As Jodie Whittaker regenerates as the new Doctor Who, Getintothis’ Nathan Pang assesses the enduring Murray Gold and his timeless soundtrack compositions.
The most astonishing thing about the return of Doctor Who is just how incredibly irrelevant Jodie Whittaker’s gender is. Whittaker has said numerous times in interviews, how she’s excited for this ‘moment’ to be over, for the day that it’s no longer a question of consternation or celebration, just a matter of fact. Now that the series has begun, ground is officially broken. She’s the Doctor, discussion over.
Of all the reasons why Doctor Who endures, constant change and renewal is its biggest asset. Whether it’s season 1, series 1, series Fnarg (Google it), or series 11, the show’s regenerative power means nothing can kill it. Not bad scripts, not grumpy BBC chairmen, nor their dwindling budgets, not a fall from a radio telescope or 500,000 rads of excess radiation.
Its adaptability and penchant for pushing forward keeps the series, as the Doctor says, fizzing with energy. NuWho itself is 13 years old, and it’s never felt newer. Among the numerous batons passed for the new series, one notable changeover is from revered maestro Murray Gold, to the up-and-coming British-Nigerian musician Segun Akinola as composer.
Tasked with creating the soundscape for the Doctor Who of 2018, he’s taking over the enormous boots of the five-time BAFTA nominated Gold, who wrote the music for thirteen years worth of episodes. It genuinely feels like yesterday when Doctor Who came back to our screens back in 2005.
But even now, I can hear the swelling strings of Westminster Bridge that opened this new series, with the shot of the moon and the Earth from space. Murray Gold’s music, along with the frenetic montage of Rose’s life showed in the first 2 minutes that this is not your dad’s Doctor Who, it’s yours.
If there’s one thing you can say about Doctor Who, is that it is not subtle. A show that’s shamelessly nerdy, as well as shamelessly mainstream, it delivers drama and comedy, as well as enormous heart, sentimentality, and romance to the audience. Matched, and elevated by Gold’s all-out sensibilities.
And so, for Children in Need 2006, in typical no-holds-barred Doctor Who fashion, instead of filming another little sketch or a preview clip, a Doctor Who concert was performed at the Millenium Centre in Wales. Doctor Who: A Celebration raised over £52,000.
It’s astonishing to think that just two years in, this ‘new series’, still genuinely new at this point, could warrant inviting an audience of children and families to sit in a theatre to listen to classical, incidental music from a TV show.
Three Doctor Who Prom events followed, in 2008, 2010 and 2013, and even a Worldwide tour in 2015 called the Symphonic Spectacular. Which is some hefty proof that for the fans like myself, there is nothing incidental about his music.
Gold was known for his quirky, unexpected scores. Although some would argue incidental music is meant to go unnoticed, that is far from his style. He wrote the BAFTA nominated score for Andrew Davies’ 1998 adaptation of Vanity Fair, adding a punchy vibrant, almost anachronistic attitude to a costume drama.
His second BAFTA nom came from Russell T Davies’ groundbreaking Queer as Folk, scoring young sexual discovery like ‘Eddie Cochran rock & roll’. Murray Gold, with right hand man composer-conductor Ben Foster, has written and composed the music for Doctor Who since 2005, across ten series and 17 specials.
He is one of the few voices that has been a part of every episode of the revived series up until the most recent Christmas Special, and is neck and neck with classic series composer Dudley Simpson as the most prolific in the shows history.
Like a good television director (as opposed to a good film director), Gold’s voice endlessly shifts between episodes to fit the story, but his filmic symphonies and bombastic anthems pervade his era. Distanced from generic ‘television music’, he stuffs his scores with memorable melodies and movie-scaled ambition. Here are (just a few of) his highlights.
- Abigail’s Song (Silence Is All You Know)
2010’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the most Christmassy Christmas Special to ever air on Christmas. Although Steven Moffat claims he often writes them broader, with an ear for the drunk dads, as well as the kids, his first entry is probably the most earnest, magical and heartfelt.
The news of the casting of opera singer Katherine Jenkins, in her first major acting role, in Matt Smith’s first Christmas Special was on one hand, left field, and yet follows the Christmas stunt casting tradition since Catherine Tate and Kylie Minogue. And to play the love interest for Michael Gambon, no less. Her performance is admirable; tender and heartfelt, no less than what was needed for a character who spends half the run time being frozen.
But her acting chops were clearly not what she was cast for. Serenading her way into calming the skies and its flying fish (of course) lead to one of the most affecting resolutions in any Doctor Who story. This was the 5th actual song Gold wrote for Doctor Who, but not his last, and not the last on this list…
The big ball of sentimentality and the whimsical science fantasy that is Doctor Who suits Christmas so perfectly. And with every element of the show turned up to eleven, they also often provide the most original music from Murray Gold, than other individual episodes.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe from the following year featured Madge’s Theme that best represents the happy/sad nature of Christmas that the (very underrated) episode conveys. Clara’s Dream Christmas from 2014’s festive horror entry Last Christmas weaves between the peaceful dreamworld and the impending death it represents. The marvellous Voyage of the Damned suite from 2007 quite significantly earned Murray Gold his fourth Bafta nomination.
- All the Strange, Strange Creatures
All this sappy emotion that pervades the new series is fine and all, but what the old school fans expect, is the adventure. Subtitled The Trailer Music in the soundtrack, All the Strange, Strange Things was used in two different trailers for the series, as it gloriously distills the action and fun of the series. It features in many episodes in the third and fourth series’ as one of the go-to ‘action!’ scores. When you spot some running, cue:
One of the first action cues in the show was Slitheen, when the Slitheen ship crashes through Big Ben. A fun, traditional wallop of a track, it was reused when the 11th Doctor was flying through Trafalgar Square, hanging onto the bottom of the TARDIS, in the 50th anniversary. I suppose it’s specific use is ‘things wildly flying through London’.
Jumping forwards, the series 8 finale features yet more flying around the skies of London. As the Doctor falls from an exploding plane, Freefall guides him through the clouds towards the TARDIS, before sliding back into the 12th Doctor’s theme, A Good Man?
- Cassandra’s Waltz
What? This one?!
Yeah, it’s not one of the hits. But there’s such a deep catalogue in over a decade of work, that we could have 10, 20, even 30 big pieces before we reach the more curious, inventive stuff that fills the gaps. And this really is his first. Cassandra’s Waltz, ironically titled, as she doesn’t have legs, gives the series’ first journey into the future a distillation of its own DNA. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek, this future is vaudeville and theatre, it’s weird and wonderful.
Apparently, it’s also a video game. 9 years later, in Into the Dalek, we are chased through an asteroid field with the dazzling instrumentation of Aristotle, We Have Been Hit.
Bah Bah Biker is nothing short of legendary. From series 7’s The Bells of Saint John, Murray Gold has created the greatest musical accomplishment since man first hit rock with stick. Okay, maybe it’s more of an amusing oddity but those lyrics are inspired.
From the Bah Bah’s bars, to the sweetly romantic whistle of Only Martha Knows, from the Human Nature/The Family of Blood. This is the type of piece that #8 is for. It’s not iconic, or a grand farewell, but just a piece from the middle of series 3 that stands out, and will stick with you.
- The Master Vainglorious
The return of the Master pushed the character from maniacal gentleman, into full blown lunatic. One of my favourite villain themes, The Master Vainglorious is an unpredictable, and warped piece that masterfully combines grand strings with an electronic, rocking, piercing march of his madness.
In the young, naive days of 2007, the show casually brought legend Derek Jacobi on as a lovable old professor, before pulling the biggest rug the show had yet pulled. It’s easy to forget initial reactions to these things, but his reveal as The Master in Utopia, and regenerating into John Simm was a masterstroke, and easily the biggest and most exciting cliffhanger that Who mastermind Russell T Davies had dropped until this point.
Jacobi represented the classic Masters, the moustache twirling criminal mastermind, and John Simm was basically David Tennant. Off the wall, fresh faced and dancing to Scissor Sisters. This theme would never have fitted the classic Masters, and yet David Tennant and John Simm mastered the relationship between 10 and the Simm Master is a perfect continuation of their rivalries of old. True masters of their craft.
Before Whittaker, Michelle Gomez was the one who made history as the first on-screen gender swapped Time Lord, with Missy’s Theme featuring the ethereal, synthesized vocals of Halia Meguid. She is a Whovian deep-cut, beyond Chameleon Circuit, as a fan who posted some beautiful covers of a few Doctor Who tracks on YouTube, adding her own lyrics, before being “discovered” by Murray Gold and invited to sing for the show. She’s contributed several times, starting with luring pirates by Deadly Siren song in 2011’s Curse of the Black Spot, quite significantly sang Amy and Rory to their supposed deaths in their final story in The Angels Take Manhattan, and was the Singing Towers of Darillium, to name a few! But we’ll get to that last one shortly…
What’s Doctor Who without a few monsters? Of course the Daleks have their themes. Rightly so, their two main anthems, The Daleks and The Dark and Endless Dalek Night are also simply the most epic villain themes, with the secret weapon being the Crouch End Festival Chorus. The Hebrew and Latin sung in the choir is generally pretty meaningless (“Oh, what is happening, oh, what is happening…”), but sounds damn good, in the vein of John Williams’ Duel of the Fates from Star Wars, or Carl Orff’s infamously overused O Fortuna. And finally, The Cybermen have probably the most memorable little recurring leitmotif for any villain. A steady melody of 6 that signals their oncoming march, is utterly ingrained into Whovian brains by now.
- Amy’s Theme
While the Doctor’s themes encompass the grandeur and thrill of the character, the companion themes are all about the audience. Amy has a bunch of themes. Little Amy, Can I Come With You? and Amy in the TARDIS are equally recognisable as hers, but we’ll just stick with this theme, introduced in her second episode, The Beast Below. Evoking her sense of discovery of her early travels, it’s a wistful, swaying piece, my personal favourite for the companions.
They all get one of course, (except Rory. Where’s Rory’s Theme, Gold?!) Rose and Clara’s are highlights, with Clara’s theme made canon in her final story, with Peter Capaldi rendering a melancholic electric guitar cover as she departs. Most recently, Bill’s as yet unreleased theme was a breath of fresh air, reflecting her plucky, spirited attitude in the vein of Donna’s Theme.
But beyond the regulars, one of my absolute favourite pieces is Boe, played in Gridlock as The Face of Boe dies, and once more in Last of the Time Lords, during the single greatest revelation in the history of Doctor Who. Boe’s younger self has Captain Jack’s Theme and Jack’s Love Theme written for Torchwood. Not strictly Doctor Who, but still some excellent pieces from Gold and Ben Foster.
- I Am The Doctor
I Am The Doctor, the 11th Doctor’s theme is the definitive track for this era, and perhaps of Gold’s tenure. As soon as Matt Smith sent a giant flying eyeball packing through sheer reputation alone, the new Doctor had us. This theme pulls us through the propulsive 7/4 beat rhythm that became instantly iconic to Matt Smith’s wacky energy, before the orchestra and choir take us back to the awed reverence to the character that the previous two Doctor themes had.
This theme is reprised and rescored so many times that the original is probably heard less than the others, with Words Win Wars from the incredible Pandorica speech and series 6’s The Majestic Tale as notable examples.
The 9th Doctor had The Doctor’s Theme, and the 10th had The Doctor Forever, but Peter Capaldi’s A Good Man? is the most impressive. I Am The Doctor claims the spot in this list due to reputation, but the 12th Doctor’s theme arguably the best. Slowly building through layers of a textured, atmospheric orchestra and deep percussion, comes the thrilling “hero” music that we’re waiting for, in Gold’s typical bombastic fashion. A brilliant piece for the most morally grey series 8 Doctor.
- The Long Song
This is the second story in which music was used as part of both the plot, and resolution to the story. The young rising star Emilia Jones sings this hymnal piece to the Doctor’s memories speech in The Rings of Akhaten, and was reprised to be part of Matt Smith’s regeneration later that year.
Beyond the two in this list, Murray Gold has written numerous songs since the first Christmas Special, with David Tennant’s first celebratory anthem Song For Ten Sung by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, they followed it up a year later with Love Don’t Roam, bookending Tennant’s first series. Singer Yamit Mamo also provided the voice for two songs in 2007, with a 1930s swing/jazz number in My Angel Put the Devil in Me, and the Christmassy Stowaway, appearing on screen singing onboard the Titanic (in space!). Similarly, remember when pop artist Foxes popped up on the Orient Express (in space!) to sing a jazzy cover of Queen?
Taking a sidestep from the series itself, one of the most wonderful musical gems we’ve had was David Tennant, Catherine Tate and John Barrowman singing a rewritten version of Victoria Wood’s Let’s Do It, to salute head honcho Russell T Davies and exec Julie Gardner as they wrapped their tenure. Filled with inside jokes about the production, extraordinarily over the top performances and a mention of ‘Johnny B’s cock’, The Ballad of Russell and Julie is a love letter like you’ve never seen before.
- This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home
After three years of build up, we finally catch a glimpse of The Doctor’s home in The Sound of Drums. This piece manages to be so many things at once, to fit the Doctor’s history. Sentimental, with reverence to its might and beauty, reflections of the joys and innocence of his childhood, and yet with a sadness, a fear and a looming sense of dread. This piece almost feels removed from just being part of the series 3 soundtrack, it’s the underlying score to The Doctor himself, going deeper than his themes.
Back in the Classic series, Gallifrey popped up many times, when this history was being written. So to briefly pop outside of Murray Gold’s tenure, to the storied history of Doctor Who’s music.
If Classic Who is knocked for its hokey effects and wobbly sets, not enough is said for its incredibly creative and innovative musical output. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was a sound effects unit set up in the late 50s, responsible for pioneering work in experimental electronic music, and music technology. Delia Derbyshire famously arranged Ron Grainer’s composition of the theme tune, which has just been given a pretty faithful update from Segun Akinola this year.
My personal favourite classic story is the 4th Doctor’s trip to Paris in City of Death, with features the most enduring melody from Dudley Simpson’s electric piano, as The Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana explore the city of love, before actually getting married (briefly) in real life.
But Simpson’s personal favourite is his work for 1969’s The Seeds of Death, doing an awful lot of the work into bringing the menace to the Ice Warriors waddling as they tower of Patrick Troughton.
Any number of Cyberman scores are among the best. The iconic Space Adventure from Martin Slavin was used in several Cyberman serials, Don Harper wrote some delicately ominous work for The Invasion, and Malcolm Clarke’s score for Earthshock brings the Cybermen an 80s electronic menace.
But no amount of hatred or criticism will take away my love for The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon.
- The Shepherd’s Boy (and the entire Heaven Sent suite)
The series 9 soundtrack took so unbelievably long to come out, by then they had to slap on the new 13th Doctor era logo, a series that airs three years after. And the wait was particularly gruelling for fans because of this episode, and this track.
I’m throwing plaudits around left right and centre, (this is a top 10 list after all), but come on. Heaven Sent is the best episode of the new series, and easily one of the best of the entire history. It also is more attractive and has better hair than you, can cook better, run a 2 hour marathon, and is better in bed than you. Just accept it.
Heaven Sent is the perfect example of the stars aligning. Steven Moffat wrote an incredibly labyrinthian puzzlebox mystery that actually has a greater answer than the immense build up. Rachel Talalay topped herself from her terrific directing debut for the show from the previous year, despite it leaving her “head in spaghetti”. Peter Capaldi commands every second of the 55 minute run-time that he leads in this one-hander. But before I run through every Head of Department in the production crew, we’ll bring this back to Gold.
To our delight, the soundtrack dedicated one of its four discs entirely to this non-finale, non-Christmas episode. The standout track that we all remember is The Shepherd’s Boy, as the head-in-spaghettifying montage dances through to its climax, used once again in Peter Capaldi’s regeneration.
But almost the entire episode’s score, 42 minutes worth is included, and is just perfection from start to finish. Welding together a mix of classical with electronic, sometimes building tension through its brass, atmosphere through piano, curiosity through synth, often all in the same track. A Fly on a Painting is an exceptional example, but his greatest trick was making the whole hour feel entirely of a piece. It’s not often a composer writes an opera for a television episode, but this isn’t a show that plays by the rules.
Any of the 14 tracks from Heaven Sent will instantly transport me back inside that castle from the episode, often the specific scene. Creating the soundscape for a specific time and place, an environment or a world is a feat he’s pulled off numerous times, so we’ll dive through some of his best.
The 10th Doctor, series 2 classic The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit was set on a barren alien landscape, and to this day one of the best depicted on screen in the show. Classic Welsh quarries, made expansive through matte paintings and CGI, with a terrific mythic narrative, all backed with this track. The viola played sul ponticello (played with the bow very close to the bridge apparently, after a quick google) creates one of the most distinctive grinding, unearthly tracks. History, religion, discovery, wonder all rolled together.
The next Ood story, set on the Planet of the Ood gives us a sense of their species, as a race of tortured, singing telepaths. Songs of Captivity and Freedom left Donna Noble blubbering.
What is there to say that hasn’t been said about this moment. The Doctor and Rose’s goodbye is probably the single most iconic moment of the new series, but more importantly, their final scene was voted the greatest sci-fi moment ever in an SFX poll 4 years ago. I mean that’s worth a Bafta and a half right there.
Frequent vocalist in the early years Melanie Pappenheim sings the minimalist ode to Rose Tyler. First used when Rose first enters the TARDIS back in, well Rose, it bookends her time, with Gold expanding the piece to create a ‘kind of throbbing, sort of hurt sound of quite emotional rock’. Instead of your typical swelling strings, there’s a heart beating and a voice crying out.
What makes NuWho very un-British, is how much it wears its heart on its sleeves. Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat go all out in writing great tragedies, extreme sacrifices, heartbreaking farewells, and Murray Gold’s music pushes it every step of the way.
Although not her real departure, Donna Noble’s noble sacrifice in Turn Left features, I would argue the most uplifting and heroic track Gold has scored for the series. There have been days on end, which I have left A Dazzling End on repeat.
Music is so overtly, diegetically and thematically involved in Doctor Who’s departures. First off, during the wintry mists of 2005, (in-universe time) when the 10th Doctor hobbles back to his TARDIS to die. Ood Sigma tells him “the universe will sing you to your sleep”, and a race of telepathic aliens who sound suspiciously like countertenor Mark Chambers + choir, do exactly that, singing Vale Decem. Tennant’s run was treated with the biggest sense of ‘legend’ and ‘myth’, both in text, and in score, so it’s fitting to close out the most successful era of the new series with as grand a piece as they’ve ever done.
Next, was as mentioned under No. 6, is Clara’s Diner, a version of her theme performed by the Doctor himself on the electric guitar as she exits. Steven ‘lover of metanarratives’ Moffat really out-Moffated himself when he wrote this scene. But the gimmick genuinely lands.
And finally, the closing of The Doctor and River’s story in The Husbands of River Song, tying her story back to the fated planet of Darillium foreshadowed in her first story 7 years prior. The Singing Towers track itself was almost worth the wait. I don’t know what kind of audio manipulation they performed over Halia Meguid’s voice but it never fails to swell a heart or two, as she voices the ancient monolith.
Murray Gold was essential to usher the new series into the shining modern world of 2005. His music is incredibly distinct to both the classic series, and modern television scoring in general. Its lush orchestral gestures, and actual songwriting captured the attention of Doctor Who fans, who could enjoy entirely divorced from the episodes themselves.
He has received occasional criticism for overplaying his hand, his bombast obstructing the audio tracks of episodes, (which I only found to be the case towards the latter Capaldi era), but it suited both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat’s writing, both of whom bulldozed far fetched plots with grand emotional statements, with several jokes in-between.
Now that Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker are in command, Doctor Who is taking its next step into modernising. New composer Segun Akinola’s score is physical, tangible, from its heavy percussion, but also more delicate, and raw. While I adore Murray Gold’s work, I simply can’t imagine his style fitting the Woman who fell to Earth, not nearly as much as Akinola’s approach. If anything, it’s different. And I dare say… it’s about time.
So here’s to the future.