Jun 10

THE TIMELORDS – “Doctorin The Tardis”

Popular101 comments • 14,510 views

#610, 18th June 1988, video

The Manual – the book Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty wrote after this record went to #1 – is an essential read. It tells you a lot about the music business in the late 80s, a bit about the country in the late 80s, and it has many sharp things to say about Number Ones and their qualities. Plenty of glib things too, but entertainingly glib. You can get a PDF of it here and anyone with an interest in this site who hasn’t read it should prepare themselves for an enjoyable and sometimes infuriating hour or so.

About the only thing it won’t tell you much about is this actual record. When introducing their “Golden Rules” the Timelords gleefully admit that “Doctorin’ The Tardis” is an exception to almost all of them. Use the latest house beat! They don’t, they go for an old Gary Glitter rhythm. Have a straightforward title! Theirs is a pun. Make the lyrics universal! Oh, come on. No, the hit may have given them the excuse to write a book but it barely even pretends to work as rationalisation: this is a banging novelty record and doubtless put together with no more or less cynicism and excitement than these things ever are.

That’s not to say their instincts weren’t sound. “Doctorin’ The Tardis” wasn’t the first recent attempt at doing a Doctor Who novelty record. Hi-NRG producer and big-time fan Ian Levine, a man not without hitmaking experience, had made an effort a couple of years before with “Doctor In Distress”, a song protesting the show’s then impending cancellation. This was a mortifying flop: Levine cared way too much and the public cared way too little. So even though Doctor Who was still limping on by the time Drummond and Cauty made “Doctorin'”, the record uses it without having anything to do with it*.

To understand this, imagine a Doctor Who equivalent of “Star Trekkin” – lots of jokes about stairs, scarves and screaming. I might have thought it was quite funny (I’m a Who fan, as you’re probably realising) but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as this. There’s only one actual gag in “Tardis” – the Daleks grating “Dosh Dosh Dosh! Loadsamoney” – the rest is straight-ahead dumb high-impact pop, and works because it takes only the most iconic sounds from Doctor Who and uses them with almost no reference to the show. Dalek voices, of course. The wheezing, groaning sound of a TARDIS landing. The imploding cliffhanger noise. The theme tune’s hook – using Ron Grainer’s synthed-up 1980 arrangement rather than the eerie wobble of Delia Derbyshire’s original. That bassline – the theme’s secret weapon (if only someone would let Murray bloody Gold know it…)

Ahem. The Timelords mix this stuff in with the pop sounds of 1974, the year of glam rock and Davros, scarves on the Rollers and scarves on the new Doctor, glitterbeat and “Blockbuster” airhorns. It’s a companion piece to “Theme From S’Express” in that sense and just as good – part of the same rediscovery of the 70s, beckoning the boy gangs of yobs and nerds onto the dancefloor, the ones Mark Moore didn’t invite to his party. You could put it in a line of descent from “Hoots Mon” and “Mouldy Old Dough” too – novelty monsters which catch a time more truly than some of the serious songs do.

Can I separate my love of this record from my Who fandom? Not really: at Poptimism in 2005, the night before the series came back, we played it – we had to – and Steve mixed it in with a 1998 number one by a future Doctor Who star. It was a great moment. But maybe I can separate it – the moment worked not just because we were excited about the show’s return, but because the novelty record and the teenpop track worked superbly together. I like to think I’d enjoy “Doctorin’ The Tardis” if I’d never watched a minute of Doctor Who.

*(or only in this sense: sampling – the engine of the JAMMS’ work and the presiding spirit of The Manual – is time travel, fishing sounds out of the past and casting them into the future. And more: every sample works like a TARDIS, a few bars of music which when you open them up are far bigger on the inside, gateways to new songs and worlds if you’re willing to make the trip.)



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  1. 31
    will on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Foot-stompin’, air punchin’ fun. How many other novelty records have lasted as well as this?

  2. 32
    punctum on 18 Jun 2010 #

    #29: The answer is (pace Todd Levin): “I could have done this! BUT YOU DIDN’T”

    #31 is also a pretty decent answer.

  3. 33
    Steve Mannion on 18 Jun 2010 #

    The Timelords gave the best TOTP performance I saw from anyone this decade. Mind you I might’ve said the same about Harry Enfield a few weeks prior, at the time.

    Gave this a 10, instinctively. I can’t think of any meaningful problems with it and its success in context (and my own context bearing in mind how I feel about ‘plunderphonics’ generally) is as great an advert for both the UK and its charts as you could get.

    People complaining about the ratings need to get over themselves, frankly. It was never objective, thankfully!

  4. 34
    pink champale on 18 Jun 2010 #

    hmm. i do wonder whether i would think less of this if it wasn’t by who it was by and so didn’t have that extra aura that they give everything they do. i think might (though not much, i liked it just fine in 1988 when i’d never heard of the jamms), but the point is it *is* by who it’s by – giving a record a little extra credit because you like the makers’ conceptual tomfoolery is just a much as a valid pop reaction as liking westlife records more because you fancy…[here i realise i don’t know the names of any of westlife]…er, billy?

    or to put it another way, there may be nothing except the text, but in pop, the text is just as much the singers’ haircut as his lyrics.

  5. 35
    vinylscot on 18 Jun 2010 #

    OK, maybe “objective” is too strong a word…. and I understand it’s natural that Tom will have a “golden age”, but I do find it difficult to tell if he’s being serious, or just having a laugh with some of the more recent entries.

    As Tom’s marks have been getting higher, so unfortunately has the standard of his writing descended from the well-crafted, insightful, informative pieces he used to post, to some recent pieces which come over as little more than adolescent fanboy-ism.

    I know many of you will rush to defend him, as so many of you are acquainted with each other, and maybe have Tom’s “golden age” in common, but I’m entitled to my opinion, and from reading the last few #1s it would seem that I’m not alone… and don’t just state that I couldn’t do any better. I know that, but I’m not the one posting reviews and asking for comments.

  6. 36
    Steve Mannion on 18 Jun 2010 #

    You could always start a blog where you review each of Tom’s reviews and mark them out of 10 (I jest..OR DO I?!).

  7. 37
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Well, obviously I’m sorry if people feel the standard of the writing has slipped! That and the comments are the main things I worry about, and I have my own opinion on how well things are going. Some of the 50s and 60s entries are piffle, for instance.

    As for the marks, of course I never claimed to be objective, but I feel I’ve always been consistent. The pop music I generally love most is rooted in disco, house and hip-hop – this has been the case for the last 15 years or so. I could have telegraphed this back when I was writing about the 50s and 60s, but why? I like that music too, after all – just not as much.

    I don’t think a 9 for this is remotely inconsistent with a 9 for Lord Rockingham’s XI back in 1958, though.

  8. 38
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    (BTW much like Vinylscot I don’t want a rush of defenders here either. If you like the writing keep reading. If not, don’t.)

  9. 39
    Tracer Hand on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Even if this review were nothing but the bit in italics at the end it would be a brilliant review.

  10. 40
    Tracer Hand on 18 Jun 2010 #

    (Sorry Tom)

  11. 41
    pink champale on 18 Jun 2010 #

    actually, i expressed that badly in #34. it’s not that i the timelords ‘extra credit’ about anything, it’s that my enjoyment of their highbrow larking about is just as intrinsic to the pleasure i get from the record as any of the musical elements. i dunno, that’s not really it either. maybe it’s that westlife fans, don’t think westlife records are awful but they is fit, or westlife records are good *because* they is fit, they think westlife records are good and westlife is fit and there is no division between the two. or to put it yet another way, no one’s lying when ugly boybands get screamed at too.

    i certainly haven’t noticed any drop off in popular quality, recent entries have been great as always. there does seem to be a feeling though that these recent records do mark a real dividing line, with people on the wrong side feeling that there the only ones who can see the emperor has no clothes. if you’re feeling that, you’re bound to be less impressed with well written articles on the width of his trousers. full disclosure: i don’t know tom or anyone else here.

  12. 42
    pink champale on 18 Jun 2010 #

    er yeah, sorry for the defence!

  13. 43
    Kat but logged out innit on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Easy 9! Automatic 6 for anything involving Bill Drummond + 2 for excellent Doctor Who interpolation + 1 for Glitter chanting.

  14. 44
    thefatgit on 18 Jun 2010 #

    “Fanboy-ism”. You have to be a bit of a fanboy to get a project like this off the ground in the first place. And here we seem to have 2 subjects which Tom cares deeply about:
    a) Doctor Who
    b) The KLF

    There were bound to be incidents like this along the way. And did he not warn us beforehand about the late 80’s being a particularly significant passage in pop? Is he not allowed to be enthusiatic about his “Golden Age”?

    I think Tom should be awarded a sizeable slice of slack here.

  15. 45
    thefatgit on 18 Jun 2010 #


  16. 46
    Steve Mannion on 18 Jun 2010 #

    I’d love to ban the word ‘fanboy’. Whatever was wrong with ‘fanatic’?! Not a dig at you tho fatgit, jus saying…

  17. 47
    MBI on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Far more interesting to talk about than to actually listen to. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to sit down and hear this, and I have trouble discerning while stupid sci-fi fanboy injokes are so unpalatable as a series of vocal impressions but so amazing as a series of samples.

  18. 48
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    #47 – I had a pop at explaining that in the review. They aren’t (just) injokes, they’re being used as sample sources – it’s the pop, not the joke, potential that’s being mined. The “we obey no-one” section is doing the same work as a line of kung-fu dialogue in a Wu Tang Clan track (say).

  19. 49
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Actually a better example – there’s a terrific old jungle track called “Scottie” which is built on old Star Trek samples (IIRC a redshirt death scene and some Kirk/Scottie dialogue), and much nearer to this record than to Star Trekkin’. The samples are there as memory-triggers but they also serve a point within the structure of the track, ramping up the paranoia/tension/excitement.

    This is kind of the first Toytown Techno record in fact, in that it’s using chunks of cultural stuff as rush-inducers as well as “do you remember” jokes.

  20. 50
    punctum on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Given how long Popular’s being going and the amount of time certain regulars have spent here it’s amazing how many people still don’t get it.

    In the Oxfam branch which Lena helps run there is currently a well-worn copy of Guinness’ 500 Number One Hits book from 1982. Each of the 500 entries sums up all the relevant information pertaining to each chart-topper and in terms of opinion doesn’t deviate from received views. The book is objective, confirmatory, non-judgmental and utterly boring and dead to read. I’m pretty sure someone else did a 1000 Number One Hits update and that was just as bad if not worse.

    I mean, there are plenty of websites, many of which Tom links to here, which will give you all the information you need about number one hits and agree with your views rather than challenge them, if that’s all you want. I’m not saying I’m going to go all batshit teenage fanboy when Then Play Long gets to “my time” but if I feel like it I might, and, as stated above, other websites are available for those who don’t want to read me. I’d rather jump from a twentieth-floor window than read most of them and be bored to death but perhaps that’s just me.

    For sure let’s all applaud the salutary “objectivity” of, say, Charlie Gillett’s Sound Of The City – and for those new to the book, it’s a cracking read, tells you the facts and the history in a way that turns it into a good story rather than a dry, dusty recital from the lectern – but you need the jive nutbagisms of Nik Cohn’s AWopBopALooBopALopBamBoom to balance out the picture and in fact make the music live and breathe. Just like I wouldn’t want a world with either Max Harrison or Frank Kofsky in it; you need them both.

    Really, though, great music writing is almost by definition unhinged. It’s about twisting history to fit your visions (while at the same time doing due service to the music, a balancing act that’s way more difficult than it looks but Tom generally carries it off pretty damn well), it’s about unearthing ghosts, spotting lights that might lead to an unexpected future, about celebrating the body of the music and the writer’s direct relationship to it – and most importantly of all, it’s about the ability to communicate all of this in a way that is both captivating and profound (especially if you intend neither). As soon as you try to put up any sort of Customs gate or border patrol – boo, Tom likes the Timelords more than he does the Respected Relics of Rock, ‘snot fair, does he not know that Keith Elmore Muddy etc. – then music writing dies. Immediately.

    TPL – again, an expressly subjective project which does its best to look at well-known and not so well-known records from a different angle – regularly receives dreary comments (all of which routinely go on the spike) from people who feel that they’re “entitled to their opinion.” I’m no Tory and I’m not necessarily having a go at VS here but I totally agree with what DavyCam said when he took over about the need for people to think less about “entitlement” and more about their responsibilities. If you’re not “getting” Popular then that’s your affair, but it’s grossly unfair to deride something which has from the word go expressly been a personal project – “marked on whim,” as it says at the top of this page – simply because it’s not reiterating the received history of pop in a way that you find palatable. For me Tom’s writing does make this “old” music live and breathe, and that’s got to be better than simply snoozing everyone into the grave with what we already know about The Beatles And The Stones And Cetera. When that happens, both music and music writing are fit only for the life support machine.

  21. 51
    Rory on 18 Jun 2010 #

    There are precisely two songs by the KLF that I love: this, and “America: What Time is Love?” (i.e. not the bunnied one). I don’t even own The White Room, and 1987 leaves me cold. My enthusiastic response to this song derives from what I perceive as its merits. True, some of those merits stem from being a lifelong Doctor Who viewer, which is why I almost gave it 9 to account for the fact that not everyone is; but then I caught myself and thought, “Why am I trying to take other people’s potential problems with this into account? Since when is my mark supposed to be objective?” So my own 10 is as subjective as they come. If the average score ends up at 6 or 7 I’ll have no problem with that at all. And I can’t see how Tom, or any one of us, could play it any differently.

    One of my favourite songs of last year was Muse’s “Uprising”, which bears more than a passing resemblance to this. I just love the danceable guitar/SF-synth combo, it’s as simple as that. Maybe that dates me. Actually, scratch that: inevitably that dates me.

  22. 52
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    re. The KLF – we’ll have another chance to discuss them but this is up with their best stuff for me: it’s the natural bridge between “Whitney Joins The JAMs” and the more polished stadium house stuff.

  23. 53
    punctum on 18 Jun 2010 #

    #51: Completely agree with Rory re. “Uprising,” my favourite song of 2009 and this is one of the reasons why.

  24. 54
    MikeMCSG on 18 Jun 2010 #

    # 50 I shouldn’t really agree with you about 1000 Number One Hits, MC, since one of the authors is a friend of mine and got me on the TV a couple of years back but you do have a point. It’s also riddled with mistakes which I told him !

    Do we take it that Tom is no longer one of those people in marketing who shouldn’t write about pop music then ? :-)

  25. 55
    Steve Mannion on 18 Jun 2010 #

    #49 best of all you could mix the ‘Scottie’ track with the v similar one using “Johnny!” samples in exactly the same way. i think there might’ve been a “Ricky!” one too – no, not sampling Frank Butcher…

    Doctor Who samples in ardkore too natch, but the only one I remember is Boom Town’s (future Who episode title!) ‘Return Of The Doctor’ because they played a clip of it on Dance Energy.

  26. 56
    punctum on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Amazing how many punters read that Minstrel post. You’re right, though; the comment was unfair, I was annoyed at the time for well-documented reasons and I’ve just amended it accordingly.

  27. 57
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Quite right too – I no longer, strictly speaking, work in marketing ;)

    Re. #50 – thanks.

  28. 58
    Tom on 18 Jun 2010 #

    #57 There is also a Dr Who sample (from “Logopolis”) on a 1993 track by D-Generation, featuring the blogger latterly known as K-Punk.

  29. 59
    anto on 18 Jun 2010 #

    Fun but I much prefer Cauty and Drummonds had other number one.

  30. 60
    vinylscot on 18 Jun 2010 #

    But what Marcello fails to acknowledge is that by inviting comments you invite criticism. I don’t know Tom personally, but I don’t imagine he and I will fall out about this.

    But I see where you’re coming from – I’m with you on the Gillett/Cohn thing – I first came across Gillett’s work in the Rock File books when I was about twelve – they filled in a lot of the gaps.

    And Cohn’s “nutbagism” is what makes the book – PJ Proby? really?

    ..but where I deviate from Tom’s pieces on #1s around this time is not really that I don’t like the records; it’s that Tom’s pieces, to me anyway, seem to be (slightly pained) attempts to elevate these records to unwarranted heights in both quality and importance. Yes, he’s now writing about an era which means more to him, so he’s bound to be more knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but that doesn’t mean his writing is better, or that I should agree with it.

    I know Tom’s never claimed this as an exercise in objectivity, but from following Popular for a couple of years now, I did think he would try to retain credibility. I, personally, believe he is in danger of losing that if he continues with the rather OTT marking which has become the norm of late. It’s not just an age thing – I was, admittedly, an old man of twenty-seven by the time this came out, but I certainly hadn’t lost my fondness/obsession with chart music by this point – there’s a few years left in me yet, and I rather think Tom and I will be agreeing about a good few more in the future (not that agreement should particularly matter to either of us.)

    Anyway, have a good weekend. I’m going home now.

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