The Meaning Behind the Songs on Doctor Who’s TARDIS Jukebox

The Fifteenth Doctor is rocking a very specific playlist…

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson as the Doctor and Ruby Sunday in the TARDIS (with a jukebox)
Photo: BBC Studios

“Ooh, jukebox” – the words uttered by the Fourteenth Doctor when invited to nosey around the Fifteenth Doctor’s new TARDIS in the closing moments of 60th anniversary special “The Giggle”.

Ooh, jukebox indeed. Specifically, the Doctor’s jukebox is a 1946-designed Wurlitzer 1015 nicknamed “The Bubbler” on account of the bubbles that move through its colourful tubes as it plays tunes. Even more specifically, we’ve seen the same make and model of jukebox twice before on Doctor Who, once on the set of Clara’s 1950s-Diner TARDIS, and once five billion years into the future on Platform One, where the great and the good are gathered to watch the imminent destruction of planet Earth.

Whether or not it’s supposed to be the self-same jukebox from those previous appearances, or simply something shiny that caught the Doctor’s eye, the songs it plays are significant. Production designer Phil Sims explained in the January 2024 edition of Doctor Who Magazine:

“The jukebox was Russell’s request. We talked about armchairs and hat stands and previous article that have been on the TARDIS before. But Russell landed on a jukebox early on, and stuck to it. I’m sure he knew that music was going to play a big part in the coming season…”

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According to DWM, here are the songs it contains. And here’s where they’ve featured before in Doctor Who:

Ticket to Ride by The Beatles

Ncuti Gatwa and Mollie Gibson dressed in swinging 60s clothes as The Doctor and Ruby Sunday

In 1965 story “The Chase”, William Hartnell’s Doctor has installed a “Time-Space Visualiser” gadget that allows him and his companions Ian, Barbara and Vicki to tune into anything going on at any time, all over the universe. They channel hop from Abraham Lincoln to William Shakespeare and then catch The Beatles performing “Ticket to Ride” on BBC music show Top of the Pops. The Beatles were originally supposed to reappear, playing aged versions of themselves later in the story but their manager apparently nixed the plan. The Fifteenth Doctor and Ruby Sunday though, are set to meet the band in a 1960s-set series 14 adventure (pictured above).

Tainted Love by Soft Cell

In 2005 episode “The End of the World”, the last human – Cassandra – has a jukebox wheeled in as part of a ritualistic goodbye to planet Earth, which is about to be destroyed by its sun. Misinformed, she calls it an iPod and explains that it plays classical music from humanity’s greatest composers, such as… Soft Cell’s 1981 cover of “Tainted Love” – to which the Ninth Doctor has a little bop.

Toxic by Britney Spears

And in the same ep as above, the same gag: “Let us mourn Earth with a traditional ballad”, says Cassandra, before Britney’s “Toxic” gets a spin.

Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley

Another one from Russell T Davies’ first series as showrunner. In 2005 episode “Father’s Day”, the Doctor takes Rose Tyler back to the day her dad Pete died, and some Back to the Future-style problems ensue when she interferes with his timeline. While Pete chats to this mysterious new stranger as they drive to a friend’s wedding, the song on the radio is by one Mr Rick Astley.

Mr Blue Sky by ELO

“You can’t beat a bit of ELO”, as Marc Warren’s character Elton Pope says in divisive Doctor-lite 2006 episode “Love & Monsters” before having a little jig about. The Doctor clearly agrees, as ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” is one of the options on his new TARDIS Wurlitzer.

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Voodoo Child by Rogue Traders

Two tracks here that feature in series three’s climactic two-part finale “The Sound of Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords”, the first being the Master’s peppy soundtrack of choice to the decimation of the human race…

I Can’t Decide by Scissor Sisters

…and the second being another one of John Simm’s Master pop choices, this time by Scissor Sisters, as used in 2007 finale “Last of the Time Lords”.

Rise Up by Andra Day

A nod to the Chris Chibnall era here, with Andra Day’s powerful “Rise Up”, as featured in 2018 episode “Rosa”, which saw Thirteen and her fam go back to the 1960s to witness the pivotal moment in which Rosa Parks (played in the episode by Vinette Robinson) stood up for Black American civil rights by sitting down.

I Called Out Your Name (In a Dream) by Pat Hodge

In the opening moments of the 1996 TV movie, the Seventh Doctor is transporting the Master’s remains back to Gallifrey while relaxing with a book, a bowl of Jelly Babies and a record on his gramophone. When that record – “I Called Out Your Name (In a Dream)” sung by Pat Hodge, skips over the word “time”, it’s a sign that the Master’s villainy is far from over…

Spice Up Your Life by The Spice Girls

DWM confirmed that a Spice Girls song features on the jukebox, so perhaps it’s this one as used by The Toymaker to torment the Doctor at UNIT HQ in 2023 anniversary special “The Giggle”?

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers

Is the inclusion of this hit from The Proclaimers a hint to a future episode, or simply a cast-and-crew favourite, as the above behind-the-scenes video from Ten’s era shows?

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Starman by David Bowie

Obvious links to the Doctor, with this one – and it’s half-heard on the Powell Estate after the ship crashes into the Thames in “Aliens of London”, but it could also be a coded hint that series 14’s big bad will be… hazy cosmic jive?

War Pigs by Black Sabbath

This can only mean one thing, surely – the Pig Slaves are coming back!

Twist at the End by John Smith and the Common Men

A Doctor Who in-joke that goes deep here: in the show’s very first story “An Unearthly Child”, the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan listens to a song on a transistor radio that she ascribes to fictional band John Smith and the Common Men (really the song played was stock music “Three Guitars Mood 2” performed by The Arthur Nelson Group). John Smith and The Common Men have since popped up and been made reference to in numerous audio and prose adventures, for those in the know.

But, no Goblin Song?

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