The music of the Doctor

Doctor-Who-Music-of-the-SpheresOne 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.


Music, seasons 1-4

One of the things I truly enjoy about Doctor Who is its background music. I love orchestral music, and composer Murray Gold writes and arranges music that goes so wonderfully with the action on the screen. I’ve purchased the soundtracks for seasons 1-4 and the season 4 specials (maybe in February I’ll purchase the soundtracks for the rest of the seasons) and I selected a bunch of them for the playlist that I listen to at work – instrumental music is awesome for concentrating. I’ve selected my favorites below, listed in no particular order. The links take you to YouTube videos of the songs, and the tooltip on the link tells you what series the video comes from.

As a note, you can buy almost all of these songs on individually, if you don’t feel like buying the entire CDs.

Doctor Who Theme

What fan doesn’t like the theme song? This is the only song on this list that wasn’t composed by Murray Gold. It was written by Ron Grainer, then realized by Delia Derbyshire using entirely electronic means, rather than conventional instruments, and because of this, was very striking – it was the first TV theme that was completely electronic. For the new series, Gold arranged it for orchestra, though the main melody remained electronic. The show has featured different arrangements over the years, and my favorite is the one used in series 2 and 3. (I’m not sure, but I think series 1 had a different arrangement. I could easily be wrong.)

I am the Doctor

If you’ve watched series 5-7, you know this song: it’s the one used for most of the action scenes in which the Doctor is, well, doing anything. In my opinion, it is very much overused, and I’m hoping that a new action theme is introduced with the Twelfth Doctor. However, I still love this piece. It was introduced in series 4, and to me, it means the Doctor is about to save the day. It’s very heroic, and also a bit alien, as the main part of it is composed in 7/4, throwing you slightly off the beat you’re expecting.

The Doctor’s Theme

The Doctor’s Theme was introduced in series 1 and was used through series 4; I’m not sure it was used at all for the Eleventh Doctor. It evokes the mystery and majesty of the Doctor, which to me doesn’t really apply to Eleven, but is definitely perfect for Nine and Ten.

The Doctor Forever

This song starts with a slow, sad, beautiful vocal section. Then, halfway through, it switches to fast and heroic. In fact, the second section was used for the Doctor’s action scenes before I am the Doctor took that over (one scene it was used in was in “Gridlock,” when the Doctor started jumping down from car to car to get to the fast lane).

The Dream of a Normal Death

One of my absolutely favorite songs on this list, this was the music that played over the scene in “The Family of Blood” when John Smith and Nurse Redfern saw the life they would have if John Smith could remain human. The music is both happy and sad at the same time.

This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home

This was the theme for Gallifrey during Ten’s tenure, played whenever he talked about his home. It was also used during “Utopia” whenever Professor Yana was affected by his returning memories. The main theme was rearranged for The Council of the Time Lords, to add the feeling of majesty and corruption that characterized the High Council on the last day of the Time War.

Turn Left

This piece in itself evokes the despair of the world without the Doctor in “Turn Left,” and includes a sad, mournful, ghostly version of “The Doctor’s Theme” near the end.

Just Scarecrows to War

This is the drum-and-fife music that plays when the scarecrow army starts to move in “The Family of Blood.” It’s just so pretty.

Song for Ten

“Song for Ten,” performed by Tim Phillips, is the music that plays while the Tenth Doctor is choosing his wardrobe and the Tylers are having Christmas dinner in “The Christmas Invasion.” It’s one of my favorite songs, but my husband hates it, so I have to sing it on the sly. The version that you can buy on is a different version than the one in the show. It is sung by Neil Hannon and includes extra verses, and in my opinion, is vastly inferior – while Mr. Hannon has a great singing voice, it doesn’t “fit” the Tenth Doctor. As far as I can tell, the Tim Phillips version has never been released commercially, but you can find copies of it on the internet. The link above is to the Tim Phillips version on YouTube.

Vale Decem

This song is not in my playlist, because it makes me tear up when I hear it. The title means “Farewell, Ten” and it’s the music that plays during the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration. It’s a gorgeous song, but I just can’t listen to it casually.

The Dark and Endless Dalek Night

I’m not quite sure when this song is played in the show, but I assume it’s during “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End.”

Evolution of the Daleks

I prefer this Dalek theme, but the previous one is also good. This is from the episode of the same name, and I love the choral chanting in this piece.

The Master Vainglorious

This is a very schizophrenic piece of music, which fits the Master very well. It is also punctuated by the Master’s four-beat drumbeat, which can really make your heart skip.

All the Strange Strange Creatures

This is the music from the original trailer, but it’s used in the show sometimes.

Donna’s Theme

Donna’s Theme is very appropriate for her, being very spunky and jazzy. Love Donna!

The Runaway Bride

This is a longer piece from the episode of the same name, and includes the music that played during the taxi/TARDIS chase scene.


For some reason, though the Slitheen were pretty silly rubbery monsters, they got a great theme song with some awesome lower brass and timpani riffs.

A Noble Girl About Town

Another song that really captures Donna’s essence, this is the music that plays when Donna is investigating Adipose Industries in “Partners in Crime.”

A Victorian Christmas

I’ve always loved this song, the first one that plays in “The Next Doctor.” It has a very authentic Victorian feel. Unfortunately, since the episode moves directly from the Doctor delighting in the Christmas atmosphere to  running to respond to Rosita’s cries for the Doctor, the song transitions very abruptly into chase music with more of a 1930s feel, which kind of ruins the ending.

Martha Triumphant

This is a beautiful version of Martha’s theme. I’m not sure if it’s played at the end of “The Last of the Time Lords,” when Martha defeats the Master, but I know it’s played at the very end, when Martha decides to take control of her life and leaves the Doctor.