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Exclusive: Celebrating Fifty Years of ‘Doctor Who’ with archivist Mark Ayres

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With the celebration of “Doctor Who’s” fiftieth anniversary in full swing, Silva Screen Records has unwrapped even more treats for the Who fans (or Whovians, as they are so-called). Available digitally in the US is two-discs worth (45 tracks) of music spanning the entire history of the television series – and includes music from the 1996 television movie! While the UK is receiving a whopping 129-track four-disc edition (available as an import), an even greater monster collection is waiting in the wings – an 11-disc box set, with each disc representing a different Doctor, all housed in an extremely limited edition TARDIS-shaped box!

Culling all of this material together for each release was Mark Ayres, unofficial “Doctor Who” music archivist (as a member of the Doctor Who Restoration Team) and one-time composer for the series. Ayres logged time as the score composer for the adventures of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and has been intricately involved with the restoration and commercial release of nearly every “Doctor Who” soundtrack containing classic music since then.

As a holiday treat, and to commemorate in our own little way, Examiner spent some time with Mr. Ayres to further explore the musical legacy of “Doctor Who”! Read on, and do not fear another Dalek invasion.

Something I loved about the original “Doctor Who” [DW] theme is that it had an aura of creepiness to it, a quality that spoke to the unknown and the danger it held. That quality seems to have diminished in the theme over time, with the “hero” portion taking center stage.

Indeed. At the very start, DW’s first producer, Verity Lambert, wanted a very other-worldly, “alien” sound for the program. Nowadays it’s far more “Hollywood”. The Doctor Who theme was written for electronics, but has now been recast in orchestral epic mode!

I was reading your essay about the construction (literally) of the DW theme, and it occurred to me that by what you wrote, Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills are inadvertently responsible for Industrial music as well as the DIY punk ethic. Would you agree?

Most definitely. They created techniques to get a job done, not realizing (as you don’t) how pioneering and influential their work was to be.

Also, although it is a truly classic theme, do you know why anyone would put in so much effort to create a theme song? It almost seems excessive for such a small piece of music.

Because that is what the BBC, and particularly the Radiophonic Workshop, were there for - to come up with new ideas, and to find new ways of realizing those ideas.

A lot of the early show music was also emotionally ambivalent. Do you think that was to allow the viewer to feel what he/she wanted in the face of such strange situations and atmospheres?

A lot of British society back then as emotionally ambivalent! And this program, when it started, was essentially for children. It was about high adventure and the occasional chills and scares, not about emotion. That has all changed in recent years, of course.

Some of the spacey music, especially from “The Tenth Planet” reminds me of those odd, European Tom & Jerry cartoons from the early 1960s. Was some of that early music designed to nudge the audience towards humor they might otherwise fail to notice?

In retrospect, some of the sound may appear comical, but that was not the intention. Doctor Who was always played straight - even the humorous bits. Indeed, it was not until the late 1970s that the first deliberately humorous sound effect was created for the show.

A good chunk of the music on the 50th Anniversary Collection 2-CD set is in extended cue form. Did you transfer them “as is” from the library, or did you have to cobble any of it together from different pieces?

I have created “suites” by editing cues together to form longer pieces (as was done for the two “The Music” LPs in the 1980s). Very few cues are edited in themselves, but (usually) selected complete cues have been used. Most cues written for Doctor Who were pretty short in the early days.

Likewise, was there any music that required reconstruction to any degree, or was it all pre-existing?

All of the music used on these releases is original recordings. No reconstruction or re-recording allowed!

Something that made me chuckle was that the track called “Terror of the Zygons Suite” is one of the most peaceful, cathartic pieces of music on the set. Feel free to comment on this observation.

Well, there has to be contrast! And that piece quite is deceptive. It is made up of three cues - the first being the destruction of an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea by a giant sea monster, the last being a cliffhanger (the end of Episode One), in which the Doctor’s companion Sarah Jane is approached from behind by a Zygon, which claps its hand over her mouth and drags her away!

I think one of the charms of the classic DW show music is that it was imbued with this futuristic yet primitive dichotomy. Do you feel there is something more to that than simply being “of its time”?

Yes, I think there is. Doctor Who (like much of the BBC’s output) was made on tiny budgets, which were made up for by being extraordinarily creative on little resources. The Radiophonic Workshop was a prime example - a lot of its equipment was from “redundant stores”, with inventive engineers and highly creative composers working together to invent (by accident) a whole new form of music and sound design. Absolutely, it is at the same time primitive and futuristic.

What was the criteria for the music you chose to include in this collection? What made one cue more appropriate than another?

Personal choice, really! That’s the only way to approach a project as huge as this (remember that your US 2-disc version is a distillation of a limited 11-CD collectors’ set). I also needed to try to illustrate the history of both the music and the techniques, so that also informed the selection.

Aside from the theme song, what do you think is the most significant piece of music written for DW?

The TARDIS sound, certainly. It’s always been acknowledged as electronic music rather than a simple sound effect, and is as recognizable a “theme” for the program as the theme tune itself.

In this global marketplace, why did the American audience get a 2-CD edition of the 50th Anniversary music, while the UK received a 4-CD version? Is there any special significance to the music that was exclusive for the UK?

You would have to ask David Stoner [Silva Screen Records] about that! My understanding is that a 4-CD set containing 129 items is pretty much un-licensable in the US, hence the 2-CD set containing 45 tracks. I started with the 11-CD set, created a 4-CD set from that, and then was asked to further distil it to two CDs for the US.

Aside from the piece from the 1996 TV movie, the Doctor who has the least amount of music presented in the US set is Jon Pertwee. Conversely, on the UK set, Chris Eccleston is represented with the least music (even less than the TV movie). Do you know why that happened?

That is purely the way it worked out - trying to juggle the total number of tracks with fair representation of Doctors and composers over the various sets. Eccleston’s representation on the sets is predicated on the material we’ve been allowed to include.

John Debney is the only American composer to ever score music for DW. Is that looked upon as a black mark by Who purists?

Not at all; it was a US movie and had a US composer. I pitched for it myself but was told they were going “in a different direction”. And, indeed, they were. Like the New Series, since 2005 it deliberately abandoned the experimental, edgy electronica of the early years and went for a more generic, orchestral sound.

I find it interesting that Debney’s score is probably the biggest musical departure from the canon, while the music for the 2 Amicus films fits rather nicely within canon. Why was no music from the two Amicus films released on either set? Has there been any move by the screenwriters to attempt to work the Amicus films into DW canon?

The Amicus films are cinema adaptations of early television scripts. They are alternatives to canon and sit alongside it, but are not a part of it (in those films, the Doctor is an eccentric human inventor, not an alien for a start). We have released a separate CD of music from the films, but this set concentrates on the history of the TV series.

Why do you think the series has avoided the use of specific, recurrent character theming until Murray Gold came onto the scene?

Because the “classic” series was more about incident and adventure than character. Certainly, within scores, some composers developed character themes (and Dudley Simpson certainly had themes for the Doctor and K9) but it wasn’t that kind of show. Nowadays, it’s all about character. Also, we used to through-score all episodes with original music, nowadays there is a lot of reuse of music, so it makes more sense to have “themes”. Plus, of course, the series used to regularly vary the composer - that hasn’t happened since 2005, so just the one voice is heard.

As a composer of DW music yourself, what was the most challenging aspect of your job then?

Time-scale! And trying to produce the asked-for big sound on the available synthesizer technology! There was never the budget for additional musicians, even for a story like “Ghost Light” that cried out for them. But that’s what made it fun!

What exactly is your job as a DW music archivist? What does the work entail?

It’s a freelance, hobby job - unpaid for the most part. I just collect the music and make sure the tapes are preserved at the BBC, and where possible, released commercially - because nobody else does it, and because if I didn’t do it, most of the music would be lost by now (as indeed much of it was, before I got involved).

Why is the preservation of DW music so important to you?

Because it’s great music; because I love it; because it encompasses the history of technique and technology. And because Doctor Who is - over its 50 years - such an astonishing part of the cultural history of television that it certainly deserves preservation.

Which composer do your feel has contributed the most to the evolution of DW music?

Dudley Simpson in the early days - constantly inventing, usually in partnership with the Radiophonic Workshop. Nowadays, Murray Gold has made it entirely his own.

If you would hazard a guess, where do you see the next evolution of DW music headed?

Gosh, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Murray Gold now. It’s his gig, and I don’t see him letting it go!

The 2-CD edition of “Doctor Who: The 50th Anniversary Collection” is currently available at iTunes and Amazon Digital.

The 4-CD import edition is currently available at Amazon and at Silva Screen Records.

Stay tuned to for details on the 11-disc TARDIS box set.


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