Variations on a Theme

Tracks 4 The CD
Format 12" Vinyl and CD
Released 1989
Also released as a Square CD in
a world first.

Music by Mark Ayres, Dominic Glynn and Keff McCulloch.


A Review by Ben Jordan 1/5/02

I would just like to point out that I have the square cd! I can almost hear people saying 'Gee, this guy sure gets sucked into marketing ploys, doesn't he?' Well, it doesn't end there I'm afraid. I actually bought the vinyl version first, so I really did buy the square cd for the sake of having a square cd. And back then, in my neck of the woods, there weren't any fellow Doctor Who-obsessed folks to whom I could brag about it. Mind you, I could still go around telling people that I had a square cd. Responses were many, but like the album itself, they were mere variations on a theme - variations of expletives and disbelief, which can't be printed here, and that's just as well. In my defence though, my decision to buy Variations twice was very much influenced by just how much I enjoyed it. The Doctor Who theme is, quite simply, one of the best pieces of music ever written in the history of humanity, and here was something in celebration of it, in new and exciting permutations of the original.

Now of course, there are so many takes on the theme by all and sundry (even I've had a try) that one could be forgiven for getting a little sick of the whole thing. But back when Variations was released, overkill wasn't the case.

My favourite track is the first, Mood Version. Owing to a rather serendipitous mistake, I found it also sounds good at 33 1/3 rpm, or about 75% the speed of the original. Well, it does to me anyway. 'Mood' is a rather arbitrary word to give to a piece of music, when all music induces a mood of some sort, but that certainly doesn't detract from the track itself. When I first heard it, I thought it would make a suitable successor to the then-current McCulloch incarnation, and I even dubbed it over the McCoy opening credits to test my theory. Of all the tracks featured, this one seemed most suited for use as a t.v theme, and indeed the others are much greater departures from the Grainer template.

If you were looking for a version suitable for a film of the series, then look no further than Dominic Glynn's dark and foreboding, and definitely grandiose Terror Version. I can just see it now: 'Doctor Who - Last Of The Time Lords', theme by Dominic Glynn. Despite it being my least-played track on the album, it makes me weep when I think that instead of something epic like this, we were given the most godawful lightweight 'I can't be bothered to try' wishy-washy crap as the 8th Doctor theme in Big Finish's audio plays.

But let's not dwell on it. Although I already enjoyed Keff's commissioned effort, it was his Latin Version that really shows what he can do, and it's orginality stands out just as much today, since there is nothing similar to compare it to (in terms of Who themes). Perhaps it was because I was told it was 'latin', but I can really get into the feel of a South American jungle during the first half of jungle noises, rattles and musical motifs which slowly build up to a relaxed crescendo before settling into the main jazzy number. This is the part that anyone who has bought but a single Years tape will be familiar with, as it's the theme used over the opening credits. This section proves that the theme works well as a jazz number, although after three runs through the basic Grainer score it ends at the right time before getting too repetitive.

On the other hand, if repetitive is something you enjoy, matched with a fast tempo, then Mark Ayres' Regeneration Mix is the proverbial ticket. This one really radiates energy simply by its cracking pace, which is good because otherwise, it'd get really tedious. It's a real toe-tapper though, compensating for such repetitiveness by changing key a few times and adding some kind of bubble sound effects (god, music can be hard to describe), and is a great choice to end the cd.

Overall, if you love the Doctor Who theme as much as I do, and can't get enough of it, then here are four very worthy interpretations. And don't be too annoyed if you never get your hands on the square version. They're a real bugger to use.