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Popular Music in Doctor Who

Spearhead from Space: Episode 2 (tx: 10/01/70)

In Fiction: Strange things are a-happening in a plastics factory, where the doll-assembly girls are unwittingly making killer plastic dolls. They're also listening to Fleetwood Mac's Oh Well - Part One, presumeably to drown out the sounds of their own consciences.

In Fact: This track was used as a generic piece of contemporary guitar music to place the scene in modern-day England. Doctor Who chronologists place the events of Spearhead from Space in October 1969, shortly after the single’s release and the guitar-based Fleetwood Mac’s rise to popularity.


Cuts: 0’20” of the record’s A-side is played, 3 minutes into the episode, over shots of the dolls’ eyes being assembled and fitted. The single was released in 2 parts; radio stations usually played the A-side, Oh Well (Part 1), running to 3’32” - the B-side is Oh Well (Part 2), an orchestral piece that sounds completely different. Both parts – edited together on album releases – run to over 9 minutes.

Releases (prior to broadcast): Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2) 7” single released November 1969 (Reprise 27000, released internationally with a variety of different picture sleeves: the lovely Dutch version is pictured left). An edit of the track was also added to a US reissue of the September 1969 Fleetwood Mac album ‘Then Play On’ following it’s success in the singles charts; it had not featured on the original UK issue.

Availability (select releases): currently available on the CD reissue of ‘Then Play On’ (Reprise 7599274482, July 1988), featuring the same edit of Oh Well that originally graced the US LP; this contains the repeated material from the original single – a section of about 1 minute that had appeared both at the end of Part 1 and the start of Part 2 - which has been removed on other compilations, such as ‘The Best of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’ (CD, Columbia 5101552).

Replacements: The original, omnibus-edition VHS release of this story (BBCV4107) avoided paying for the copyright by simply replacing the soundtrack of the entire scene with some factory-background sound effects. This trick was repeated – though rather more subtly and effectively, using the original effects track – for the 1999-BBC2 repeat, and released on DVD in 2001 (BBCDVD1033); the 2006-BBC4 repeat was also broadcast from this restored print. The scene was accidentally released intact, music and all, on a budget release of the “complete & unedited” episodes in 1994 (BBCV5509).

The Mind of Evil: Episode 3 (tx: 13/02/71)

In Fiction: en route to Dover Castle (and more dastardly crimes), the Master takes time to relax in his private car to the weird sounds of King Crimson's The Devil's Triangle on his hand-held radio.

The track may simply have been chosen to demonstrate the Master's artful, avant-garde tastes; but it’s quite interesting to speculate as to what he’s really up to here. He certainly looks very pleased with himself as he switches the music off and his car pulls up… could the song contain a secret code, giving the location of the castle? (Try playing it backwards…) The same radio was used earlier in the episode to spy a private telephone call made by the Brigadier; perhaps the Master has planted a bug in the UNIT office, and it’s actually the Brig who is listening to the record? Or is the Master listening-in to King Crimson’s recording session?

In Fact: progressive rock band King Crimson – founded by guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Michael Giles in 1968 – were particularly fond of Holst’s Mars from The Planets suite; The Devil’s Triangle is an obvious descendant of it, mirroring its long build-up and complicated changes of rhythm. The full track is in 3 parts, comprising: (i) Mereday Morn, (ii) Hand of Sceiron and (iii) Garden of Worm, and runs to over 11 minutes. The 8 seconds (!) featured in the episode comes from 4 minutes into the track, at what is possibly the beginning of the 'Hand of Sceiron' section.
Cuts: a mere 8 seconds of this incidental piece is heard, 12 minutes into the episode, though the production records show that up to 17 seconds were cleared for use.

Releases (prior to broadcast): King Crimson: ‘In The Wake of Poseidon’ (LP, Island ILPS-9217), released 15th May 1970. The Devil’s Triangle is the penultimate track on Side B.

Availability: the complete, 11-minute track has been available since November 2004 on the CD reissue of ‘In The Wake of Poseidon’ (CD, DMG DGM0502). The scene was released unedited on VHS in 1998 (BBCV6361).

The Sea Devils: Episode 2 (tx: 04/03/1972)

JO: I've seen things like that in a modern art exhibition! You don't honestly think you can transmit with it, do you?
DOCTOR: Certainly I do. I'll prove it to you. Right, here goes...

DJ: Hey there early birds, we've got a wonderful batch of discs for you this morning, so don't feel isolated and cut off from the world: whoever you are, wherever you are, we've got something just for you!

JO: Hey, that was my favourite DJ!
DOCTOR: I think I must have got my wires crossed somewhere...
In Fiction: trapped on an oil rig with only a few dead men and a watchful Sea Devil for company, the Doctor is attempting to turn a portable transister radio into a transmitter. Unfortunately it's very early in the morning and the local DJ has very poor taste: the Doctor accidentally catches him playing the instrumental B-side of 'Johnny Reggae' (titled Backing Track) by The Piglets when his re-wiring fails to work. Blast!

In Fact: this reggae/Ska track was written by J. King and J. Artley in 1971. Before he was convicted of sexual assaults on minors, pop impresario Jonathan King was one of the most influential people in the pop world, whether through promotion or participation. King had a long-running campaign to produce as many hits as possible under different aliases. In other words - he was the most successful deliberate serial one-hit wonder in pop history. Sometimes it worked - as with the ground-breaking 'Johnny Reggae' by the Piglets, Sakkarin's "Sugar Sugar", the Weathermen's "It's The Same Old Song" and St. Cecilia's "Leap Up And Down (Wave Your Knickers In The Air)". Another interesting thing about this scene? The voice of the radio DJ was none other than the story's director, Michael Briant. Perhaps he gave all his notes like this?
Cuts: 0'12" featured in the programme, 6 minutes into the episode.

Releases: B-side to The Piglets 7" single 'Johnny Reggae' (Bell BLL 1180), released in 1971. Later re-recorded with considerable success by Big Youth.

Availability (select releases): never re-released, this track is currently unavailable. The original vinyl single is not too difficult to find listed on eBay, however, and the A-side features on the compilation CD 'The Many Faces of Jonathan King' (Music Club MCCD108), released in May 1993. This, too, has been deleted, but second-hand versions do crop up! The scene was released as-broadcast on VHS in 1995.

Planet of the Spiders: Episode 1 (tx: 04/05/74)

In Fiction: Former U.N.I.T. employee Mike Yates has been sent to a meditation centre in Mortimer until he’s sorry for helping dinosaurs invade London. The monks there seem remarkably good at authentic Tibetan chanting…until Mike discovers they’re only listening to recordings of Llama Chhopa on tape! The cheats!

The Fact: The record was a genuine compilation of traditional Indian music performed by native musicians, recorded by musicologist Deben Bhattacharya for The Living Tradition series. Bhattacharya is still recording and compiling similar soundtracks today: a vast compilation library of international soundscapes and music, recorded on location and in make-shift studios, capturing tribal chants and songs from the lesser documented parts of the world. His work has been used on television and radio for decades, as both source music and incidental music; he has hosted his own radio programmes, looking at the history of music and of the verbal tradition; and his albums provide a valuable resource for language and music scholars.

Cuts: 1'25" is used in the programme, 16 minutes into the episode (although only 1'22" was cleared), heard initially from behind a closed door and then from inside the room. The chanting is seen coming from a reel-to-reel tape player. The recording was never released on such a format, but it is not unreasonable to believe that the monks had made a copy of the record (strictly for personal use only, of course) and set it up to loop continuously for the purposes of their meditations...

Releases: ‘The Living Tradition – Music from the Himalayas’ (Argo ZFB 40) LP, released in 1967. The record appears to be quite rare, and car boot sales might not be the best place to look; we have heard of several university libraries stocking it for reference purposes, however.

Availability: appears to have been unavailable since the original LP was discontinued. The music was released intact on VHS in 1991 (BBCV 4491)