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The Importance of Doctor Who’s Theme Tunes

Guest contributor George Brooks looks into an often overlooked element of the show.

Doctor-Who-Music-of-the-Spheres

You hear most people say which Doctor is ‘their Doctor’, which was the episode that drew them into watching the show and what has kept them watching the show. My first was the reboot in 2005. I hadn’t heard of the show beforehand and my parents said I might like it. Was it the Doctor’s character and mysterious personality that drew me in? Was it Rose, a normal shop assistant thrown into adventures, leaving her family behind that kept me watching? No. It was the theme tune. The moment ‘Rose’ came on, I was hit by it. I had never seen a show with a theme tune of this calibre before that moment. By the end of the opening sequence, I was hooked. Regardless of what would happen in the opening episode, I knew I would keep watching this show and I knew that I would enjoy it. Because it had a cool theme tune.

From that moment on, I didn’t let my parents change the channel until the closing credits had finished and the BBC Wales logo appeared at the end. But it wasn’t just the sound and the visuals, it was the next time trailer at the end of each episode. I had never experienced a show with a ‘next time’ before that, and the combination of the tune and the preview seemed like a perfect way to handle a series, to me. The two parters that put the preview at the end, with the back end of the theme tune over them, made them seem that more dramatic and exciting.

The cliffhanger at the end of Army of Ghosts seemed to be the perfect lead up to the theme tune and I just don’t know why. I suppose my point is that without the theme tune, I don’t think Doctor Who would be what it is. To me, it would seem empty without it. I have a similar opinion of shows like Primeval, Game of Thrones and The Sarah Jane Adventures. To be quite honest, I didn’t like SJA too much as I was a little too old, but the theme tune kept me there until the end.

My shock at the 2007 Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, with the new theme tune, I don’t think I will ever experience again. I adored it. It was so powerful and again, perfectly married with the show. And then Series 5 came along, and the new theme seemed flat. I thought I hated Matt Smith, but he wasn’t the problem. It was his theme tune. But then I heard ‘I Am the Doctor’ for the first time. I was hooked instantly. It was a little overused in The Eleventh Hour, but its various revisions and thematic changes throughout Series 5, 6 and 7 allowed it to live on. It kept me watching.

I don’t mean to say that I don’t appreciate the acting and the stories. They are brilliant. But I don’t think the show would be what it is without its absolutely exceptional soundtracks. It seems to improve the stories for me (I hope I am not alone in this) and I just don’t know why. But it does.

The same goes for the soundtracks over the TV trailers, for example The Day of the Doctor trailer. Its version of ‘I am the Doctor’ was purely epic, as was the episode it was advertising. It just seemed like a perfect marriage of sound and visual features.

I chose to write this because I’ve heard rumours that there will be a new theme tune/opening titles (at least visually) for Series 8, and I know that I look forward to that, almost more so than meeting our new Doctor. Will it pack the ‘punch’ that I have missed since Series 4? Will it be darker to match with our new, darker Doctor? I think it will. Every tiny piece of information we have received about Series 8 make it seem like it will be the best yet. And I really think it will be.

Please post in the comments if you agree with my view on the importance of the theme tune, or at least understand where I am coming from. Thank you for reading.

Step back in time...

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148 comments
cyberbrayde
cyberbrayde

I have just reviewed Dr Who Tv's spoiler policy, but I think it's just okay to comment. But there are rummors going on to suggest the BBC have brought the concept idea of a fan-made doctor who theme sequence. I've seen it (YouTube) but best not to, can't have me deleted.

Ari S Gans
Ari S Gans

i like the 5th and 7th doctor themes

thribs1
thribs1

You can't get better than the first JNT theme.

LaraHarris
LaraHarris

Series 5 theme WAS flat. Worst rejig of the theme tune to date and that includes the electronic hash of the 7th Doctor! lol

gwylock1
gwylock1

Is no one going to even mention that "I am the Doctor"/"Majestic Tale of a Madman in a Box" are both basically ripoffs of the main theme from Mass Effect 2?

DrWhoBoy123
DrWhoBoy123

Great article, George! Murry gold is a genius.

sabalomglitz
sabalomglitz

Delia Derbyshire was horribly under-rated then and now.

MrsUnderhill
MrsUnderhill

Wonderful article!


Glad to see I'm not alone in being totally enthralled by Doctor Who music. 

Mr. Murray Gold created something magical, and I think his music is one of the major factors in the success of NewWho.  It enhances and enriches the story, makes it a proper legend.

I've never been obsessed with soundtracks before, but Murray Gold soundtracks are out of this world. Seriously,  the guy must be not from Earth, or maybe not quite mortal? :)

And it's his music which carried me from RTD and into Moffat era, the music gave the continuity. My experience was similar: the new 5th season theme tune seemed flat, but "I am the Doctor" brought the magic back.  

I seriously, seriously love Murray Gold. We are blessed to have him in Doctor Who.

JerryFLeRoyIII
JerryFLeRoyIII

i totally agree with you my favorite version of the doctor who theme was when the end of time part 1&2 theme kicked in it really set the mood for me and gave me chills all over from its epicness lol and i also agree with you when it comes to the music helping the story out cuz it helps set the mood for the episode and whatever scene whether it was the eleventh hour where the doctor steps through the hologram and he says "I'm the Doctor" to the end of time where 10 says i dont wanna go (which made me cry cuz i didnt want him to go either lol) the music helps set the mood on a wide spectrum if the music is done right (sorry for rambling on lol)

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

We should also take a moment to appreciate the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Innovation at it's best.


OhMyTentoo
OhMyTentoo

My favourite version of the theme tune is the one from series 4, when I first heard it I didn't like it that much, I guess it was bc I was used to the other but now I love it so much!

Murray Gold makes such incredible music and the soundtracks of Doctor Who are one of my favourite things in the world. Sometimes I even think that I prefer the music over the series because without it, the show wouldn't be the same.

My favorites tunes from the show are

*This is gallifrey, our childhood, our home. (Because it can totally describe Gallifrey and The Time lords and the way the doctor saw gallifrey and its whole history in a song)

*The Majestic tale of a madman in a box

*With love, Vincent.

*The Doctor's theme (from series 4. Cause it's so powerful and I think it represents the sadness and loss and the madness the 10th doctor was living and it makes me want to hug him and tell him everything will be okay)

*The Doctor Forever

*Martha's Theme

*Whose enigma

*Goodbye, Pond (I can't hear that song without crying and it's not even because of the ponds, they weren't my favourite and I didn't cry when they left, but that song makes me cry like a baby)

*The long song

* Clara's theme (I love how the song seems innocent and cute and then the bit at the end sounds darker and mysterious)

* All the strange, strange creatures

*Amy's theme

*I am the doctor in Utah

*Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart

*That arrangement of Clara's theme while she's talking to the Time Lords (through the crack) in The Time of The Doctor.

* Rose's Theme

*Doomsday

*song of freedom

And there're so much more but I don't think I'll ever finish this if I keep going. I love the show and I love the music. I would love to go to a Doctor Who Prom one day. And I can't seriously wait to hear Capaldi's theme and the new soundtrack.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

I like the updated version they used during the second part of Tennant's era.  It felt brighter to me.  Not a big fan of Smith's themes.  They seem too dull.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

I was always a big fan of the theme associated with Davidson's era (even though Baker had it first),  The opening crescendo with the stars colliding was amazing and made you sit up when the show started.  Also at the end when the last few bars were an amazing end.



davidbrummy
davidbrummy

The title music associated with Trial on a Time Lord was a sad point in the show and seem really depressing when put against the same titles used in the previous season.

Kermit9
Kermit9

I agree and relate a lot to this article!

MaraBackman
MaraBackman

Changes to the tune does have an effect. Of all renditions of the theme since 2005 I still prefer the first one, but I was okay with the second one and it didn't lessen my enjoyment of Series 4 and the Specials. But Matt's first tune was a contributing factor in my lessened enjoyment of the show, as it sounded too much like annoying Euro-pop for my taste. His second theme was a bit of an improvement, although it was a bit too busy with the various snippets from prior renditions. I'd hope for the next variation of the theme to be a bit slower and more orchestral-sounding, close to McGann's theme in the TV-movie.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

The changing opening  titles and theme tune has always been a big part of the renewal of the show even though it does not align often with a new Doctor.  Pertwee got the titles first that are associated with Baker and Baker got the ones associated first that are associated with Davidson.  I always felt sad Colin really did not get his own Titles but just a rehash of Davidson. 


G_Unitt
G_Unitt

Also, I'm yet to see anyone in the comments mention The Wedding of River Song! That is my absolute favourite track in all of Who.

Closely followed by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, they're both extremely powerful songs.

G_Unitt
G_Unitt

I disagree with some of those points. I think the Series 5-7A theme tune is the best in New Who, it's so good! I really dislike the Series 4 theme tune, too much electric guitar for me, I just love the synth in the theme tune and it wasn't there as heavily in the Series 4 theme. I think that the "NEEEE-OOOOOOOOO" just before the titles and the credits is the best bit of sound in the show, and I really feel sorry for American viewers missing out on that, and having to sit through "When I was a little girl blah blah". I hope they change the theme for Series 8, the 7B one felt a bit lifeless to me.

OncomingStorm in a Brownoat with a stake
OncomingStorm in a Brownoat with a stake

I agree that the theme tune was best in series 1-4, but I don't mind the new one too much. I do hope we have another new one though. Still, the first time I watched a classic episode, I was struck by how close the modern series stuck to the old theme tune. That was nice.

stargazer0118
stargazer0118

I'm with you, CAN'T wait to hear what new music, including the a new intro, Mr Gold has prepared for us! 



And for me the best intros have been the 70s and RTD era easily. The McGann movie was good too. 


MrGuymanwatch
MrGuymanwatch

It's themes like Doctor Who's that make me give out to people for skipping the opening credits of shows. As far as I'm concerned, the title sequence is a vital part of any show; it conveys the tone of the programme and gets you in the mood for what you're about to watch. Plus the cut to the title sequence can be very effective in highlighting dramatic moments, as Doctor Who so often does.

Ottoman14
Ottoman14

I totally agree with you on this. I first started watching Doctor Who with the 2005 reboot, Chris E will always be 'my Doctor'.


The opening theme was so epic and brilliant, it really made me excited for the episode and even episodes I no longer like (such as Fear Her) had a spring in its step thanks to the epic theme music.


Then series 5 came along and I was bitterly disappointed by the new theme music. To this day, I think the Moffat era opening themes have been terrible (still, better than the 80s intro). Nonetheless Murray has continued to write excellent music since then, just not the intro theme

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

My favorite Doctor Who theme is the 1980-85 one. No other theme tune will ever come close to capturing the magic of the story.

supermoff is alone. Listen...
supermoff is alone. Listen...

The music of Doctor Who has been one of its strongest aspects, though mainly in the revived era. We are very, very lucky indeed to have a musical genius like Murray Gold on board. 

angelusnathan
angelusnathan

It would have been so great for Matt Smith to have the Clarity Doctor Who theme by Lord... 

soundcloud.com/clarityproject/doctor-who-theme-metal-mix 

Also used in this great fan-made opening!! 

youtube.com/watch?v=HV0NIV184PQ

doctorwhomultiverse
doctorwhomultiverse

I quite like some of the music for The End Of Time and also whilst I am the Doctor was good it was overused. My favourite theme is the one Peter Davison had!

YouveBeenDuplicated
YouveBeenDuplicated

The 7b theme tune was my favorite so far, I just hope against hope that can slowly get rid of all the brass, strings and counter melodies.

Temporal Tomato
Temporal Tomato

Whenever I hear exclusively NuWhovians wanting a completely original theme for the "next 50 years"on Youtube I realise that I would rather have the show end once again. It's one of those things that you just can't change. It's like the Police Box, the Daleks and the Cybermen, the Doctor's fundamental character, etc. Without it, it would somehow almost stop feeling like Doctor Who! Can you imagine JJ Abrams asking John Williams to completely redo the Star Wars theme? I love all of the iterations of the theme, especially the somewhat controversial Glynn, McCulloch and Murry Gold's most recent 2010 and 2013 versions.



JFrance
JFrance

The 1980-85 theme, The Day of the Doctor  theme and the Series 4 theme stand out for me as great Doctor Who themes. To me they just sound epic and a great way to start the show or end the show. There isn't a variation of the theme that I dislike but those three just stand out.    

Roboman1012
Roboman1012

Yeah, it was something to do with something written in the leaked scripts or something. I personally think that it's a brilliant idea. If the bbc had been left to it on their own they would have just done more of the same or not even changed the opening at all. Using the one they're basing it on is a way to get better, more original ideas into the opening.

 Notsosmartguy
Notsosmartguy

@gwylock1 they do sound similar, but I think it's just a coincidence. Besides  even if that was the case I can let it slide since doctor who never left me feeling ripped me off like mass effect 3 did (and no that wasn't because of the ending).

crazyartist12
crazyartist12

@davidbrummy  They did one of some best themes of the classic era, theme songs can be and is a perfect marriage to anything within an episode/movie as long as it fits the mood well. Orchestra plays a big part of the theme songs since 2005 but hey, never forget BBC Radiophonic Workshop and what they've done for the classics!

 Notsosmartguy
Notsosmartguy

@G_Unitt I agree though I quite enjoyed series 7b's theme it wasn't nearly as good as Matt's first theme

Huknar
Huknar

@Sephora36 You think the series 1 titles look cheap? Good grief, what must you think of series 7!

Huknar
Huknar

@angelusnathan Ah that one! Yes that is a very good theme. It is exactly what it needs to be. Very strong. Very pronounced.

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

@Temporal_Tomato The new show is a relaunch not a reboot.  All things that were considered part of the fabric of the show was kept.  Have a complete new theme would be like not keeping the Police Box.

Temporal Tomato
Temporal Tomato

*MurrAy Gold. *Insert cross remark about the commenting system we all fear*



NewWho2012
NewWho2012

@Temporal_Tomato I'm more of a New Who fan and I don't want that to happen, the show would be unrecognisable then. I even get irritated when they change the variation of the theme like from RTD era to Moffat era because I preferred the other arrangement, that's how particular I can be about a certain arrangement of the theme tune because it sounds better to me that way.