Mark Bittlestone and Will Dalrymple's raucous new hour of gay/orphan comedy (a heady mix, we're aware) is heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe after the huge success of their 2017 show of the same name (but entirely different content). The pair recently chatted to the lovely folks at Moody Comedy about their show, an interview which, if nothing else, should give you a pretty clear idea of the tone of the show... check it out below!
Space Doctor's musical maestro Jamie Fenton on following in the footsteps of one of TV's most iconic theme tunes...
Back in January of this year, which was in and of itself a very Whovian month, going on so long I began to suspect we were travelling backwards in time, I first stepped foot in the Tardis of a show that is Space Doctor. ‘Can I write a theme tune for your fictional television program?’, I asked Mr Dalrymple, looking for something to fill up the long dark evenings. ‘Yes’, replied Mr Dalrymple, because this was what his answer was.
I was in the prime demographic for the return of Doctor Who in 2005. And while my memories of those episodes are hazy (except the children with gas masks, keep them well hecking clear of me) the theme tune still triggers a nostalgic, giddy thrill. I now realise that the 2005 iteration was a bit of a departure: in contrast to the spaced-out eeriness of the original score, the reboot’s theme was unabashedly exciting. The lush, full orchestration adds a prestige absent from the earlier versions: by building in a wider range of classical instruments, the theme feels much more robust than the weird twanging synths of the 70s.
When I started fiddling around for the Space Doctor theme, I was mindful of the pitfalls of parody. It had to sound like a Doctor Who theme, but not too much like the Doctor Who theme. It had to sound naff, because Space Doctor is incredibly naff, but not too naff, because I want people to be gripped when they hear it.
I started by riffing on the melody which comes straight to mind when you mention the Doctor Who theme: “ooo-WEEEE-oooooooooo”. What an amazing three notes. It’s basically a double octave jump, but it overleaps by a semitone before falling back, creating this weird, electrifying jolt. I nicked this for Space Doctor, but hammed it up by just jumping a clean octave:
Very trite, but it’s a big, lurching interval, and when I run it up the scale with some glide it sounds pretty spacey. The tune then meanders up and down a bit, diverting via a slightly discordant A flat, which gives it some of the same weirdness as the Doctor Who theme.
The piece’s main gag is that the only musical journey it goes on is moving successive octaves higher, until it becomes unbearably shrill.* I like the idea that it introduces a TV program which is reaching wildly for new levels of excitement and adventure, but always falls a bit short due to budget constraints — so the theme goes up and up but can only afford one actual melodic phrase.
It wasn’t until a few months after I recorded a demo using the stock synth sounds on Garageband (shout out to ‘Soft Saw Lead’) that it was decided I’d be playing it live, in the guise of Stan, AKA MC Vortex, the musical arm of the Space Doctor Appreciation and Networking Committee. The video below showcases the culmination of a lot of trial and error in trying to create a way to render the theme - and the other tracks I ended up writing (as I said, it’s a Tardis of a show) - as a one man band.
Abandoning software was the first step. Stan is definitely an analogue man wherever he can be, and I think the audience will be more on side with the vulnerability of just a keyboard and no laptop. Hence the Korg Minilogue synthesiser, which I’m using to create 95% of the sounds. The gaps are filled by a Korg Volca Sample (no, I’m not sponsored by Korg, but if they’re reading and interested…), which is basically just a box which sequences samples into a rhythm — a departure for convenience from Stan’s analogue roots. The opening swirly noise on the theme is a sample lifted from the original Garageband arrangement: try as I might, I haven’t been able to recreate it on the Minilogue. I just don’t have enough of those damn Low Frequency Oscillators.
So come and see Space Doctor, every day at Gilded Balloon, and I’ll use my share of the profits to fund my growing oscillator collection. It’s for the good of the universe.
*The other gag is the vocal. In the initial briefing, Will told me the theme’s lyrics should be ‘“Space Doctor, Space Doctor” over and over again’. That’s my kind of request. I croaked into a mic and ran it through a phaser and a pitch shift for that classic alien effect.
For the first in our new series of blog posts STRAIGHT UP A CAST MEMBER’S NOSE AND INTO THEIR BRAIN TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE THINKING, we interview Space Doctor’s lead actor, Robert Eyers. When not playing our titular time travelling alien, Robert spends his time selling metronomes.
Hello, Robert. Thank you for turning up so promptly.
Not a problem. Like all metronome salesmen and metronomes, I keep perfect time.
Doing anything nice today?
Got some metronomes to sell. This one’s a beauty. Notice how the wooden casing rests on stiff, unsprung legs, so when you place it on a coffee table or pastel-coloured windowsill the entire surface helps amplify its ticking.
Were you excited when you got the call offering you the lead role of Space Doctor?
When the call came I was in the middle of a very beautiful sales pitch to a very short woman who eventually bought eight metronomes, so I didn’t answer my phone.
Do you think you would have been excited had you answered?
I haven’t listened back to the answerphone message, so frankly I’ve got no idea. I guess I might have been excited if there had been nothing more thrilling occurring in the immediate vicinity, such as a robbery or a metronome trade fair.
Do metronome trade fairs exist?
Have you enjoyed working with the rest of the Space Doctor cast? What do you think of them?
I think not enough of them own metronomes, and I’m willing to help remedy that.
How have you prepared for the role of Space Doctor?
During the day I’m too busy selling metronomes to do any preparation, but I’ve spent a few evenings doing some really useful research. I’ve been watching a few episodes of the David Tennant era Doctor Who. I put the subtitles on so I can follow what’s going on even when I’m testing out the cluck-hard chock-a-tick of a new metronome at full volume.
So you’re a Doctor Who fan?
What? I didn’t say that.
Who’s your favourite Doctor?
I met a lovely old Canadian back in 2012 who helped me out no end when I got lost on the London Underground. He was probably a doctor.
Is that a racial stereotype?
I don’t think so, but it could be.
Is the character Space Doctor at all like you in real life?
Space Doctor is not a metronome salesman, so no, he’s nothing like me. Unlike the word ‘biscuit’ which is defined by the phrase “a small baked, unleavened cake”, I am completely defined by my job.
Have you acted in the Edinburgh Fringe before?
Yes, quite a lot.
Excellent! What shows were you in? Were they comedies?
Oh, sorry. I misheard you and thought you said ‘do you like metronomes’. I now realise you didn’t say that at all. I wish you had.
Some quick fire questions now: have you learned your lines?
Have you booked your train ticket to Edinburgh?
Have you got a costume?
Well, it seems you’re all set for the festival!
Sorry, what did you say? I was playing with a metronome. There’s something really beautiful about an atonally-consistent anti-chromatic contrivance, don’t you think? People call metronomes boring. I think moles are boring, but it doesn’t stop them digging up my lawn.
Thank you Robert, we look forward to seeing you on stage!
Hang on, you didn’t ask any of the questions I suggested. ‘What’s your favourite newspaper?’ The Metro [nome]. ‘What’s your favourite garden decoration?’ A [metro] Gnome. ‘If you were an animal, what...’
Sorry, we said no puns.
Good job I sneaked them in at the end, then.
Next week on STRAIGHT UP A CAST MEMBER’S NOSE AND INTO THEIR BRAIN TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE THINKING we’ll be interviewing leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, who isn’t a cast member but just really needed something to fill his time.