Over its fifty year history, the British television series Doctor Who has spawned a huge amount of music, including hit singles, music videos, and entire albums. Some of them were, like the original theme – and even like the series itself – excellent and well worth hearing. Others not so much. In 2000, the compilation Who is Dr. Who? brought a selection of them together on CD for the first time.
The original release contains comprehensive sleeve notes, which unfortunately I don’t have to hand, so hopefully I’m not making things up here…
The first track is the 1963 original version of the Doctor Who theme tune, recorded by Delia Derbyshire. Do you need me to wax lyrical about the ethereal other-worldly qualities of the theme? Or to stand agog explaining how it was recorded by splicing together tiny little pieces of tape? I’m sure you don’t. It’s a breathtaking composition, and we’ll leave it at that.
Next up is Dr. Who, performed by Eric Winstone and His Orchestra and released as a single in early 1964. It’s not a great version, but it’s just about listenable, with its ever-so-slightly jazz stylings, and apparently it made it onto a huge number of vinyl releases through the 1960s and 1970s.
I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek by The Go Go’s, on the other hand, is a bit of a travesty. There’s something decidedly creepy about the children’s pronunciation of “mewwy Chwismas,” as a lo-fi Dalek declares “I love you,” rendering the entire recording somewhat indefensible.
Next come two tracks by The Earthlings, taken from the 1965 Peter Cushing film Dr. Who and the Daleks. Landing of the Daleks was the A-side, with March of the Robots on side B, and both are fun 1960s instrumentals with relatively little audible connection to the original television series.
Jack Dorsey and Orchestra then turn up from summer 1965 with the decidedly dated Dance of the Daleks, not related to either the film or the TV series – apparently it was simply a cash-in, which failed to see any sort of commercial success.
Christmas 1965 brought the utterly dreadful Roberta Tovey single Who’s Who, backed with Not So Old. Maybe you enjoy listening to the child star who played Susan in the spin-off film from the TV series. I don’t.
More offshoots from the film follow, with Malcolm Lockyer Orchestra‘s re-recorded The Eccentric Dr. Who (a bit of a mess) backed with Daleks and Thals (rather more listenable). The latter has a bit of a James Bond flavour to it, and rather less annoying brass band fanfares.
Bill McGuffie‘s Fugue for Thought is the only track here to represent the sequel film Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., and isn’t great either – it’s largely a slightly manic piano piece with a bit of jazz-inspired percussion. As with much of this release, it’s perhaps best enjoyed with a bit of a kitsch retro vibe in mind.
Inexplicably companion Frazer Hines (Jamie to you and me) decided to release a single called Who’s Dr Who? in 1968 as part of his own little cash-in. The A-side is based vaguely on the original theme, and is appalling – not only because of Hines’s inability to sing in tune, or the dreadfully cheesy lyrics, or… this list could go on forever actually. Side B, Punch and Judy Man is pointless and unnecessary, but is also a lot less bad.
The compilation then jumps five years forward in time for an almost identical release – this time Jon Pertwee‘s 1972 single Who is the Doctor, in which The Doctor (in character) talks over a slightly naff version of the theme. For all of its failings, it’s a fun track, and is well worth hearing once every decade or so. Released on Deep Purple‘s own record label, it’s a bit of a curiosity. Side B is the largely dreadful Pure Mystery, and should probably be forgotten about.
The last track on the main album is Don Harper’s Homo Electronicus, performing the original TV theme as Dr. Who. The 1973 cover version of the theme is an interesting one, as a minute or so in he pulls the whole thing apart and turns it into something very different and also vaguely satisfying.
There are then a couple of extra bonus tracks – a version of Landing of the Daleks from earlier, this time with some morse code in the middle for no particularly obvious version, and another Frazer Hines track – the decent but previously unreleased Time Traveller. All told, it’s an enjoyable CD, even if a good chunk of it is pretty awful.
The CD was compiled by Mark Ayres, and you can read his original notes about the release here. The album is still available through Amazon.