The Composers of DOCTOR WHO - John Debney

Christopher Morley looks back at the work of the Doctor Who TV Movie composer, John Debney.

Lets now go all cinematic as we welcome the next composer to join our illustrious list! John Debney was the man who supplied the music for the 1996 Doctor Who TV film, & he had/has enjoyed quite a career in the business of movie music both before & after Paul McGann's big screen first time out as the Eighth Doctor, which saw the debut of a first fully orchestrated theme for the newest incarnation.

Born in Glendale, California on August 18 1956, he's the son of an early Disney Studios producer, Louis Debney- going on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Composition from the California Institute of Arts. A mere two weeks later he found himself with a job at Disney, just like his dear old dad!

It was here that he found his first mentor, late composer Buddy Baker ( whose credits include The Fox & The Hound) spotted some potential in the young Debney, & soon had him creating music for several of the rides at Disney World Florida's EPCOT Center -a time of which he said
“I was very lucky. Two weeks after I graduated from CalArts, I got into the copying department at Disney. They needed a runner, someone who could paste scores, organize scores. One day (veteran Disney composer) Buddy Baker said, ‘Hey kid, come in here.’ Buddy would give me assignments — arrange this little French song for musette, write a German polka. … They were building Epcot (at Disney World in Florida) and needed a lot of music for different pavilions and rides.”
After three years of doing so, John went freelance- working with TV composer Mike Post & then Hanna-Barbera's composer in residence Hoyt Curtin, who had been with the animation studio since its beginnings in 1957 & would retire in 1986. Among his cartoon themes were The Flintstones, Top Cat, The Jetsons & Jonny Quest.

Striking out on his own, John next moved into television for himself & would work on a range of projects from Star Trek- The Next Generation & Deep Space Nine to Cagney & Lacey. His first taste of the magic of the movies would come in 1993, when he worked on Hocus Pocus for Disney. Since then he's gone on to work on films from Bruce Almighty to The Scorpion King, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Elf & Sin City.

Even before Doctor Who came along, though, Debney's work was making waves! His score for 1995's Cutthroat Island has retrospectively been celebrated as the best thing about that particular film, hailed as among the best ' swashbuckling' scores & winning him comparisons to Hollywood great Erich Wolfgang Korngold ( this should provide a handy guide). Nine years later similar praise would come his way for his work on Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ.

That's the man himself in action working on a scoring session for 2010's Predators. It would appear he had something of a personal interest in that particular project, too! He said at the time that
“When I first learned that Robert Rodriguez and Fox studios were planning a re-boot of one of my favourite films of all time, ‘Predator,’ I was thrilled. Having worked with Robert on four films previously, I knew that if anyone could do justice to a remake such as this, it would be Robert. Learning that Nimrod Antal was going to be the director, I was doubly thrilled and knew I had to be a part of this one.”
He'd previously won three Emmys ( Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Series -Dramatic Underscore) in both 1991 & '96 for The Young Riders & The Cape,as well as Outstanding Individual Achievement in Main Title Theme Music for SeaQuest DSV. Nominations without victory came for  Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music for The Young Riders in 1990, Outstanding Main Title Theme Music for The Cape in 1997, 2005's The Passion Of The Christ went up for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score & 2012's Hatfields & McCoys- Part One was among the contenders for Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score).

But what was the state of Doctor Who at the time? This should tell us more...

The novel The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks should clear up any massive holes in continuity- after stopping the Master at the end of the film the Doctor suffers another bout of amnesia & remembers only his name, with a gut feeling telling him he should trust the TARDIS. He needs to recover his memories, & so ' Sexy' takes him on a trip to reacquaint himself with his past in the most literal sense. Meeting his First incarnation during An Unearthly Child, he stops him hitting a caveman with a rock. Moving on to the Second he assists him in contacting the Time Lords during The War Games.

He next finds himself alongside the Third during The Sea Devils & provides an emergency blood transfusion to the Fourth as part of State Of Decay. Moving onto the Fifth, he helps him out during the events of The Five Doctors. Then its off to help the Sixth defend himself in his trial by the Valeyard & get the Seventh out of a pickle on Metebelis Three.

With his memories regained he takes Sam Jones as a companion & the New Eighth Doctor Adventures series of books can begin...............

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