The Memorex Years - Various Artists 'Who Is Dr. Who?'

For an entire generation of Doctor Who fans, the novelty spin-off singles issued at the height of the show's mid-sixties popularity might as well have inhabited another universe. At a time before the reissues market really existed, and when any pop music from more than about five years ago seemed like it came from a different century, all of those odd-sounding songs about Daleks and what have you were like dust-caked relics that were too 'collectable' for the likes of you ever to hear, only known about through invariably typo-strewn lists of titles in fanzines and Doctor Who Magazine. All that anyone knew was that they were very very rare, and reputedly very very bad.

Occasionally a bit of one would leak out somewhere - as the nineties arrived they were increasingly used to back footage of 'Dalekmania' in documentaries, while Steve Wright once played a small extract from I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek and went "heh... wacky" over the top, and the more dedicated frontier town listeners to Radio 2's Sounds Of The Sixties told legends of having heard that Frazer Hines one - but even in an age where every last scrap of Doctor Who-related ephemera had been recycled, reissued and repackaged to an extent that made Silvertone Records look like masters of restraint, these elusive curious remained curiously elusive.

That was until 2000, when intrepid audio-restorer and Radiophonic Workshop pal Mark Ayres cobbled together a compilation of all the spin-off singles released during the first ten years of Doctor Who, covering for the general absence of master tapes for what were, after all, long-forgotten cheapo cash-in singles for mostly long-forgotten cheapo cash-in labels with vinyl rips acquired from assorted Fan 'Luminaries' and, in one case, a couple of seconds dropped in from an age-old cassette recording. The fact that, the odd unavoidable bit of vinyl rumble aside, you can't detect any of this is testament to his skills as an audio restorer, and yah boo sucks to anyone who's been more recently harrumphing at the handful of Vintage Beeb releases that have had to be mastered from vinyl.

What nobody really expected of Who Is Dr. Who? was that a couple of these 'terrible' records were actually really good. What even less people expected was that it presented, in a sense, an alternate reality history of sixties pop music, at a total remove from the chartbound sounds of clean-cut popsters and long-haired rockers, and yet still reflecting their changes and evolutions, starting off in tinkly bland pre-'Beat Boom' rinky-dink land, going through a mild 'psychedelic' phase, and ending up freaking out at an open-air festival to the extent that Deep Purple were actually involved with one single. No, really. So how did that happen? Well, let's begin at the beginning...

It's hardly surprising that the first track featured on Who Is Dr. Who? should be the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop version of the Doctor Who theme, released as a far-from-chartbound single by Decca in 1964. It does, however, hold some surprises of its own. The more familiar version generally referred to as the 'first' is the one later issued as a single by BBC Records, which is essentially the original recording as tinkered with for a title sequence revamp when Patrick Troughton took over the role, and further tinkered with when Jon Pertwee replaced him in turn. This, however, predates any such tinkering and is taken straight from Delia Derbyshire's original unembellished tape - there's no electronic 'sting' at the start, no sign of the Tardis sound effect rushing past halfway through, and the whole mix generally sounds a little cruder and less polished (although surprisingly, the 'wind tunnel' ending effect is present and correct) - and astonishingly it had never been reissued in this form until Who Is Dr. Who? came along. In this sense it's something of a poor relation to the more ubiquitous reworking, but at the same time has a sparse and glacial feel that the other more sonically-packed versions could never wholly recapture. Incidentally, the original b-side - omitted here as it has about as little to do with Doctor Who as is scientifically possible - was This Can't Be Love by the mysteriously unsurnamed Brenda & Johnny, an alarmingly hard-rocking take on the Rodgers & Hart showtune.

If the proper actual version of the Doctor Who theme as heard onscreen and which actually sounded halfway new and exciting and interesting couldn't shift enough copies to jostle for chart position with the likes of Susan Maughan and Herman's Hermits, then quite why popular bandleader Eric Winstone assumed that he could do any better is something that defies all rational explanation. But try he did, using nothing more Radiophonic than his regular band of players to accompany a weedy sine wave generator thingy, making a noise halfway between one of those Whistling Clanger toys and someone running their finger around the edge of a glass, and generally struggling to be heard above the politely blaring brass all around it. With the familar rhythm and melody (or at least a close relative of it) of the Doctor Who theme swamped beneath overpowering brass bits, plodding electric guitar and a brilliantly awful 'breakdown' section, this sounds less like Ron Grainer's famous composition than it does a re-recording of Pink Floyd's One Of These Days for one of those early 1970s Not-The-Original-Artists Top Of The Pops albums. It also seems to have a peculiar obsession with threatening to turn into the theme from Z Cars. For a long while, though, Eric Winstone's was the most commonly heard commercially available version of the theme, turning up on countless compilations and enjoying a new lease of life at the dawn of CD, when compilation producers couldn't be bothered forking out for the original but were happy to pay seven and a half pence for the rights to this. It's also entertainingly amusing, for the first three or so listens anyway, and would also form the basis for an even more deranged arrangement (sadly not included here) recorded for one of those 'Happy House' label albums entitled TV Favourites And Other Children's Songs, performed almost entirely on a synthesiser that was apparently utterly incapable of making anything other than a risible 'wibbling' sound.

Next up is the oft-ridiculed but seldom-heard I'm Going To Spend My Christmas With A Dalek by The Go-Gos, which has nothing to do with Belinda Carlisle's obscene-tour-video-making bunch of reprobates, nor indeed 'The Go-Jos' as the unreliable typesetting machine at Doctor Who Monthly roujtinely hA dit, but rather a polite and inoffensive cabaret-ish act who you'd expect to have been a bunch of thrown together sessions musicians but were apparently a real gigging outfit. There's absolutely no doubt that they were hoping this top pop disc would score them a hit in the throes of Dalekmania; it didn't, though, and they don't seem to have released any other records ever, making them probably the only people in the world not to have got rich off the back of the Daleks in 1964. Various writers over the years who had been 'lucky' enough to hear the ultra-rare I'm Going To Spend My Christmas With A Dalek had created the collective impression that it is some sort of twee tuneless tinkly early sixties pop drivel and best left unheard. It's something of a surprise, then, to find out that it opens with Telstar-esque 'space' noises (the sort that now sound ancient rather than futuristic), and an organ-heavy riff that sounds for all the world like a funked-up version of Peter Gunn. Alright, so maybe it does then immediately divert into a typical Bobby's Girl-era light skiffle-pop rhythm and indeed melody, but even then it's enlivened by the continuing 'outer space' effects, the jaw-dropping vocal style of one Sue Smith (think Ronni Ancona and Kate Thornton, both aged six, duetting with pronounced 'giggly' vocal inflections and an overemphasised problem with the letter 'r', except that Sue Smith appears to have been a fully grown woman), and interjections from an alarmingly realistic Dalek voice (in that it sounds a bit like Zippy) uttering such hilariouslyn-Skaronian sentiments as "I-WISH-TO-BE-YOUR-FRIEND", "PLEASE-MAY-I-HAVE-SOME-MORE-PLUM-PUDDING-AND-CUSTARD", "CHRIST-MAS-TREE" and maddest of all "I-LOVE-YOU".

As if that wasn't enough, there are also the truly ridiculous lyrics penned by someone who had clearly neither seen nor heard of the Daleks, making reference to them having a 'chromium plated head' and a 'big red toe' from which festive stockings can be hung. There are also, for no apparent reason, some bleep-festooned 'blanked out' bits that sound worryingly like an attempt to cover up some stray bad language. And what does the young narrator want with this malevolent mutant in metal casing? Only to "say hi to mum and frighten daddy out of his bed", that's what. Best left unheard? Don't believe a word of it - I'm Going To Spend My Christmas With A Dalek is simultaneously fascinatingly odd and strangely musically compelling, and as good a snapshot of that long-lost black and white TV world of pre-'rock' pop music as you'll find. It's also a fairly reliable barometer of just how Doctor Who crazy the entire nation had gone back in 1964, and a reminder of the fact that the fans and public alike appreciated it on a far more simple level back then and didn't take it anywhere near as seriously, and 'Christmas' in Doctor Who world meant silly cash-in singles and William Hartnell caught up in a silent movie and toasting the audience rather than Neil Hannon's witless plagiarism of Northern Soul classics. Incidentally, the b-side to this was a cover of the garage band-friendly blues standard Big Boss Man, reportedly again performed in what was presumably The Go-Go's trademark style. What a pity that wasn't included here. [Update - you can now hear Big Boss Man here!]

Further Telstar-'inspired' sounds introduce the above single's partner in Dalekmania-inspired notoriety, Landing Of The Daleks by The Earthings (who almost certainly were a bunch of jaded session musicians). Unlike The Go-Go's efforts, the notoriety of this particular waxing does not stem from any reputation for musical awfulness - in fact, none of the pioneering 'fan writers' who owned a copy of this equally elusive disc ever said much about what it was actually like - rather from the fact that the BBC took offence to a brief burst of Morse Code in the middle announcing "SOS SOS Daleks Have Landed", and refused to play it on the grounds of concern that it might confuse shipping. Whether or not the waterways of Britain would have been full of panicking sailors hastily abandoning ship fearing a confrontation with fictional characters from a well-known television programme if this eminently sensible course of action wasn't adopted is, sadly, something we will never know. Considering the above-noted lack of discussion, perhaps it's no great surprise that there isn't really that much to say about Landing Of The Daleks. It has very little to do with its titular subjects and is basically just another of those post-Shadows guitar instrumentals with a military drumbeat, although it does boast some nice short dramatic bursts, a polite 'freakout' behind the offending morse code message, and a spacey organ-variant fadeout that gets swamped in sound effects (some of which sound puzzlingly similar to the sound of bricks being knocked over), and overall makes for rather pleasant listening as a primitive precursour of Interstellar Overdrive and sundry other mental psychedelic guitar freakouts that were just around the musical corner. Rather Pleasant rather than Exciting, that is.

Its b-side, March Of The Robots, is also rather tenuously included here. This however is no bad thing - although on face value pretty much just more of the same, clearly put together in a spare five minutes at the end of the a-side session with all the instruments plugged into the same places and not even much of an attempt to change the chord sequence, it's actually slightly more interesting than Landing Of The Daleks. There's a riff purloined from The Shadows' FBI, some echoey Juke Box Jury-aping lead guitar work, and an even more alarming freakout section in which the morse code machine (any guesses on what shipping-perplexing message it might be pumping out this time?) trades licks with huge lashings of backwards piano. Although it would be fanciful to describe March Of The Robots as any sort of 'lost classic' (or even a classic of any description), it's nonetheless interesting as a presumably entirely unintentional precursor to the sort of crazy far-out sounds that would be troubling the pop charts towards the latter half of the decade. Meanwhile, exactly which 'robots' the title was referring to (as the subjects of the a-side were neither robots nor capable of marching) remains something of a mystery. With the possible exception of the Dalek-accompanying Robomen - who certainly did enough bloody marching, but weren't robots either - there hadn't even been any other suitable candidates in the series by that point.

For all their cynical cash-in-ery, at least The Earthlings attempted to dress their instrumental meanderings up in atmospherics that might at least have called to mind the vaguest idea of Daleks for the least attentive casual listener. Bandleader Jack Dorsey, on the other hand, had no such qualms about failing to deliver relevance-for-money, and from the sound of it simply slapped the suitably modish title Dance Of The Daleks onto one of his existing popular cha-cha twist instrumental numbers. Dance Of The Daleks might sound like an unused Terry Nation script title, but this particular waxing not only makes absolutely no mention of of reference to Daleks whatsoever, it goes on to suggest that it's in fact paying homage to a different television show altogether, borrowing heavily in a rhythmical sense from Batman (so it could presumably have equally easily ended up as Batman's Bossa Nova), not to mention opening with yet another transparent homage to Telstar that sounds uncannily like the 'takeoff' sounds from Gerry Anderson's chin-crazy early Supermarionation effort Supercar (Mike Mercury Merengue?). Mind you, the frantic twist-friendly melody, which basically just repeats itself over and over again but getting more dramatic each time and throws in a bit of Hoots Mon!-style sax lunacy in the middle section, packs a hefty musical punch and is the sort of thing that you could easily imagine being used to introduce David Frost or Simon Dee. It also ends with what sounds like a kettle being held too close to a microphone, which has to be a plus point in anyone's book. What has never been explained, though, is exactly what moves this 'dance' involved, and quite how the Daleks would have been expected to participate in it in the first place. Shuffling about and then moving backwards in a sort-of half-hearted semi-circle surely can't have been setting many dancefloors alight back in 1964.

Following this, the album takes a hefty five-song diversion into the soundtracks of the two Peter Cushing-helmed Doctor Who films made at the height of the series' initial popularity. This isn't as much of a stylistic lurch as it may sound - the overall air of boosting Terry Nation's royalty payments still pervades (after all, said films were only ever made as an exercise in capitalising on the popularity of the Daleks, with an earlier plan to make a film around just The Doctor and his companions in a historical setting having tellingly come to nothing), and to be honest we don't really get to stray that far from the realms of the novelty single either. As singles go, they don't come much more novelty than Who's Who? by Roberta Tovey, backed by the orchestra of soundtrack composer Malcolm Lockyer. The young Miss Tovey was, of course, the shrieking child actress who played Susan 'Who' in both of the Cushing films, and this song was an in-character film-promoting ode to the title character. It deservedly sold next to nothing on release, and probably did little if anything to raise attendances for either movie (in fact, it possibly had the exact opposite effect), but strangely it's since become one of the best known inclusions on this set, regularly roped in to illustate 'The Sixties' in documentaries about Doctor Who, and equally independently infamous as a bad record in its own right. As you can probably imagine, or will no doubt know already if you've seen any of the above-mentioned documentaries, Who's Who? is a twee and cloying number delivered in nauseating off-key tones by a 'cutesy' adolescent (although she does still manage to sound more mature and deep-voiced than Sue Smith) backed by those annoyingly self-consciously 'chirpy' peg-on-nose backing singers that you only got in the early sixties. The lyrics do at least achieve a degree of amusing awfulness, largely due to running out of anything even vaguely relevant to say within about half a verse. After starting off by talking about his "long grey hair", suggesting that this was actually penned in tribute to William Hartnell rather than Peter Cushing, the list of Doctorish mannerisms immediately runs out and she's left to wrestle with meaningless nothingness about how he can "make you laugh or hold your breath as he travels from place to place", how he's "quite at home on a big spaceship or sitting on top of a horse", and some drivel about an "early bird" that doesn't even make sense. Not even containing much in the way of what could be termed 'kitsch value', Who's Who? is a truly horrible piece of music, so much so that the simple act of calling it a 'piece of music' seems somehow wrong.

Its b-side Not So Old - deemed sufficiently 'canon' for inclusion here - is a very different kettle of fish. No doubt this sort of thing was both intended and recieved much more innocently back then, but there is no getting away from the fact that this otherwise sublime loungey ballad is, to all intents and purposes, the sound of a teenage girl announcing her intention to bed a fully grown man. It's probably safer to wash all critical hands of this and let the lyrics speak for themselves:

"If you wait for me I will marry you, it won't mean waiting half as long as you do for presents off a tree. When you see me smile at you, when I do the things I do, it is just to see if you will wait for me. I can see you walk with her it doesn't bother me, for some day you'll let her go, and you will marry me. But don't let my mother know, don't tell her I love you so, don't you see how happy we will be, please won't you wait for me?"

The irony of all this is that if you can look past the lyrics - and they really do require an almost superhuman level of looking past - then on purely musical terms Not So Old is by far the best track on this collection. And let's just leave it at that.

The bleeding-obvious-statingly-titled The Eccentric Doctor Who is the work of the Malcolm Lockyer Orchestra alone, thankfully deciding that a caterwauling child wasn't really needed for a funked-up beat instrumental-styled rendition of the corking main title theme that backed the bizarre 'soft focus sweet wrapper' opening credits from the first Cushing film. It's certainly dramatic stuff, with crazy bongo breaks and an oh-so-sixties 'relay' bit in which the brass section trade riffs with an electric guitar, and if the title wasn't such a giveaway most listeners would probably assume that it hailed from a spy film. And for once there's no 'space' effects, although they do make up for it with a ridiculously overcooked ending. Then comes the same orchestra's fiddly guitar-led instrumental Daleks And Thals, which continues the 'secret agent' motif by borrwing heavily from the James Bond theme. And then immediately turns into some sort of incidental music from The Pink Panther, throwing in huge portions of the theme from ancient forgotten monochrome ITV cop show No Hiding Place for good measure. In fact, this curious and disjointed little piece sounds more akin to some sort of medley of Big Movie Themes, and is probably not one that listeners are likely to return to on a regular basis.

Then, finally, it's on to the one inclusion from the Cribbins-heavy second Cushing film - Bill McGuffie's Fugue For Thought. As the title might suggest, this particular effort - heard only fleetingly in the film itself - is somewhat more classical-leaning than the other items on offer here, with the inclusion of a schmaltzy trumpet and an upbeat jazzy middle eight being pretty much all that suggest that this elaborate exercise in piano gymnastics with its bombastic stylings and Trumpet Voluntary outro actually hail from the most sixties of sixties films. There's not really that much to say about this than that it's the least 'Doctor Who'-sounding track on the entire album. And that's the commercially released soundtrack items from the unfairly-maligned Doctor Who films in full, and - the splendid The Eccentric Doctor Who and the kitsch value of the Roberta Tovey recordings aside - they really are the least musically interesting inclusions on this compilation by some considerable distance. It just goes to show that while so-called 'novelty' items if done with the right sense of fun can still retain some sort of entertainment value even decades later, music specifically composed to enhance and reinforce onscreen action isn't necessarily going to bear repeated listening in isolation, as was arguably later proved by those album-length releases based on individual stories from 'Classic' Doctor Who, which often tried the patience of even the most obsessive listener.

Then comes a Doctor Who-related recording that, more than any other, has been heard about far more than it has actually been heard - Who's Dr Who?, a top pop waxing by late sixties series cast member Frazer Hines. Famous for playing long-serving companion Jamie, whose accent of course 'mellowed to TV Scots' whatever that means exactly, as a hip young television star he was much given to socialising with footballers and pop stars, and having already tried and failed to interest record companies in a couple of self-financed recordings (one of which we'll be coming back to later, and the other being the long-lost Jamie's Awae In His Time Machine, co-written with - bizarrely - offbeat seventies rock subverter in waiting Alex Harvey), he eventually found his way onto vinyl with this ear-punishing number. This came about, somewhat neatly, as a result of his playing on a showbiz football team withsongwriters Barry Mason and Les Reed, then in the middle of a run of hit-penning for the likes of Englebert Humperdinck, The Fortunes and Edison Lighthouse, who managed to strike a deal with the hardly chart-trailblazing Major Minor Records. What was running through their collective heads is anyone's guess but Who's Dr Who? starts off sounding as though it's going to be a prog-metal version of the Doctor Who theme, but then almost immediately turns into a twee flute-led choir-of-kids-drenched close relative of Excerpt From A Teenage Opera, like UK psychedelia would have sounded if parodied on The Basil Brush Show. The lyrics start off equally cloying, but almost unbelievably get even worse as the song progresses, dispensing fairly quickly with anything even remotely related to Doctor Who itself in favour of nonsense like "he knows a prince or two and kings are two a penny, he never thinks of money though although he hasn't any", "there's magic in his hands, you ask and he may show it, he simply elevates, a stone where you and I would throw it", and worst of all "he's been to yesterday and somehow we all follow, I wonder where we are today or where we'll be tomorrow?". Not even a bit of phasing over the fade-out can save it, but Major Minor were sufficiently convinced of the single's chances of success to send Frazer out on the road as support for some of their more prominent acts; somewhat less plausibly, he also insists that John Peel used to play it regularly. It was at this point that his manager, laudably, demanded that he give up on this pop star lark and concentrate on the acting.

However, his manager wasn't quite quick enough to prevent the recording of the single's b-side, The Punch And Judy Man. Clearly knocked off in the same session as Who's Dr Who?, it's actually the more likely oft he two to be considered a lost gem of UK Psych (though we really are operating on a relative scale there), employing vaguely 'Arabic' sounds to denote an air of mystery as the narrator goes on a voyage to tripout city whilst watching a seaside puppeteer, who apparently "took us on a trip across the magic sea, to great adventures in the world of fantasy, just by the simple waving of his clever hand". Again written by Mason and Reed, despite the vague Doctorishness of the title character The Punch And Judy Man apparently already existed as a fully formed composition before they'd so much as lobbed a halfway line header at Frazer Hines, but in all other respects it's Who Is Dr Who? Part Two, with similar 'la la la' outro laziness and even a key change in the same place.

Jon Pertwee's Who Is The Doctor? – basically him reciting a reverb-drenched poem supposedly about The Doctor but actually full of meaningless nonsense (“as fingers move to end mankind, metallic teeth begin to grind, with sword of truth I turn to fight the satanic powers of the night“) over the top of a frankly ridiculous early electropop arrangement of the Doctor Who theme – was already pretty well known as a landmark of musical oddness before this compilation even existed, so we’ll moving straight on to its sadly neglected b-side. Performed sort of vaguely in character (and in fairness having as much relation to the TV series as Who Is The Doctor? ever did) over a plaintive stage musical-esque piano, Pure Mystery is the presumably non-autobiographical tale of a sad old entertainer who nobody likes. Whoever he may or may not be based on, he pines for the days of Music Hall, when he was celebrated for, erm, splitting atoms and ‘drawing the line across belief’, but is now reduced to less prestigious engagements (“birthday parties weren’t my line, now they help to pass the time“). If all that wasn’t ridiculous enough, there’s also an overabundance of Pertwee‘s famed ‘silly voices’, notably on his startling declaration that “science is a magic of the mind“, and indeed when he starts crooning ‘bom berm bom’ in lieu of the proper chorus. Pure Mystery is not strictly a Doctor Who record in the most rigidly-defined sense, but all the same it's one that deserves wider exposure, mainly because it has to be heard to be believed. Oh and by the way, the single was released on ‘Purple Records’ as in the label owned and operated by symphonic heavy rock types and confirmed favourites on the Pertwee car stereo, Deep Purple, who presumably not only came up with the idea for this record but possibly even played on it. Yes, you did read that right.

Don Harper may not be a widely known name, but he’s certainly a widely heard one; as well as composing the original theme tune for World Of Sport, which is about as concise a musical depiction of the days when people were obsessed with the concept of ‘sport’ rather than any individual sports in particular as you’re likely to find, he provided that blaring electric violin on the theme from The Professionals. Accompanying an equally bizarre Charleston-styled reworking of the World Of Sport theme, Harper’s take on Doctor Who seemed to have been concieved solely as a showcase for his electric violin-playing prowess, and after a fairly faithful if slightly odd electronic recreation of the theme, the track relaxes into what could most generously be described as a ‘free’ interpretation, retaining the general flavour of the original melody but careering all over the place like one of those Hooked On Classics albums left out in the sun. This is one of the rarest Doctor Who spinoff records of the lot, a fact that may be as much connected to adolescent uneasiness with the unintentional connotations of the artist credit as it is to downright musical oddness.

Then we get a radio-friendly version of Landing Of The Daleks, supposedly with 'scrambled' morse code though to the untrained ear it sounds virtually indistinguishable from the original, and Time Traveller, a rockabilly-inflected number Frazer Hines cut as a demo shortly after joining the series. After some insultingly lazy attempts at 'science fiction' sound effects, it settles into a sort of light skiffle rhythm with the self-proclaimed "pride of the Highlands that's the truth, I do all my travelling in a telephone booth" singing of how "I've been to Atlantis way under the sea", "a king-size Macra picked a fight with me" and "I fought the redcoats in a Scottish glen, nearly been killed by the Cybermen", which suggests that he'd waited for a whopping four stories before attempting to cash in on his association with the series. There's also a rubbish pun about the 'Guitardis', an equally rubbish attempt at replicating the Tardis take-off effect, and that's it.

As indeed it is for the album. Who Is Dr. Who? is more than just a collection of throwaway rarities slung together to make the more esoterica-crazed fans chortle a bit, though - it reveals and indeed highlights a side to the early pop business that you wouldn't get even from listening to a showtunes-era Freddie & The Dreamers album, let alone Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Quite why so many people were hoping to make a quick Doctor Who-related buck with projects that were clearly never going to do anything of the sort is baffling, but maybe they'll get some cheer from the fact that their half-hearted efforts make for such enlightening listening so many years down the line.

That's enlightening rather than entertaining, mind.