Top 10 Musical Themes of the RTD Era

Say anything you like, but at the end of the day, you cannot have an insanely popular and successful television series without incredible music.

It is the glue that holds the acting, writing, effects, and filming together. It can certainly be argued (and I’ll be the first in line to do so!) that a great deal of the credit for the success that Doctor Who has had since the revival in 2005 belongs at the feet of the immensely talented Murray Gold. His scores have been the very heart of the programme and certainly made all the moments we fondly remember from Eccleston through Smith’s run all the more memorable. While Gold’s more recent work (“I Am the Doctor” and all of its marvellous variations, for example) has been arguably his most popular, it’s his work prior to The Eleventh Hour that really helped define the Doctor for a new generation. Thus, dear reader, join us as we take a look back over the top ten musical themes from the Russell T. Davies era…

10. Doctor Who Theme (Album Version and Series 4 Variations)

How do you take one of television’s most iconic theme songs and make it even better? Add production, horns, strings, and even some saucy guitar riffs and power chords to the classic piano arrangement and unforgettable “Woooooo!”

While the theme gets minor changes and updates from series to series now, the Series 1 remake and reworking for Series 4 and the Tennant specials is where the magic happens.

9. The Greatest Story Never Told

Regardless of which camp you reside in when it comes to how the River Song storyline played (maybe continues to play?) out, it’s hard to argue that her concept and Alex Kingston’s performance weren’t a perfect match in the Series 4 two parter, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. This track from the Forest of the Dead exudes both sadness and hope at the same time, a feat that rarely a composer can achieve. After all, hope in sadness is sort of paradoxical, isn’t it?

8. All the Strange Creatures

One of the reoccurring themes of Series 3, appearing in 4 of the series’ episodes, “All the Strange Creatures” is a driving fusion of modern classical music and pop sensibilities/electric sounds. I’ll probably be cited for having this appear so low in the countdown, but alas, it is a great track in a sea of great music from the first four series of the revival.

7. The Cybermen

Every villain worth their salt needs a tune that strikes fear and menace into the viewer’s heart – an Imperial Death March, if you will. Bold and brassy, Gold’s theme that accompanied the redesigned metal monsters in Series 2’s Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel is probably a little more menacing than the actual Cybermen in the two-parter. That being said, the score intertwined with the visual of the saws and lasers in the conversion chambers is certainly chilling.

6. The Dark and Endless Dalek Night

I am a complete sucker for great choral music. The beautiful thing about this is the inclusion of the all-male chorus that takes centre stage throughout the arrangement. Couple this with Davros’ plan to destroy all of reality itself, and it certainly makes for a compelling storyline (even if a little overcrowded by companions).

And let’s not forget this cropping up in The Day of the Doctor to the delight of fans worldwide!

5. Rose’s Theme

Love her, hate her, don’t care either way: Rose Tyler, divisive as she is, is really the face of the first 4 series of the revival. The Doctor is reintroduced through her eyes and understanding of him. The melody is stunning and has a touch of romance to it. Given that it was introduced long before the eventual love story that played out between the Doctor and Rose, it makes one wonder if the romantic pairing had been the plan from day one in the Writer’s Room or if Murray Gold is just that good at sensing where things may be going.

4. Doomsday

Following the final events of the same titled episode, “Doomsday” enriches the agony and sadness being portrayed on screen by Tennant and Piper. While some fans were more than thrilled that Rose’s story had appeared to come to an end, it was still an emotional moment as Ten says goodbye to Rose. The emotion is echoed through the single soprano voice and weeping violin work.

3. This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home

Reintroducing Gallifrey, the Time Lords, and the Master was always going to be a risk; and it was a brilliant tactical move to wait until the show had hit its stride in the first 3 and a half series before bringing them back. The stunning CGI imagery is equally matched by the arrangement put forth, and serves to add even more depth to the Gallifreyan mythos.

2. The Doctor’s Theme (Series 4)

If Matt Smith’s theme song is “I Am the Doctor,” then you would have to identify “The Doctor’s Theme” with Eccleston and Tennant. Originally introduced in Series 1, the haunting melody evolved from a single soprano voice to a choral arrangement in Series 4 reworking. The theme evolved, much in the way that David Tennant’s Doctor increased in power and popularity. While arguably a lesser composition when compared with “I Am the Doctor,” the Doctor’s Theme is still a tune worthy of the beloved Time Lord.

1. Vale Decem

This was inevitable really; it would be more than hard to argue that any other song from Series 1-4 and the Tennant Specials belongs in this spot. Serving as the soundtrack for Tennant’s goodbye and subsequent regeneration scene, the emotion of the moment does nothing but add to the beauty of the composition. At 3:19 seconds long, the song leaves you wanting for more. No doubt echoing David Tennant’s “I don’t want to go” dialogue. It is, in my humble estimation, Murray Gold’s finest composition – which is to say quite a bit, as there are very few missteps in the catalogue of his Doctor Who work.

What do you think, fellow Kasterborites? Do you agree with my assessment or would you have it ordered differently? Or maybe you’d replace a few of my choices? Feel free to respectfully join the conversation below!

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  1. Immarryingdavros says:

    Couldnt listen to doomsday and this is galifrey, even though i dont even like rose.
    It makes me cry every time. Roses theme was hard to sit through as well. They are such emotional songs, no, masterpeices. Couldnt agree more on vale decem.

  2. Karen says:

    I’m happy to go against critical opinion and state that I actually prefer Murray’s work under RTD. I *adore* the music for Series 1 to 4, with the Series 3 soundtrack in particular as my favourite. I always blast up the volume for This is Gallifrey and All the Strange Strange Creatures. Absolutely glorious with the full orchestra. While there is much more music now released for each series, it was a bit disappointing that Doctor 11 didn’t get an original barnstorming piece of music to see him out like Doctor 10 got with Vale Decem. However, I am the Doctor will continue as the theme of 11’s tenure and as you say in the article, probably the most popular piece in New Who apart from the opening and closing music of course.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more.

      I LOVE “The Doctor’s Theme” and it was ingenious because the song evolved with the character of The Doctor from 9 through 10. That cohesive little detail subconsciously kept aspects of the character together… a bit of a story arc in music, if you will.

  3. Sally Ann Price says:

    I love the theme for Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper for Rose’s theme. I thought this was a great first episode. They were great together.

  4. Geoff says:

    I agree that all the music is great these days but have 2 requests:
    1. They turn it down just one notch or two
    2. They bring back the “dushuna dushuna” sound at the very end of the end credits as originally heard in the Tom Baker years. They sampled it back in during 10s first series which I thought was awesome and always gave me a sad little thrill at the end of each episode! Now they’ve finally given in to my other request and put the Doctors face back in the opening credits they will make me the happiest fan alive if they reinstate “dushuna” as well!

    Cast Stu Francis as the Doctor with Jimmy Krankie as the assistant, so long as you do the face and dushuna you’ll still have at least one viewer!

  5. I really liked the music from Satan’s Pit, as well.

  6. James Lomond says:

    Lovely article Nick! And interactive 🙂 …agree on Doomsday being heart-breakingly appropriate for the Dr/Rose split (and combinging a solo violin with a bass guitar so effectively – that’s a man who understands music) and that All the Strange Creatures is very effective.

    But overall I do find a lot of the bombastic themes from this era a bit boring and predictable :/ …the Cybermen theme for example just seems like a wasted opportunity to me. It sounds like standard, done *dramatic* film music – there could have been something sinister and evocative or that conveyed menace in a more imaginative way than strings and horns thundering away (and Gold has one hell of an imagination at his disposal). Much prefer the Smith era and think I am the Doctor is pure genius compared with a lot of the earlier stuff.

    Can’t believe these didn’t make it in tho! My faves – The Impossible Planet as Cassandra (I think) says above. SOOOOO clever – who would have predicted this kind of mournful, slightly grating, pained yearney violin solo?? It’s beautiful and surprising and worked perfectly. (Have to say the rest of it leans a bit towards the derivative/ predictable but overall I think it’s an amazing piece of work).

    And Madame de Pompadour’s theme from the Girl in the Fireplace – I’m all about the sad strings. Conveyed the aching loneliness of a life lived in hope of so much but that never has the opportunity. Captured the tragedy of the end of the episode so well. Slightly fairytale-like, slightly childrens-music-box lullaby.

    OOh oh oh!! And Davros – I thought this’un was really imaginative and unexpected too. Perfectly snister….

  7. Carl says:

    My favorite theme is the variation of Martha’s theme from the pre-credits sequence from “the Lazarus Experiment”, especially the bit when the TARDIS dematerializes. The Doctor’s theme from “the Eleventh Hour” is pretty awesome too.

  8. I agree with all of the selections here though I think I would rearrange them a bit. Vale Decam is a beautiful piece but I would put it a bit more toward the middle of this list. And I’m not sure I would have included The Dark and Endless Dalek Night. It’s a good piece, just not among my personal favorites. And as much as I like the Doctor Who theme (I have over 50 variations on my computer) I don’t like the series 4 (2008) re-mix as much as others. It has a little too much crash-bang-clatter for my taste.
    Doomsday, Rose’s Theme, and the Doctor’s Theme from series 1 (2005) are all very emotional pieces and among my favorites. And, yes! The Impossible Planet. Gorgeous!
    I agree with those who feel Gold’s best work is from the RTD era. To me, the music in Moffat’s era so far is repetitive and seems to sound all kind of the same. If this was the intention, he did it well.
    I do very much like I Am The Doctor, even if it’s incredibly over-used, and the music from The Eleventh Hour, the piece with the oboe (or is it a clarinet?). I don’t even have my music with me, yet I can hear the piece and can see the scene.
    This is what I think makes Murray Gold’s music so special; you hear the music and you can see the scene to which the music is “attached.” Fantastic!

  9. Christine says:

    Entering a bit late in the various discussions, I would just like to add that I particularly liked the various Dalek pieces in series 1-4. The dark and endless dalek night is my very big favourite but the one during which the sole Dalek “wakes up” – also with a soaring choral theme – also gives me goosebumps. Actually I love most of the music in the series although the choral pieces but also the solo singers do stand out for me. But then I am an opera lover too, so I am slightly biased!

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