April 25, 2023
The Doctor's TARDIS adventures are made all the more fantastical with a suitable soundtrack...
Since Doctor Who first appeared on our screens - accompanied by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire's iconic theme tune - music has played a vital role in the show, intensifying fear and heightening emotional scenes.
Composer Murray Gold expanded the musical scope when the show returned in 2005, introducing character-specific themes, or leitmotifs. And starting with Series Two, he brought the soundtrack to life by using a full orchestra for the first time. In 2018, Segun Akinola took over as composer, bringing a more string-focussed, ambient approach to the show's incidental music.
Eighteen years of Doctor Who have given us some incredible pieces of incidental music. Whether you're a long-time fan or a curious newcomer, these pieces are sure to transport you to the furthest reaches of time and space.
Here’s what we can’t stop listening to...
The Doctor’s Theme
“There was this singing…”
– Rose Tyler
Featuring the ethereal voice of Melanie Pappenheim, 'The Doctor's Theme' has become an iconic representation of the Doctor in the New Series. First introduced during the Ninth Doctor's debut in the Series One opener, Rose, this haunting theme has followed each incarnation of the Doctor up until the Thirteenth.
While pieces such as 'The Doctor Forever' and 'I am the Doctor' often emphasise the Time Lord's more dramatic moments, 'The Doctor's Theme' is primarily reserved for scenes that explore the Doctor's dark and distant past. Having originally been intended for use as the Bad Wolf motif, it is perhaps most memorable in 'Vale Decem', where it accompanies the Tenth Doctor’s last moments before he regenerates into the Eleventh.
She’s the Doctor
The Power of the Doctor
“Oh, the blossomiest blossom. That's the only sad thing. I want to know what happens next.”
– The Thirteenth Doctor
'Thirteen', Segun Akinola's theme for the Thirteenth Doctor, features the captivating vocals of Holly Buhagiar and debuted in 2018 during the episode The Woman Who Fell to Earth. This haunting piece of music was later reprised to accompany this Doctor’s final moments in a brand-new arrangement titled 'She's the Doctor'. In a sense, it acts as a bookend to the Thirteenth Doctor's era.
When the newly regenerated Thirteenth Doctor first appears, she briefly uses 'The Doctor's Theme' as her leitmotif, linking her to her previous incarnations as she takes her first steps to establish herself. During her tenure she becomes the dynamic and optimistic Doctor we all came to love, with her actions underscored by her own iconic theme tune.
Although 'Thirteen" and 'The Doctor's Theme' are very different, they both feature female vocalists and completely embody this Doctor, at each end of her life. While it’s hard to listen to her final piece without getting emotional, we can’t help but be swept away by its melody.
The Shepherd’s Boy
“You must think that’s a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird.”
– The Twelfth Doctor
During the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, the Doctors make a pivotal decision to save Gallifrey rather than let it burn. The score, 'This Time There's Three of Us', subtly elevates this uplifting scene; gradually building as the Doctors unite in their plan. It's only fitting that when the Twelfth Doctor finally returns to Gallifrey, the same melody makes a reappearance, this time reimagined as 'The Shepherd's Boy'.
This piece embodies the Doctor's unrelenting spirit in the face of overwhelming odds – he will go to the ends of the universe, burning through millions of lives to break through a diamond wall and protect what is most precious. Without witnesses and without reward, he is kind to the very last.
Have a Blast of This
The Timeless Children
"I've fought the Matrix before, denied its reality, I can do it again.”
– The Thirteenth Doctor
It’s not often that the iconic Doctor Who theme is used within the show outside of the opening titles, which makes its use all the more effective here! As the Doctor fights the Matrix by overloading it with memories from her previous lives, we are treated to flashes of iconic scenes that span the show's entire history.
The version of the theme used here closely resembles Akinola's main title arrangement, with Delia Derbyshire's distinctive sounds taking centre stage to evoke a more classic feel.
“Last night I had a dream. I heard a voice and it was calling my name.”
– Rose Tyler
Who can forget the moment Rose Tyler’s grip on the Ghost Shift lever slipped and she tumbled into the parallel world, separated from the Doctor, forever? Doomsday is absolutely devastating, and the opening piano notes of the score will forever transport you back to that heart-wrenching scene.
The string instruments featured on this track almost sound angry, embodying Rose’s unstoppable determination to find the Doctor, while Melanie Pappenheim's vocals echo the melody that played when Rose took her first ever steps into the TARDIS in the New Series' debut episode.
The Long Song
The Rings of Akhaten
“I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time. No space. Just me.”
– The Eleventh Doctor
In-universe, 'The Long Song' had been going for millions of years, passed down from one chorister to another to keep the Old God asleep. It’s also one of the most recognisable pieces of music from the Eleventh Doctor’s era, underscoring his legendary speech as he overpowers the evil god using the power of his memories. (A recurring theme, it seems!)
Notably, it was featured in the 2013 Doctor Who Prom and performed by a choir of over 300 fans from around the world as part of the fan-driven project, Doctor Who: Lockdown! in 2020. The song came to embody the Eleventh Doctor, returning in his final moments to send him off in The Time of the Doctor.
This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home
“And on the Continent of Wild Endeavour, in the Mountains of Solace and Solitude, there stood the Citadel of the Time Lords.”
– The Tenth Doctor
First hinted at in Utopia, then heard in its full glory in The Sound of Drums, 'This is Gallifrey...' becomes a series mainstay, used to represent the Doctor’s home all the way up until The Doctor Falls in Series Ten. It is also used to illustrate the Doctor and the Master’s complex relationship, its sweeping sound harkening back to more innocent times. Put your headphones on and try not to imagine that burnt orange sky…
Doctor, The Doctor
“The name's Doctor. The Doctor. We're on the list.”
– The Thirteenth Doctor
For the TARDIS Team’s suited-and-booted entry to the evil Daniel Barton’s birthday party in Spyfall Part 1, the show demanded a piece that was suitably shaken, not stirred. 'Doctor, The Doctor' pays homage to John Barry’s classic James Bond score with a sweeping reprise of Akinola’s theme for the Fam, established in Series Eleven. It’s just proof Doctor Who’s soundtrack can do anything!
All the Strange Strange Creatures
The Runaway Bride
“I’ll do what I like!”
– Martha Jones
Suitably bombastic for the era of Doctor Who in which is appears, 'All the Strange Strange Creatures' was initially composed for the episode 42. However, the track proved so brilliant, it ended up being used right from Series Three’s offset and all the way until the Tenth Doctor’s swansong, as well as in the trailers from that era.
'All the Strange Strange Creatures' was Doctor Who’s action music, accompanying the most dramatic showdowns and nail-biting chases. By Series Five, it would end up being superseded by another track, although it does make a reappearance in The Time of the Doctor and Twice Upon a Time.
I am the Doctor
The Eleventh Hour
“Amy Pond, there's something you'd better understand about me, because it's important, and one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a madman with a box.”
– The Eleventh Doctor
You’d be hard pressed to find an episode of the Eleventh Doctor’s era that doesn’t feature this iconic tune. (Is there one? That’s a mission for you superfans!) While 'The Doctor’s Theme' sums up the legacy of the Doctors, 'I am the Doctor' is perhaps the Time Lord’s most prolific theme.
First heard in The Eleventh Hour and building upon a foundation that Murray Gold established in the 2009 specials, this exceptional theme perfectly encapsulates Matt Smith's portrayal of the Mad Man with a Box. It’s as dramatic as 'All the Strange Strange Creatures' while also channelling the fairy tale wonder of that era. Listen out for its return in the Twelfth Doctor’s swansong, Twice Upon a Time!