Jun 10

THE TIMELORDS – “Doctorin The Tardis”

Popular104 comments • 16,758 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 102
    Gareth Parker on 8 May 2021 #

    Enjoyable , thrilling and funny; a winning combination for me. The Timelords get a 10/10 from me.

  12. 103

    Somewhere in deepest, darkest Essex, a man everyone’s talking about with an absurd haircut (no, not that one) may be prodding the bunny…

  13. 104
    Martin F. on 4 Jan 2022 #

    Close but (sadly) no sausage roll…

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