends. This version of the theme made its last appearance in TV: The Time of the Doctor. It was also used on promotions for series 8 until the newest version of the theme was unveiled on 23 August 2014.
50th anniversary special Edit
Yet another Murray Gold arrangement of the theme was introduced over the closing credits of TV: The Day of the Doctor. This version uses an electric guitar-driven entry sequence, and enters into the middle eight much earlier than some previous versions. A vocal choir element remains, but is more subtle than previous versions. Despite Day of the Doctor being a special broadcast, also shown in cinemas, the current BBC closing credits standards remain in place, meaning the closing theme is only 60 seconds long. It it is likely that this theme is a one-off for the 50th anniversary special, since the Version 5.5 theme (along with its accompanying intro) reappeared in the subsequent story, TV: The Time of the Doctor. (Note: Gold only created a closing-theme arrangement due to Day of the Doctor opening with a brief reprise of the 1963 Derbyshire arrangement.)
Series 8 onwards Edit
Gold's seventh arrangement was introduced in TV: Deep Breath, coinciding with another new title sequence. The overall theme is more electronic sounding than previously, with the opening sting and main melody being more high pitched and synthesised (with the main melody sound now somewhat resembling that of a theremin, not unlike the main melody in Keff McCulloch's arrangement). The middle eight is not used in the opening or closing in this version. The introduction section (which takes place through a spinning tunnel of gears), now incorporates the sound of bells ringing and the turning sound of the gears, befitting the image of the inside of a clock.
An edit was made to this theme in TV: Robot of Sherwood, with the opening sting replaced by the Derbyshire sting, and a slightly more aggressive bass element throughout, reminiscent of the previous few versions. In volume 76 of Doctor Who: The Complete History it was stated that this version of the theme used no newly recorded orchestral material, instead relying on previously unused elements originally recorded for the series 5 theme in 2009.
A one-off modification to the theme was made in Before the Flood, with the Doctor playing his electric guitar over the normal theme tune.
Other televised themes Edit
Since 2005 at least four different theme arrangements have been used for subsidiary programs produced by the BBC. These include the 2009 three-episode retrospective, Doctor Who Greatest Moments, as well as the behind-the-scenes series Totally Doctor Who and Doctor Who Confidential, which has featured two arrangements of the theme to date. All four arrangements are faster in tempo and more "techno" than the versions used in the series proper.
Although otherwise a completely different piece of music to the Doctor Who theme, Gold's theme for the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures incorporates some sound effects originating from the Doctor Who theme.
A unique version of the theme was intended to be used to open the 16 November 2010 edition of the American talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, on which Matt Smith put together a production number incorporating the Orbital version of the theme, with newly written lyrics explaining what the show was about. Minutes before taping was to begin, Ferguson learned CBS had been unable to obtain clearance for the use of the theme, and the production number was cut. On 1st December 2010, however, the production number was posted to YouTube.[source needed] Ferguson acknowledged the upload's existence on his show but remained silent as to whether its "leak" was intentional or not. On 6th January 2011, however, the production number was finally broadcast on Ferguson's show, prior to his interview with another Doctor Who guest star, Alex Kingston.
On 19 October 2013, the BBC launched a 50th anniversary-themed trailer as a teaser for the then upcoming The Day of the Doctor. The trailer features an arrangement of the theme that is unique to this trailer.
The documentary The Science of Doctor Who, which first aired in November 2013, featured a unique remix of the Doctor Who Theme based upon Gold Version 5.5 but with some noticeable alterations.
- Whomix - a popular fan site of remixes and recreations of the Doctor Who theme
- BBC.co.uk Doctor Who theme sampler and constructor
- A guide to the basic, bare-bones Doctor Who theme
- ↑ "Doctor Who: 'nasty' new theme tune angers fans" Daily Telegraph 18 April 2010 Retrieved 20 May 2010