Today the world lost someone who shaped a significant part of my identity from a very early age. I don’t have the words to adequately describe the loss I feel. Through the character of Spock, Leonard Nimoy defined a huge part of Star Trek, which in turn defined a huge part of me. The worldview embodied by Spock’s character is something that I think about as part of everything I do, and Spock’s great struggle between logic and emotion is something that I wrestle with on a daily basis. People of more than one generation have been shaped by what Leonard Nimoy gave us, and mere words don’t seem enough to acknowledge that.
The real essence of Star Trek is humanism — the belief in the power of pure humanity. And Nimoy, throughout his career, was someone who believed in people. Even after he mostly retired from acting, Nimoy had a second (or maybe third) career as a photographer, where he focused on finding the beauty in people that other photographers wouldn’t necessarily think of: including plus-sized burlesque dancers and people whose truest, most creative selves are hidden. Nimoy never stopped being curious — and fascinated — by humans and our incredible diversity.
The only comfort I take from this is the legacy that he left us with. We would all be fortunate to live long and prosper as he did.
Supposedly, a bold new era of Doctor Who is now upon us. How much the show will actually change remains to be seen, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Murray Gold doing the music. Not counting different edits of the same theme, Murray has now given us a total of eight separate versions of the Doctor Who theme that have been used on the show1, running absolute circles around everyone else who has ever taken up doing the official theme for the show. I began writing about Murray’s themes in 2010 out of misguided optimism that the show would improve under Moffat’s reign. (I don’t think it was possible for me to have been more wrong.) I wrote again about 2013’s new theme, in a post I called “2013 and beyond” because I foolishly assumed that we wouldn’t have a completely new theme again the following year. But a new theme—along with a radically different title sequence—is exactly what we got.
Here is the theme in its latest incarnation:
What I like
For one thing, the palette of sounds used in this theme is almost entirely electronic. This is something Murray has been getting better at in recent years. While his first several themes got progressively more bombastic, this trend has thankfully slowed dramatically since 2010. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it has reversed itself, Murray has been much more selective when it comes to focusing on specific aspects or sounds in the theme each time, instead of just adding more things into the mix. The Doctor Who theme is so effective because it is fundamentally basic. A solid bassline and melody are all you need, and the inherent effect of the theme no longer works when those cease to be the central focus.
On top of that, the theme’s tempo has been brought back in line with what a Doctor Who theme should be. All of the themes since 2010 have run at 143 bpm, which is way too fast for a Doctor Who theme. A Doctor Who theme should run somewhere between 139 and 140 bpm, or in some cases slower. This newest theme appears to run at about 139.8 bpm—exactly where it should be.
The reliance on countermelodies has been sharply reduced this time around. The fanfare that has played over the bassline intro since 2010 is finally gone. The nice thing about Murray’s “trademarks” (the staccato strings for the first several years, and more recently the brass fanfare over the bassline intro) is that he will eventually tire of them and move on. I give him a lot of credit for this. Virtually every non-electronic element in this theme is either percussive, used to create pad-like harmonies, or directly complementing the main melody (rather than supplementing it). This is exactly how sounds like these should be used if you’re going to use them at all. The electronic sound effects, on the other hand, are prominent throughout the theme and used to great effect. One of them even sounds like Peter Howell’s “Catherine wheel,” spooling up as the theme builds to melody 1 and then winding back down. Even the theme’s conclusion sounds ominous and sets the right tone.
The new bassline is actually pretty good. I’ll get to the notation in a moment, but let’s start with the sound. The bassline is the single most important component of any Doctor Who theme; if one thing is going to be louder than all the other things, it should be the bassline. Murray Gold has a history of failing to recognize the importance of making the bassline the heart of the theme, but the bassline in this version is driving the theme as it should be. The sound itself spans a huge frequency range, which is great, and more or less unprecedented in a Murray Gold theme. Murray also has a history of very thin synth sounds for his bassline and melody, especially since dropping the Derbyshire samples in 2010. This bassline doesn’t have that problem, but this partially stems from the fact that it seems to be using a processed sample of a single “dum” from the original Derbyshire bassline to beef it up. It’s a surprising technique from someone who has full access to all the original samples, but it really does help the sound. In a way, I almost admire him for realizing he can’t synthesize something that rivals the original Derbyshire sound. Of course, the sampled Derbyshire bassline is also layered with some kind of synth bassline of his own (which is really what makes it work as cohesively as it does), but even that synth sounds better than usual.
The bassline notation, as far as I am able to tell, actually sounds like an improvement over the last theme, and is, in some ways, an improvement over all prior themes Murray has done as well. There is a very important distinction in the bassline that it seems Murray has suddenly become aware of: which sections of the theme use diddly-dums, and which sections use dum-de-dums. Ever since the Doctor Who theme’s very beginning, it was laid out that melody 1 should use diddly-dums, and melody 2 should use dum-de-dums. Peter Howell later established the rule that a dum-de-dum could be changed to a diddly-dum, but never the other way around. Thou canst addeth the note to the dum-de-dum, but thou shalt not taketh away.
Believe it or not, for the first time in history, Murray Gold seems to have observed and honored this distinction. The bassline intro begins with dum-de-dums, then switches to diddly-dums halfway through. Melody 1 uses diddly-dums, and melody 2 switches back to dum-de-dums. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears, but there it is. (The complete absence of dum-dum-diddies, however, is a separate issue, and will be bitched about in the “What I don’t like” section below.) The bassline has also been rearranged so that it no longer jumps up to the B an octave higher like it did in the last theme, and instead correctly goes down to the lower B.
It’s difficult to be 100% sure of this, but it sounds like the notation of Murray’s bassline second layer has improved in this latest theme as well. It’s still not perfect, but if he’s done what it sounds like he’s done, it’s less wrong than it has been in every prior Murray Gold theme that bothered to include a second layer at all. I’ll qualify this by saying that the second layer is very quiet in this theme, so it’s hard to make out, but it sounds as though instead of using the “inverted” notation he has used in all previous themes with a second layer, this time he has switched to what I call the “Glynn-style” second layer. This means that when the bassline goes up from E to G, the second layer starts on D, but when it comes back down to E, it starts on D again (or starts on A if the bassline comes down to B), rather than starting on F or F#. I first explained this in depth back in 2010, when his second layer became a clearly audible separate track. Switching to a Glynn-style second layer is not perfect, but it is progress.
The theme’s melody has also made significant progress in this version. (Well, except for the sound… but that’s not for this section.) For one thing, the first note of melody 1 is back with a vengeance. No more “wah-oo”—now we’re back to “oo-ee-oo,” as it should be. On top of that, another important aspect of the melody has been restored. The first phrase of the melody is composed of two halves: melody 1a, and melody 1b. The final B note of melody 1a should always be held and continue to play behind melody 1b. This is something that Murray Gold has never done, until now. Or, to be more accurate, he’s approximated the effect by repeating melody 1b on a different sound (a string sound) and concluding on the B note at the higher octave. It isn’t perfect, but it achieves the desired effect and it sounds good leading into melody 2. Dominic Glynn used the same basic technique in his 1986 opening theme.
Speaking of melody 2, the notation there is also better. In fact, the notation is almost perfectly accurate now, with the exception of the final two notes, which are missing altogether. By extending the post-melody 2 bassline from two blocks to four, he bought himself plenty of time to conclude melody 2 properly, but for whatever reason he hasn’t done so here. Still, credit where credit is due—he finally has the notation on all of his layers clearly doing A-B, C-D-B, and at the right times too. Another C-B wouldn’t have killed him, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?
What I don’t like
For the second theme in a row, Murray’s bassline is completely devoid of the dum-dum-diddy. For all the progress Murray has made in his understanding of the bassline in this latest theme, the complete omission of the dum-dum-diddy is a huge gap in accuracy. What has the dum-dum-diddy done to Murray to warrant its exclusion like this? Perhaps we’ll never know, but it’s a great shame. Murray has always had his issues with the dum-dum-diddy—for example, he never includes it when leading into the bridge if the bridge bassline is played on the higher octave—but you simply can’t have a Doctor Who theme bassline without it. Having each block locked to a certain pitch with no graceful transition between them becomes terribly awkward very quickly.
On top of that, Murray has made a pretty fundamental change to the structure of the bassline intro. Instead of going E-G every time as it’s supposed to, the second repeat now goes E-D. Yes, the bassline intro now goes down instead of up for one of the repeats. That’s just not cricket. I know Murray thinks the bassline intro is just so boring without some kind of brass fanfare or staccato strings over it, but maybe if you included some dum-dum-diddies you wouldn’t have so much of a problem?
That melody sound is just terrible. There’s no getting around it. It sounds like a basket of kittens being lowered into a vat of acid. If people watch the show at a high enough volume, there might be a class-action lawsuit for property damage coming up.
I’m not terribly thrilled with the bells either. I don’t object to them conceptually, as they were likely designed to fit with the title sequence, but they’re used in a pretty repetitive and boring way. Murray never seems to be able to come up with a creative way to use percussion in his themes, and the bells are no exception this time around.
Finally, the post-melody 2 bassline is still not ideal. It’s miles better than the previous theme, which just had two B blocks before returning to melody 1, but this time he has just padded them out with another two B blocks. If you’re going to add two blocks, do a B block and then go up to D like the Howell theme, or a G high-low dum-dum-diddy to lead back into melody 1. And speaking of those final melody 1 sections, do you really need to do a bassline intro-style E-E-E-G behind them instead of the proper melody 1 E-E-B-B notation? At least you had this right in the last theme.
When all is said and done, I actually kind of like this newest theme. But then again, I’m the kind of person who loves the Delaware theme, and I don’t care what you think. For a Murray Gold theme, I think this is progress. Unfortunately, I’ve learned by now that when it comes to Murray Gold, “progress” is usually just a fortunate accident. We’ll see how much of this is actually retained when the next theme rolls around.
Plus one that was soundtrack-only, and another that hasn’t been officially released at all, which brings us up to ten. ↩
Capaldi also had good news for those Doctor Who purists who believe the show’s storylines have become over the top.
“It’s going to be a bit different from what we’ve seen over recent years. A bit more gravity,” he said. “Some situations are more sombre and I think there are more rooted dramatic scenes. Over the past two or three years, which I’ve loved, there has often been a breathless vigour; we still have that attack, but we have another level of drama, another tone. And the scenes are longer.” […]
“I didn’t want to be Doctor Who in a Doctor Who I didn’t like,” he said. “I had to be convinced the show was going in a direction I was interested in.
The more I hear, the happier I am. I’m so glad we have a Doctor who has the balls to tell the showrunners what’s what (or perhaps I should say what’s Who).
This is my latest remix of Dominic Glynn’s 1986 (and 2008, and now 2014) Doctor Who theme. It is heavily inspired by and based upon the awesome remixes Dom did for his brand new Doctor Who: The Gallifrey Remixes release, which is available today. If you haven’t already done so, I very highly recommend that you check it out and download it to support Dom’s continued work with the theme.
Since this mix is based on Dom’s newest theme arrangements, it has been under development since March, and has evolved considerably since its first version. With every new version I heard from Dom, there were more ideas and sounds that I wanted to incorporate into my own mix, and the final version incorporates many. In fact, the most recent change to the mix was also the most substantial; the bassline was completely overhauled, in part after hearing the extremely cool sweeping bass drones Dom used in the Syzygy mix (which is likely my favorite of all of them).
I hope you enjoy this mix, but it wouldn’t exist without Dominic Glynn and all the work he has done with the theme over the years (but especially this year). My mix very clearly stands on the shoulders of his as he continues to inspire some of my best work, and I hope you will download the Gallifrey Remixes as well to show your support.
OmniFocus 2 for Mac is available now and highly recommended for people who value the doing of things. It’s an extremely significant upgrade which has put the Mac version back at the center of my workflow.
Originally composed by TV legend Ron Grainer, the Doctor Who Theme was re-arranged for the programme by Dominic Glynn in 1986. Now, 28 years later, Dominic has produced a new EP of original remixes of his theme arrangement. Originally performed at the Gallifrey One fan convention in Los Angeles in February, the “Gallifrey One Remix” is here joined by three other brand new mixes. The EP also sees the first new mix in twelve years from Syzygy - the underground electronica duo of Dominic Glynn and Justin Mackay, best known for their techno and ambient dance releases on the Rising High label.
Coming June 16th. You absolutely won’t want to miss this. There are some truly phenomenal tracks on this release.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be at TimeGate once again this year. I’ll be participating on at least one of the panels as well, and should have more to announce on this front soon. If you’ll be attending, I’ll see you there.
He was able to summon a sense of mystery, mischievousness and danger that none of his successors managed to the same degree, while also giving off a particularly avuncular vibe, by surrounding himself with a surrogate family. Hartnell’s Doctor felt like he could genuinely do something magical at any given moment.
So, personally, I feel that this idea of Patrick Troughton laying the foundations of the modern Doctors is rubbish, even if Troughton remains ‘the Doctors’ Doctor’. […] Troughton built on the foundations laid by Hartnell, as did everyone who followed, but everything that the character is comes from the First Doctor. A friend of mine put it perfectly when he said, “We talk a lot about people defining the role. Hartnell defined it first.”
The screening of a new Steven Moffat show is an event like no other. Doctor Who and Sherlock both have this astonishing grip over the psyche of middle England, as seen by anyone who follows a lot of middle-class English people on twitter: these shows are completely prevalent, almost everybody seems to watch them, get really exciting about the fact they are coming up, etc. And then these people are usually almost universally disappointed. Because, of course – something that the sharper ones have worked out long ago – Steven Moffat’s shows are actually really shit and his worldview, utterly prevalent in all of them, is a really shitty one. And yet, there is still this deep drive in these people to discuss these shows; and they cannot abandon them, no matter how constantly disappointed with them they are. I want to work out why this is.
Interesting discussion. I especially like the assertion that Moffat is in fact an alien influence, and that the only way to get rid of him is through one of his own absurd plot twists. It’s like something out of The Mind Robber, except shit.
I was five when the show started. I don’t remember Doctor Who not being part of my life, and it became a part of growing up, along with The Beatles, National Health spectacles, and fog. And it runs deep. It’s in my DNA…
That is one sexy man. I hope Moffat is sincere in his desire for the show to “flip around a bit.”1 We’re pulling for you, Peter Capaldi. Whatever happens, it won’t be your fault.
Although even if he is, his competence is in question more than his intent. ↩
This was written by Josef Kenny. I just stole it and made minor alterations for clarity.
Doctor Who is a reflection of the culture in programme-making and showrunning that it originates from. It’s just that the current TV culture is not conducive to good Doctor Who. It can be done, but not with people like Moffat and the current BBC board of directors.
TV now is heavily invested in essentially just making a very long movie that never properly ends. It used to be more like an old-fashioned radio serial, but now it’s like a Hollywood movie. That’s just how TV is. Doctor Who isn’t emotionally-driven, so it suffers, because that’s all people know how to make, and even worse, it’s all people know how to market.
I like Doctor Who because it’s an enigmatic guy who nobody knows anything about, taking people from one time and place to another, and having to solve problems and deal with situations by casting them in either a historical light, or taking current ideas and extrapolating them either into the future or into an alien society different from ours. That’s why I like Doctor Who.
Sure, I like the TARDIS and I love seeing the proper TARDIS prop and howlarounds and Sid Sutton’s rainbow stars, but that’s not what defines Doctor Who, those things are just symbols of it. I like them because of what they suggest and what they represent.
Doctor Who isn’t a bunch of memes sandwiched together with contrived plots and unrealistic peril. It’s an educational TV show where you take people (frequently from Earth) to other places. It’s an adventure, not a drama.
Developing characters isn’t wrong. It’s not a problem. Most great TV shows and movies are based on it. But Doctor Who isn’t focused on that. The point of it is to expose ideas, not to develop characters over a lasting, overbearing arc.
The point of Doctor Who is that sometimes you get attacked by a giant shellfish.
The risk of this approach, though, is that the stories become skewed towards the smallest audience that any programme has: the obsessives. While any successful TV drama these days should generate fan fiction, it can not afford to become entirely fan fiction itself. Even shows as successful as Doctor Who and Sherlock should be aiming – especially given the accumulating publicity they receive – to introduce new viewers, and there were stretches of The Time of the Doctor and The Empty Hearse that must have been almost incomprehensible to new or casual consumers.
The guiltiest fans on the list? Moffat and Gatiss themselves.
Smith’s farewell turn is certainly the worst of the NuWho baton-passers. From the forced sub-Mork & Mindy shenanigans with cipher Clara’s cardboard family, to the eyeroll-inducing voiceovers, to the repetition of “Doctor who?,” to the Attack of the Killer Regeneration, it was pretty painful to watch. As Moffat checked off the boxes, explaining the lingering mysteries of Smith’s run (about the connection between the Silence and the exploding TARDIS, etc.), all I could think of was The Eight Deadly Words that doom all forms of storytelling: I don’t care what happens to these people.
But you know what? Matt Smith, man. In the middle of this train wreck, he does a bit with a severed Cyberman head that actually finds a heartstring. When Handles finally craps out and “dies,” Smith, in his late-middle-age makeup, calls his name a couple of times and stares at the thing. The look on his face evokes memories not just of the similarly robotic K-9, but also of all the other companions long gone. Another one, his face says. I’ve lost another one.
Fantastic article. Matt Smith was an absolute tragic waste of a Doctor, from one that started with so much potential. I think my favorite line in the article is “But you know what? Matt Smith, man.” Because I said that practically every day of my life.1
Soon I’ll be saying “But you know what? Peter Capaldi, man” with the same wistful sadness. ↩