Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Gallifreyan Staser Gun (3 Blasts)

If anyone ever did actually watch Doctor Who from behind the 'sofa', then it's a fair bet that the second track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes would have similarly sent them diving for upholstered cover. For as the upbeat tones of the Play Away cast getting down home and funky about opening umbrellas indoors fades out, in comes the all-too-familiar electronic sting that had followed countless instances of Tom Baker doing his 'alarmed' face while a booming voice announced that there was nothing he could do to stop their plans now.

Yes, the second track began with the original version of the Doctor Who theme music. Although not quite the original; over the course of the programme's ten year history, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop's original arrangement had been regularly electronically rejigged as an when successive production teams opted to wield the trusty 'new broom'. It had been bolstered by new-fangled electronic 'spangles' (as the fans insist on calling them, which is especially confusing when you're in the middle of an already all-over-the-place narrative that has already made several mentions of the over-mythologised boiled sweets of the same name) and indeed the aforementioned cliffhanger-enhancing sting, it had been remixed into stereo (and, surprisingly for its vintage, real proper bona fide stereo too), and the full-length Tardis take-off effect had been pasted in halfway through. And even that's just the obvious rememberable-off-the-top-of-your-head stuff. Suffice it to say that although the same basic original recording was still there somewhere underneath it all, in many ways it was actually a different version to the simpler, sparser one that had heralded the show's black and white era. Oh yes, Patrick Troughton had to go "oh my gobby gobstoppers!" while a hissing voice announced that there was nothing he could do to stop their plans now without the aid of a fancy electronic sting, you know.

Handily, that subtle but crucial difference marked it out as hailing from the era that you're doubtless tired of hearing about Music From BBC Children's Programmes hopefully invoking (though that will become more relevant later on, honest). By the early eighties, one of said 'new brooms' had ditched the original theme altogether in favour of a new recording; something that happened twice more before the 'classic' series ended and indeed before I managed to get hold of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, with yet another reworking not too far in the distance (though where was that sixty-piece orchestra?). As a result, this slightly older arrangement positively reeked of slit-scan title sequences, seemingly endless multicoloured scarves, dodgy CSO sequences, Target Books, The Giant Robot, and hazy ancestral memories of Jon Pertwee and The Brigadier. This was, doubtless to the relief of anyone who had sat through The Trial Of A Time Lord, the sound of Doctor Who How It Used To Be.

And yet, for all that certain 'fans' might have liked to grumble about how it was better in their day when it was all photographic blow-ups of fields around here and you could get to the Blackpool Exhibition and back and still have change from half a shilling, there was a sense in which Doctor Who How It Used To Be had never really gone away. Yes, alright, so there were about three old stories out on video and you needed to take out a second mortgage to buy any of them, but outside of that there was a whole industry founded on exploiting Doctor Who's archival adventures, from books and magazines to scale model Ice Warriors and the iconically ridiculous Build The Tardis ("Your own time machine... without scissors or glue!"), and if you threw a Dapol Tetrap hard enough chances are it would hit an album that had this theme arrangement somewhere on it. Though not the original original, which got a single release back in 1964 but had since all but vanished... but that's another story.

And that's why, as fantastic a piece of music as it might be, and Music From BBC Children's Programmes wouldn't live up to its title without it, the original-but-not-the-original version of the Doctor Who theme is something of an interruption to proceedings. There's plenty that it does evoke, yes, but rather fittingly that's all for another time and another place. Of course, this isn't quite the whole story as it segues into its more nostalgia-nirvana satisfying companion piece The World Of Doctor Who, though that and indeed its place in the quest for the pop-cultural Key To Time of Music From BBC Children's Programmes has already been covered a couple of chapters back. Instead, it's time to move on to another long-running show that has enjoyed something of a close relationship with Doctor Who...

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