When the BBC and America's Fox network tried to resuscitate Doctor Who, the concept floundered due to a weak storyline, and a lead character who felt more like an H.G. Wells creation than the beloved icon who zipped from one time into the next on the long-running BBC series.
Produced in 1996, the one-off effort starred Paul McGann as The Doctor, and was scored not by one composer but three: John Debney, Louis Febre, and John Sponsler – resulting in an uneven mish-mash that also made the grave blunder of updating Ron Grainer's classic theme with an orchestra, synths, and a post-disco pop backbeat – a convention of the times that, in passing years, has really dated many of the productions they were designed to support.
For the new BBC TV series, the creative team is all-British, and with one composer at the helm, the music of the series (including the spin-off shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures) has one consistent voice.
Murray Gold deliberately goes back to the solid, driven electronic sound of Grainer's theme – even ending the brisk theme music with the original ‘industrial drain' sound effect– and he seamlessly adds orchestral elements without detracting from Grainer's imperative tempo and aggressive tenor.
The cues themselves are a broad mix of all-electronics and some strong orchestral cues, and Gold frequently chooses to score subtext and character interaction in place of overt action or suspense, and he invests kinetic cues with a surprising dose of melody.
In “Westminster Bridge,” which underscores a rapid-fire montage as Rose goes through the motions of her day in the pilot episode, Gold places an orchestra band in the center channel, and flanks the mono channel with punchy stereophonic brass accents, and swinging sixties electric bass. “The Doctor's Theme,” as a contrast, plays like a somber lament instead of straight heroism or humour, and Gold uses the subdued theme to emphasize the Doctor's more introspective moments.
Throughout seasons 1 and 2, Gold has had plenty of colourful material to draw from, and the show's writers have made the Doctor a man with a conscience, which torments him whenever Rose is endangered, as when she's presumed dead after she encounters the last surviving Dalek during the first season.
“Cassandra's Waltz” lilts its way through several witty turns, accented by appropriately cheesy synths mimicking a low-grade theremin, and it's indicative of the composer's light touch which compliments the omnipotent British wit that makes the series such a joy to watch.
Silva Screen's album moves towards a more grand, orchestral center, with some beautifully melodic cues such as “Hologram” that establish an overt sci-fi tone and compliment the huge interstellar and temporal latitude the Doctor enjoys, thereby giving the series added scope, and harking back to some of the melodic sci-fi scores that once were the norm for the genre, including Henry Mancini's stirring and expansive music for Tobe Hooper's nutbar opus Lifeforce. “Rose Defeats the Daleks” is one of the album's densest cues, and Gold gives Rose's triumph a massive Wagnerian salute with choir.
Gold's theme for Rose comes into play several times during the series: in particular, it neatly ties together the character's conflicts in having to leave her family to follow the Doctor towards dangerous adventures; leaving her tormented boyfriend, who's subsequently suspected of Rose's disappearance during her first extended time away from her family; and moments when she's separated from the Doctor, and the Earth seems ready to go boom yet again.
The album also includes two vocal tracks performed by Neil Hammond, both of which have been designed as cheeky retro-seventies pop ditties with an orchestral rock band, and plenty of brass material flanking Hammond 's vocals.
Gold's music for the new spin-off series Torchwood is a bit colder and more techno-styled when compared to the Doctor Who scores, but this full album of lengthy cues from the latter series should please fans of the original TV show, and demonstrates some of the great scoring talent flourishing in England.
For more information on Murray Gold, read our interview with the composer HERE.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan