Doctor Who fans had to wait a full hour into Jodie Whittaker’s debut to hear a version of the new theme tune, and a week longer to see their first title sequence of series 11.
Leaving the opening credits off the first episode was a good decision by showrunner Chris Chibnall, allowing us to meet the new Doctor through the unfolding story rather than with a bombastic opening (although that crash landing through the roof of a train was pretty loud).
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So episode two is the first chance we’ve really had to experience the combination of theme tune and opening credits and see what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same.
Doctor Who composer Segun Akinola has made no secret of the fact that he used elements of Delia Derbyshire’s original 1963 BBC Radiophonic Workshop recording of the theme in his new version and the main tune sounds very much as it did 55 years ago, a brilliantly eerie Theremin-like sound that transforms into a subtly warped chime. It also ends with that famous spiralling white noise fade-out. Classic Who fans and lovers of the original theme like me will be very happy with all of this.
The tight thrumming bass of the original is replaced by a much deeper menacing synth (which, incidentally, Goldfrapp fans may notice drops in like a riff from their 2003 track Strict Machine). It’s a cool sound but because it’s pitched so low it doesn’t drive things along like it should – which I suppose is what the war-like drums are there to do instead.
— Doctor Who (@bbcdoctorwho) October 14, 2018
Personally I could do without the drums in Doctor Who themes – they bring what should be an entirely spacey tune back down to earth – but ever since we learnt about the Doctor’s fellow Time Lord the Master staring into the Time Vortex and being driven mad by the pounding in his head, I guess there has been a place for the drums. Either way, when Doctor Who returned in 2005 the decision was made that modern sensibilities couldn’t handle something as stripped down as the original and the percussion has been there in some form ever since.
At least Akinola leaves out the strings of previous New Who, which added an unnecessary extra tune into the mix, creating something far too busy, and too earthbound.
All in all, the new theme is a relatively pleasing mix of classic and new Who, dark and fantastical as it should be and not too over the top, even if it does lack the wiry punch of the very earliest versions.
The opening credits themselves are similarly uncomplicated and also hark back conceptually to the original – colour rather than black and white of course but essentially still a perpetually unfolding kaleidoscope, like a modern-day version of the 1963 sequence.
They’re suitably abstract and don’t feature anything so gauche as an actual Tardis flying through the time stream.
There’s no sign of the Doctor herself either – the Time Lord’s face has been appearing, on and off, in the title sequence since the era of the Third Doctor but Jodie Whittaker’s is nowhere to be seen and even though I have a soft spot for the Doctor’s face resolving itself out of the chaos (at least partly because I grew up with it), I suppose if I’m advocating a back to basics approach I can’t argue with that decision.
There’s certainly one thing missing from the start of episode two, though.
After a week without opening credits, we get something almost as rare in modern Doctor Who – the episode launches straight into them. There’s no ‘cold opening’ pre-credits scene, which would traditionally set up a bit of drama or mystery, and that means no sign of the unmistakable Doctor Who ‘sting’ – that electronic sound that usually leads into the theme tune.
I was initially worried that the sting had been done away with (which would have been a massive mistake since it adds so much eerie menace to the start of an episode, and just says Doctor who so eloquently) but it does appear in all it’s glory at the beginning of the end credits so hopefully we’ll get a cold opening and that sound at the start of episode three.
With that in place, I think the combination of opening credits and theme tune will be as close to a modern-day equivalent of the original version as we’ve had since the show returned in 2005.
True, one or two things may have changed, but 55 years on, a new generation of young viewers will be sitting down each week to watch Doctor Who, to be thrilled, tantalised and terrified, just like they were in 1963 – and all before the episode even begins.
This article was originally published on the 12th October
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