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Some of the most emotional moments in Doctor Who history happen while an orchestra is taking your guts and squeezing them into a ball without you even realising it. It might be the end of a civilisation, the return of an ancient nemesis or the brief spark of hope flickering in a deep cave of despair, but the gravity of the situation would be less pullish without music providing the planetary mass underneath all the running about and shouting.
Here are the best five examples.
Note: To highlight the music itself, mostly devoid of context, we’ve taken our extracts from the Doctor Who proms.
The Doctor Who Theme
Let’s face it, we could fill this list with different versions of this music and it would still be worthwhile. And over the last 50 years, the achievements of this wondrous theme are manifold: from its very first appearance it has set the tone for the alien treasures to follow like no other TV theme tune ever has before or since.
It is also the single most popular, recognisable and inspirational electronic composition to come out of the proto-synthpop era. Cover versions still come thick and fast, and one, by a group calling themselves the Timelords (who later became the KLF), even took the theme to No.1 in the British pop charts. And there is an entire wave of German dance music—called schaffel— that uses the same shuffley, swing-influenced rhythm as the basic for moody electronica. Coincidence? No.
Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire deserve posthumous knighthoods for creating such a national treasure. And statues. And their statues deserve knighthoods too.
In the modern era, Murray Gold isn’t doing too badly either, as these selections amply prove:
“I Am The Doctor”
You know this one. It occurs at the most Doctor-y moments, just after all hope is lost, just as he swaggeringly delivers the brainy solution to whatever the hopelessly impossible problem is.
Ever wondered exactly why David Tennant’s catch-throated “I don’t want to go” still reduces adults to floods every time they hear it? It’s because their feelings had been so very thoroughly ploughed up by Murray Gold’s score. That plus this is the sound of the universe singing the Doctor to his final resting place and… and… look, I’ll finish this in a minute. Just got to take some deep breaths and wash my face first.
One of the creepiest bits of music associated with Doctor Who, and one that never fails to make the stomach lurch a little. This is the soundtrack to the separation of Rose Tyler from the Doctor, and it’s remarkably restrained, to a worrying degree. It’s the sound of a ringing in the ears after a huge explosion. You know something is dreadfully wrong but the full extent of the problem is still hard to make out in all the smoke and dust.
“Rest Now” (from “The Rings of Akhaten”)
Taken out of the context of the story for which it was created and placed in its rightful home in the Albert Hall, this song, the soundtrack to the Doctor’s epic speech about his memories and the long and traumatic life he has lived, becomes a true balm for the soul. Put the Doctor’s voice back on top of it again, or show his bent frame, bowed by memories, and everything becomes a little darker and more troubling. Either way, it’s an astonishingly affecting piece of music.
What’s your favorite Doctor Who musical moment? Tell us here:
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See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic