Play On – A musical odyssey through Doctor Who songs

Image Credit: Adapted from AlfvanBeem (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Image Description: Sam was more impressed than he thought of the work of the Ford Timelord

By Sam Flower

Having thought I’d escaped from ‘Doctor in Distress’, it seems the same malevolent cosmic entity that caused me to say ‘yes’ the first time has possessed me once again, as I once more agreed to face the music, and delve into “the void beyond the mind”. Speaking of which…

‘Who is the Doctor’ by Jon Pertwee (1972)

We begin with the then Doctor, Jon Pertwee, enigmatically reading out a bizarrely metaphysical monologue, in character, to a strange pop version of the main theme. Again, just as with ‘Doctor in Distress’, this is something I can’t imagine Jodie getting up to these days, although I could see that working with the current theme tune. The lyrics here are truly beguiling. “Void beyond the mind?” “Empty space that circles time?” “Eternal wisdom?” These are all just in the first verse alone! This song definitely presents the Doctor as far more than just a wandering traveller, portraying him as an almost mystical figure searching, and perhaps providing, some form of eternal truth, a “secret source of life”, a form of cosmic “light” against the darkness. Is Jon Pertwee the Timeless Child? I’m sure Thirteen’s final episode will explain.

The last verse really goes to town with this. First, we have fingers moving “to end mankind” while “metallic teeth begin their grind”, two more strange lines that sound incredibly ominous. We then get the big finish – no, not that one, Nicholas Briggs is nowhere in sight – as the Doctor uses the “sword of truth” to fight “satanic powers”, a scene I don’t remember from The Dæmons. If that wasn’t crazy enough, we’re then asked, “Is your faith before your mind?”, before telling us to “know me”. There’s some serious biblical imagery being used here, the kind we wouldn’t see until The Last of the Time Lords, and the last few lines really wouldn’t seem out of place in the Gospels. The song ends with Pertwee asking us “Am I the Doctor?”. This track seems to suggest the answer is far from a simple yes.

‘I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek’ by The Go Go’s (1964)

From the comparatively sublime, we move to the ridiculous. No, actually, while ‘Doctor in Distress’ was ridiculous, ‘I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek’ is just insufferable. Truly awful. No Dalek should be heard saying ‘sugar spice’, ‘mistletoe’ or worst of all ‘I love you’. This was clearly written by someone who had seen that Dalekmania was very profitable, and decided to make a quick buck. But I have to ask, why a Christmas song? Surely, the Dalek is the complete opposite of Christmas, even if it barely even sounds like a Dalek! At certain points in the obnoxious chorus, the tortured being sounds like it’s struggling to say ‘Merry Christmas’. Perhaps the poor soul forced to recite such garbage was vaguely aware that a Dalek is in fact a heartless death machine, not a cute metal pet, and hence struggled to bring himself to utter such words in a Dalek voice. The only good thing I can say about this song is that it manages to fit the word ‘Chromium’ into a song, which is worth something. 

Apologies, I know this is firmly tongue in cheek, but at least ‘Doctor in Distress’ is humorously bad while ‘Who is the Doctor’ is intriguingly weird. This is just cash-in trash. It may possibly be attempting to be a parody, but even so, it is painful to listen to. There’s definitely a reason why Jodie hasn’t done anything like this.

‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’ by The Timelords (1988)

After such suffering, I fled swiftly to this, a song that did what no other in this article has done – charted well. Not only well, it made it to number one in the UK, and strangely, also New Zealand. Surely, this has got to be decent?

If nothing else, it’s a lot better than the previous abomination. It’s basically a combination of a percussion-heavy version of the show’s main theme along with periods of chanting “Dr Whoooo”. To be entirely honest, I think it’s solid. The chanting does feel a bit odd at first, but it becomes quite catchy. The siren noise near the start and end is a bit annoying, but there is some genuinely decent Dalek dialogue, proclaiming that they “obey no-one” and “are the superior beings”, a far cry from “more black pudding please”, or whatever nonsense was forced down my ears earlier – I’m not relistening to it to check! I find it interesting that three of the songs I’ve listened to have Dalek speech in them,albeit briefly in ‘Doctor in Distress’. Dalek speech is designed to be harsh and grating, so its use in music seems destined to be irritating. However, multiple songwriters over the decades must have decided that the Daleks are such an integral part of the show’s identity that the inclusion of their voices is necessary to ensure the tracks are suitably Doctor Who-ish. The Timelords, though, have definitely made the most effective use of them.

If you were expecting more top shelf musical commentary, unfortunately, there really isn’t much else to talk about regarding the song itself. It just repeats the same few elements for three and a half minutes, resulting in the song somewhat overstaying its welcome, so a few more musical ideas to keep the song going in the back half would definitely have elevated it. Perhaps the strangest thing about this otherwise straightforward track is the music video. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, we have a police car, referred to as a Ford Timelord on the song’s record sleeve, driving past various historic sites in Wiltshire and a number of Daleks. And what Daleks they are. While their voices may have come off well, their bodies made from boxes, and their tiny little appendages, aren’t quite as good; clearly being thrown together with the most miniscule of budgets. Towards the end, you can even clearly see the feet of the operator propelling the poor thing along on its little wheels, shortly before its comrade is mowed down by the aforementioned Ford Timelord! Most peculiar.

The Rankings of Rassilon

Now that I’ve listened to all these ‘wonderful’ tracks, I thought I might as well rank them. Here we go:

  1. ‘I’m Gonna spend My Christmas With A Dalek’ (1964)
    Insufferable garbage written by people who clearly don’t know what a Dalek is.
  2. ‘Doctor in Distress’ (1985)
    Entertaining garbage written by people who clearly do know what a Dalek is, but, alack, not what a good song is.
  3. ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’ (1988)
    You know things are weird when this is the least bizarre track on this list. Sounds pretty decent.
  4. ‘Who is the Doctor’ (1972)
    Utterly bizarre, but that’s what gives it its appeal. Genuinely interesting lyrics accompanied by a decent variation on the theme. You could probably write a long and thoughtful article analysing what it has to say, as well as the various spiritual and biblical connections and connotations within it. Oh no, I’m giving James ideas again… (Too late! – Ed.)

Tides 48 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

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