Jun 10

THE TIMELORDS – “Doctorin The Tardis”

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#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. 76
    wichita lineman on 21 Jun 2010 #

    I was pleased for the folks who had released Whitney Joins the JAMMS (big indie club hit in Peterborough), but I’m afraid I saw it as too obvious in its source material to really enjoy. At this point, Bill Drummond was still the Teardrop Explodes/Echo & The Bunnymen manager to me, and I didn’t expect anything beyond slightly clunky but amusing novelty records from him in the future.

    Also, “the taaaar-DIS” is rotten scanning and an unnecessary fleshing out of the “doctor whooo-oo” hook (GG just repeated the bare bones “rock and roll” over and over and over, which somehow seems more KLF). Bring Me Edelweiss was way more off the wall than DTT (AND it followed the Manual rules!) though to my ears it doesn’t really stand up to repeated listening either.

    To defend the “cool” samples mentioned upthread on Theme From S’Express…. well, they weren’t really, were they? Basing a hit on Rose Royce’s (then) 9-year old hit Is It Love You’re After would be the equivalent of sampling something like Artful Dodger’s Movin’ Too Fast in 2010.

    Has anyone mentioned the chunks of Blockbuster in there? Is this the first number one to sample a previous number one?

  2. 77
    Steve Mannion on 21 Jun 2010 #

    There’s a certain ’96 #1 sampling a vocal hook from 11-12 years before…albeit by an act who’ve always had an odd relationship with ‘cool’.

  3. 78
    tonya on 21 Jun 2010 #

    #74, it was on the Modern Rock charts in the US in 1988. It was on the radio in San Francisco and I remember seeing the video on 120 Minutes.

  4. 79
    James K. on 21 Jun 2010 #

    Well, I stand corrected. I don’t think it’s very well-remembered today, but I could be wrong there as well.

  5. 80
    23 Daves on 22 Jun 2010 #

    This record actually got me into the KLF, causing me to buy the “Shag Times” compilation to find out more about them. I wasn’t enough of an NME or MM reader to have latched on to the hype surrounding them throughout 1987 (I was a Record Mirror man myself, one of a dwindling number) so was dimly aware of their work, rather than having actually heard much by them. I was immediately hooked by this, and to this day, barely a year goes past where I don’t dig the twelve inch single out from my collection and play it a fair few times. Successful novelty records are usually like a particularly explosive supernova form of pop, where the hooks, choruses and slogans are potent, repetitive and captivating for 2 or 3 listens, then tremendously wearing after that. That doesn’t apply in this instance – the glitter-beats still nag, and the ideas still charm. I would agree that its longevity has much in common with “Mouldy Old Dough” and “Hoots Mon” in that respect, two other novelty faves of mine.

    Sadly, a lot of the kids at my school despised this record. I would have been fifteen years old at the time, and many of my friends were rejecting the mainstream and discovering ‘cool’ music, largely involving the kind of House music that wasn’t bothering the Top 40. This single was held up as being a disgrace, an evil joke at the expense of the genre, and one school hard-nut actually shouted himself hoarse about how shit he thought it was when we had a rare conversation about music. Spinelessly, I nodded my head in agreement, failing to mention that I’d bought the thing and actually really enjoyed it. I got the impression that a punch would be forthcoming if I had. I can remember it being the subject of maximum mockery amongst a lot of people at the time, but that might just be exaggerated in my head by the age I was and the kind of people I knew (sexually frustrated teenagers into hip-hop and the kind of music being played in clubs they weren’t yet old enough to get into, mostly).

    As for its US success, I seem to remember it got into the lower reaches of the Hot 100? Hardly much to get excited about, but it seems bizarre to me that a Doctor Who based novelty single would have charted over there at all.

    Also, it appeared to be a fast-burner in the UK, spending only one week at number one, and I think (if memory serves) it wasn’t a particularly high seller overall.

  6. 81
    Paytes on 22 Jun 2010 #

    Strange, but this is the only KLF single on Spotify (or equivalent) …


  7. 82
    Erithian on 23 Jun 2010 #

    What’s good about this record is the bits from 70s glam-rock tracks and the glamification of the Doctor Who theme – so that’s a couple of nicked samples and one half-decent idea to splice the theme into some glam from the show’s peak period (I’m a Pertwee man and even seasoned fans cringe about the way the show had gone by 1988). As for the Dalek voices going “Loadsamoney”, that’s no better than most of “Mr Blobby”, surely? (indeed the Meccano Dalek in the video with a bloke running around inside it also recalls Mr Blobby) “A telling critique of Thatcherism and yuppies”? Marcello, you’re pulling our chain just like you were in the Wet Wet Wet thread.

    As for the scoring, I’ve said before that it’s far from the most important aspect of Popular to me, but I’ll be another of those coming to an unwanted defence of Tom. One of the first things he ever said about the marking was that it depended on his mood on a given day, and is entirely on whim, so we can disagree vehemently but we really have no place complaining about it. As I said concerning our biggest divergence of opinion (his mark of 1 for “Vincent”) – “your gaff, your rules”.

    But my god he must have been *such* a fanboy to like this!! Tom, have you read “The Writer’s Tale”? – which began as an idea for a Doctor Who magazine article and ended up as a 700-page book? You may not be a 100% fan of RTD but it’s a superb read, funny and occasionally very moving.

  8. 83
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 23 Jun 2010 #

    *charges to defence of mr blobby/knocks erithian flat*

  9. 84
    23 Daves on 24 Jun 2010 #

    #82 – Speaking personally, I wasn’t a big fan of “Doctor Who” at the time, and I loved this (still do). And to be honest, you could aim the whacky “Mr Blobby” charge at just about any novelty record made in the last fifty years, good or bad. They all tend to revolve around catchphrases, quirky curveballs, daft imagery, and a certain repetitive insistence. I just find “Mr Blobby” irritating, but not this or (to drop another example) “Hoots Mon”.

    Actually, the concept of novelty records is even older than rock and roll itself, and it bemuses me why people frequently take offence to the frothy, jokey light-heartedness of them, but willingly accept the staged eccentricities of Lady Gaga, or indeed the minimal instrumentation and visual catchphrases of The White Stripes. If you squint your eyes a bit (or should that be block your ears slightly?) novelty pop is purely pop music with certain elements exaggerated to extremes. Ford Timelord is no more or less silly a concept than a “Frankie Says” T-shirt. Arguably, the fake daleks are no less preposterous than Gary Numan’s droids on stage at Wembley in the early eighties. It depends what attitude you adopt when the needle hits the groove, ultimately, and I personally think that a lot of novelty pop has brightened up the landscape for many years now. Much of it, of course, has also been spectacularly ill-advised, but when it works (as here) it’s as entertaining as anything from the “straight scene”.

  10. 85
    Mark G on 25 Jun 2010 #

    Of course, there was the Timelord’s “follow-along” single, “Gary in the Tardis” which roped in Mr Glitter, praised him highly, and added him fulsomely to a remix of this.

    Released about a week after this was number one.

    Didn’t make a big impression, pretty much erased from history (as is most of Glit’s back cat)

  11. 86
    punctum on 25 Jun 2010 #

    Does “Doctorin’ The Tardis” get played at all on radio these days or does it fall under the Glitter embargo?

    And apparently the main reason why Faber won’t/can’t republish Morley’s Ask: The Chatter Of Pop is because it includes an interview with GG where he pretty much admits to things some nineteen years before they caught up with him.

  12. 87
    Billy Smart on 25 Jun 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: The Timelords twice performed ‘Doctorin’ The TARDIS’ on Top Of The Pops, on the Christmas 1988 edition (of which more later) with Gary Glitter;

    9 June 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Voice Of THe Beehive, Mica Paris, Maxi Priest and Morrissey. Peter Powell and Simon Mayo were the hosts.

  13. 88
    flahr on 25 Jun 2010 #

    #86: Compare My Radio suggests it’s not been played in the past 30 days, across this range of stations. I suspect the reason isn’t Glitter embargo but simple oldness. (Wonder if the Beeb might be unwilling to play it nowadays because it’s old-Who rather than nu-Who?)

    For comparison: in the same period “Beat Dis” was played once, “Pump Up The Volume” 8 times, and “Theme From S’Express” 11 (!). “Hello” by Oasis, another Glitter-based song, was played twice.

  14. 89
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Jonh Wilde, May 28 1988;

    “Come out from behind that Jon Pertwee mask, Bill Drummond, the game is up. The JAMMS attempt at the novelty hit. The notion of handsome Bill grinning between Joyce Sims and Kylie Minogue in chartland is enough to make me forgive the agony this record brings into my life as I type. The idea of teaming up the Doctor Who theme with Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock & Roll Parts 1 & 2’ must have been excruciating even to Drummond and sidekick at conception stage. It hasn’t stopped them though. Imagine the mankind version with a lump of sand in its eye. Pure, unadulterated agony. Splendid, Bill, splendid. Where next though? The theme tune to The Fenn Street Gang teamed up with Pussy Galore’s ‘You Look Like A Jew’? Or how about Father Dear father with Big Black’s ‘Kerosene’? Now we’re talking. By the time I hear this fluttering from every shopping mall in Chrisendom, I’ll be choking on my words though. remind me.”

    Wilde awarded single of the week to ‘Sometimes In vain’ by The Parachute Men. Also reviewed that week;

    Leonard Cohen – Ain’t No Cure For Love
    Stevie Wonder & Michael Jackson – Get It
    Paul Hardcastle – 40 Years
    The Style Council – Life At A Top People’s Health Farm
    Big Audio Dynamite – Just Play Music!
    The Darling Buds – It’s All Up To You

  15. 90
    Erithian on 23 Feb 2011 #

    A suitable place to mourn the passing of the Brigadier:

  16. 91
    Snif on 23 Feb 2011 #

    One would hope that at the funeral they ignore the 21 gun salute, and go for five rounds rapid.

  17. 93
    enitharmon on 26 Jul 2012 #

    @92 Nah, she’s a Time Lord isn’t she. She’s just regenerating.

    I’m rather imagining her as one of the Swede’s favourites.

    I’m very concerned about all these people not much older than me (58 today week) who are popping off at the moment.

  18. 94
    thefatgit on 26 Jul 2012 #

    Never mind The Swede, Romana was my 2nd favourite companion after Leela from 4 (Tom Baker, or BB if you’re familiar with P^nk S’ Who seies on FT) era Who. We also got more than we bargained for from Mary in The Odessa File as well. She had that aloofness as Romana, which I found intoxicating as a young ‘un. She will be sorely missed in Chateau Fatgit. RIP Mary.

  19. 95
    Snif on 27 Jul 2012 #

    “I’m rather imagining her as one of the Swede’s favourites.”

    Would that make her Mucky Romanadvoratrelundar in his eyes?

  20. 96
    Jimmy the Swede on 28 Jul 2012 #

    Let the Swede amplify, although not the biggest of Who fans:

    I’m with thefatgit, plonking for Mucky Leela, although I would not have red-carded Romana from my four-poster either. Nor indeed Peri. Twas Peter Davison who made the understandable comment when he was lying prostrate whilst he regenerated into Colin Baker, whilst the concerned Peri was leaning over him: “It’s hard to try to act your socks off when Nicola Bryant’s breast is in your face!”

    Indeed yes.

  21. 97
    Mostro on 20 Apr 2015 #

    Rory (#4, #5, #7) is almost certainly correct in guessing that the Who theme was re-recorded for this. The sound of the main synth harks back to the original (pre-1980) arrangements, but it’s clearly not identical. (Aside from the sound, the melody fits the glam rock stomp more tightly than a sample of the original would.)

    It certainly isn’t any of the three main 1980s versions; Peter Howell’s 1980 recording (the first complete reworking (*)) sounds quite different (especially the “guitar through a vocoder”(?!) used for the “response” half of the melody).

    The 1986 version has a rather thin, digital sound, and it’s definitely not the (then-current) 1987 version either.

    (*) Apparently they tried redoing it in the early 70s but abandoned it as unsatisfactory. It inadvertently leaked out on some Australian prints of the show. Not sure that counts, and it definitely wasn’t used for “Doctorin'” anyway!

  22. 98
    phil6875 on 26 Apr 2015 #

    @80 ‘Also, it appeared to be a fast-burner in the UK, spending only one week at number one, and I think (if memory serves) it wasn’t a particularly high seller overall.’

    Indeed, ‘Doctorin The Tardis’ didn’t even make the Top 50 Best-sellng Singles of 1988.

  23. 99
    Steve Williams on 27 Apr 2015 #

    It certainly took me by surprise because I came back from holiday in Majorca to find this was at number one, and it felt like I’d been away for about ten years rather than ten days.

    You don’t get that anymore, do you, coming back off holiday and being surprised by what’s in the chart and in the news? Bit of a shame, that.

  24. 100
    Steve Mannion on 27 Apr 2015 #

    #99 I actually had that experience only five years ago – even exclaiming “Wow T—- T—– is at #2!” having failed to realise they’d been at #1 for two weeks before that. In fairness I’d been ensconced in the Arctic Circle for much of that time.

  25. 101
    Patrick Mexico on 17 Jul 2017 #

    Nursin’ the Tardis? It’s PC gone mad! What next, a female Prime Minister, Queen, or a female mother for Jesus Christ?

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