Doctor Who Fan Orchestra

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Name: Doctor Who Fan Orchestra (DWFO)
Date(s): 2011-ongoing
Moderator: Stephen Willis and Robin LaPasha
Founder: Stephen Willis
Type: virtual orchestra and choir
Fandom: Doctor Who
URL: socksofbalhoon (YouTube channel), Doctor Who Fan Orchestra (blog), Doctor Who Fan Orchestra (Facebook page),, Twitter hashtag #DWFO
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The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra (DWFO) is a virtual orchestra and choir founded in 2011 that performs musical selections from the television series Doctor Who. Its members range in age from 10 to 80 and are located in at least 25 different countries across the world.[1] The orchestra releases its performances online in the form of YouTube videos and mp3 audio files.

To the knowledge of DWFO assistant coordinator Robin LaPasha, the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra is:

  • the first virtual orchestra to actually produce and release a work;
  • the first to combine orchestral and choral elements in a large virtual collaboration; and
  • the first internationally-based fan orchestra.[2]


The DWFO was founded by Stephen Willis, a musician and Whovian with a longstanding interest in arranging and performing the music of Doctor Who—specifically, music composed for New Who by Murray Gold. Stephen writes:

One gloomy evening in early 2011, in Surrey, England, I was tinkering away in Sibelius on an arrangement of “I Am The Doctor”, the Eleventh Doctor’s theme, when a particularly crazy idea struck me. I knew that Murray’s music meant an awful lot to an awful lot of people, and I reasoned that, probably, among those fans, a lot would be musicians themselves. And that they’d give anything to be able to play music from Doctor Who. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we could somehow play the music all together?[3]

The idea was inspired in part by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, although YTSO is not a true virtual orchestra—its members audition via YouTube, but subsequently travel to a single physical venue to perform together. In contrast, Stephen envisioned a truly Internet-based orchestra with members all over the world who could record their parts at different times and places and submit them to be mixed together into a single performance.[4] (Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir, founded in 2009, is another example of an ensemble that performs asynchronously.)[5]

Stephen proposed the project on 29 March 2011[6] in a post to Gallifrey Base, a major Doctor Who fan forum.[7] Other fans quickly expressed interest in participating. The original proposal was for audio-only performances; a week later, violist Jalen Lee suggested adding video to the audio.[8] Thirty-six performers began rehearsing Stephen's arrangement of "I Am The Doctor," which was released as the DWFO's debut performance on 10 July 2011. Stephen and assistant coordinator Robin LaPasha can be heard discussing the development of this piece in the 11 August 2011 episode of Two-minute Time Lord, a Doctor Who podcast.

Since its debut, the DWFO has grown dramatically. Membership more than doubled between the first and second performances and nearly doubled again between the second and third. A new, more efficient system for applications and part distribution was adopted in early 2012 in order to deal with the continually increasing number of participants. Applications to take part in the fifth piece, "The Impossible Astronaut (Suite)", were capped at 600 due to overwhelming interest,[9] and application caps have been maintained for subsequent pieces. Some participants have been designated as Web support and member support volunteers to assist with the workload of running the orchestra.

In October 2012 the DWFO released a behind-the-scenes video, About the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra, in which participants discuss their experiences in the orchestra and what Murray Gold's music means to them.

Creative Process

The DWFO recruits participants through word of mouth and promotional videos. Participants need access to a microphone and the means to record digital audio (for example, by using software such as GarageBand or Audacity).

For each piece, participants receive sheet music for their part(s), a click track, and other supporting materials such as a pronunciation guide (for vocalists). As sheet music from Doctor Who is not commercially available, the orchestra works from sheet music transcribed and arranged by ear by coordinator Stephen Willis. The click track is an .mp3 that participants listen to while rehearsing and performing in order to keep in time. The click track also includes a tuning tone—a note to which all instrumentalists can tune their instruments in order to ensure that everyone is playing in tune and in the same key.

Participants rehearse their parts independently over the course of 2–3 months. Many participants are members of a DWFO Facebook group and use it as a venue to ask technical questions and seek advice from their fellow participants; this helps ameliorate the challenge of rehearsing without a conductor.[10]

When ready to perform, each participant records an audio file of his or her part(s) and sends it to the coordinator to be mixed into the master track. Optionally, participants may also record videos of their performances to be included in the final video. Not all participants submit videos; therefore, each performance features many more musicians in the audio mix than are pictured onscreen. The asynchronous nature of the performance makes it possible for participants to submit multiple parts if they wish—for example, several of the instrumentalists also sing in the choir. Many participants incorporate cosplay or props into their videos to complement the music being performed.

The DWFO's performances are published on YouTube in the channel socksofbalhoon and cross-promoted on the DWFO blog and Facebook page.


Unless otherwise noted, all pieces were composed by Murray Gold and arranged by Stephen Willis, based on the original orchestrations by Ben Foster. For all performances, Stephen Willis was coordinator and Robin LaPasha was assistant coordinator.

Title Release Date Participants Soloists/Featured Players
I Am The Doctor 10 Jul 2011 36 none
This Is Gallifrey/Vale Decem 19 Oct 2011 78 Jaclyn Goodson (cor anglais), Edan Umrigar (vocal)
Rose's Theme/Doomsday 25 Jan 2012 177 submissions from 154 individual participants Natalie Odien (piano); Steve Foxon (lead guitar); Heather Ackroyd, Allie Savage, Rachel Adcock, and Catherine Geiger (vocals)
Dalek Suite 30 May 2012 196 submissions from 174 individual participants none
The Impossible Astronaut (Suite) 18 Sept 2012 316 submissions from 234 individual participants none
A Christmas Carol (Suite) 20 Dec 2012 over 350 submissions from 241 individual participants Caryn Fulda, Emily McKie, Wendy Novicenskie, and Jessica Brinkley (vocals)
Amy's Suite 8 May 2013 444 submissions from 292 individual participants Mary Louise Brockmeier (soprano vocal), Małgorzata Słabosz (alto vocal), Elizabeth Brophy (celesta)
50th Anniversary Suite (includes the "Doctor Who Theme" composed by Ron Grainer) 20 Dec 2013 421 submissions from 283 individual participants Elena Dante (soprano vocal), Karin Fujii (alto vocal), Sini Ylönen (theremin), Ben Foster (synthesizer)
Martha Meets Shakespeare (original orchestration by Sam Watts and Ben Foster) 18 Dec 2014 412 submissions from 264 individual participants Mark Schenfisch and Stephen Willis (vocals), Damien Jones (viola), Sue Thorn (alto recorder), David Baldridge (trumpet), Meg Hentges (classical guitar and mandolin), Shannon Graham and Crystal Stellwagen (harpsichord), Mary Leneis (shawm, crumhorn, and rauschpfeife), Jeffrey Bunce (lute)
Donna's Suite 3 Sept 2016 336 submissions from 201 individual participants

Aaron Goldin (alto saxophone), Taris Oenang (electric guitar), Amaury Mansart (piano), Mark Schenfisch (Hammond organ), Stephen Willis (electric piano)

Reception and Influence

Audience reactions to the DWFO have been overwhelmingly positive. Here are a few example comments:

"This makes me cry every time I watch it. Not only is the music performed and mixed so beautifully, the diversity of the participants is amazing and inspiring. Doctor Who fans have really put the internet to its most amazingly good use. :')" [11]

"Wow. Is that really the actual sounds of the participants? I mean, of course it is, but it's hard to believe the music wasn't just taken straight from the soundtrack (or wherever). :D What I just watched was amazing!"[12]

"I cried through the whole video. This is so beautiful. Not just the music itself, but the fact that all of these Doctor Who fans from all walks of life all over the world contributed to the wonderful common goal of producing this piece of music. It's just staggering." [13]

"The thing I like best about these is that they that show amazing, talented people don't have to look like movie stars. They're normal, and that's wonderful! That means music and art are within reach of all of us."[14]

"This project is a continuous source of joy to fandom."[15]

Doctor Who composer Murray Gold is aware of the DWFO and often retweets announcements of its video releases. In response to the DWFO's second performance, he said: "#DoctorWhoFanOrchestra You guys are wonderful and everything this wonderful show is about. Thank you."[16]

The DWFO inspired the creation of the Sherlock Fan Orchestra.[17]


  1. ^ Notes to "Dalek Suite", 30 May 2012; Notes to "A Christmas Carol (Suite)", 20 Dec 2012
  2. ^ LaPasha, Robin. And now we are one: the DWFO's virtual anniversary (blog post). 30 March 2012.
  3. ^ Willis, Stephen. What’s this? An online Fan Orchestra? For Doctor Who music? That’ll never work... (blog post). 5 November 2011.
  4. ^ Willis, Stephen. What’s this? An online Fan Orchestra? For Doctor Who music? That’ll never work... (blog post). 5 November 2011.
  5. ^ LaPasha, Robin. And now we are one: the DWFO's virtual anniversary (blog post). 30 March 2012.
  6. ^ LaPasha, Robin. And now we are one: the DWFO's virtual anniversary (blog post). 30 March 2012.
  7. ^ Willis, Stephen. What’s this? An online Fan Orchestra? For Doctor Who music? That’ll never work... (blog post). 5 November 2011.
  8. ^ LaPasha, Robin. And now we are one: the DWFO's virtual anniversary (blog post). 30 March 2012.
  9. ^ Tweet by stephen_willis, 6:32 PM, 22 June 2012
  10. ^ Ackroyd, Heather. "You Are Not Alone..." (blog post), 3 Feb 2012
  11. ^ Comment by YouTube user WhisperingDixie on DWFO #3: "Rose's Theme/Doomsday"
  12. ^ Comment by YouTube user LouTube013 on DWFO #4: "Dalek Suite"
  13. ^ Comment by YouTube user HiClarissaExplains on DWFO #3: "Rose's Theme/Doomsday"
  14. ^ Comment by YouTube user appleblossombeck on DWFO #3: "Rose's Theme/Doomsday"
  15. ^ Comment by YouTube user travellerinthedark on DWFO #3: "Rose's Theme/Doomsday"
  16. ^ Tweet by murraygold, 3:03 PM, 19 October 2011
  17. ^ "About the Sherlock Fan Orchestra." Accessed 7 June 2012.