Thank Who For The Music: Doctor Who's top ten Murray Gold themes

Looking forward to the Doctor Who proms? From the tragic Doomsday to the rousing I Am The Doctor, Stephen Kelly chooses the ten best Murray Gold themes

Thank Who For The Music: Doctor Who's top ten Murray Gold themes
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In television, music generally ends up being nothing more than background noise; a necessity nonetheless neglected for more pressing concerns such as nailing a script, directing the actors and remembering to turn the camera on.

But that’s 'generally'. For every now and then there's a show where the music is so much more; managing to burst forth from the background so as to gloss even the most mundane of scenes with emotion, depth and atmosphere – and making better ones soar beyond mere performance. Under the conduction of composer Murray Gold, Doctor Who has most definitely become one of those shows. 

Ever since Doctor Who's revival in 2005, Murray Gold's incidental music has become as as iconic the theme tune (originally composed by Ron Grainer) he re-arranged. It takes sadness and provokes tears. It takes danger and quickens the pulse. It takes adventures through time and space with a mad man in a box and – somehow – makes it all seem even more weird and wonderful than it already is.

It's no wonder that the man has had two proms devoted to his work already and, this weekend, will have another. Here, in anticipation, we count down the top ten.

10. The Dalek Theme

Well, it was hardly going to be a jaunty jazz number, was it? No, the Dalek's musical backing is a fiercely foreboding, militant theme, fused with detached electronic bass, and ascending, unforgiving operatic chants. Who knew the Daleks were quite so cultured?  Nonetheless, much like the little cratered cretins themselves, the piece embodies everything a Dalek is; magnificent, callous, and bloody terrifying.

9. This Is Gallifrey

This is Gallifrey began cropping up at the end of Series three, stressing both the urgency and sadness that culminated with the return of the Master. The song certainly adds meat to the moment Professor Yana opens the stopwatch and remembers his true identity, as well as the looming danger of the shadows of The Doctor’s Gallifreyan past coming back to haunt him. You may recognize a reworking of this song in the most recent episode of The Name of the Doctor, as The Doctor revisits his past again, treading the graves of Trenzalor.

8. The Doctor's Theme

The Doctor’s Theme is one of Murray Gold’s earliest pieces; living and breathing mostly in the ninth and tenth incarnations of The Doctor. It’s curiously serene and melodic resonance highlighted instantly Russell T. Davies’ compassion towards the Doctor’s hidden demons, adding new depth to his character. RTD also has cited on a few DVD commentaries that the female vocals on the track were intended as a Classic Who reference to Flavia, the president of the high council of the Time Lords, singing to the Doctor through the time vortex. Show off.

7. The Majestic Tale (Of A Mad Man In A Box)

Employing the same motifs, The Majestic Tale is very much the feistier sister of I am the Doctor, highlighting the inner rage of the man with two hearts. In keeping with investing in the Doctor’s more human side, the piece was arranged with acoustic guitars in its initial beginnings, and steps out as a burly, courageous anthem. Much like the TARDIS, it’s bigger on the inside.

6. Vale


Vale Decem, which means “Goodbye Ten”, was played in the final stages of David Tennant’s reign as the Doctor, waving goodbye (although it was more standing in the background, gazing ominously) to his old assistants, and a sentimental send-off to Russell T. Davies as show-runner. With it’s soaring cadences, Vale Decem was the perfect end-montage swan song, helping tug extra heartstrings as the Doctor asked the great granddaughter of Joan Redfern if ‘she was happy’, and building perfectly up until Tennant’s lip wobbled: “I don’t want to go.” Devestating stuff. 

5. Amy’s Theme

Embedded with a strange sense of mystery and sadness, it’s hard to think of anything else that could have captured the poignancy of The Girl Who Waited. Debuting in Amy Pond's second episode The Beast Below, it was – in a way – a development from Amy In The TARDIS and Can I Come With You? from The Eleventh Hour. It then, like Rose’s Theme in 2005, continued to evolve with the ethereal vocals rising higher and higher as the Pond's tragedy intensified.

4. All The Strange Creatures

All The Strange Creatures was composed specially for the Series three trailer, so needed to pack the highs, lows, and perpetual gravitas that ruminated throughout the series. However, the track also crops up in numerous episodes, most specifically when David Tennant's Doctor notices the words 'Bad Wolf' scribbled everywhere. The  theme is very much the Megazord of all that makes Who exciting, dark and scary, complete with a full orchestral semblance that boasts cascading waterfalls of string instruments, a pulsating and burning brass motif, and a crescendo that hits you square between the eyes. 

3. I Am The Doctor 

Speaking to Radio 4’s Front Row recently, Murray Gold talked about how he views his music. “For better or for worse," he said, "I like to have a certain type of melody; a sort of slow, developing melody with a sense of triumph about it. You know, the idea of embattled people… in the Doctor’s case: not that he’s embattled… but he is a bit of a nerd; a bit like The Smiths with anthems for the defeated.”

No score sums this up better than I Am The Doctor: a theme that has become synonymous with Matt Smith’s Mad Man In A Box. It’s rousing, it’s dangerous but it’s also triumphant. “I am the Doctor,” it shouts, “so: run.”

This version, which includes the amazing Words Win Wars speech from the end of The Pandorica Opens, is especially grandiose. After listening to this, you’ll feel like taking on the whole Dalek empire yourself.

2. Doomsday

Just one look at the myriad Youtube videos of merciless re-edits of David Tennant and Billie Piper’s Badwolf Bay goodbye scene goes to show just how important the episode Doomsday became in Who fan culture. The theme song that accompanies it packs just as much emotional punch. When it came to the final episode of series two, here was a song that needed to encompass the heart, mystery, tragedy and fiery determination of the moment where Rose was ripped apart, once and for all, from the Doctor; sobbing aside the same wall that the devastated Time Lord stands by in a parallel universe. Doomsday initially is a reworking of the subtle tranquility of The Doctor’s Theme, before frustrating, thudding drums launch over the tantalizing female intones, followed by tragic strings, and a dramatic bass line. Well, when the hot blonde love of your life has been sealed off in another dimension, you’re hardly gonna stick on The Thong Song, are you?

1. The Doctor Who Theme

Well, what else was it going to be? The Doctor Who theme music is not only an iconic part of British culture, but one of the most innovative pieces of electronic music ever produced. Originally composed in 1963 by Ron Grainer, it was then cut up and re-worked by Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop using complex, fiddly techniques – with each note cut, spliced, sped up and slowed down – to create an electronic sound pre-dating commercial synthesizers.

The result not only made Grainer remark “did I write that?” but proved so haunting and alien – especially when coupled with the ‘60’s trippy credit sequence - that one mum wrote into Radio Times to complain about how much it terrified her child.

Murray Gold’s 2005 version may not be as scary as the original, but asserts itself just as well. For around the bones of the original’s melody is not flesh of lingering eeriness, but of danger, excitement and adventure. The new, added elements of rising and falling strings were nicknamed, fittingly, by fans as "The Chase.”

Throughout New Who, the theme tune would be re-worked several times but most notably in Matt Smith’s fifth series: an attempt to stamp a new identity on the show. Moffat, according to Gold, wanted it sound as “reckless” as the TARDIS that hurtles through the vortex. The latest incarnation, a grander, more nostalgically electronic piece, premiered in the Christmas special The Snowmen. Just like the Time Lord himself, it is surely to regenerate once again. For now, however, there’s simply nothing better.