Man, the 1970s were weird.
In what was a blink of an eye in terms of time being measured on a cosmic scale, disco briefly ruled the galaxy. Previously on MovieFanFare we’ve how the divisive musical genre was used to cash in on the success of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien. Disco versions of popular movie themes really came into their own when Meco Monardo had a number one hit in the summer of 1977 with his funky take on John Williams‘ “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” music. Although these kind of reinventions of film music had been around before Meco took patrons of Studio 54 to a galaxy far, far away, they never had been done so with so much success.
So naturally other popular sci-fi franchises wanted in on the action. Which is where Doctor Who comes in. As legend has it, members of the British dance band Mankind were inspired by Meco to record their own take on Ron Granier’s classic theme song for Doctor Who. Their song became such a success upon its release in 1979 that it landed them on the popular UK music show Top of the Pops:
As if this appearance wasn’t goofy/awesome enough, there was also a head-scratching music video, filmed at an airport, which predicted the aerobics dance craze that would grip the world in a few short years:
While Mankind’s up-tempo version of the Doctor Who became the best known thanks to airplay and being put into rotation at UK nightclubs, it was hardly the only time the Doctor was used to help people get down. (And arguably some of the other discofied takes on the iconic theme tune are even better than Mankind’s).
Here’s Planet Earth’s take on the title song:
Geoff Love and His Orchestra did a version on their LP, Star Wars and Other Space Themes (an album that is notable for also featuring dance tracks inspired by George Lucas‘ space saga as well as Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey):
Interestingly enough, Ron Granier himself also released his own disco version of the theme, which is absolutely fantastic…and not just because it features some aural flourishes that bring to mind his music for the cult TV series The Prisoner:
It should be noted that these weren’t the first or last Doctor Who songs. In 1972, Third Doctor Jon Pertwee released a super weird spoken word/dance single called “Who Is the Doctor.” Prepare yourselves:
Not danceable by any stretch, but interesting nevertheless is a 1964 novelty single by UK pop act The Go-Go’s (not to be confused with the new wave group of the same name) called “I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek.” Yes, it’s as cheesy as you can imagine, but for lovers of oddball holiday songs, it is pure gold:
Just because disco eventually played itself out doesn’t mean that Doctor Who was done with making people get their groove on. The most enduring Who dance track was released in 1988 by the aptly named The Timelords (an act that morphed into the influential act The KLF). Here’s the fantastic “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” a reworking of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” that sounds as vital today as it did upon its initial release 30 years ago:
Finally, the Who music fun has continued into the 21st century. The most recent example of this comes via the Glastonbury Music Festival in 2010, when the band The Orbital performed their frequently played version of the theme with the help of the Eleventh Doctor himself, Matt Smith:
With Jodie Whittaker recently finishing her first season as the first female Doctor in the series’ over-50-year history, the musical legacy of Doctor Who shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. And this is music to the ears of the show’s countless fans.
This article originally ran in the summer of 2018. We are reprinting it as part of our new Sci-Fi Sunday feature, which will showcase science fiction-themed posts from MovieFanFare’s first decade!