Who…?

https://i2.wp.com/i3.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article2074079.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/Daleks-who-will-return-for-Doctor-Whos-50th-anniversary-special.jpgIt’s not all that surprising, now that I think about it; but David Traynier’s splendid ‘Guest Posting’ about Delia Derbyshire and her work on the original Doctor Who theme music seems set to become another of this blog’s big successes. Just to give you an idea: immediately after uploading it, I wandered across the kitchen to make a cup of coffee — and when I sat down again, a couple of minutes later, I saw from the online stats that, already, 54 people had seen it…

Congratulation and self-congratulation aside, though, there are several reasons why I return to the topic here. Let me just ramble through them in no particular order on this bright and pleasant Saturday.

And one of these reasons is that I’m eager to tell everyone another old story from my early childhood…

On an equally nice Saturday afternoon, round about 1968, my parents had left me at my grandparents’ house — and I was determined not to miss Doctor Who, which was due to start at about 5.15pm. Would the grandparents be on-side when the time came to decide what channel to watch after the football results and the wrestling…? I needed to know — and soon

“Do you like Doctor Who, grandma…?”, I asked, exploratively.

“Hmmm, no…”, said my tiny grandma, with a thoughtful air. “It’s just … people walking round all funny … and the next minute, they’ve gone…”

Which, as far as I can see, is just about the best description that the programme can ever have had in its entire history: dear little Annie Coles didn’t even make it to 1970, but she still had the thing pegged…

As for me, I have to confess that my interest in this TV series waned as I got older: though I have many vivid memories of moments that I can only ever have seen the once, the time eventually came when my only reason for not switching over or leaving the room was Louise Jameson (… and then Mary Tamm … and then Nicola Bryant… Oh, Nicola! Why? Why? Why…?).

And, as a result, most of the versions — should I call them ‘regenerations’…? — that the famous theme music went through, down the years, simply passed me by. In fact, the only ‘later’ version of the music I actually remember encountering was this one … yes, on that old Geoff Love cassette that — as I never stop saying on here! — was one of the major sources of my early musical education…

(In sharing this, I’ve chosen a YouTube video made by someone who has added ‘authentic’ graphics to Geoff Love’s recording… It makes for an, uh, interesting experience. And remember: without Delia Derbyshire, this could easily have been the kind of thing we all grew up seeing and hearing…)

Well, time passed — for us, remember, it goes in one direction only! — and after, I believe, 26 seasons of creaky plots and wobbly scenery, Doctor Who was axed in 1989. Somewhere or other I heard that there was a TV film made in the mid-1990s; what that was all about I neither know nor care.

But then came 2005 — and the BBC’s highly successful re-launch of Doctor Who as a Saturday-evening series after no fewer than 16 years away. Believe it or not, I actually watched all or most of that first re-launched series (and some of the next series as well), and had to admit that I was pretty impressed by the liveliness of the scripts and the quality of the computer-generated effects.

But not by the theme music. For what I heard opening and closing the episodes in this relaunched version was … this

You know, back when I was studying physics and chemistry, I had to learn all about the laws of thermodynamics — from which we discover that, as our universe ages, its total amount of entropy always increases. And what this points to is a universe in an eventual state of ‘heat death’ — in which all energy is spread out so evenly and thinly that nothing interesting can happen anymore.

Well, now that I do music instead — having left laboratory science behind so completely that I don’t even do it as a hobby — I’ve noticed something remarkably similar, which I have called beat death. What I mean is that, as our living musical culture winds down into a state of triumphant stupidity and empty hypnosis, what always increases is the amount of (i) repetition, and (ii) thudding. At the end of this process, ‘music’ will have successfully regressed all the way back to a deafeningly amplified re-creation of the maternal heartbeat, and that’s where it will stay — with no possibility of anything interesting happening anymore.

If you want to hear that 2005 Doctor Who theme one more time to focus more carefully on the kind of regressive development I’m talking about, then I’ll wait while you do. But if you’re going to listen out for the added thudding as well as the added repetition, do make sure that you pay attention to the specific kinds of thudding that are now present. Because, yes, that’s a side drum; and what I want you to do is, in essence, to taste it before you swallow it…

Now, you tell me: having paid proper attention to what it was that you were being fed in that item, do you not now consider that the addition of a side drum constitutes — texturally, gesturally, associatively; however you want to analyse it — yet another demonstration of the creeping militarisation of our culture…? (A process which, in very large measure, is actually driven and promoted by the BBC — whose principal function, after all, is to make elite priorities seem like everyday realities without any intervening need to make them appear ‘commercial’.)

Yes, I know that Doctor Who in its modern incarnation has a very heavily highlighted commitment to various kinds of ‘diversity’ that would seem to place it in opposition to Western society’s overall movement towards an elite-serving fascism — but, as I’ve said more than once on this blog, it’s important to distinguish between climate and weather … and as far as our global power system is concerned, the priorities of the elites and the psychology of the masses will, together, see to it that the future is fascist.

https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/story_large/public/thumbnails/image/2015/06/29/13/childrenarmy.pngNow ponder, if you will, that original realisation of the Doctor Who theme by Delia Derbyshire and her assistant Dick Mills. The swinging, flower-powered ’60s were barely upon them — the first show aired on 23 November 1963 (the day after the JFK assassination) — but already they were defining a sound-world that evoked and connoted strangeness, danger, fear, horror, adventure, exploration, science, advanced technology, things ‘futuristic’, and an utter remoteness from earthly normality … with absolutely no suggestion of brute, physical violence, regimentation, or percussiveness. Or, to put it another way, in only 42 years, the music-cultural ‘packaging’ of this little bit of TV sci-fi registered a change from a world of fictional discourse in which the preludial pounding of a military drum was inconceivable, to one in which it is indispensable.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CwSKntBWIAAx2b6.jpgPeople will, of course, claim that my point is exaggerated — they say it whatever I write! — but all I have to do in order to demonstrate this process of music-cultural ‘climate change’ is to present the YouTube video in which someone has collected together the entire succession of Doctor Who openings from 1963 to 2005 and even beyond…

As you watch and listen, remember that I am actually diagnosing several different regressions here. First, there is the overall ‘creep’ in the direction of increased repetition (on every level of structure: yes, even the sound effects); secondly, there is the need for increased smacking and thudding (measured within every relevant musical dimension; i.e. volume as well as timbre); thirdly, there is the shift towards overt and unashamed militarisation (again in every possible parameter: military percussion; marching tropes; ‘massed’ brass/wind-instrumental textures; and so on). Note also that two synthesiser-heavy versions are presented herein whose utter musical revoltingness is beyond the reach of mere words. The first of them appears with the date 1973 — the year when Delia Derbyshire left the BBC (and is it any wonder?); the second is from 1987 — and she is known (every bit as unsurprisingly) to have hated it…

Questions…?

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MD

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4 thoughts on “Who…?

  1. You’re onto something re: militarisation in Nu Who – we’ve gone from Jon Pertwee’s contemptuous “Do you know, Jo, I sometimes think that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms” in 1971 to this http://spolierssweetie.tumblr.com/post/68821134477/no-dont-salute and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ETlMIKS5uM in the modern series.

    BTW that awful 1973 synth version of the theme was an experiment that was never aired.

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  2. Two snippets, firstly I’ve been noticing the same thing when looking through all the music production apps on the istore – and the Soundcloud demonstrations of these by users. Everything is just thuds and loops. This is what my original inclination in using these apps was, but I have been steadily going off this approach. There is scope aplenty to make complex drumstyle beats in these apps, but the increased complexity just adds more noise to a singular kick beat which quickly becomes tedious no matter how much you fruit it up.
    Secondly, I did purchase a nice little app called IVCS3, which is a model of the what is widely acknowledged to be the first mobile synthesiser, housed in a wooden case. Amongst the many presets on there are several by Delia Derbyshire – ‘Orphan Thing’ being particularly Who woo woo ish.

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  3. I follow politics, but not music. I enjoyed your post (and am anti-fascist). I came here via the Craig Murray blog post about the new female Doctor Who.

    So many of those theme versions are awful. But that first one was awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

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