Few would have imagined, when Doctor Who was resurrected in 2005, that one of the foundation-stones of its huge renewed success would be the contribution of its music composer Murray Gold. His rearrangements of the shows classic signature tune and his strident, powerful and memorable incidental music (arranged and performed orchestrally since Christmas 2005) have become as readily-identifiable to the latest incarnations of the series as any number of Daleks, Cybermen, Police Boxes and fezzes. Nowadays the idea of Doctor Who without Murray’s quirky character themes, off-beat musical motifs and rousing marches is virtually unthinkable. The whistle-stop Symphonic Spectacular concert, jetting around the UK following successful Australian runs since 2012 (and the show is headed to New York in October), is a tight and colourful two-hour celebration of the very best of Murray’s music - with an emphasis on scores from the most recent series, the first starring Peter Capaldi - performed live by the BBC Orchestra of Wales supported by the BBC National Chorus of Wales and soloist Elin Manahan Thomas.
Murray’s Doctor Who music is, of course no stranger to live performance, from its debut at the spine-tingling 2006 ‘Children in Need’ concert in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, regular dedicated Doctor Who proms at the Royal Albert Hall and the dramatic and theatrical The Monsters Are Coming! Tour in 2010. The Symphonic Spectacular, although supported by a dazzling light show, is a more stripped back and succinct affair than the lavish 2010 production. Ben Foster, who has orchestrated Murray’s music for the series since 2005, conducts with fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison introducing the proceedings in a refreshingly playful and self-effacing manner. Davison is a warm and enthusiastic host, his cheesy banter with Foster balanced by some gentle ribbing of fellow Time Lords Colin Baker, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy and the revelation that tenth Doctor David Tennant (married to Davison’s daughter Georgia Moffat) calls him Dad - “which is weird.”
The musical presentation itself will be pretty familiar to anyone who’s attended any of the previous productions. Beautifully-edited episode clips play on large screens as a familiar roll call of the Doctor’s best-known adversaries troop onto the stage or wander about the auditorium casually spooking the predominantly-adult audience. During the brilliant ‘All The Strange, Strange Creatures’, the ‘theme’ from season four, the stage is invaded by a menagerie of monsters including the rhino-headed Judoon, The Silence, the Whispermen, an Ice Warrior, Silurians and a girl in a white dress representing one of the blood-suckers from 2010’s ‘Vampires in Venice’. Elsewhere a phalanx of ‘dream crab’ humans appear during a suite from last year’s festive special ‘Last Christmas’ and the bandaged Mummy from ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ lurches out of the darkness for ‘66 Seconds’. Some of Murray’s more recent contributions might have lacked the urgency and catchiness of some of his earlier work but his twelfth Doctor theme ‘A Good Man?’ revels in its Hans Zimmer influences and the frantic ‘Pandorica Suite’ from the two-part finale to Matt Smith’s first season cheerfully distracts from the desperate randomness of the episodes themselves. Four gold Daleks (not a multi-coloured Paradigm in sight, thankfully) steal the show for the ‘To Darkness’ suite and the Doctors recent best friends Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy are remembered in ‘The Companions’. Then there’s the rousing ‘Song of Freedom’ which climaxed season four and the whole history of the show is celebrated in ‘Fifty - This is Gallifrey’ where Doctors past and present are commemorated on screen. Fans hoping for some music from the ‘classic’ series might be disappointed - no scores from ‘The Sea Devils’ or ‘Horns of Nimon’ here - but the show’s past is also acknowledged in the commanding ‘Wherever, Whenever’. A tear or two may fall - we couldn’t possibly comment - as soloist Elin Manahan Thomas stands in for Katherine Jenkins for the haunting ‘Abigail’s Song’ from 2010’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’
Doctor Who on TV inevitably enjoys its highs and lows in terms of both quality and popularity but the music of Murray Gold - in attendance at the near-capacity Cardiff concert, seated at the end of STARBURST’s row - has been one true constant in a ten year-run which has seen four TV Doctors, two show-runners and a never-ending procession of companions and new best friends. The Symphonic Spectacular - which inevitably closes with a stirring monster-packed rendition of Ron Grainer’s iconic theme tune - is a welcome reminder of Doctor Who’s tireless cross-generational appeal and enduring charm as the longest-running and - yes, we’ll say it - best television science-fiction series in history. Don’t miss it.
The Symphonic Spectacular continues with matinee and evening performances at Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh until May 29th.
(because we’d have liked ‘Westminster Bridge’ from ‘Rose’ and ‘The Carrionites Swarm’ from ‘The Shakespeare Code.’)