Doctor Who’s Doctrine, Part 5: Music for a Mad Man

The Doctor and company on the cover of a soundtrack album by Murray Gold.

Before the 50-year anniversary of “Doctor Who” on Nov. 23, Christ and Pop Culture is exploring the sci-fi series in Doctor Who’s Doctrine. 

Part 1: Mad Man with a Box
Part 2: Genre Roots
Part 3: Exterminating Evil
Part 4: The Trip of a Lifetime

Your favorite TV series may have fantastic plot twists, excellent effects, brilliant set and costume designs, and memorable actors. But if that series is Doctor Who, none of those have their own echoing magic as the series’ cinematic music score by Murray Gold.

Perhaps soundtracks — my favorite musical genre — keep me connected with these story-worlds. Some people may enjoy music with words, perhaps catchy melodies to which they can dance. For me, I prefer music whose story-impressions dance just beyond my sight. Why? Maybe it’s my love of fiction. Even if I didn’t know the story, I’d enjoy the music made for it, with all the humanity, awe, and the turns from bad to worse, or from worse to victory.

I first grew to love Doctor Who and its soundtracks at the same time. This seems a strange way to enter a new fandom, but somehow a similar enjoyment of film-score clips helped lead me to The Fellowship of the Ring film in 2001 and to many other films years later.

In 2007 my sister, whose Who fandom preceded mine, presented me with a video clip of the BBC series’ current theme tune. This was Gold’s first percussive remix of the theme with its unique electronic warbling, written by Ron Grainer in 1963. My sister said this sci-fi theme was better than that of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I scoffed.

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Weeks later I’d met the woman who would become my wife, and the first music we enjoyed on our first date was that Doctor Who theme tune. You cannot say this without sounding sappy: In that tune, and in the many other themes Gold has since crafted, is musical magic.

Stories of soundtracks

All of the Doctor Who series may work a kind of concert with its story themes, actors and crazy aliens, but Gold weaves a symphony within a symphony: adventurous brass, chorale, dark pounding music for the dark pounding bad guys, ear-scratching suspense, electronic Hans Zimmer-like bombast, homage to other soundtracks, and overblown zaniness that evokes classic “Looney Tunes” — all with incidentally God-honoring excellence.

Obviously Christians have the market cornered on CCM. They’re also making inroads into hip-hop, folk and other genres that actual music critics could describe better. Where we lack, I fear, is in soundtracks. I suppose we’d first need better Christian movies for them. (Michael W. Smith’s instrumental albums Freedom and Glory are exceptions.)

But for me, listening to great “secular” soundtracks goes beyond fandom into a profoundly Christian experience, often more so than hearing even the better praise ‘n’ worship tunes.

Good Christian songs  — and even the bad ones — usually touch on individual journeys, sin and salvation, God’s love, the need for faith and, increasingly, the deep pain of a fallen world. All those are good and all necessary. But soundtracks widen the musical “screen.” Stakes get higher. Instead of faith journeys, we hear fantastic journeys. Instead of personal lives, we consider worlds — or naturally for Who, galaxies and universes and time itself.

‘I Am The Doctor’

Who’s title hero began his post-2005 musical life with “The Doctor’s Theme,” a sobering and female-vocalized melody (Doctor Who Original Television Soundtrack). “It was initially associated with The Doctor’s dark and private history,” but also applied to that series’ story arc, Murray Gold, the composer, wrote in the score’s music notes. Years later, that theme returned for a chorale finale in “Vale Decem” (Series 4: The Specials); it was again solely the Doctor’s theme as the Tenth Doctor regenerated into the Eleventh Doctor.

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Thus, while the Ninth/Tenth Doctor’s theme was for or at best dark moods, the Eleventh’s theme is one for the chase scenes. By now “I Am The Doctor” (Series 5) is perhaps Gold’s most famous theme and the most popular Who tune next to the program’s own theme. Search YouTube for endless fan performances and remixes. Gold himself even joined in.

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“I Am The Doctor” may soon follow Eleven and be replaced. If it does, I’ll still replay its versions with ridiculous frequency, endorsing that God-honoring desire for adventure.

‘Corridors and  Fire Escapes’

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That track’s title (Series 4) could describe half of Who’s tracks of pure action-adventure fun. Also, Gold’s CD note for “Corridors” — “I strongly feel this track should be played twice and that once isn’t enough” — applies to about every other bit of fun “incidental” score. Hear also “The Runaway Bride” (Series 1-2), “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” (Series 3), “UNIT Rocks” and “Song of Freedom” (Series 4), “Amy In The TARDIS” (Series 5), and the 1960s-ized “I Am The Doctor In Utah” and “The Majestic Tale (Of A Madman In A Box)” (Series 6).

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In a melancholy mood? Seems I can hear the universe groaning louder (Romans 8) with the sadder stories echoed in “The Lone Dalek” and “Doomsday” (Series 1-2), “This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home” (Series 3), “Vale Decem” (Series 4: The Specials), “The Sad Man With A Box” (Series 5), or even the joyful and operatic “Abigail’s Song” (A Christmas Carol).

Companions’ themes

“Rose’s Theme” (series 1-2) resounds a quiet melancholy, just short of melodrama, to complement the Doctor’s past. “Martha’s Theme” (Series 3) is more organized and uplifts faster, matching her own personality. That disk also premiered “Donna’s Theme,” which continued into series 4 — a very different, jazzy number, filled with comedic flourish.

Yet if I had to a pick, my favorite companion piece would be “Amy’s Theme” (Series 5). Gold whisks hearers into a fairy tale as ordered by showrunner Steven Moffat. In his notes, Gold recalls: “In the same way that in 2005 Rose’s theme didn’t evolve until she had traveled (and been changed) by [sic] The Doctor, so too Amy’s music speaks about leaving home and experiencing the wonders and magic of the universe with The Doctor by her side.”

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That’s magical enough. But whether the music is themed around a hero’s adventures or his human friends, I hear only themes of wonder and magic worked by our own Showrunner.

About E. Stephen Burnett

E. Stephen Burnett is a journalist, aspiring novelist, and editor and webslinger at Speculative Faith. His mission: to explore and enjoy epic stories that reflect the truths and beauties of the first and greatest Epic Story, God’s Word. He also writes for a dynamic news franchise in Austin, Texas and delves into Christ-and-culture doctrine at Christ and Pop Culture. He also enjoys nonfiction, soundtrack music, and spending life with his wife, Lacy, in their Texas headquarters.

  • Stuart Blessman

    The heavy strings, season 4 and specials version, will always be my favorite rendition of the main theme song. Just something about those aggressive strings gets things going.

  • aslanscompass

    I’m still waiting for the Season Seven soundtrack release (delayed by almost THREE MONTHS for those of us in the US), but I own all the other complete season collections. One of the ones I’m looking forward to most is “Long Song,” the lullaby to the Old God from “Rings of Akhaten.” “Together or Not at All” from “Angels Take Manhattan” is also excellent. I continue to marvel at the emotional beauty and skill of these tracks.

    Some of my favorites include “The Greatest Story Never Told (4 majestic and enigmatic, but sadder the more of River we saw)”, “I remember you” (5, pure joy and eucatastrophe) “The Impossible Astronaut” (6, utter heartbreak,) “The Enigma of River Song” (6, starts out moody, turns into absolute joy and shiny-ness) and “Forgiven” (6, the title alone lets you know it’ll be a tearjerker). Actually, pretty much anything related to River Song on the soundtrack is impressive. In fact, I went through and made a separate playlist for her songs.

    And yes, “I am the Doctor” is brilliant. It starts playing and you know serious epicness is about to start.


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