Murray Gold interview: Doctor Who music, Matt Smith, 12th Doctor, regeneration & more…

Cameron chats to talented composer Murray Gold, about Doctor Who, regeneration music, composing for the Twelfth Doctor and more...

Composer Murray Gold has been one of the very few constants since the return of Doctor Who in 2005. His work on the world’s greatest show has been sublime, constantly delivering memorable themes, beautiful soundscapes and heartbreaking melodies each week. I caught up with Murray on the eve of his return to the Royal Albert Hall for the Doctor Who Proms and chatted all things Who, from series one to series eight… 

What were your feelings when you hear Matt was leaving Doctor Who?

I thought, ‘Well that means a lot of work!’ [Laughs] I thought, ‘Oh my god, are we really not going to hear I Am The Doctor again?’ [Laughs] I instantly began to think. ‘Could we use it for the next one as well?’ Does it maybe capture something eternally Doctorish, does it have to not be there ever again until Matt appears again, as hopefully one day he will, on some new version of the multi-Doctor story. Are we never going to hear I Am The Doctor again until the 60th? [Laughs]

If we don’t, then what follows it has to be stronger. I think that, in a way, I Am The Doctor is stronger than the themes Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant had. So, I was thinking those thoughts. [Laughs] 

Sad to see him go?

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Yeah, ‘cos he’s brilliant. He’s brilliant regardless of what he’s given to do, which is always good. Matt has a very interesting internal energy, which he allows to show. He’s a child, he’s an old man – everybody knows this. People have had since 2010 to notice this about him. He’s really so good. 

I was working on another show recently, not Doctor Who… 

[Mock shock] What!?!?

I know, heresy! [Laughs] and I thought, ‘If only any of these actors could be as good as Matt Smith’. They got it right when they cast him, for sure. Let’s hope they do again. 

Have you started thinking about the music for Eleventh’s regeneration?

No. Because that’s the only part of whatever the Christmas Special will be that we’ve had music for before. I’ve written music for regeneration sequences. If it ends up being an hour-long episode then I get about fifty minutes of music with the National Orchestra of Wales. If the episode becomes one hour fifteen [minutes], for example, usually have to find fifteen/twenty minutes of music from some other source other than the most recent session. So, if there was a regeneration sequence and I was short of orchestra music, I might fill it from another regeneration sequence, the music I mean. 

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I still think the regeneration music in episode thirteen, series one [Bad Wolf] is the regeneration music. 

Not Vale Decem (Tennant’s regeneration song)?

Well, that went back to the tune of Christopher Eccleston [Murray starts to sing the tune] when he actually thunderbolts, when he orgasmatrons. [Laughs] 

I just don’t know how it’s gonna happen. Vale Decem could not have been written without a walk through the snow with an Ood sent to lead him to his death. I don’t know what Steven’s [Moffat] gonna do. Maybe it’ll all be chat and talk and then a regeneration, and sound effects – certainly won’t be room for a song. 

It just depends how Steven writes it. I’m sure he’s aware that there’s potential for something musical. Nudge, nudge! [Laughs] 

Have you started to think about the Twelfth Doctor theme tune yet?

I’ve thought about it, for sure. I think it should maybe link to the Eleventh Doctor’s theme somehow. If there was a way of doing that, though I just have to wait and see. Maybe it’ll be a horse. Maybe the next Doctor will be an animal of some kind. A crab. A little sideways-moving crab that demands a slightly adventurous foxtrot.  [Laughs] 

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I don’t know if I can top I Am The Doctor. Maybe it can metamorphose somehow. I don’t know what’s out there, imaginatively – maybe there’s something that will come to mind. Again, it depends who’s cast. And how the first episode looks. 

Do you think the Twelfth Doctor could be female?

If it were a woman that would be really interesting. We’re resistant, even I sometimes found it difficult to listen to the wonderful Alison Mitchell commentating on Test Match Special. Sometimes you’re just hard-wired but it doesn’t take very long before you get used to something. Who’s to say she wouldn’t have a female companion as well? There’s no story you can’t write for Doctor Who

To me, not for everybody, what’s important that it has wit, charm and imagination, and everything else is less important. The show’s as imaginable in as many different ways as there are good writers. 

When Steven Moffat decides to stand down as show runner, whenever that may be, who do you think is up to the task?

Richard Curtis. Neil Cross. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who would love to do it.

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You’re a writer, you could do it!

Yeah! [Laughs] I’m sure I wouldn’t do a very good job. I like making things, I don’t like phone calls. 

You’re currently working on the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, anything you can share with us?

There’s some really interesting things to say about that but I can’t say them. It’s very, very well directed. There’s a thing they’ve done in it, which might be controversial… It’s interesting though. 

Have you used any old themes in it?

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Well, yeah. I had this really weird nostalgic feeling – and you have to bear in mind I am not good at revisiting my own past being reminded of where I was three years ago, onwards is my motto. So, suddenly being where I am now, used to seeing Matt on screen and then suddenly seeing David there. Definitely gonna use some music that is resonant of David’s time. 

Any Zygon music?

No, but I really like Geoffrey Burgon. That’s my favourite time of Doctor Who (not including the time I worked on it). They do remind me a bit of Hilda Ogden! You know, like the rollers in her hair. [Laughs] They always have. I’ve always been a bit confused. I used to have a Hilda Ogden t-shirt, I was a fan.


Your theme tune for the Eleventh Doctor, I Am The Doctor, has become as iconic as the actual theme tune.

I really like that piece of music, there’s something lovely about it. It’s got three clean parts – it’s got a lovely little jokey bit where it goes onto the woodwind [Murray sings], then it’s got the big crescendo into the explode bit  [Murray imitates brass], it’s all space-timey! Then it goes back to the riff. A nice selection of moods in quite a short space of time. It’s celebratory as well. 

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I was asked if I was pleased to get this ‘good versus evil’ theme music. But that’s not Doctor Who, that’s an American big Hollywood blockbuster. That’s Superman. That’s Batman. That’s a Manichaen universe where good and evil are in permanent war. What we have in Doctor Who is an intergalactic Atticus Finch who says there is something good to be seen in everything. Most of the time. 

Are you involved in Doctor Who Series 8?

But what’s the point of me not doing Doctor Who? There’s still nothing better to write for. In terms of what it brings out in me, it forces me to write music I’m proud of in a way that a lot of other shows wouldn’t. I’d love to carry on doing it because, honestly, there’s nothing better to write for. 

The music captures the best parts of the show, in feeling. We preserve them and there they are. I’ve never not given everything. I’ve never not put Doctor Who first. I haven’t sold the show short. 

What do you think defines the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat eras?

Russell’s was the era of stumbling generosity, overreaching generosity. Steven’s is the era of the introspective epic. So I think there’s the external versus the internal in some way. Russell always says about every character he writes, you can just see them walking down the street. You can take all of his characters and see them walking down the street, wherever you live. Steven’s plots happen in a place that’s not necessarily real. So, asking if you could see them walking down the street in Britain isn’t even the point.

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He [Steven Moffat] deals with, if I can be really pretentious for a while, the Genet-like question of whether a character is really just a character playing a character or whether they have a foundational reality to them in psychological terms. That’s happened with all of his characters, he’s questioned their existence as a character. Are they the character we think they are?Are they that person? Are they just a character playing a character? 

Two different approaches. Steven tends to be more claustrophobic, Russell tends to be more airy. Russell roots things in reality. Steven, not that he doesn’t root things in reality, becomes interested in things that are internal, much faster. 

Have the notes and directions changed from the different eras?

I have a lot of free rein. Marcus [Wilson, executive producer] has been at the forefront in the dubs recently. He looks after the dubs to a certain extent. Neyrs [Davies], who’s the post-production supervisor, is in contact with me on Doctor Who pretty much more than anyone else.

A few years back, it would definitely be Russell and Julie [Gardener, former executive producer]. Then it would be Piers [Wenger, former exec prod]. 

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Tell us about your celebration composition for the 50th Anniversary, Song for Fifty.

I stood up in front of the choir last night, and they rehearsed it. Neither Ben [Foster, conductor] or I had heard it. I delivered all of the score to Ben a couple of weeks before. It took me a month to do it. I never get a month on any piece of music. 

I thought, ‘If I were to write a song for the fiftieth anniversary, what would it be?’ And I thought about something more modernist, more complicated, more knotty, more serious but no, in the end, seriousness isn’t about how complicated something is, or how difficult something is to do. Seriousness is about the quality of your perception and your feeling.


I started playing something on the piano and then recorded it, with me singing over the top; just simple. I  kept that recording and over a month I orchestrated it and wrote all of the words. 

I wanted to write about The Doctor and everything that I’ve talked about in interviews, since I started on the job, about this character that I love. I took a line from The Girl in the Fireplace about the ‘slow road’. It’s a song that constantly juxtaposes all of us in the Royal Albert Hall as being on the slow road, taking life one day, one month at a time – with no escape from that. And there’s The Doctor, whizzing around, at his whim and to some extent we’re condemned. And this is a fifty year chunk of time where we’ve been experiencing this fantasy of being able to fly through time. During that time, some of us have had kids, some of us have lost people, some of us have grown extra family members but everybody in that hall will have one way or another to relate to that idea. 

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By the third verse, where the tenor says, ‘So, my dear friend. You’re getting kind of old now,’ we’re actually talking about this person who’s been in our lives as a reference point. People, in all kinds of the moments in their lives, have said, ‘I wish I could be The Doctor and just go back and fix it. Fix it.’

The song came together really well. I’m playing the piano, I’m going to try to. It’s gonna be quite moving, it’s a very emotional song.

Come back tomorrow for more from Cameron’s Murray Gold interview, including his behind-the-scenes experience of series one, favourite stories and scores, and why David Bowie won’t do Doctor Who…

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