Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"reverse the polarity of the neutron flow"

Pop Quiz: What is the best title theme and sequence in the history of television?

There is only one answer.

No points for guessing.

In many ways the classic - from the years when William Hartnell defined the character - and still one of the best. You don't see the Doctor's face, just the intimation of mystery and strangeness. I can almost imagine what it must have been like to have been a British child in 1963, seeing this strange and spooky intro for the first time - probably inspired more than a few nightmares on its own, never mind the Daleks. There's also an extant version with a thunderclap at the beginning.

Here is the intro as we saw during Traughton's tenure. This is the first to feature the "floating face" motif that would be continued all the way up through Sylvester McCoy (but thankfully no further). Little change to the theme. The way the Doctor's face appears from the shimmering cosmic light is still kind of spooky.

And here's Jon Pertwee. The first Doctor to be filmed in color, he was also an extremely colorful character - definitely a change from the ascetic first Doctor and the "scarecrow" second Doctor. (Pertwee and Traughton actually appeared together onscreen twice, and the difference in their personalities was accentuated during these appearances.) Pertwee is not my favorite, but his tenure did see the advent of Sarah Jane - probably by universal agreement the best companion ever.

And here is, almost inarguably, the series' best opening sequence. As good as the previous seasons' opening sequences were, the Tom Baker years (the end of the Pertwee era had introduced a modified version of this 2001-influenced theme) were simply classic. For those of a certain age who grew up with the Doctor reruns on PBS, and undoubtedly for those who grew up with the program on first-run in the UK, there are no words to properly express the thrill of seeing the first few seconds of this opening, with the Tardis appearing in the far distance of the vast corridors of time. The best version of the theme music as well. And I always get a kick of the weirdly hangdog look on Baker's face when he appears.

And then there's . . . this . . . which, while certainly not horrible, was a definite step down. I guess the thought process was that since it was the 1980s, they might as well spruce things up, but there's an old saying about not fixing something if it isn't broke. Plus, the picture they picked of Baker makes him look as if he's had a few too many Jelly Babies.

And here's Peter Davison, with essentially the same opening sequence as the last year of Baker's run. Still not great, but better than what was to come. I quite like Davison in hindsight, even if he was the first Doctor stuck in progressively worse clown-costumes - I can't rightly blame the actor for the producer's bad decisions, now can I? He was the most humanistic Doctor, definitely a change after Baker's ultra-competent interpretation, which at times almost bordered blasé. It's an interesting take on the character and perhaps the most influential Doctor in terms of David Tennant's interpretation (with a lot of Traughton in there as well).

And here we have still more of the same. In my mind I like to call Colin Baker the "Asshole Doctor" - not a value judgment, but that was his take on the character. After Davison's downright modest version - and the unpleasant circumstances around his regeneration - Doctor #6 was unbalanced, not very personable, and even occasionally cruel. There was a lot of potential there, but it was undercut by the worst clown costume of any Doctor, ever. (At least he didn't have to wear the sprig of celery.) I haven't seen it in a while but I have very fond memories of the "Trial of a Time Lord" season.

And then there's this, the nadir. It's almost no wonder the show got cancelled with an opening sequence this ugly. And that blink . . . gah. I actually quite like Sylvester McCoy. I wish he'd had a longer tenure, because his take on the character was really interesting - quieter, but with a lot going on beneath the surface. Sometimes even slightly sinister in his machinations. The bohemian Fourth Doctor, for instance, suffered a crisis of conscience before deciding whether to destroy the Daleks at the moment of their conception, ultimately deciding against it. The Seventh Doctor, a few hundred years' older and wiser, later sent a super weapon to destroy the Daleks' home planet without shedding so much as a tear. This was definitely a large part of the bedrock for what would become Christopher Eccleston's interpretation. And Ace is probably my personal favorite companion ever, but that says as much about me as about the show itself.

And this is from the Fox TV movie. Less said about it the better.

. . . And, barring a few variations through the years, this brings us up to date. Both Eccleston and Tennant's Doctors have used the same intro sequence. It's certainly an improvement on the McCoy years, I'll say that, but the new title sequence just doesn't sit well with me - it might just be the orchestrated theme. I mean, it just doesn't sound right: the Doctor Who theme should be produced on vintage electronic instruments sitting around the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, not a full orchestra. There's always been something weird and creepy about the classic theme that sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill TV themes, and this bombastic orchestrated version falls entirely flat in my eyes - tarts up the Doctor's most timeless feature. As ugly as the 80s opening sequences were, even they never really screwed up the music.

Apparently I'm not the only one who agrees that the new music is the suck:

I am not a big fan of the CGI Tardis bouncing around, but it's still better than seeing Tennant's face (nothing against his face, but the Doctor's face motif hadn't looked right since 1980).

And for those completists out there, there's always this:

And then the same song, live at Glastonbury in 2004 (which would have been their farewell tour if memory serves me well). I love the Hartnell sample at the beginning, also used at the beginning of the Five Doctors movie - good salute to the man who started it all.

And here, to finish us off, is something maybe five people remember. Good luck finding this - the album on which this was originally released is so out of print it's negative in print. I'm glad I have my copy, is all I'm saying. (If you must own one KLF album, it should be The White Room. That one's not too hard to find, I still see it in used CD stores now and again. I've only ever seen one copy of the History of the Jams CD and it's the one I own. I don't imagine it will, ever be reprinted, and if you've ever heard it you'll know why. So if you do see it, grab it.)

And, just because, here's Ace:


See that baseball bat? She used it. On Daleks.
That's why she's the bizzety bomb.

No comments :