I’ve already made it clear that anything to do with Bill Drummond is game for this series as long as I own a copy of the single. Today is no exception.
“Doctorin’ the Tardis” is a 1988 electronic novelty pop single by The Timelords (“Time Boy” and “Lord Rock”, aliases of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, better known as The KLF). The song is predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” with sections from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh. The single was not well received by critics but was a commercial success, reaching number 1 in the UK Singles Chart in June 1988,and in New Zealand, and charting in the Top 10 in Australia, Ireland and Norway.
The Timelords followed up their chart-topping record with a “how to have a number one” guide, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).
The release of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” followed a self-imposed break from recording of Drummond and Cauty’s sampling outfit, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (The JAMs). The single continued The JAMs’ strategy of plagiarising and juxtaposing popular musical works. However, unlike the cultish limited releases of The JAMs, in which Drummond’s Clydeside rapping and social commentary were regular ingredients, “Doctorin’ The Tardis” was an excursion into the musical mainstream, with the change of name to “The Timelords” and an overt reliance on several iconic symbols of 1970s and 1980s British popular culture, including Glitter, the Doctor Who theme song, Doctor Who’s Daleks and the TARDIS, Sweet’s “Blockbuster!” and Harry Enfield’s character ‘Loadsamoney’. The song features riffs from the 1973 hit “Block Buster!” by Sweet and from Gary Glitter’s 1972 debut hit “Rock and Roll Parts 1 and 2”. Its name is a reference to “Doctorin’ the House” by Coldcut.
Drummond and Cauty often claimed that the song was the result of a deliberate effort to write a number one hit single. However, in interviews with Snub TV and BBC Radio 1, Drummond offered a more plausible explanation. “We went into the studio on a Monday, thinking we were going to make a house track, a regular underground dance house track using the Doctor Who theme tune… [but] we [then] realised it was in triplet time and you can’t have house tracks in triplet time. The only beat that would work with it was the Glitter beat. By Tuesday evening we realised we had a number one and we just went totally for the lowest common denominator”. Radio 1 interviewer Richard Skinner called the record an “aberration”, to which Drummond pleaded “guilty”, adding that “we justified it all by saying to ourselves ‘We’re celebrating a very British thing here… you know, something that Timmy Mallett understands'”.
In a KLF Communications information sheet, Drummond called “Doctorin’ the Tardis” “probably the most nauseating record in the world” (a claim also made on the label of the record itself) but added that “we also enjoyed celebrating the trashier side of pop”.
While the music-buying public of the UK embraced the single, taking it to the number-one spot within three weeks of its release, the music press was strongly negative. Melody Maker described it as “pure, unadulterated agony … excruciating”;Sounds reasoned that it was “a record so noxious that a top ten place can be its only destiny”, calling it a “rancid reworking of ancient discs”.Select magazine later reported that “Doctorin’ the Tardis” sold over a million copies
In a retrospective look at novelty records and a defence of the genre, Peter Paphides wrote in The Observer’s music monthly that “the one novelty record most people admit to liking is ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’ by The Timelords… The reason for this, presumably, is that it’s nice to be in on the same joke as arch pop ironist Bill Drummond. Fine, but let’s not forget that if The KLF weren’t passionate about how brilliantly dumb pop can be they wouldn’t have got to Number One.” The “reason we purport to hate novelty records”, he argued, “is because we continue to romanticise the creative process. We feel that our intelligence is insulted by novelty.”
A 1994 piece in The Guardian called “Doctorin'” a “piss-take”. “It was a triumph for Trash Art and it spent exactly one week at the top of the chart. Perfect.”
The Timelords released one other product on the strength of “Doctorin’ the Tardis”, a 1989 book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), in which they candidly described the logistical processes and efforts that sealed the record’s commercial success.
After The Timelords, Drummond and Cauty became The KLF. An American reissue of the single in the mid-1990s lists the artist as The Timelords/The KLF, and features both a KLF track (the original uncut version of “What Time Is Love?”) and “Gary Joins The JAMS”, a version of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” with new vocals by Gary Glitter referencing his own songs.
Later attempts of Drummond and Cauty to top the charts were less successful: The KLF’s “Kylie Said to Jason” failed to achieve the chart success for which it was designed, peaking outside the Top 100, and Cauty’s novelty project Solid Gold Chartbusters with Guy Pratt, which was designed to be a Christmas number one single, did not reach the UK Top 10.
However, The KLF’s string of “Stadium House” singles, beginning with “What Time Is Love?”, found popular appeal and worldwide chart success while dispensing with the opportunistic sheen of “Doctorin’ the Tardis”.
mp3 : The Timelords – Doctorin’ The Tardis (7″ version)
mp3 : The Timelords – 125BPM
Enjoy (just don’t take it too seriously!!)