PSB/Doctor Who connections

Most of us are aware that the sci-fi series Doctor Who has been, for the better part of more than 40 years, a virtual institution on British television as well a cult success elsewhere, including the States. But how many of us know about the connections—definite or at least possible—between Doctor Who and the Pet Shop Boys?

1. Both Neil and Chris are professed Doctor Who fans

To be sure, this is a trait they share with countless others. But the Boys are in a position to have talked about it to the press on several occasions. (Chris: "I'm a huge Doctor Who fan…." Neil: "I could see me being Doctor Who." ) In fact, they've gone so far as to suggest that they wouldn't be averse to creating special music for Doctor Who if they were ever specifically asked to do so. On the other hand, they don't seem particularly interested in the show's more recent incarnations. In the July 2010 issue of their Fan Club magazine Literally, Neil confessed that he hasn't seen any episodes featuring the current Doctor, Matt Smith, nor had he even seen any starring his "namesake" David Tennant (see #2, just below). By the same token, Chris said that so far he had watched only the first Matt Smith episode.

2. David Tennant

By his own admission, actor, PSB fan, and "Tenth Doctor" David Tennant, born David McDonald, borrowed his "stage surname" of Tennant from Neil because there was another working actor with the same birthname as his.

3. "Radiophonic"

The concept of the Nightlife track "Radiophonic" is based in part on the BBC "Radiophonic Workshop" from the early 1960s, from which the original Doctor Who theme music was developed, not to mention many of the show's sound effects.

4. Ian Levine

DJ/producer/songwriter Ian Levine, who remixed the Boys' "It's a Sin" and "Paninaro," not only is a huge Doctor Who fan but has also written music for several related projects, including the ill-fated (it apparently never went beyond the pilot stage) Doctor Who spinoff series K-9 and Company. He also serves as a continuity consultant on the modern incarnation of the show, and he personally saved a number of old episodes from destruction back at a time when, incredibly, the BBC apparently didn't believe such archival material was worth preserving.

5. Queen Angvia goes "Shameless"

A 2002 Doctor Who audio drama, "Bang-Bang-A-Boom," is at heart a parody of the Eurovision Song Contest and is liberally peppered with pop-culture references and in-jokes. At one point, one of the contestants, Queen Angvia, all in a panic before going on stage, cries out, "My makeup! My wardrobe! My wig!"—a direct quote from the Pet Shop Boys' "Shameless," which Angvia tips off by adding "The shame…!"

6. The KLF connection

In the guise of "The Timelords," Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty had a 1988-89 hit with "Doctorin' the TARDIS" (remixed as "Gary in the TARDIS"), which mashed the theme music of Doctor Who with (of all things) Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2." Shortly thereafter they switched their handle to "The KLF" (for "Kopyright Liberation Front") and, among other acts of musical mayhem, remixed the Pet Shop Boys' "So Hard" and "It Must Be Obvious."

7. Kylie Minogue

Pop princess Kylie Minogue—to whom the Boys gave their song "Falling" and who duetted with Neil on "In Denial"—had a major guest role on the Christmas 2007 Doctor Who episode "Voyage of the Damned," portraying a waitress on spacecraft named the Titanic. (Now, who in their right mind would christen a spacecraft the Titanic?)

8. The Little Britain connection(s)

Bigtime PSB fans David Walliams and Matt Lucas, better known collectively by the name of their TV comedy show Little Britain, had a central role in the music video for "I'm with Stupid." And each episode of the Little Britain show features narration by the actor Tom Baker, best known as the fourth and arguably most popular Doctor. But there's more. Walliams has written several BBC Doctor Who parodies and performed in a Doctor Who audio play in 1999. He was also reportedly at one point major contender for the role of the Doctor himself! Most recently, Walliams appeared in the Doctor Who episode "The God Complex," which first aired on September 17, 2011, portraying a rather mole-like alien named Gibbis. Meanwhile, his cohort Lucas has also taken part in a Doctor Who audio drama. And, in truly bizarre twist, Lucas and Williams have named a couple of Little Britain characters after actors who have portrayed the Doctor's companions: Michael Craze and Matthew Waterhouse.

9. Damaged Goods

An official Doctor Who novel titled Damaged Goods, written by Russell T. Davies and published in 1996, is set primarily in 1987 Britain, during the Pet Shop Boys' "imperial phase" of peak popularity, and contains some explicit PSB references. For instance, at one point it refers quite pointedly to "It's a Sin." It notes that the Doctor himself is completely ignorant of the Pet Shop Boys. And at one point a character specifically describes one of the novel's villains—a nasty medical consultant who tries to kill the Doctor—as looking "like Neil Tennant," which really doesn't mean anything to the Doctor since, after all, he doesn't know who Neil Tennant is.

10. A "favorite partnership"

In connection with "Partners in Crime," the first episode of the 2008 series, the official BBC Doctor Who website has run a video interview with the aforementioned "Tenth Doctor," David Tennant, and Catherine Tate (who portrays Donna Noble, his companion for the 2008 series) in which the two talk about their all-time "favorite partnerships." They cite among them the Pet Shop Boys.

11. The opening to "Pandemonium"

Quite a few fans have noted a strong similarity of this song's opening synth riff with the classic Doctor Who theme music. I can see it, although I personally consider a bit of a stretch. Still, I would be sorely remiss not to acknowledge it here. Besides, if I didn't, I'm sure I would get lots of emails about it. wink

12. Chris poses in front of his very own TARDIS

A photo posted on the Pet Shop Boys' Twitter page on June 1, 2009 pretty much speaks for itself—especially when you compare it to an official Doctor Who publicity shot. The photo with Chris was, incidentally, taken in West London on the grounds of BBC TV Centre—which were sold in mid-2012 to property developers, with the BBC moving its base of operations to new facilities the following year.

Chris vs. The Doctor

13. Chris's "really good" Doctor Who dream

The book Pet Shop Boys versus America (on page 196) relates the fact that on April 11, 1991, while traveling by train to Boston, Chris mentioned to Neil that he had "a really good dream" the night before. "I was in Dr Who [sic] and the drawings on the carpets were satanic messages. It had chases and everything." (I'm surprised that the Boys' Boswell, Chris Heath, didn't realize that one simply does not use the abbreviated honorific abbreviation with Doctor Who.)

14. A reference in a Doctor Who magazine comic strip

The letters page of the official Doctor Who magazine usually features a short satirical cartoon strip. The strip in the March 2010 issue parodied a portion of the final David Tennant episode in which the Ood alien "sings the Doctor to sleep." The comic, however, has the Doctor decidedly displeased with the singing—to the extent that he interrupts the song with a cry of "Erg! You sure you don't know any Pet Shop Boys?"

15. The Boys decline remixing the Doctor Who theme

Producer John Nathan-Turner reportedly asked the Pet Shop Boys to create a specially remixed version of the Doctor Who theme music for the 1993 Doctor Who special "Dimensions in Time." They declined the offer, however—curiously, considering they are both professed fans. Erasure subsequently expressed interest, but the job had already gone to Doctor Who fans Mike Fillis and Adrian Pack.

16. PSB and the Doctor in 3D for charity!

The immediately aforementioned Doctor Who special "Dimensions in Time" was filmed in 3D and broadcast in that format by BBC1 on November 26, 1993 as part of the "Children in Need" charity telethon. The Pet Shop Boys also took part in that same telethon with a special live (and mildly dizzying) 3D-rendered performance of "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing."

17. Courtney Pine

Jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine worked with the Boys on their production of "Nothing Has Been Proved" for Dusty Springfield, and shortly thereafter he served as a support musician on their 1989 tour. The previous year he had appeared as a memberr of a jazz quartet in the first part of the Doctor Who adventure "Silver Nemesis." (The seventh Doctor, portrayed by Sylvester McCoy, claims a great fondness for jazz.)

18. An unusual filming location

Part of that same 1988 episode of Doctor Who, "Silver Nemesis," was filmed in an abandoned hangar of the (now demolished) Greenwich Gas Works. It has been reported that the Pet Shop Boys also filmed one of their music videos there, but I'm not certain at this time which one it might have been. ("It's a Sin" strikes me as a good candidate, but that's gross speculation.)

19. Some actors in common

A number of actors who appeared in the Boys' 1988 feature film It Couldn't Happen Here have also had roles in episodes of Doctor Who. Most notably, Gareth Hunt (the ventriloquist in the film) portrayed Arak in the 1974 Doctor Who adventure "Planet of the Spiders," and Barbara Windsor (Neil's mother in the film) appeared as Peggy Mitchell in the 2006 DW episode "Army of Ghosts." And there's an interesting "near miss" in this category: actor Ron Moody, who had a prominent role in the Boys' "It's a Sin" video, was offered but turned down the role of the "third Doctor" back in 1969.

20. Chapters titled for songs

The Doctor Who novel Set Piece, written by Kate Orman, includes two chapters named for PSB songs: "Rent" and "Yesterday, When I Was Mad." Although one might think the first merely coincidental, that would be a bigger stretch for the second. In fact, Orman, an avowed fan, has confirmed that those chapter titles are indeed intentional homages.

21. A reference in a short story—and a bet at a convention

The Doctor Who short story "Lackaday Express," written by Paul Cornell, includes passing references both to "Domino Dancing" and to the Pet Shop Boys themselves. As a sidenote, Connell once bet a friend that he could slip the title of a PSB song into every panel discussion he participated in during a certain Doctor Who convention—not by referring to the songs per se (that would be too easy, if awkward) but rather by weaving the titles "naturally" into statements that had nothing whatsover to do with the Boys. He won his bet.

22. The History Boys connection

The eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, appeared in a 2005 revival of Alan Bennet's play The History Boys at the U.K. National Theatre's Lyttleton Theatre. That play contains a live performance of PSB's "It's a Sin," although Smith himself wasn't the one who sang it.

23. David Bowie

Neil and Chris have, of course, collaborated with David Bowie on the single version of "Hallo Spaceboy." Bowie has several Doctor Who connections to his credit, including the 2009 "Waters of Mars" episode featuring a facility named "Bowie Base One," formally confirmed by its co-writer as a nod to the star. The Bowie classic "Starman" could be heard in the 2005 episode "Aliens of London." The Thin White Duke also had to deny rumors promulgated in 2007 that he would be appearing on Doctor Who, although on at least one occasion back in the 1980s a director was seriously considering asking him to assume a guest role.

24. Frances Barber

Known to PSB fans for originating the role of Billie Trix in Closer to Heaven, Frances Barber appears in several episodes of Doctor Who's 2011 series—most notably the one titled "A Good Man Goes to War"—as the villainous Madame Kovarian.

25. Electrospective

A 2012 various-artists CD subtitled "Electronic Music Since 1958" includes both the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's original (but newly remixed) Doctor Who theme music and the Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls." And no one will convince me that the title of the collection wasn't at least partly inspired by our musical heroes' penchant for single words like Introspective.

26. A school in common

One of the Doctor's companions in 2012-2013, Clara/Oswin (the character's actual name seems to be a bit of mystery right now), is portrayed by Jenna-Louise Coleman. Ms. Coleman happens to have attended and even became Head Girl at Arnold School in Blackpool, the same school that Chris Lowe had attended roughly two decades before.

27. Ian McKellen

Esteemed actor Sir Ian McKellen, who portrayed a Dracula-like vampire in the Boys' "Heart" video back in 1988, provided the voice of "the Great Intelligence" in the 2012 Christmas episode of Doctor Who, "The Snowmen."

28. Chris during the PopArt commentary on "DJ Culture"

On the PopArt DVD, during the commentary for the "DJ Culture" video, Chris mimics the first occurrence of the distorted voice intoning the title during the chorus, and then immediately jokes, "I'm a Dalek" in the same voice. The Daleks, of course, are the most infamous of the Doctor's recurring enemies, having frightened generations of British children with their similarly distorted voices and relentless desire to exterminate all intelligent life aside from their own.

29. BBC Proms

Concerts for the annual BBC Proms—noted as "the world's largest classical musical festival"—sometimes adopt specific unifying concepts or themes. As a longtime centerpiece of modern British popular culture, Doctor Who has been the theme for more than one past Proms performance. In 2014 the music of Tennant-Lowe similarly became the theme for a Proms concert, perhaps a sign of PSB's increasingly acknowledged status as another U.K. national treasure.

Plus two more questionable connections—

30. Chris on a Doctor Who forum?

An online Doctor Who forum asked fans to write of any personal experiences they may have had encountering "on-location" filming of the series. Someone going by the name "Chris Lowe" wrote that he had encountered scene-shooting on a street late at night while returning home from "clubbing." Now we know that "our" Chris Lowe is a Doctor Who fan. And we know he goes clubbing. (Or at least he used to if he doesn't any longer.) But was this really "our" Chris Lowe? Or was it another Chris Lowe? After all, "Chris Lowe" is hardly an uncommon name. Or maybe it was a mutual PSB/Doctor Who fan who decided to usurp the name for purposes of contributing to the forum. Unless "our" Chris addresses this issue publicly, we can only speculate.

31. "Shouting in the Evening"

The title line of this song from Electric has been attributed to a comment by Patrick Troughton, the second actor to portray the Doctor (from 1966 to 1969, with occasional reappearances thereafter). When once asked whether he preferred stage acting to television work, he dismissed the former with the quip, "I don't want to do all that shouting in the evening!" However, the phrase has been attributed to others as well, including actor Michael Gambon—and, in fact, it was Gambon's attribution that served as the direct inspiration for the PSB song title. But Gambon offers his own "Doctor Who connection" in that he had a prominent role in the show's 2010 Christmas special. To make a long story short, this song may provide more than one possible PSB/Doctor Who connection, but they're indirect at best and somewhat questionable.