Sweeps, Swoops, Cloud, Windbubble And 'Spangles'


If anyone ever did actually watch Doctor Who from behind the 'sofa', then it's a fair bet that the second track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes would have sent them scurrying right back there. As the upbeat sound of the Play Away cast getting down home and funky about opening umbrellas indoors fades out, in comes that electronic sting familiar to an entire generation for following countless instances of Tom Baker doing his 'alarmed' face while a booming voice announced that there was nothing he could do to stop their plans now.

Yes, it's the original version of the Doctor Who theme music, although not quite the original. Over the course of the Doctor Who's up-to-then ten year history, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop's original arrangement had been regularly rejigged as and when successive production teams elected to wield the time-honoured 'new broom'. It had been bolstered by the addition of new-fangled electronic 'spangles' as the fans insist on calling them - which is especially confusing when you're in the middle of an already all-over-the-place narrative that has already made several mentions of the sweets of the same name - and indeed that aforementioned cliffhanger-enhancing sting. It had been remixed into something approaching a rough approximation of stereo, and the full-length Tardis take-off effect had been pasted into the background halfway through. And even that's just the obvious rememberable-off-the-top-of-your-head stuff. In short, although the same basic original recording was still there somewhere underneath it all, in many ways it was actually a different version to the simpler, sparser one that had bookended episodes in the black and white era.


By the time that I got hold of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, of course, this version of the theme had been completely replaced three times, and Doctor Who itself had been cancelled. This slightly older arrangement positively reeked of slit-scan title sequences, seemingly endless multicoloured scarves, dodgy CSO sequences, Target Books, The Giant Robot, and hazy ancestral memories of Jon Pertwee and The Brigadier. This was, basically, the sound of Doctor Who How It Used To Be. Yet, for all that certain 'fans' might like to grumble about how it was better in their day when it was all photographic blow-ups of fields around here and you could get to the Blackpool Exhibition and back and still have change from half a shilling, even then there was a sense that Doctor Who How It Used To Be had never really gone away. Yes, so there were only about three old stories out on video and you needed to take out a second mortgage to buy any of them, but outside of that there was a whole industry founded on exploiting Doctor Who's archival adventures, from books and magazines to scale model Ice Warriors and the iconically purposeless Build The Tardis ("Your own time machine... without scissors or glue!"), and if you threw a Dapol Tetrap hard enough chances are it would have hit an album that had this theme arrangement somewhere on it. Though not the original original, which got a single release back in 1964 but had since all but vanished... but that's another story. This one, of course, had also been released as a single, with an oddly-named and oddly-chosen b-side that we'll be coming back to to boot, but you'll find the story behind all of that in Top Of The Box.

Music From BBC Children's Programmes wouldn't live up to its title without it, but in a sense the original-but-not-the-original version of the Doctor Who theme is something of an interruption to proceedings. Or at least the kind of proceedings we were hoping for here. There's plenty that it does evoke, regardless of whether a you are a fan or not, but rather fittingly that's something for another time and indeed another place. Like here, for example. Anyway this isn't quite the whole story, as the Doctor Who theme segues straight into its markedly more nostalgia-nirvana satisfying companion piece The World Of Doctor Who, but we've already covered that in some detail in the first instalment so it's probably best to just move straight on. To another similarly long-running show, which has enjoyed something of a close relationship with Doctor Who. And an even closer relationship with those two frightfully well-spoken youngsters on the cover of Music From BBC Children's Programmes...


Top Of The Box, The Complete Guide To BBC Records And Tapes Singles, is available as a paperback here or an eBook here; a sequel covering the albums is coming soon!