It is said of ‘Doctor Who’ that “the only constant is change.” That’s certainly been the case throughout the program’s fifty-five year history. Just compare ‘An Unearthly Child’ with ‘Twice Upon a Time’ and you’ll see that while the core of the thing is instantly recognizable, in many ways the two episodes could not be more different. But there is perhaps no aspect of the show that demonstrates this dichotomy better than its theme music. Like the show itself, the iconic tune has been through innumerable iterations since the 1960s. Indeed, there have been seven distinct arrangements since the 2005 revival alone, with an eighth due to make its debut alongside the upcoming eleventh season.
What sets this new version of the theme apart from the rest is that for the first time since 2005, it’s being handled by a new composer, with Segun Akinola taking over for series stalwart Murray Gold. It’s a fitting – if hardly surprising – change for a season determined to pack as much newness into its ten episodes as it can get away with. While we haven’t heard any of Akinola’s theme yet, it has been suggested that it will take something of a “what’s old is new” approach, as showrunner Chris Chibnall teased in the Radio Times that the new composer has been “taking the original recordings made by Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop in 1963 and refashioning them for today.”
Chibnall was coy on that point, but he certainly makes it sound as though Akinola has gone back to basics in at least some respects, perhaps sampling the original 1963 theme (which was most recently used to open ‘The Day of the Doctor‘ in 2013). Akinola, also speaking with the Radio Times, suggested that he had incorporated the original recordings, but hinted that it wasn’t as straightforward as sampling them.
“Chris said that literally and he does mean that literally, but maybe [the recordings] appear as you think they will, maybe they don’t appear as you think they will.”
Asked about his approach to the new arrangement, Akinola explained that he drew much of his inspiration from those selfsame 1963 recordings, and also acknowledged the singular pressure that comes with his job.
“I really just stuck to the original, like the very very first one, and tried to glean as much from that as I could. And tried to honor it as much as I could as well.”
“It’s such an iconic theme, one that people walking down the street can whistle, and it’s one that people really care about as well. So yes, there was definitely pressure. Not that anyone, Matt (Strevens, executive producer) or Chris or anyone, was putting that pressure on me. I was kind of putting it on myself! It’s ‘Doctor Who’! And it’s really great, but it’s also a really big deal.”
“Trying to just get on with the job, and focus on the music, an trying to make it the best that it can be, that was sometimes a challenge. But it was always such an amazing challenge, and a wonderful challenge to have. Our viewpoint across the whole thing was basically that it should be new – but new didn’t mean that it had to be the opposite of everything that has come before.”
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on the upcoming season of ‘Doctor Who’ as it becomes available!
‘Doctor Who’ will return later this year for its eleventh season. This season will see the arrival of new showrunner Chris Chibnall and the Thirteenth Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker. In addition to Whittaker, the new season will star Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gil.