Monday, 1 November 2010

Is there a Doctor in the house?

What better way to spend Halloween than in the company of some monsters, and that was just the kids. Yes there were a lot of little people present at the final Cardiff show of the BBC’s Doctor Who Live yesterday but you know what? The kids are alright…. Because this show is all about them. There was much to enjoy for the young at heart as well though as all the best monsters from Series 1-5 of the BBC’s flagship Sci-Fi spectacle were wheeled out before us under the guise of an intergalactic circus, of sorts.

The ringleader was the colourful bouffant-haired Vorgensen, played by the brilliant Nigel Planer, who began as a showman with a gimmick to show off – ‘the minimiser’ to be exact – and ended up the perfect Panto villain as his gimmick turned out to be a rouse to capture The Doctor alongside his plethora of Cybermen, Scarecrows, Smilers and Vampire Vixens (aka The Vampires of Venice, aka Saturnyne) – a veritable zoo of Who beasties. I won’t give any more away, but as with any Doctor Who adventure all is not quite as it seems and a deeper evil may just be behind the events unravelling before us.

The Doctor himself was of course not present in physical form, but on screen in a series of well played-out exchangess with Vorgensen – and the audience. This, and the entrance of various monsters into the auditorium, obviously takes its cue from the wonderful Doctor Who Proms whose physical interactions with favoured (or feared) villains remains a highlight of both years in the Albert Hall. This new ‘Live’ concept though works on a different level, with a story at its heart, and in that sense is a far more enjoyable ‘show’ for the key demographic – i.e. kiddies.

Once again – and ultra important from my perspective – music played a huge role in the proceedings, though this time scaled down from full orchestra to a scintillating band of thirteen. Under the command of The Doctor’s favoured conductor and arranger Ben Foster, these guys and girls made an awesome sound, which I simply wasn’t expecting. They brought to life Murray Gold’s themes with heaps of pizzazz and a dollop of chutzpah, absolutely giving the BBC National Orchestra of Wales a run for their money. Themes from across all five series made an appearance, supporting both the monsters running amok and also big screen montages of some of The Doctor’s adventures. Filler this might have been, but it worked beautifully; I am in fact a sucker for a good montage and these, underscored so eloquently, inspired some eye-watering… but only a bit.

With tickets starting at £25 this would by no means be a cheap trip for a family and when you add in the endless merchandise available – including the ubiquitous glossy £10 programme – there is a sense that the BBC is cashing in somewhat on its prize pony… but that said people are lapping it up and having a bloomin’ good time while they’re at it, and who can say fairer than that when the outside world is so chock full of real life doom, gloom and monsters.

Monetary matters aside, this is a wonderful show, a sci-fi pantomime of sorts and everyone involved ought to be mighty proud of it. Doctor Who just keeps getting bigger and better doesn’t it?

Just a final word I think, as I’m bleating on about the good Doctor and his music. Silva Screen Records have come up trumps with not one, but two lavish, immense and brilliant collections of original music from the series’. It seems Doctor Who soundtracks are like buses… you wait two years for a new one and two come along at once (well, ish).

‘Series 4 – The Specials’ hit stores a few weeks ago and it has been a long time coming. Indeed I was at the recording session for ‘The Next Doctor’ over two years ago and then ‘The End of Time’ this time last year, so I for one have been chomping at the bit to hear some of this stuff again. It’s all great stuff of course, but the second disc – devoted to ‘The End of Time’ – is just extraordinary, showcasing what is absolutely Murray Gold’s finest work. ‘Vale Decem’ is on repeat currently… Check it out if you haven’t yet.

‘Series 5’ is on CD this week… oh yes, it’s another double disc set and is another stunner I can tell you. Having written the programme notes for the Prom again this year I was already party to some of the tracks and arrangements on this new album, but there is far more besides, in fact there is something from each of the thirteen episodes of Matt Smith’s inaugural series. It’s a brilliant collection, setting out on CD just how versatile a composer Murray is. The depth of emotion so apparent in prior series’ remains, but there is a fairytale elegance to some of this recent stuff, not to mention a maturity, that speaks volumes for how much he has grown as an artist, how much braver he has become and just how talented he is. Listen to ‘The Time of Angels’ against ‘Amy’s Theme’ and then ‘Battle in the Sky’ and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The team are busily getting the Christmas Special music together, so there is – as ever – plenty more to look forward to. Good times, Doctor.

Doctor Who Live continues it’s UK tour in Liverpool on 2-3 November, then finally in Belfast on 6-7 November. Silva Screen Records’ two new albums – plus soundtracks for Series 1/2, Series 3 and Series 4 – are available right now at

Big thanks to Ben Foster, and David Stoner at Silva Screen Records.

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