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Published on May 15th, 2005 | by Brian A Terranova

Themeing a Tune

Back in the swinging sixties a TV show about a man from space captured the attention of millions of viewers, but the first thing they heard of this show was a theme tune.

Not having been alive in the sixties I can only assume, based on others observations, that the world had never heard an opening theme such as this before. In all fairness I feel it can be said that some were captivated while others were asking what the noise was all about in the next room.

This would continue for the next 26 years with a short stop in 1996, and now a new generation is experiencing this again, for the first time.

But how different were the experiences of everyone’s first time listening?

Today I would like to invite you all to Who Themes 101.

Look to the left of you… look to the right of you… some of the people you just looked at will not be here on graduation day… moving along.

1963 – Skirts were short, hair was big, and music was changing the world forever.

The original tune was created by Delia Derbyshire but was remixed by Ron Grainer, and does not contain one classic instrument.

What an impression this song must have made on the first few who heard it, from the pounding synthetic bass sounds to the spacey effects and the… what would you call it? The “Woo Wo Ooo” Sounds. Where ever they got the idea for this theme I don’t’ know, but I wish more people would have used the same thinking cap.

1967 – Wow. The BBC pulled it off, they gave the man a new face for the first time ever and it worked, so what else was there to due but update the theme just one year later.

How different could it be? Well there is much more echo to the bass beat, in effect making it more powerful, and it now sounds more like a cross between the good old fashion bass effect mixed with a heavy tubular bell.

The “Woo” sounds were jazzed up, as well as an addition of a shimmering wave of sound to add to the otherworldly feel of the character.

More powerful then before but still in the same family, things are going well.

1970 – Times are changing and so is Doctor Who, it is now in color for the first time, stars Jon Pertwee for the first time and for the third time get a new version of it’s opening theme.

Once again the bass has been changed, but this time it seems as if they dulled it down again. The musical notes of the bass have also been slightly rewritten and the tune now staggers in rather then the usual pounding introduction.

The shimmering effect stays the same, but once again feels a bit dull in comparison to the second theme. A nice addition would be the ringing notes at the end of the theme that will take us to the action of the episode.

While not as good as the 1967 theme it is still welcome in my home.

1972 – One theme just wouldn’t do, they had to go and create another, but it never really made it to our TV screens until the Video release of “Carnival of Monsters.”

This one was known as the “Delaware Theme” by Brian Hodgson and I felt that it deserved a special mention as it is part of the history and for me it was the only proper way to view this story. That is until it made its DVD release and the Delaware theme, and a bit of my Doctor Who experience, was sadly removed.

I can understand why people are not fans of this tune, instead of the bass being a powerful beat pounding its way into out heads, it has been replace by what I can only describe as a man playing a rubber band. And while the others before it started off with spacey effects and bass, this one start with an electronic equivalent of a slide whistle.

Nonetheless it held meaning for me so I am sad to see it go. But as far as Doctor Who is concerned, it was best left out of the running.

1974 – There is just one year to go before I am born and Tom Baker arrives on the telly, and wouldn’t you know it we get another new theme.

Gone are the dulled down sounds and staggered intros as we welcome the return of the 1967 powerful pounding bass beats, and all around feel of a tune more intense then the last version.

The only remnants of the previous theme would be the rewritten bass line and the wonderful ringing notes at the end.

It is a fact, and blame it on Tom Baker if you like, that this theme is the one that is locked into most fans heads as the definitive Doctor Who theme and one listen is easy to see why.

1980 – Clothing styles have taken a turn for the worse, as do haircuts, but Doctor Who introduces its theme in to the world of rock and roll and suddenly the 80’s aren’t so bad.

No longer does the theme start with the bass beat, instead it sounds as if the Doctor is playing the electric guitar and has just run his fingers down the fret board with the distortion on max.

Peter Howell give us a explosive tune with rock guitar, crunchy bass, and what sounds like a harpsichord hooked up to a distortion pedal. To top it all off we get a real explosion at the end of the episode, nicely done.

I have to admit that I was lost from the world of Doctor Who for a while, either it stopped getting aired on my local PBS station or I was busy doing other things. When I found the show again this was the tune that I remembered most and I still associated it with Tom Baker, although he only had it a year. Soon after more Who found it’s way into my heart and the real “Baker Theme” quickly became the tune of choice, however this one will always have a place by its side.

1986 – Not much happens in the real world but Doctor Who returns from an 18-month “hiatus” and once again gets an updated Theme.

The rock days are soon gone and Doctor Who is introduced to modern Synth.

Dominic Glynn gives us his version of the classic tune, and this time the bass line is dulled down even more then the original, the “Woo Wo Ooos” have been softened and over all it sounds like it was made on a toy keyboard.

While not the best of the themes by any means, in my opinion, I still wouldn’t change it for the world. When I hear that tune I know what Doctor I am watching and that is a good feeling.

1987 – What could have happened in a year that they decided to change it again? Who knows? Who cares? Who wants me to stop making “Who” joke?

Keff McCulloch is the man behind this latest version and from the start it is, once again, a totally new take on an old theme.

Starting things off right with a glass shattering explosion, we soon get “Woo Wo Ooos” that sound like a cross between a guitar and electronic kazoo, and a bass that perhaps only the Cyberman themselves would dance to. This theme became known as the “McCoy Theme” and is just another one that immediately lets you know which Doctor you are set to watch.

It is a welcome improvement over the last version, but still lacking the power of the original or the 1974 theme.

1993 – Techno seems all the rage as a charity episode of Doctor Who makes another new theme for a day.

Created for the 20 minute Children in Need event this tune needed to be quick. The theme that was used sounded very much like a rave party version with its drum beats, synth keyboards for the “woo” bits and its robotic sounds at the end that can easily get stuck in ones head after just one listen.

While I could never really see this attached to the show permanently I do have to admit that I quite enjoyed this version.

1996 – The real would seems slow, but in the Who world the BBC, Fox Television and Universal Studios team up for the very first time. I myself have gotten back into Doctor Who for only one year now and as a treat the BBC reward me with a brand new America broadcast of Doctor Who, complete with a new theme, yet again.

Horns and Drums replace the original bass beat while another set of Horns replace the “Woo” effects in quite a moving piece of history. I can just imagine all the smiling faces that it must have created.

John Debney is the mastermind behind this particular version and a job well done I must say, however, as nice as it is, it just seems a bit off for Doctor Who. One of the shows major selling points was that it was so spacey but now it has been brought down to earth and seems a bit out of place. Sad really, because it was a great theme and I would have gladly listened to it every week for a continuing series.

2000 – Y2K seems to have been nothing but a cruel joke by Nostradamus, the world did, in fact, not end, and Big Finish have gotten the rights to produce brand new 8th Doctor audio plays, and as a nice treat they get to create a new theme all their own.

While not a TV theme, this one gets a mention here as David Arnold has given us, perhaps for the first time since 1980, a theme that has captured what the magic of the original must have been like.

A crunchy, grumblely bass beat, synthetic “sound in a tunnel” effects that formulate the “Woo” themes and a wave of explosive beats that echo their way through the tune like waves splashing down on the shoreline.

Shame this could not have been part of the continuing series staring Paul McGann on our TV Screens.

2003 – Fans are split about the news that there is now a 9th Doctor that will be a cartoon, they are unsure weather they like the idea or hate it.

Whatever your opinion is, or was, it still means one more theme.

This one seems like a blending of the 1980 and 1974 themes, with a twist. It starts off with the screeching sounds of the 80’s but them appears to have taken inspiration from 1974 for the rest, however the bass beat sounds like it is a blend between the 1974 and the Delaware rubber band beat.

They have also added a drum track that sounds like a drum machine.

Personally, if they would just remove the drums, this would be a nice version, if nothing else, in the same way the Delaware theme was.

2005 – The styles from Yesteryear are back, new ideas are just old ones with a twist and the only good thing to have been on our TV screens for quite some time is Doctor Who. Back again, and this time to stay. Needless to say the Theme is also back.

This time the Theme was rearranged by Murray Gold, it harkens back to what was known as the (Tom) “Baker Theme” as well as boasting some new sounds and instruments. I must say that I wasn’t sure you could ever make the Baker theme more attractive or make it so much easier to get stuck in ones head, but here lies the proof.

It would seem that for the new series a new remixed, remastered, version of the “Baker Theme” would not be enough to keep them happy. So what were they to do, but create a theme within a theme.

It now has a string section creating quite an atmosphere, what sounds like a didgeridoo to me, and bass or kettledrums tossing in a very tribal feel to the mix. They also seem to have kept the horns from the 1996 version for the intro at least. Never before would I have believed that you could add a tune within a tune like this, but here it is and Who could ask for more?

There we have it class 42 years of one song, one show and many opinions as to what should or shouldn’t be. We all have our favorites and we all have the ones that hold the most memories for us, and now that same chance has been given to a whole new generation.

So go on then, have a listen to your favorite theme today in celebration of Doctor Who.

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About the Author

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Doctor Who and me go way back. I first discovered it on my local PBS Station WHYY in the suburbs outside Philadelphia when I was a young kid; though I am uncertain of the exact age.




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