To go just a little bit deeper down this rabbit hole, there are two main melody phrases in the theme (excluding the middle eight), and according to the original Derbyshire theme, the opening (first) melody phrase should be accompanied by all diddly-dums in the bassline (with the obvious exception of any dum-dum-diddies), while the answering (second) melody phrase should be accompanied by all dum-de-dums(again, excepting dum-dum-diddies). (The rules for the middle eight are a little more complicated.)
It was Peter Howell who established the proper way to make changes to this format, with one simple rule: anything that was a diddly-dum in the original Derbyshire theme must remain a diddly-dum, but anything that was a dum-de-dum may be changed to a diddly-dum. Think of it this way: you’re free to add notes to the theme, but you cannot remove notes that were already there. (The middle eight, however, as with the Derbyshire theme, is a bit of a free-for-all.)
Admittedly, none of this is particularly relevant to this theme, as Murray has never paid any attention to these rules. However, this latest theme’s bassline is an even bigger step backwards—Murray has now oversimplified his bassline to the point where it contains nothing but diddly-dums. Yes, that’s right. He has removed all variety from the bassline structure and replaced his entire bassline with nothing but diddly-dum after diddly-dum. Not even a dum-dum-diddy remains.
Murray has also removed the “second layer” of the bassline from this latest incarnation of the theme—the swoops that usually begin two semitones below each main pitch of the bassline and lead into it. He hasn’t always grasped this core part of the bassline, but all of his versions since 2007’s “Voyage of the Damned” theme have had it (despite inaccuracies). Until this one.
Another minor complaint regarding Murray’s bassline relates to an octave change he’s made. This is actually something he’s done before, back in the series 2-3 theme, but it’s reared its ugly head again here. When the bassline is supposed to go down from E to B, Murray now instead jumps up to the B an octave higher. This is a relatively minor annoyance, but it changes the whole feel of the bassline in a way that I don’t think works.
It sounds even stranger when the bassline is on B and then goes up to D for the dum-dum-diddy after the second melody phrase. But wait—not only does it sound strange, but Murray has decided that the dum-dum-diddy has outlived its usefulness anyway. So what does he do here to work around these problems? Simple! He completely excises the end of the second melody phrase and awkwardly cuts back to the first. Well, I guess that’s one way to solve that problem.
But if he had taken the time to look back over previous themes, he would have discovered that the ham-fisted approach he took here is not the only one available to him if he wanted to get back to the first melody phrase in a hurry. In fact, the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker version of the Derbyshire theme used from 1970 to 1979, and by extension Peter Howell’s 1980 version of the theme, already solved this problem in a much more elegant way. With the addition of just one bar, he could have taken advantage of the dum-dum-diddy that was already there and used that to jump back into the first melody phrase. (The Derbyshire and Howell themes use this dum-dum-diddy to lead into the titles section, but under the circumstances, it would have worked perfectly fine to lead back to the opening melody phrase here.) Ah well.
Two final notes, only peripherally related:
The episode’s closing fell back to the 2010 theme. Either Murray has not yet done a closing version, or they dubbed the wrong one by mistake. (Additionally, how screwed up is it that we live in a world where the closing theme is shorter than the opening theme?)
The new title sequence is fantastic. It’s perhaps a little too fast-paced and disjointed, but it is leaps and bounds beyond any previous new series title sequence. Watching a Doctor Who title sequence should make you feel like you’re tripping on acid. This is the only new series attempt that even begins to capture that feel. The only part that really lets it down is the stupid ending with the TARDIS flying into the screen and the doors opening onto the episode. Aside from that, though, the visual style of the show seems to be at an all-time high: the titles, the TARDIS, and the Doctor’s costume are all hugely improved. The quality of the writing, sadly, remains another matter.
My final verdict is this: Murray Gold does not and never will care about the musical intricacies that go into a Doctor Who theme. When Peter Howell had to make structural changes to the theme for the purposes of creating a new opening or closing version, he put intense thought into those changes, and confined himself to working within the structural framework laid out by the original theme. Murray Gold just wants to get in and get out. He doesn’t care if the cuts or edits he makes to the theme make musical sense or honor the structure of the themes that came before. He’s been given a 30-second title sequence for which to make a theme, and all he cares about is making something 30 seconds long that’s recognizable as the Doctor Who theme.
This is why I make Murray Gold-inspired Doctor Who themes from time to time. Some of his ideas are good. Some of his sounds are good. Sometimes the feel of his theme is good. But there’s more to the Doctor Who theme than just its feel. There’s a legacy of musical history here that deserves to be respected and protected. My goal is to show that one does not have to negate the other. Both can be achieved at the same time. This is why I sometimes work with Murray’s themes, this is why I incorporate Murray’s ideas into some of my remixes, and this is why I write these articles year after year. And unless Murray Gold suddenly decides to start caring, that’s what I’ll continue to do.