I am the Piano Doctor Man

By Phil Plait | January 8, 2012 7:10 am

I make no excuses for my love of Doctor Who, and one of my favorite things about it since it was rebooted back in 2005 has been the music. I have always loved the title theme (originally written by Ron Grainer), ever since I was a little kid, and the modern orchestral reworking of it by Murray Gold is magnificent. I listen to the soundtracks all the time.

Gold wrote a new theme for The Doctor for Matt Smith’s version of the character, called "I Am the Doctor", and it’s fantastic. It’s got an odd beat to it, because it’s in 7 (as opposed to the usual 2, 3 or 4 beats per measure of most music). A bit off-kilter, just like the Time Lord himself, and with an underlying momentum and power. Also like The Doctor.

And that’s why I love this video: Murray Gold playing the theme on the piano — which he posted pseudonymously to YouTube!

Very cool. I’m looking forward to getting the Series 6 soundtrack as soon as it’s available here in the US. But for now, I think I’ll just go have a listen to this track from Series 5 played by the National Orchestra of Wales. Allons-y!

Tip o’ the sonic screwdriver to The Nerdist!


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, SciFi, TV/Movies
MORE ABOUT: Doctor Who, Murray Gold

Comments (40)

  1. Ohio Mike

    Nice! Kinda sounds like Nerina Pallot’s “Idaho.” Which is also nice.

  2. Derek

    Phil,
    I emailed you a while back to make sure you caught the Silver Creek High School marching band and their Sci-Fi halftime show. They are from the Boulder area, and their show incorporated Trek, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and had Dr. Who as a finale. Amazing. I hope you got a chance to check them out!

    They had a Dalek, live and in person! Here is video of them totally kicking my own band’s butt at a competition in October. (I am a director; we did a Trek show)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oi8iVqJjrQ

  3. I need to see if I can find sheet music of this so my wife can learn this on the piano! Seriously, where can I find the sheet music for this? Google isn’t much help because all it gives is videos. EDIT: Found some, but I don’t know sheet music, so I have no idea if this is it or not: http://megaupload.com/?d=LA3RHYFG

    Derek, that was an awesome halftime show. Thanks.

  4. RichT

    Much as I love Doctor Who and am fond of the 11th Doctor in particular out of all the new series Doctors, this piece by Murray Gold is *remarkably similar* to a track on the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack, “Suicide Mission”(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTsD2FjmLsw – especially from around 1:10 onwards). Just that – *remarkably similar*. No insinuations, accusations or implications should be inferred. It’s just… *remarkably similar*.

    Phil, there’s a couple of very enjoyable tracks on the season 6 soundtrack – “I am the Doctor in Utah”, “Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart” and “The Majestic Tale (Of a Madman in a Box)” being the ones that immediately come to mind.

  5. Minos

    The Doctor Who title theme is one of the main things that makes me want to build a Theremin.

  6. Nick M

    One of the things about music in 7 is that it frequently breaks down in to a pattern of 2-2-3 (Da – da – Da – da – Da da da.) Due to that and the dramatic orchestration (heavy percussion, big horns), I can hear some similarity with the Mass Effect 2 tune, but I don’t think they are that similarity. I just don’t think most people are accustomed to hearing tunes in 7. I frequently find modern movie soundtracks to be VERY similar with nothing to distinguish them, but they often fall into 3 or 4 beats per measure, use very similar chordal constructions and orchestration.

  7. We’re relatively new to Doctor Who (thank you Cablevision for starting to carry BBC America a few months ago, starting with Doctor Who and BSG marathons), but everyone quickly became big fans. (We’ve been borrowing DVDs from the local library system, and then we bought the entire [new] series on DVD a couple of weeks ago.)

    I started playing the video, and my 8-year-old son ran over and said “that sounds like Doctor Who!”

  8. RichT (4) – Yeah, the beat is very similar, and the chord structure is similar as well. Probably a coincidence. Note that ME2 came out in January 2010, whereas DW Series 5 came out just a few months later. Both would’ve been written at about the same time, I’d guess.

  9. Naked Bunny with a Whip

    @Nick M: I wonder how many of those similar movie soundtracks are written by a small handful of popular composers.

  10. noen

    I absolutely love the re-booted Dr. Who and I like Matt Smith even better than Tennent. Second fav Doctor would be Tom Baker quickly followed by Patrick Troughton. Recent Doctors have a strong Peter Pan syndrome vibe about them. Maybe that explains part of their allure.

    It would be nice if there was less pseudoscience and magic wand waving but I suppose that is a bit much to ask.

  11. I love “I Am the Doctor.” I get chills when I hear it. I even use it for my alarm clock, just to start my day off right.

  12. @Ken B (#8), do you have Netflix on a device like Xbox, playstation, roku? They have all of the rebooted shows on there as well. :)

  13. Happy Heyoka

    You can’t really talk about the Doctor Who theme without mentioning Delia Derbyshire and the others from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

    @Minos – not a theremin, but classic analogue synth and tapes.

    There’s a fanatastic documentary called “What the future sounded like” that has some great insights into how stuff was done back before there was even reliable multitrack tape machines.

  14. VinceRN

    Great piece of music, and sounds great on just the piano too.

  15. “I am the Doctor” has totally replaced the MacGyver music as the tune that runs through my head when I am doing something creative and clever.

  16. This made my day, Phil. I love, love, love geeky music!!! :)

  17. Dave M

    I absolutely love this piece, but it’s the most insidious ear worm I’ve ever heard!

  18. Messier Tidy Upper

    Love the music for Dr Who – throughout the entire series really but certainly the last few generally have just been so powerfully moving and evocative. This was well done and a great find. :-)

  19. This is so cool! It makes me want to…..want to…… EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!!

  20. Richie

    Bought the Series 5 soundtrack after getting an iTunes voucher. Probably would have got it even without the voucher.

    “Victory of the Daleks” has become a theme for whenever the bad guys seem to get the upper hand on whatever show I’m watching. Likewise “Words Win Wars” is the sense that the good guys have won through again.

    “Doctor Who XI” and “I am the Doctor” are just plain stirring, no matter what. I keep half expecting a blue box to materialize when I hear them….

  21. Autumn

    I guess that having taked band classes in high-school, 7/8 time never sounds that odd to me. There are plenty of tunes that use an alternating 6/8-7/8 time signature that sound pretty funky. And one of my favorite tunes, and one that almost everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t know it, is the first movement of The Planets, Mars, which is in 5/4 time. The extra beat per measure is for extra beatings.

  22. kurt_eh

    Love odd beats per minute. Some fantastic music including the original Mission Impossible theme (5/4 time) and of course, Take Five (also 5/4).

    And not to take away from that awesome piano rendition, but the full “I am the Doctor (every star, every planet)” in its full, nearly 7 minute orchestral glory is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk5O82ozO2U

  23. Henry Holland

    “Naked Bunny: I wonder how many of those similar movie soundtracks are written by a small handful of popular composers”

    It’s depressing how small the pool of movie composers is for films with a decent budget is. Williams, Elfman, Desplat, Zimmer, Giacchino, Newman, Newton-Howard, a handful of others. It’s a not-so-vicious cycle: they get hired because they can work quickly, in a recognizable style, but filmakers/producers go to them because they don’t really know music, they just know that their big action-adventure movie needs something that sounds like “Star Wars” or whatever, so they hire Williams, Elfman et al. to get that type of music.

    BTW, Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross’s scores for “The Social Network” and especially the fantastic “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo” are incredible.

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    @23. Autumn : You mean this one :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmk5frp6-3Q&feature=related

    Holst’s Mars from The Planets Suite? Love that one too. :-)

    Similar structure or something to this one also :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNv5sPu0C1E&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Hq4QC-7S7A&feature=related

    perhaps? Not a music expert – but love listening to it! ;-)

    Apparently “Anakin’s theme” from the SW : episode I – Phantom Menace is or includes the Vader Imperial march reworked or backwards or something too if memory serves.

    For a long time Star Wars music = the movies for me. :-)

  25. Greg

    I am a little disappointed that “news” like this get published here, while Phil skipped over entirely that yesterday was the birthday of Stephen Hawking. :(

  26. I find the show tiresome. Good theme, though.

  27. Three things:

    7-time is my favourite time signature, the best!

    The middle section of this is in 4-time, so it switches from 7 to 4 then back to 7.

    To be a bit picky: Phil’s comment about “most music” having 2, 3 or 4 beats per measure might be better phrased in terms of “most western music”. There are plenty of countries and regions where time signatures like 5, 7, 9 and 10 are more like the norm than 3 or 4.

  28. Tim

    A bit surprised you missed this Phil… you mentioned the theme is in 7/4 time. What is 7+4?

  29. RL

    I wonder if he got a “Third Party Content” warning when he posted the bit on Youtube? LOL. Anyway, this was awesome! Can’t wait to show it to my son who likes to play this on piano.

  30. Calli Arcale

    Minos:

    The Doctor Who title theme is one of the main things that makes me want to build a Theremin.

    Oddly enough, as far as I know, none of the “official” arrangements have ever included a theremin. (I’d be shocked if no unofficial ones did. Somebody’s got to have played it on a theremin by now. Heck, it’s been played on the Tesla coil, so why not?)

    The original arrangement, used through the 60s and into the beginning of Jon Pertwee’s tenure, was played on assortment of normal, accoustic instruments and some electronic effects — and then heavily processed by the BBC Radiophonics Workshop. Though the theme has always been attributed to its composer, Ron Grainer (who also gave us such lovely themes as that used on The Prisoner), the strange sound comes from the uncredited work of unsung genius Delia Derbyshire, who did things with electronics that nobody else was doing. Most of it was actually performed backwards and then played back the other way around. There was also a lot of work with loops and tape noise and other clever things. The same team also came up with many of the original sound effects, including the TARDIS dematerialization, which was a combination of various samples, clever electronic tricks, and scraping a metal ruler across the strings of a piano.

    The BBC obtained a Moog synthesizer, and commissioned a rearrangement of the Dr Who theme in the early 70s. It lasted one season before the old arrangement (minus some of the sound effects) was reinstated along with a new opening credit sequence created using the laborious “slit scan” technique pioneered in 1967 by “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

    The theme remained unchanged from there until the 1980s and Tom Baker’s final season, when Peter Howell arranged it for synthesizer; the MIDI revolution had reached the BBC. This synthesized arrangement, with a rock-and-roll flavor courtesy of synthesized electric guitars, stuck through two more Doctors. Then it went on hiatus. When it returned, they had a new Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, and commissioned a new theme. This was also synthesized, but more “spacey” and had a slightly garish late-80s quality to it (just as its predecessor had an early-80s flavor to it). This lasted until the series was cancelled in 1989.

    In 1996, a made-for-TV movie (intended as a backdoor pilot, though it failed in that) was produced and broadcast. Starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, this one had American money and attempted to be more filmic. Indeed, the entire thing was actually recorded on film and converted to video, probably the first time that had happened in the series’ history (excluding the two Dalek movies). To go with this, a new arrangement was called for, one that was itself more filmic, which meant going orchestral. Performed by a chamber orchestra, this version drove the beat much harder than previous versions and put the emphasis on the second theme of the piece, where the tune shifts into a major key, deemphasizing the traditional haunting, wailing opening. This arrangement would only ultimately get to play once, because the series was not picked up by the American broadcasters who had bankrolled it.

    In 2005, of course, the series returned. Although it was not yet clear whether the Paul McGann story was canon, it clearly influenced the new series. The theme got another arrangement, and it was orchestral. The opening sequence was also influenced by the movie. They’ve stayed orchestral ever since, though the most recent arrangement (introduced along with Steven Moffatt’s producership and Matt Smith as the Doctor) has reintroduced some of the sounds of the original arrangement. So though I’ve met a lot of people who can’t stand the current version of the theme, I love that it brings a bit of Delia Derbyshire back into it. ;-)

  31. Keith Bowden

    Honestly… why should anyone ever apologize for loving Doctor Who?

    “You humans have got such limited, little minds. I don’t know why I like you so much.”

  32. wally

    *sigh*… Oh Delia, Delia, Delia… I lurrrrrrrrvs you sooooooooo much.

    Indeed, Miss Derbyshire is the great unsung hero (see what I did there?) of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and Electronic Music in general. The woman was cutting edge, in all senses of the word. (Tape loops running far down the halls of the BBC when creating the Dr. Who theme).

  33. All the themes in one youtube clip – linked to my name for this comment.

  34. @ ^ That’s all the Dr Who themes from William Hartnell to Matt Smith natch.

    @32. Calli Arcale : January 9th, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Minos: “The Doctor Who title theme is one of the main things that makes me want to build a Theremin.”
    Oddly enough, as far as I know, none of the “official” arrangements have ever included a theremin. (I’d be shocked if no unofficial ones did. Somebody’s got to have played it on a theremin by now. Heck, it’s been played on the Tesla coil, so why not?)

    Yep. :-)

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwWn4mGLAXs

    For piano & theremin combo.

    &

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix_Yu7bA4Qw

    For wii theremin. There’s at least one other one – & the tesla coil version on Youtube too. :-)

    Tangentially relevant here – whilst talking Dr Who is this :

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/tokenskeptic/2012/01/09/what-i-think-of-when-i-listen-to-the-doctor-who-theme/

    via Kylie Sturgess’es ‘Token Skeptic : Bending Misconceptions with her mind’ blog. ;-)

  35. Len

    @Messier Tidy Upper, Loved that compilation thanks for the link. Hearing the music evolve is like a journey through time in itself (although its a pity the journey is from mind blowing to sterile)

    To satisfy the human need to constantly rate things in lists:
    The best incarnation of Dr Who theme is by Orbital: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVD-1Cov4ro

    (Whilst getting that link i found a live version from Glastonbury actually featuring the Doctor, pretty cool – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVhXyjEjmnA )

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Len : No worries. Cheers. :-)

  37. Andromeda

    I feel I am doing something right as a parent when my sons, ages 2 and 7 (or “904 time lord years” as he likes to say) hum this tune while playing with toys. It also fills me with pride when the younger will spontaneously start singing the Doctor Who theme song while out and about. And by singing, I mean he goes “OOO-EEEEE-OOOOOOOOO” to the tune. He’ll do the whole tune too. In perfect pitch.

    Thanks for posting this Phil. I can’t wait to show my little time lord when he gets home from school.

  38. Jennifer

    I absolutely love the Majestic Tale and I am the Doctor (Series 5 version). I also play the piano and would love to get my hands on a solo piano version. Not too hard, but not ridiculously easy either. Free preferably or for a low price, like a few dollars or something.

    Oh, and I’m probably one of the few who absolutely loved the 96 theme and wouldn’t mind that one either.

    Any ideas?

    PS: Check out this remix. I absolutely love it: http://whomix.windbubbles.net/remix/431

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