Why Did Murray Gold Leave Doctor Who?

Composer Murray Gold is coming home to Doctor Who after his Chibnall-era absence.

Doctor Who TARDIS
Photo: BBC

In its continuing mission to help older Doctor Who fans relive their childhoods, and make even older Doctor Who fans say “Wait a second, that was your childhood? But you’re 30!” it has been announced that the next Doctor Who we see will not only be written by Russell T Davies, the showrunner of this version of Who’s first four seasons (plus specials), it will not only star classic, fan favourite Doctor David Tennant, and classic, fan favourite companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), it will also be scored by classic, fan favourite composer Murray Gold.

If you don’t recognise the name, you will still know his work if you’ve watched any of the increasingly-inaccurately-named “new” series Who prior to Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation. He is, in many ways, as responsible for the feel and identity of the show as Russell T Davies or his successor, Steven Moffat.

The Sound of Doctor Who

For fans who didn’t grow up with the classic series, it’s hard to get across just what an impact Gold made on Doctor Who. The classic series’ soundtracks were a lot of things over the years, from weird electronica, to eerie, chilling, and sometimes, let’s be honest, fairly pedestrian. Doctor Who: The Television Movie in 1996, featured a great big bombastic orchestral take on the theme tune that foreshadowed the way things could go, but Murray Gold completely changed the game. He made music a character in the series.

Gold was an obvious choice for Davies, having worked on the showrunner’s previous series, Queer as Folk, Second Coming and Casanova (and has since gone on to score Davies’ Years and Years and It’s a Sin). He excels at taking domestic scenes and bringing them an atmosphere of elevated drama, which was extremely in line with Davies’s ambitions for Nu Who.

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For the very first time, Doctor Who sounded like a blockbuster movie, whether delivering great big crash-banging alien invasion sequences, or huge swelling emotional cues for the tear-jerker moments. Gold wasn’t universally popular – sometimes his scores were accused of being intrusive, and you could be forgiven for thinking that he lacked subtlety, but then when you’re behind the steering wheel of the Titanic in a tuxedo desperately trying to stop it from flying into Buckingham Palace, subtlety isn’t really what anyone is looking for.

Murray Gold’s contributions to Doctor Who were such that he got his very own show – in 2008, 2010 and 2013 the BBC held three “Doctor Who at the Proms” events at the Royal Albert Hall. These three concerts featured actors and monsters from the show, but the main feature was always the music, from triumphant tunes like season 5’s “I Am The Doctor” to more melancholic (but still stirring and
dramatic) ones like “Rose’s theme”.

When Russell T Davies and David Tennant handed in their TARDIS keys after ‘The End of Time’ it marked the end of an era, and when Matt Smith poked his head out of an upturned TARDIS in Amelia Pond’s garden it was almost a pilot for a brand new TV show. But Murray Gold stayed on, and so even as the TARDIS itself transformed, Gold’s distinctive sound wove a thread from Eccleston all the way to Capaldi, before Segun Akinola took over the role for Series 11.

Indeed,’Twice Upon a Time‘ is the swan song for Capaldi’s Doctor and Moffat’s tenure on the show. But the real star of the show is Gold’s score. Aurally, this Special is the equivalent of that bit in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ where all 13 incarnations turn up at once to save Gallifrey. Throughout the episode, the score harks back to every theme, refrain and motif Gold has ever used.

Gold Going

Perhaps it’s not surprising that after 12 years, Murray Gold was ready for a new challenge. After all, the man has scored almost double the number of Doctor Who stories of his nearest competitor (Dudley Simpson, who scored 62 stories from First Doctor William Hartnell’s ‘The Planet of the Giants’ to Fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s ‘Horns of Nimon’). Maybe there are only so many corridor chase scenes one man can compose for.

In an interview after leaving the show, Gold revealed that he was looking forward, like many Nu Who alumni, to doing work that didn’t have such punishing time constraints:

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“With Doctor Who, you are ploughing along. If you spend two weeks on an episode, you are pretty much done, you can’t revisit it. It’s all so fast,” he told the Aberdeen Post. “I was curious to see what I could do if I worked on things with a bit more time.” Some of those things included a ballet score for a Rumpelstiltskin production, and the score for HBO/BBC drama Gentleman Jack.

But as any of the Doctor’s companions will tell you, you can leave the TARDIS, do other things, and try and live a life of your own, but it’s only a matter of time before you turn a corner and see a police box where there isn’t usually a police box.

“People started saying, ‘We really need to speak to Murray,’” Gold tells Doctor Who Magazine in its upcoming June issue:

“There was a director, Mark Tonderai [overseeing the 2023 Christmas Special]. I was like, ‘What can he possibly want?’ And then Ben [Chessell], who’s directing episode two… this was January 26th and he says, ‘I’m directing this episode and it seems to have a lot of music in it. Have you looked at it?’ Then another director. And another. Then it started to dawn on me: ‘There’s an awful lot of music in this series, isn’t there, Murray?’ I was speaking to myself now, not realising, of course, that my consciousness is just a fantasy. ‘And apparently Russell [T Davies] has entrusted all of it to me.’ And actually that’s quite an honour. I love that man.”

Doctor Who Series 14 will debut in December 2023 on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Disney+ internationally.