One thing that has always enchanted me about the Tenth Doctor is how the showrunners incorporated the theme of music throughout his run. I’m not sure how obvious it is, but music has been a big part of how he was presented all the way through. Let’s take a look at how they used music to further tell his story. (Here are lyrics to all the songs mentioned, if you’d like to check them out.)
- It starts during his very first full episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” when “Song for Ten,” sung by Tim Phillips, is played during his outfit selection scene and the Christmas dinner. The song clearly refers to the the beginning of his life and his love for Rose.
- Then, in “The Runaway Bride,” just after Rose is torn from him, the Doctor watches over Donna at her wedding reception while the DJ plays “Love Don’t Roam.” While the singer is singing about being a traveler and wanting to settle down with the woman he loves, the Doctor sees a blond woman dancing and thinks about Rose.
- In “Gridlock,” the drivers sing, “Abide with Me.” While this is a Christian hymn, the lyrics are symbolic of the Doctor, too: “helper of the helpless,” “O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
- In “Daleks in Manhattan,” Talullah sings, “My Angel Put the Devil in Me.” It’s about the singer falling in love with the angel, and I believe it’s meant to refer to Martha, as the singer does not get the angel in the end. This song is also notable as the first time an original song was performed onscreen in Doctor Who.
- In “Human Nature,” the boys sing “To Be a Pilgrim.” Another Christian hymn, it serves a double purpose of referring to the battle the boys fight in later in the episode and foreshadowing the Doctor’s encounter with the Master at the end of the season.
- In “Voyage of the Damned,” the entertainer on the stage sings “The Stowaway,” another original song. The song is about a stowaway that the singer meets and dances with, but who is looking for his love and hopes to be with her on Christmas day. This is again about the Doctor, who is the stowaway in the episode, and it foreshadows the return of Rose at the end of the season.
- In “Planet of the Ood”, there’s the “Song of Captivity and Freedom,” sung by the Ood while they’re enslaved and then after they’re freed. In the song, the Ood refer to the Doctor as their salvation.
- Throughout series 4, the prophecy of the Doctor’s death is phrased very specifically: his “song” is ending. This Doctor’s life is music.
- Then, in The End of Time, there’s “Vale Decem,” which begins when Ood Sigma tells the Doctor that they will sing him to his sleep. The lyrics bid farewell to the Tenth Doctor, thanking him and telling him to lay down his burden, and that he’s not alone.
And then, of course, there’s “The Music of the Spheres,” the short video that was played during the Doctor Who Prom (the BBC National Orchestra concert) in 2008. While the 2010 and 2013 Doctor Who Proms both had short videos featuring the Eleventh Doctor, the plots of those videos were adventures. The Tenth Doctor’s video in 2008 had him talk to the audience about music, and he composes a piece which he has the orchestra perform on stage. (The quality of that piece, at least to human ears, is rather questionable.) So, the Tenth Doctor has some direct connection to music that most of the other incarnations don’t.
(As a side note, there’s only one indication that I can think of that the Tenth Doctor was skilled as playing music, and that’s from “The Girl in the Fireplace.” When he returns and subsequently meets adult Reinette for the first time, he plays a brief but pretty arpeggio on her harp. He must be a skilled harpist to do this, because an unskilled person would not be able to easily pick out the correct strings to strike and play them well. Of course, this could be a retained prior skill rather than a specific interest of the Tenth Doctor, as the Fifth Doctor had previously demonstrated his ability to play the harp in “The Five Doctors.”)
In the classic series, the music was kept carefully in the background (except for the Second Doctor’s recorder music), and during the Eleventh Doctor’s run, if there are any songs with lyrics, they are very few and far between. To be honest, I’ve been listening to the music for the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons for the past week and am still becoming familiar with it, but so far there are only two instances of music with lyrics in his run, “Abigail’s Song” from “A Christmas Carol” and “The Long Song” from “The Rings of Akhaten,” and neither song is about the Doctor. There is a minisode that shows that the Eleventh Doctor runs off at night to play euphonium in a band, but it’s the only direct mention of music that I can think of.
I’m very fond of symbolism, when it’s done well, and the inclusion of this musical theme to his life adds an interesting note to the Tenth Doctor’s run, making it very different from all of the others. It’s actually rather subtle, as you don’t really realize how much music appears in the episodes until you list it all out, and then it’s tied up at the end with the poetic references to the Doctor’s song.