Tuesday, February 8, 2022

"Doctorin' the Tardis" by The Timelords

Song#:  3749
Date:  12/17/1988
Debut:  94
Peak:  66
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Dance-Pop, House, Novelty

Pop Bits:  This UK duo was made up of musicians/producers Bill Drummond (formerly of the UK punk band Big in Japan) and Jimmy Cauty (of the pop/rock band Brilliant and later the husband of Alannah Currie of Thompson Twins). Their first venture together was as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu aka The JAMs. Their initial tracks mainly consisted of samples along with their vocals/raps. Their unusual approach gained them a cult audience with three of their singles making the UK Indie chart. They would also release two albums that made the UK Indie Top 10. After those successes, the pair started working on a new track where the idea was to make something out of the theme from the hit UK sci-fi TV show Doctor Who. Cauty was apparently working on some beats/rhythms for the track which to Drummond sounded like something from Gary Glitter's 1972 hit "Rock and Roll Part 2" (#2 UK/#7 US). They developed the track further and discovered they had created something totally mainstream and hit-worthy. The duo then took the song to another level by crediting it to The Timelords (a reference to characters in Doctor Who) and adapting the aliases Time Boy and Lord Rock. Released in June of '88, the quirky tune caught on quickly in the UK and reached #1. The song would end up making it over to the States where it got to #16 Dance and #17 Modern Rock. It crossed over to Pop, but couldn't quite made it into the top half despite spending over three months on the chart. The one-off novelty hit was reviled by critics in the UK with words like "rancid," "excruciating," and "nauseating" being tossed around. Yet the reviews didn't matter to UK listeners who pushed it to #1.

ReduxReview:  I remember buying this song on a total whim. I saw the title and then looked at the 45's sleeve with the car (see below) and thought...why not? When I first heard it, I knew something was up with it. I'd heard this before. It took me a bit to realize it was the Gary Glitter riff. The track was kind of fun, but at the time it was totally lost on me. Mainly because I had no idea about Doctor Who. I'd never seen an episode or even heard about it and therefore didn't know the theme. Seems weird now especially since the show had been on since '63 and might have been shown on our local PBS station, but I was clueless. Had I known something, the song would have made a lot more sense. I mean, I had zero clue as to what a Tardis was. I have a feeling I wasn't alone on this because the single didn't do that well in the US. With Doctor Who huge in the UK, it made sense the song would do better there. Hearing it now, the track does make more sense, but not fully because I still have yet to see an episode of the show (but at least know about it now). The tune still comes off as a novelty lark, but its references and goofiness makes it kinda fun.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) On the back of the single, the credits stated that Navigation was by Time Boy (Drummond) and Controls by Lord Rock (Cauty). The pair also included one more credit for "Talent" and that went to Ford Timelord...aka Cauty's 1968 Ford Galaxie. The car was formerly an American police vehicle that had been used by the duo in images for their JAMs releases. The car had been jazzed up with various JAMs themes and logos. For this single, they placed the car front and center on the cover and even included a blurb that said "Hi! I'm Ford Timelord. I'm a car, and I've made a record." The car was then featured in the video of the song.  2) Following the #1 success of the single, Drummond and Cauty wrote a manual on how to make a hit without any money or musical talent. Titled The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) the book was a commentary on the pop music industry, yet laid out detailed instructions on how to create a hit. It would go on to influence artists like Edelweiss ("Bring Me Edelweiss," 1989, #5 UK/#7 US Dance) and The Pipettes ("Pull Shapes," 2006, #26 UK).  3) After The Timelords, Drummond and Cauty moved forward as The KLF. They would have major success in 1991 and 1992 garnering six straight UK Top 10s including the #1 "3 a.m. Eternal." That single would also be a big hit in the US getting to #1 Dance/#5 Pop. Another single, "Justified and Ancient," which featured country music star Tammy Wynette, got to #11 Pop/#2 Dance/#21 Modern Rock in the US.



  1. The Timelords/JAMMs/KLF story is so wild, I could never do it justice. Between this, burning a million pounds and getting sued by ABBA, the album "Chill Out" (absolutely essential ambient music, before anyone knew what that was!), and their stadium-house work as the KLF, which led them to sell more singles on 1991 then anyone on Earth..so, so wild. They're worth a true deep dive if you have time.

    1. They have indeed had a wild career. I wish I could fit in more on this post, but it was just too much! Hopefully, others will read more about the duo and their escapades.