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Melody Maker

Highlights of Dudley Simpson’s Doctor Who scores offer an insight into the prolific composer’s technique and reveal some of his musical influences…

Melody Maker

Dudley Simpson, pictured in the 1977 documentary Whose Doctor Who.

It took a while for Dudley Simpson’s famous style to emerge, but we can hear its development across his long and remarkably prolific association with Doctor Who.

Back in the early days of the series, budgets were tight and the score was the last thing to be considered. Musical resources were limited, but Simpson made a virtue out of a necessity. His first Doctor Who music – for 1964’s Planet of the Giants – used a chamber ensemble rather in the manner of Stravinsky’s choreographic recitation, L’Histoire du soldat, which is orchestrated for only seven instruments. The Planet of Giants music sounds uncannily like Stravinsky’s piece, while Simpson’s use of wind instruments, horns, piano and percussion also gave it the ‘dry’ sound associated with the French composers of the 1920s, known as ‘Les Six’.

Simpson’s limited palette transforms what is actually very simple musical material into highly dramatic cues.

The Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara (Jaqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell) see a huge cat in Planet of Giants (1964).

The way Simpson used this limited palette transforms what is actually very simple musical material into highly dramatic, though often very short cues; but he also had access to a few strings and made use of them in highly effective ways. At the end of the first episode, for example, the rising and falling solo string glissando, used to suggest the terror of the Doctor’s miniaturised companions on encountering a giant cat, had admittedly been used by James Bernard, who called for many more string players in his scores for Hammer’s Quatermass and Dracula films, but it’s no less effective for that.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

New year, new Doctor... We have an exclusive interview with the newly regenerated Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker! Plus new showrunner Chris Chibnall writes exclusively for DWM. Doctor Who Magazine 521 also includes: • An interview with Twice Upon a Time director Rachel Talalay, who talks us through Peter and Jodie's regeneration scene • DWM's Twice Upon a Time set report and review • An interview with 'John Smith', Doctor Who fan turned visual effects pro working on the Twelfth Doctor's final adventures • A tribute to Dudley Simpson, Doctor Who's prolific composer from 1964 to 1980 • Highlights of Dudley Simpson's Doctor Who scores • A first-hand account of how the 1960s TARDIS prop was recreated for Twice Upon a Time • Writer and illustrator Adam Hargreaves explains how his Mr Men entered the world of Doctor Who • Part three of The Phantom Piper, our new comic strip adventure featuring the Doctor and Bill • Fact of Fiction explores the 1977 Fourth Doctor story The Face of Evil • Previews, book, audio and DVD reviews, news, the DWM Christmas Quiz answers, The Blogs of Doom, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!