Dudley Simpson (1922- 2017)

It is with the greatest sadness we have to report that Dudley Simpson, composer for some 290 episodes of Doctor Who, has died at the age of 95.

Listen to classic serials starring the first four Doctors, and wonder at the score. A great many of these were composed by Simpson, and what an incredible legacy he’s left for us. What a body of work, what memories, what achievements! You’ll have noticed his name on the credits of 62 serials, and that’s an astonishing thing. It’s even more immense when you note them down like this:

Simpson worked on, for the First Doctor, Planet of GiantsThe Crusade; The Chase; and The Celestial Toymaker; for the Second Doctor: The Underwater Menace; The Evil of the Daleks; The Ice Warriors; Fury From the Deep; The Seeds of Death; The Space Pirates; and The War Games; for the Third Doctor: Spearhead From Space; The Ambassadors of Death; Terror of the Autons; The Mind of Evil; The Claws of Axos; Colony In Space; The Dæmons; Day of the Daleks; The Curse of Peladon; The Three Doctors; Carnival Of Monsters; Frontier In Space; Planet of the Daleks; The Green Death; The Time Warrior; Invasion of the Dinosaurs; The Monster of Peladon; and Planet of the Spiders; and for the Fourth Doctor: Robot; The Ark In Space; The Sontaran Experiment; Genesis of the Daleks; Planet of Evil; Pyramids of Mars; The Android Invasion; The Brain of Morbius; The Masque of Mandragora; The Hand Of Fear; The Deadly Assassin; The Face of Evil; The Robots of Death; The Talons of Weng-Chiang; Horror of Fang Rock; The Invisible Enemy; Image of the Fendahl; The Sun Makers; Underworld; The Invasion of Time; The Ribos Operation; The Pirate Planet; The Stones of Blood; The Androids of Tara; The Power of Kroll; The Armageddon Factor; Destiny of the Daleks; City of Death; The Creature from the Pit; Nightmare of Eden; The Horns of Nimon; and the unaired Shada, which is soon to be released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Dudley was born on 4th October 1922 in Melbourne, Australia, learned to play the piano as a child, and after serving in New Guinea in World War II, studied orchestration and composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. He moved to the UK, and became Principal Conductor of the Royal Opera House, London. At a party in Holland Park, he was approached by producer and director, Gerard Glaister, to work on a 1961 TV movie, Jack’s Horrible Luck, which was Simpson’s first work for television. Glaister subsequently asked him to compose music for the anthology espionage-thriller series, Moonstrike.

It was through this that he got the attention of Mervyn Pinfield, Associate Producer of Doctor Who, who then asked Dudley to work on Planet of Giants.

As you can see, he impressed the crew and became a regular on the show – until 1980 when he was asked to lunch by Producer, John Nathan-Turner, and then told his services would not be required subsequently as he was intending to use the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for future serials.

Nonetheless, he will forever be a treasured part of our bigger-on-the-inside show.

In fact, he even appeared in Doctor Who. He played the conductor in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, as requested by Producer, Philip Hinchcliffe; Dudley remembered:

“He was a very good producer, very visionary. He used to encourage me more than any of the others, and I appreciated that. They had me dolled up in a set of tails, and I conducted to my own music, which I’d recorded beforehand.”

Away from Doctor Who, he composed the theme tune for Blake’s 7 and provided incidental music for 50 of the 52 episodes broadcast. His other work includes The Tomorrow PeopleThe Ascent of Man, Moonbase 3, Paul Temple, Kidnapped, and Goodbye Mr. Chips. That is, frankly, the top of the iceberg.

He returned to Australia in 1990, but came back to celebrate Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary in 2013: at the celebratory Doctor Who Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, his glorious City of Death score was performed live and deservedly received a great round of applause. He once said:

“I loved Doctor Who. It was the greatest challenge of my life. Every episode presented a challenge. Every moment. They were funny days. I miss them all.”

Dudley Simpson died on Saturday 4th November 2017. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Thank you, Mr. Simpson. Thank you for everything.

  • FrancoPabloDiablo

    Thank you Dudley. You are one of the unsung heroes of Doctor Who! Your scores were an important part of Doctor Who and left a lasting impression on me when I was younger and discovering the show in the 90’s – long after your contributions. I could spend almost all day naming the bands and singers that got me into music and have influenced me but YOU were the only TV composer I ever cared about and that had a serious effect on me. Thanks for the music mate! R.I.P

  • FrancoPabloDiablo

    I also hope there is a forthcoming article about Paddy Russell. Two legends, in my opinion, that we have lost in one week!

    • Philip

      There absolutely is; don’t worry 🙂

  • reTARDISed

    I hope I read the article correctly that Dudley Simpson wrote incidental music for Shada. It would be a fitting memorial if he had, and this were recorded and released on the forthcoming release of the completed version. The incontinent tweedlings of Keff McCulloch almost ruined the 1990s video version for me.

    • Philip

      Yup, he did. It was his last work for the series, although obviously never screened which he always thought was a massive shame. As do we! Fingers crossed the upcoming DVD does indeed include his music, as something of a tribute to him.

      • FrancoPabloDiablo

        Do we know if it was ever recorded though? He may have written it, sure, but with the story never finished he surely never would have had that chance.

        • Philip

          Good question! Here’s the only bit I could find so far is him saying this: “It came as quite a blow that Shada was scrapped. First of all, it cut my earnings down by over fifty per cent, and when I was doing Doctor Who there was very little time to do anything else. Fortunately I had Blake’s 7 to fall back on, but you can get pigeon-hold very easily in British television.”