The Poptastic Doctor Who Experience

Everybody’s talking about pop music and as usual we like nothing better than to jabber on about Doctor Who – so just when and where did these two cultural behemoths meet?

Here’s a run down of what’s hot and what’s not in the world of Doctor Who and oop music through the bands that the show has turned to over the years to either tug at the heartstrings, define a decade or to overhear while walking through a factory!

The Beatles

If there’s one band that have dominated the Doctors iPod then it’s the Fab Four who not only have appeared in the show via the Doctor’s Time-Space Visualizer in The Chase (using footage of the artists formally know as The Quarrymen playing “Ticket to Ride” from a culled 1965 episode of Top of the Pops) where Ian danced like an inebriated Geography teacher to a tune he couldn’t have possibly have heard before (he left Earth a good two years before it was released), the Doctor’s favourite Beatle ‘got squashed’ and Vicki labelled their embryonic heavy metal track as ‘classical music’ (…more on that later).

The Beatles have also been referenced in a dozen more episodes including:

A quick blast in the background of a long since lost café scene of “Paperback Writer” in The Evil of the Daleks, a reference made by Jo Grant to “I am the Walrus” in The Three Doctors, yet another background airing in a café – only this time its “A Taste of Honey” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” – in the 1963 set McCoy era serial Remembrance of the Daleks (although the original music can be heard in the Davros Box Set).

However despite the sheer gall of using The Beatles music – knowing full well that it was most likely to only be licensed for the broadcast rather than repeated episodes and VHS/DVD releases – the New Who era has shied away from tackling The Beatles licensing terror-hawk and so far haven’t included any of Ringo’s oddly placed symbol crashes in any episodes.

Although there have been references most notably in the Doctor Who: Adventure Games title City of the Daleks which saw the Doctor and Amy heading off to see The Beatles before an altogether different type of British Invasion ruined it for them.

Soft Cell/ Britney Spears

Echoing The Chase Russell T. Davies took the notion that one man’s pop song is another’s Stravinsky and added a smidge of zeitgeist riding pomp with this use of Britney Spears “Toxic”, a track labelled as a ‘traditional ballad’ by Cassandra in The End of the World – which up until some of RTD’s other song choices was probably one of the more brazen, opinion diving song choices since the shows return (depending on how militant your hatred/love of one kind of music is).

In its usual understated way its inclusion lead NME to hail it as reaching the peak of its cultural impact.

“Toxic” was Britney Spears fourth UK number one and as Wikipedia helpfully points out ‘its lyrics refer to being addicted to a lover’ which is exactly the kind of state Marc Almond has gotten himself into with “Tainted Love” another track that Cassandra spins in her ‘iPod’ i.e. a jukebox (despite “Toxic” not being available on 7” vinyl to be spun in said jukebox.)

Tight Fit

An odd, creepy use of the Tight Fit synonym for ‘you know what’  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was used in Rise of the Cybermen where, if I remember rightly, Timon and Pumbaa were carved into Cybermen as they sang “ooowwweeeehhheeed” along to this track.

Jimi Hendrix/Procul Harem

Yet another victim of dreaded musical replacement DJ Alexi Sayle drops both “Purple Haze” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” into his set for the cryogenically frozen masses at the Tranquil Repose in Revelation of the Daleks before the BBC dropped them altogether for the DVD release.

Rick Astley/The Communards/The Streets

Employing the Back to the Future rule of choosing tracks that couldn’t be anymore from that era while having some narrative significance you can dance to the two eighties based tracks “Never Gonna Give you Up” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” can be heard painting a aural picture of exactly what life was like in said decade in the production teams mind in Father’s Day – the weep-fest that not so much crushed these musical offerings but danced merrily on their graves with another way too loud in the mix score designed to force viewers to shed an entire reservoir of tears.

The Streets’ “Don’t Mug Yourself” can briefly be heard as the present and the past blend into one and unite to hear Mike Skinner’s slice of Midlands based obsession for a nano-second before the episode and time rewrites itself and casts Skinner into the future to play a guard suffering the effects of Rivers hallucinogenic lipstick in The Time of Angels.

ELO/Elton John

We all know Elton loves ELO (and indeed Elton John) but who can actually say they hate Electric Light Orchestra and their non-more-Beatles-sounding “Mr. Blue Sky” – the epitome of a feel good song.

Love & Monsters occupies a strange place in Doctor Who history – neither is it the best Doctor-lite episode and no longer can it claim to have the best piece of fan design since the shows return (that prize has gone to the Scrapyard TARDIS) but still is the only episode to have a well-known comedian dressed in a terrible body suit running around the streets of Cardiff in his pants while attempting to eat that bloke from Hustle. As such it at least occupies an, erh, unique place in our memories.

Fleetwood Mac

Thank the PPL for the restoration of one of the most contested musical replacements in the shows history – Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well (Part One)” could be originally heard playing as Ransome is shown around the Auto Plastics factory in Spearhead from Space but was cut from the VHS and subsequent DVD release in 1995 and 2001 respectively.

It wasn’t until the 2011 DVD release that, thanks to the Phonographic Performance Limited publishing company (a body that licenses songs for broadcast, new media and public consumption) acquiring the song that it was fully restored in all of its bluesy rock guitar glory but don’t ask me what they think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to.

Rogue Traders

If music be the fruit of love, then here, have a bun cake – it’s Rogue Traders, the Australian dance band behind “Voodoo Child”, the track that gave the penultimate episode of series three its title The Sound of Drums (and gave the new Master something to rave along to as the Toclafane reigned down on the Valiant while audiences waited patiently for someone to open the floodgates and say: “What!?! That’s Ridiculous!”)

Still incredulity is something Rogue Traders practically patented in their small zeitgeist popping moment in the sun.

“Voodoo Child” was sung/shouted at you by former Neighbours cast member (a former Neighbours cast member associated with Doctor Who? Pah! As if…), the improbably named Natalie Bassingthwaighte, who has since left the band to pursue a solo career, and has a song writing credit for Elvis Costello, for the sample taken from his seminal track “Pump it Up”.

Natalie Basingstoke has since gone on to host the Australian version of the X Factor.

Scissor Sisters

Now here’s probably the most contentious use of music since the show returned – the Master, at the peak of his diabolical scheme, deciding to have a little celebratory dance to the Scissor Sisters “I Can’t Decide”.

Personally I like to think of it in the same terms as the Joker dancing to Prince in the 1989 Tim Burton film Batman – it has kind of the same ‘no glass ceiling’ approach to John Simm’s performance as Jack Nicholson’s turn as the Clown Prince of Crime and in terms of this new Master it works.

Does it rob the character of any menace he might have had? Does it trounce on the legacy of that character? Yes and yes. The lack of physical threat was never a problem – the Master was always more cerebral than pugilistic and this incarnation takes away a lot of the cold calculation of the previous incarnations but retains that air of capriciousness. As if his master schemes (pun intended) were just a matter of things falling into place rather than coldly studying the Doctor’s weaknesses and exploiting them for his own satisfaction.

This incarnation was more brazenly evil – he wanted world domination but also, as a side bonus, wanted to drag the Doctor through the dirt in the process and it felt like Russell T. Davies was having a lot of fun with it, in that hubristic way that most of his writing sticks to an idea regardless of how it might be perceived.

Still, the track itself has the feel of one of those minor pop classics that get buried and forgotten on an album until you rediscover just how good it is – despite its overshadowing hit single brothers.


Bittersweet is probably the best word to describe “Chances” the song accompanying Vincent Van Gogh as he discovers just what he means to the world long since he parted from it by his own hand in Vincent and the Doctor.

While the combination of the song and the images are absolutely perfect there’s a niggling sense that the production team chose the most Coldplay sounding song without choosing Coldplay – if “Fix You” had started playing over the scenes of Vincent finding out what he’ll become, you’d have hurled your cup of tea at the screen in disgust.

The causeway taken by Athlete in this song is a familiar one, the clumsy verses never quite fit the choruses – they just stop and get blown out of water and the sentiment is old as time itself but it still, regardless of its faults, works with the episode and creates one of the finest moments of Series 5.

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  1. stlshawn says:

    Great article! A pleasure to read. Good stuff!

    I’d love to see more stuff like this over the next (rather drab and empty) nine months.

    Wow,,,, nine months of no who,,,, it’s just sinking in,,,,, Maybe Torchwood, oh wait, maybe not,,,, Sarah Jane? Ummmm, nope,,, Some animated series, nope.

    Wow was that a tumbleweed going across my screen?

  2. Hsharry says:

    Um…you guys forgot Amy and Rory playing darts to Muse’s ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ in ‘Amy’s Choice’….

  3. TonyS says:

    Yes I agree. A well written and informative article. It set me thinking of musical memores tied-in with “Doctor Who”. Not necessarily songs that appear in the show. Songs that were around at the time of certain stories. For example, in my mind the scene of the TARDIS falling down the cliff in “Curse of Peladon” is inextricably linked in my mind with “20th Century Boy” by T.Rex. Simply because I first heard it the day that episode played. Either that, or my memory is completely addled.

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