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May 26, 2008

"Well, I woke up today..."

Doctor Who: Musical Interlude #1

Britney The first really exciting non-score musical moment in the new series of Doctor Who was when the Britney Spears track Toxic played over the certain doom of the Earth in The End of the World.  Popular music’s always been a feature of the show, right back to when The Beatles appeared on tape singing Ticket To Ride during The Chase, but for much of the time its tastes have been decidedly MOJO magazine with appearances on the soundtrack for Fleetwood Mac, The Seekers and King Crimson, as this page at the Wikipedia of the non-composed music shows.  There’s been plenty of classical music and easy listening too, but largely the music was from men with beards selected by men with pipes.

There was something rather shocking about seeing something as fashionable as Britney in the second episode of the new series of our favourite franchise, a franchise which by the end of its opening salvo was quite happy to invite Courtney Pine along for a blow and be excited about that.  Some fans hated it, and it’ll certainly date the show in the future, but it was a wonderful indication that the series was attempting to speak to as broad a church as possible and wanting to talk to kids in their own language rather than talking down to them with a burst of Bela Bartok. 

True, it also suggested that the work of the ‘troubled pop star’ (© every tabloid) would still be knocking around in five billion years time but that would later become part of an overall view of the far future as being culturally intruded upon by our contemporary zeitgeist, the explanation for which might make a good story at some point.  But it began litany of popular music within the latest few series which would also encompass Rick Astley, Scissor Sisters, The Streets, Ian Dury and Gary Glitter (nice).  The apogee has probably been ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky in Love & Monsters, which was almost an extra character, accentuating the melancholy of what some us still think is Russell T Davies’s finest story. 

But surprisingly the most complex emotions have resonated from a pop mantra created especially for the programme itself.  After Tennant’s best ever twenty minutes – in the final third of The Christmas Invasion -- it would have been quite easy to have tacked on some kind of derisory closing scene, with the Doctor simply appearing at the Tyler’s door and Rose disappearing off with him.  But Murray and Russell understood that the audience still needed a moment to really fall for this new incarnation of the Doctor and perhaps more importantly for us to spend some time alone with him.  What better way to underscore all that than with a song, and why not a Song For Ten?

The lyrics of the song (“Well I woke up today / And the world was a restless place / It could have been that way for me”) and are an excellent evocation of this renewal of the character putting to side the survivor guilt which had made him so impotent in action in the first series.  Playing over the wardrobe scene in which the Doctor selects a new image to go with his new chin, we’re literally seeing a change in outlook which continues into his appearance at the door of the Tyler house.  His grin and cracker pulling are a total contrast with the dower Eccleston, demonstrating that this version does do domestic – after all he could have been off in the Tardis, back into the universe but instead he wanted her and their company on the holiest of holies. 

Some thought it unfair that the tv version with Tim Philips’s vocal didn’t later appear on the soundtrack album, superseded by the tones of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon.  Sacrilegiously that’s the version I prefer, not only because of the passion with which Hannon attacks the words (to the point that in the right mood I’ll actually blub) and impressive big band sound but also because cleverly the second half of Murray’s lyrics, perhaps written later, extends the resonance of the song beyond The Christmas Invasion into the last episode of that season.  It’s almost, in fact, saying everything the Doctor couldn’t to Rose on that beach in Doomsday:  “ 'Cause I followed my star / And that's what you are / I've had a merry time with you […] So have a good life / Do it for me / Make me so proud / Like you want me to be / Where ever you are / I'm thinking of you / oceans apart / I want you to know.”

But my admiration for the song’s sky-rocketed recently after hearing the final verse and realising that it could well have been an oh-so subtle hint that Rose was not gone for good:  “Well I woke up today and you're on the other side / Our time will never come again / But if you can still dream / Close your eyes it will seem / That you can see me now and then.”  If Rose is to be the subject of this year’s Doctor-less episode, then I wonder if it’ll tell the story of the fourth series from her point of view, showing her attempts to communicate with the Doctor across the void, seeing him (and Donna) now and then.  Whatever happens,   I can’t think of a better song about finding and losing love, about saying goodbye but never forgetting.  Who needs The Beatles, when you've got Murray Gold?

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