Doctor Who Prom
Something I love about Doctor Who, other than that it’s Doctor Who, is its ability to combine with some of my other obsessions. Granted with forty-five years of story telling, odds are that it's bound to bump in to a couple of anyone's proclivities (unless you’re Max Mosley) but it’s relatively scary, at least for me, that even the latest few television series have worked in jukeboxes, the Olympics, Shakespeare, communal singing, Kylie Minogue and now the Proms on Radio 3. Frankly if the plots of any of next year’s specials are pinioned around cream cheese bagels, French cinema, art galleries in the north west of England or Superlambananas, I’ll assume Russell T Davies is using a mind probe on my cranium.
It’s only in the last year I’ve become a bit of a stalker when it comes to classical music, after listening to every Albert Hall prom in the 2007 season then buying a job lot of BBC Music Magazine on ebay. Over the past dozen months it’s become apparent that all of the arts and media are influenced by the European classical tradition, either directly or indirectly and that the music in Doctor Who’s no exception. Though initially strapped to a synthesizer, as the series has progressed and its budget increased composer Murray Gold has allowed his orchestral sensibilities to take flight and if he’s not nipping in a bit of choral Orff or Wagner in here, he’s luxuriating in some brassy Copland or Bernstein there, a big sound designed for the small screen. Gold should feel very proud to hear his music finally played in what is for some the home of western classical music and played so intelligently here by the BBC Philharmonic and London Philharmonic choir under Torchwood composer Ben Foster and Stephen Bell.
Though initially strapped to a synthesizer, as the series has progressed and its budget increased composer Murray Gold has allowed his orchestral sensibilities to take flight
I don’t know what the Promenaders (literally) on the ground thought of the dedicating of a concert to his music, but I’d hope that even if they’d never seen an episode of the series before (why?) they’d see that Gold can be as bombast yet thematically interesting as some of their favourite composers. Certainly listening to The Doctor Forever and Rose’s theme, they might note that though their roots are in the ‘light’ category within which film and television music is usually pigeon holed, there is a real depth to the composition and some thought given as to how to express the thematic ideas inherent in the series; if music from the likes Korngold can find a life outside of its Hollywood utilisation why not his similarly surnamed televisual successor?
Rather than rerunning the set list from the Cardiff Children In Need concert, Murray (assuming he chose the music) weighed heavily on underscores from the past couple of seasons. Donna’s theme is a Gershwinesque affair, Astrid Peth a neat bit of mournful Monteverdism whilst the brilliant Song For Freedom which develops the Ood them and recalls the melody from Song For Ten for ultimate deployment in Journey’s End. I’d missed it in that episode underneath my own sobbing, but I think it’s one of Gold best pieces of writing for the series, and must have sounded spectacular from within the hall. About the only disappointments were perhaps the Dalek music which was ultimately a mess of choruses vying for control, the rendition of the new version of the theme which was just less cohesive overall to the one we enjoyed for seasons two and three (at least it wasn't Nigel Kennedy) and Song For Ten, in which original episode vocalist Tim Philips seemed to be taken with the moment bless him -- but here’s the wrong place to start the Hannon debate again.]
at least it wasn't Nigel Kennedy
Let’s instead applaud the non-Who choices smuggled into the concert as a Reithian measure to demonstrate to kids that classical music isn’t boring. Opening the concert with a medley which began up front with the gutwrenching Doctor’s theme then shifting into Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man cleverly enunciated the familiar silhouette of the Doctor and his human companion whilst simultaneously as explained in the programme notes “serving as a fanfare for the human spirit, great endeavour and enormous courage”. Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets whose B-section, which was famously borrowed for the hymn ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’, recalls those episode scores which break off in the middle for a bit of churchiness, Gridlock and The Family of Blood. The composer apparently hated what the appropriation did to people’s appreciation of his whole work, which to an extent mirrors Russell T Davies’s own reaction when he found out Gridlock had been nominated for an award by the Christian right in the US for the values it upheld (at least for them).
In the second half, The Ride of the Valkries brought about the only listenable bit of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle to the audience, particularly the adults who more than likely had the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now in their heads – I know I did. When the BBC decide to do a Lucasfilm and start merchandising the time war, I for one can’t wait for Gary Russell novelise a version of the film with the timelords sending the Doctor and some time tots into the vortex after a Kurtz-like Davros lauding over Skaro. “Gallifrey … shit.” “They were gonna make me a chancellor for this, and I wasn't even living on their fuckin' planet anymore.” “He likes you because you haven’t regenerated.” “You are fighting for the biggest nothing in history.” Etc. If the Montague and Capulet from Romeo and Juliet would be the perfect accompaniment to a hundred marching Cybermen, about the only interloper was Mark Anthony-Turnage’s premiere piece The Torino Scale which for much of its duration sounded like he was purposefully smuggling in incidental music from Classic Star Trek. As Chandler said once on Friends when faced with an ultrasound: “I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s attacking the Enterprise.”
“He likes you because you haven’t regenerated.”
In the middle of all that was the ‘special scene’, Music of the Spheres. On radio, this was as close to a Big Finish audio as the new series is going to get with David Tennant in full bouncy, shouty, jokey, Attack of the Graske mode. Along with a Graske. Not so much a proper adventure, as a shout out to the audience, this must have been a great surprise in the hall as the kids found the Doctor addressing them and it says a lot for Tennant’s charisma that he can work the crowd even on video. Trust Russell T Davies to write something which made the most of the venue yet still worked without the pictures, got the orchestra to do some work (neat bit of atonalism from the Doctor there), provide a squee worthy moment for the fans in beating his foe and a touching moment essentially telling the kids how important music is to us all. Is it canon? Who care, it was just great fun, and I’ve tried my best here not to spoil the surprises for those of you who are waiting for the television broadcast whenever that may be (assuming you didn’t watch the version which appeared on the official website briefly or some dodgy version recorded on camera phone uploaded to YouTube in the mean time).
There’s a routine to listening to Proms on Radio 3. There’s the announcer, on this occasion a slightly bewildered sounding Sarah Walker doing her best to describe the on-screen action like Caroline John trying to improvise the narration for a BBC Audio release. There’s getting slightly teed off with the audience for coughing through everything, this time replaced with babies and applause for on stage action, neither of which I’ll begrudge on this occasion. And there’s Twenty Minutes, the programme that spills into each interval. When Radio 3 commissioned science fiction writer Justina Robson to provide the half time whimsy here, were they really expecting a Behind The Sofa-style evisceration of Journey’s End and the John Nathan Turner era along with some slightly shippy fan fiction? Robson’s obviously something more than a passing fan (even though she ignored McGann’s existence) but could this not have been an analysis Gold’s music, perhaps something prepared by the Doctor Who Confidential team instead of an examination of Captain Jack’s omnisexuality and why Tom didn’t jump Leela’s bones?
were they really expecting a Behind The Sofa-style evisceration of Journey’s End and the John Nathan Turner era along with some slightly shippy fan fiction?
Luckily, it wasn’t quite enough to destroy the sense of celebration evident elsewhere in the broadcast. The story of what’s really going on with Freema and the casting politics was set aside for her introductions and her enthusiasm – if indeed she has fled the Whoniverse, she’ll be a great loss. And look (or in this case hear) its Adulthood’s Noel and Camille joking about Wagner and Catherine hopefully realising the affection that most of us fans now have for her and Donna. As one heckler said, ‘Bring her back’ – here, here, though I can't see it happening. In the end, all were beaten by Nick Briggs’s Daleks and the majesty of Julian Beach’s Davros whose spine chilling guttural tones, creeping their way through familiar names like ‘Henry Wood’ and ‘Royal Albert Hall’ were one of the true highlights and worth the organising of this whole endeavour alone. I can't wait to see it all again on television.
Next: Messian’s La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur.