The new version of the Doctor Who theme tune – again, arranged by Murray Gold – has split fan opinion. Is it really that bad? And how does it fair against the previous arrangements? We like a challenge here at Kasterborous, so we thought we’d take that question a step further. Who’s up for helping us resolve a properly contentious question – which was the best version of the Doctor Who theme, ever in the world?
If you thought Scottish independence was a toughie just wait till you get started on this one. The song may have stayed the same for 50 years but the arrangements most certainly haven’t, so let’s take a trip through time and space to thrash this one out.
And remember, there is a poll at the end. Your vote will decide this, so use it wisely!
Original Theme, 1963: First Doctor, Second Doctor
It’s one of many terrific stories from the creation of Doctor Who; that of how Delia Derbyshire took Ron Grainer’s music and, with the aid of oscillators, a white noise generator and a ‘Wobbulator’ produced a sound unlike anything anyone had heard before. I remember one of my teachers telling me how there were newspaper stories of how the theme tune sent babies into some kind of strange trance, so mesmerised were they by the weird sound emanating from the TV. I’ve never been able to confirm that, but it’s so unnerving, innovative and downright brilliant I refuse to discount it. And the idea of babies spellbound in their cots is somehow a wonderfully Doctor Who idea…
Whoishness rating: 5 out of 5
1970’s Third Doctor, Fourth Doctor
The longest serving theme, this one lasted (with some tweaking here and there) a full decade. The BBC’s hold on Saturday night audiences in this era, from Basil Brush to The Generation Game, from The Two Ronnies to Parkinson, has been much discussed in those retrospective programmes modern television is so fond of, but every time I hear this I’m right back in front of our bulky old TV, full of anticipation for another thrilling adventure, just as so many other millions were. A special mention here too for the closing titles ‘scream’, introduced in Jon Pertwee’s time. God, I miss those cliffhangers…
Whoishness rating: 5
1980-1985: Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Doctors
John Nathan-Turner decreed it was time for radical change, so in came Peter Howell’s synthesiser arrangement. Strange how something intended as a bold statement of cutting edge intent seems almost quaintly of its time now. Glitzy and sparkling, this version would see out Tom Baker and endure through the Fifth Doctor’s move to weeknights. Change may be inevitable, but it’s hard not to feel something bold and haunting was lost…
Whoishness rating: 2
1986: Sixth Doctor
A single season one-off, this Dominic Glynn arrangement opened the show during that most traumatic era for the programme when the Doctor and the show itself were on trial. A favourite of the 1980’s themes for many, this one managed to restore some of the mystery and other-worldliness that had been missing. But just as Doctor number six was forced to depart by forces beyond his control, it would soon be time for another change…
Whoishness rating: 3.5
1987-89: Seventh Doctor
Played over a silver Sylvester McCoy, this version sums up its era in a very apt way. Interesting and different and with some good ideas bubbling away beneath the surface, yet somehow not quite gelling as a whole. Delia Derbyshire reportedly wasn’t happy. An honourable mention for the middle eight, restored to the opening titles in the Seventh Doctor era.
Whoishness rating: 3
1993: Dimensions in Time
Whoishness rating: 1
1996: Eighth Doctor
I’m always as fascinated by the things they decided to keep for the TV Movie as I am by the things they changed. It’s easy to imagine Hollywood moguls chomping on their cigars as they issued an order for that old music to be replaced, but it’s still the same tune, albeit in a bombastic, orchestral arrangement. Although the piano player (starts at 1:20) sounds like he’s wandered in after one too many drinks in the bar.
Whoishness rating: 2.5
2005-07: Ninth & Tenth Doctor
Apparently Russell T Davies was tempted to revert to the 1970’s version before deciding to give Murray Gold’s new arrangement the nod. Rising and falling, swooping and swirling, this version manages to restore that alien weirdness and sense of adventure which we’d all been missing for so long. I remember rushing home one evening to catch a trailer (a trailer!) for the new series, as much to hear what they’d done with the music as to check out the Tenth Doctor and Rose.
Whoishness rating: 4.5
2008-10: Tenth Doctor
Entirely in keeping with frenetic pace of the programme for much of the Tenth Doctor’s era (no wonder David Tennant’s so slim…), this arrangement featured Animal from The Muppets bashing seven different kinds of hell out of the drums as well as a string section who most certainly earned their money. What it lacks in length it makes up for in sheer oomph and punchiness.
Whoishness rating: 4
2010: Eleventh Doctor
Along with a new senior production team, Matt Smith made his debut to a tune reworked by Murray Gold which saw the bassline and melody redone on a synthesiser. Maybe it’s just me, but this version didn’t feel quite as urgent, as attention grabbing, as out-and-out ‘stop what you’re doing and watch this’ as those it replaced.
Whoishness rating: 3.5
2013: The Day of the Doctor
Triumphant, some might say, and this is certainly a bombastic approach to the theme tune. In some ways it’s a shame that this version hasn’t been kept on, as it was certainly a fitting way to end the cinematic experience that was The Day of the Doctor!
Whoishness rating 4
2014: Twelfth Doctor
In amongst the praise for the new Doctor and the debate about what Missy’s game is, another element which hasn’t gone unremarked on is the new arrangement. Perhaps it’s too soon to make a considered judgement (like that ever stopped us) but many people don’t seem to have warmed to this one thus far. Those bell chimes make me think of Futurama more than they do Doctor Who…
Whoishness rating: 3
So what’s your favourite Doctor Who theme tune? Cast your vote and tell us what you think below. You get 3 votes, so cast them in order of preference, and we’ll reveal all next week!
(And if you fancy recording your own version check out Conductor Who?)