Currently enjoying “Doctorin’ the Tardis” by the Timelords

It’s the sort of thing that seems laughable until it actually happens. Who would have thought that a single that was little more than a blend of an anthem by Gary Glitter and the theme from Doctor Who would rocket to the top of the UK pop charts?

Certainly not the Timelords, better known as the KLF. Although they brilliantly satirized the experience after the fact as a foolproof plan in The Manual, it’s a safe bet that they were as surprised as anyone by the track’s success.

And to be fair, although it’s arguably the duo’s most notable work, it’s far from their best. Musically, The White Room and the Chill Out album easily trump it. “Doctorin the Tardis” is remarkable, sure, but more in the sense that the KLF’s decision to burn a million pounds was remarkable.

The CD version of the single stretches the premise to its limit. It’s good, and it’s catchy, but the sheer duration of it wears it down. A four-minute version of the track, for example, is perfect, while a 12″ mix exceeding eight minutes pushes the limits of the gimmick.

Toward the end, we get a remix called “Gary Joins the JAMs” that leans a little too heavily on the persona of an artist who’s since become regrettably synonymous with pedophilia. The instrumental version that follows, which is far more aligned with the Doctor Who side of the equation, cleanses the palette and wraps the disc up nicely.

In the middle of the mix, you’ve got the original version of “What Time is Love?” This version of the major KLF single, while novel and ambient in a fun way, is a demo at best compared to the finished product. Indeed, it sounds like an early Orb track, which makes sense in light of the fact that Jimmy Cauty was doing double duty among both groups at around that time.

What made that track great was the KLF’s risky leap into their much-loved pop music conventions. Yes, the rap lyrics were an improvement on the rather subdued instrumental version, but the true innovation was the addition of massive, utterly fake crowd response. Because of its use on this track and others, the KLF are credited with inventing the “arena house” genre – a rather silly designation that could only be applied to groups like 2 Unlimited these days, but an important milestone for the KLF nonetheless.

In the end, that’s what set the KLF apart from their contemporaries. Not the music they made, but the spirit in which they made it. For all the cynicism and subversion inherent in The Manual, for example, these guys had a love for pop music that no flash in the pan could claim, let alone replicate. In the end, it was likely that unashamed recognition for what people consider fun that made “Doctorin’ the Tardis” a winner.

Posted in Currently Enjoying