There’s a piece on The Guardian today about Manchester honouring pioneering electronic music genius Delia Derbyshire. Her most famous work is the arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, where she crafted something genuinely otherworldly, using cutting-edge electronics well over a decade before the likes of Kraftwerk took to synths. Famously, her arrangement was so unique that the theme’s composer asked: “Did I really write this?” Derbyshire replied: “Most of it.”
Theme tunes are important. They set the tone. The original Doctor Who theme and at least some of the subsequent versions are spooky, chilling, ethereal compositions. They say to kids: prepare to be afraid. Compare that with the theme in the resurrected Doctor Who, which increasingly buries the beautiful electronics, piling on more strings and bombastic garbage. I’m not naive enough to think that the original theme could ever be used today as-is, but the new theme doesn’t say “this will scare you”—it just says “this will be noisy”.
The big problem is that current composer Murray Gold only appears to have one tactic when he’s asked to amend the Doctor Who theme for a new series: he just adds more stuff. There’s also a hint of subversion, in him adding orchestral elements that somehow make the theme ‘his’, with new melodies that distract from the original. Assuming the show survives, and Gold doesn’t move on, I’m half expecting an interview along these lines by 2020:
Interviewer: So, Murray, tell us the thinking behind the new Doctor Who theme.
Gold: Well, it needed more! It had to be louder! It just needed MORE!
Interviewer: But as far as we can tell, the new theme is now actually compressed white noise.
I’d love to see the reverse. Next time the Doctor Who theme needs reworking, they should strip it back. Make it something eerie again, and set the scene for a show that’ll have kids scuttling to hide behind the sofa, rather than making it yet another in a long line of dull, directionless cacophonies.