❉ Doctor Who‘s more unconventional musical stylings.
The various eras of Doctor Who are defined by the in-house style of their incidental music, from Dudley Simpson’s chamber orchestra arrangements in the ’70s through to Murray Gold’s cinematic pretensions, via the series’ brief flirtation with symphonic rastabilly dub when a peyote session with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Sun Ra and Mark Ayres got out of hand.
So far, so normal, but every now and again, an incidental score would arise that was so unlike anything you’d previously heard on the series, it would remain lodged in your listening gear, for better or worse.
So here’s We Are Cult‘s salute to some of the show’s more unconventional musical stylings…
The Sea Devils (1972)
A relentless barrage of white noise that was the result of a life or death struggle between sonic terrorist Malcolm Clarke and the Radiophonic Workshop’s massive EMS Synthi 100, otherwise known as the ‘Delaware’. Anticipates, at various points, Throbbing Gristle, Metal Machine Music, Frank Zappa’s Jazz From Hell and – in its calmer moments – Eno & Fripp’s No Pussyfooting. A BDSM specialist’s shag tape.
The Leisure Hive (1980)
Analogue synth porn! Peter Howell brings Doctor Who screaming into the dayglo 1980s, as part of JNT’s über-stylised approach for season 18, by plastering season opener The Leisure Hive wall-to-wall with an electronica soundtrack that’s equal parts Jean Michel Jarre, early Human League and Wendy Carlos. 1981 in a bottle.
Not so much a score, more a collection of atmospherics, culled from stock music cues by Radiophonics pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson – throbbing, pulsating and humming whorls of ambient electronic sound that complement the industrial setting of the story and its apocalyptic visions of a nightmare parallel Earth.
Some of the same music cues turn up in episodes of ITV weird-fests The Tomorrow People (released on CD by Trunk Records) and Timeslip.
Dominic Glynn’s atmospheric score for classic series farewell story Survival features swathes of ambient rock guitar and dreamy new-age synth, reminiscent of BBC drama scores of a similar vintage such as Edge Of Darkness (1985), The Life & Loves Of A She-Devil (1986) and Northanger Abbey (1987), and which complements the story’s dreamlike, sensual feel (i.e. the bits not featuring Hale & Pace).
Full Circle (1981)
Melodic electronica from the funky fingertips of Paddy Kingsland, at times so reminiscent of his score for The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy that when the Deciders introduce themselves in episode three, one half-expects Vroomfondel and Majikthise to pop their heads up. Bonus points for K9’s jazz bass riff, which sounds like a Ronnie Hazelhurst fill on Valium.
Doctor Who And The Silurians (1970)
Carey Blyton (yes, he is a relation to Enid) decided a distinctly “organic” sounding instrument would best complement the prehistoric origins of the Silurians, and made prominent use of the crumhorn, an umbrella-shaped medieval reed instrument of limited range that here sounds uncannily like Pigbin Josh busking on a kazoo.
Death To The Daleks (1974)
Carey Blyton’s eccentric score for late-era Pertwee Parrinium-fingering yarn Death To the Daleks – widely maligned for the Daleks’ less than menacing comedy jingle – is suitably effective for the celestial sounds that accompany the reveal of the Exxilon City, the discordant, wheezing, droning Temple music and the dog-Latin wassailing during the sacrifice ceremony. Most sinister use of horns in pop culture prior to Kenny G.
The Mutants (1972)
Unloved, Pertwee-era, Earth Empire yawn-fest The Mutants has one thing to recommend it, and that’s a weird, atonal and appropriately otherworldly score by Tristram Cary. Not one for your new beaux’s mix CD (unless they really, really like Aphex Twin) but greatly enhances the scenes on the scorched wastelands of Solos.
The Web Planet (1965)
The production team opted for something suitably avant garde for this ambitious stab at an all-alien story by raiding the back catalogue of obscure oddball French duo Les Structures Sonores – which literally translates as “sound sculptures”, yer actual musique concrete, realised on metal and glass – also pressed into service for Galaxy Four.
Malcolm Clarke gets all A Clockwork Orange on yo’ass, with metallic clangs, prostate-rattling bass reverb, sinister icy chimes, trebley whines and squalling, sibilant squelches. It’s the perfect accompaniment for one of the most kick-ass Doctor Who stories.
Remembrance Of The Daleks (1988)
Picking the best Keff McCulloch score is akin to choosing your favourite venereal disease, and indeed common sense dictates that a story set in 1963 isn’t the best bedfellow for the sort of compressed, tinny synth stabs favoured by the Pet Shop Boys and Eurythmics at the time, but for me it’s as integral to the prodcution as Pamela Salem’s massive bouffant.
The Daleks (1963/4)
The aural legacy of the story that changed Doctor Who’s fortunes overnight are the Radiophonic sounds Thal Wind (who knew the fey Aryans were martyrs to indigestion?) and Dalek Control Room, two FX cues which have had more comebacks than Lulu. The latter’s distinctive heartbeat sound is still employed in Dalek serials to this day, causing much fanboy pants-soiling when heard as Rose woke up on the Daleks’ mothership in The Parting Of The Ways.
❉ James Gent has contributed to several acclaimed publications devoted to cult and popular television including 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die, You & Who: Contact Has Been Made and Blake’s Heaven: Maximum Fan Power. In 2014, he wrote the biography for the official Monty Python website. James is Editor-in-Chief of We Are Cult and digital marketing officer for Torch Theatre.