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.
Here’s 10 of the best…
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 Decem
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.