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July 25, 2010

Radio Squee

Stuart Ian Burns listens to the Doctor Who Prom 2010

Proms Listening to a Doctor Who Prom on the radio should be a miserable experience for most fans simply because we’re not there and we can't see what we're missing.  When the audience are reacting to whatever’s happening in the Royal Albert Hall, it’s not until the end of a piece that (in this case) presenter Petroc Trelawny explains that the eleven rhythmic applauses are for the video appearances of each of the different incarnations of the Doctor, so we should be disappointed that we couldn’t quite rightly cheer for Paul McGann at the correct moment (or whichever Doctor is wrongly your favourite).

Yet, Karen’s funny introductions in which she seemed be surprised by the sound of her own voice, Arthur's astonishment at the scale of the auditorium, the weight of the orchestral and choral sound and the infectious atmosphere in the hall were just enough to transport at least my thoughts to my imagined favourite spot just in front of the stage (which I hear in reality isn’t acoustically the best place to stand but it's my imagination so for me it is).  Someone else from this parish was actually in the hall tonight (and will be again tomorrow lunch time) and may write about the experience so I don't really want to steal his thunder.  But I did at least want to say, as Karen might, wasn't that, well, amazing?

der-der-der-dum-da-dum vocals

This was also a fascinating first chance to hear the imaginarium of Murray Gold (orchestrated by Ben Foster) largely without the dialogue on top.  First impressions in the prologue and The Mad Man with a Box were that in keeping with Moffat’s scripts, Gold had embraced the infantile qualities of the premise of the series by shifting from the ethereal qualities of “Flavia” to the kinds of der-der-der-dum-da-dum vocals that a child (and some adults) might use to interpret the music, essentially giving them something to sing along to.  As the concert progressed, Gold was keen to demonstrate that although this is a new series with new themes, the range and ability he established in the previous era was still in effect.

This Is The Doctor, what we heard of it under being drowned out by the dialogue (for a chance – it's usually the other way round) in contrast to the Tenth Doctor's angsty theme, is broad and rhythmic with an added, strident level of heroism that suggests the character has moved on from the underlying tragedy of the first two incarnations of the new era.  Battle in the Skies (Daleks vs Spitfires) may have lacked the raw vocal distinctiveness of the The Dark and Endless Dalek night, but the meddly Liz, Lizards, Vampires and Vincent better demonstrated the range of sounds that the composer has to produce across the series, the final section perfectly capturing the melancholic state of the painter. 

Perhaps inevitably my favourite tune of the night was Amy, which keys in nicely to the slightly madcap elements of the character’s personality but also includes some evident discord because her life doesn’t make sense.  Murray’s companion compositions have been a mix of tragic (Rose), plaintive (Martha and Rose) and screwball (Donna) and in Amy he finds something rather more magical, perhaps because it has to cover the span of a longer life, and so has to fit both the child like wonder of Amelia and the bright young yet cynical thing she’s become.

Another gift at the close of the concert was the latest version of the Doctor Who theme, and for the first time in general public (after a couple of tantalising hints at the stuttery end of the credits sequences in the Doctor Who PC games) the middle eighth which is the moment when this rendition suddenly makes sense as the choir crashes in.  I still live in hope that Moffat will have a change of heart and make good on his praise for the Delia Derbyshire arrangement and use the thing in the next series, but after hearing Murray's latest version tonight I’m oddly less hostile towards it.  The graphics still look horrendous though.

I still live in hope that Moffat will have a change of heart and make good on his praise for the Delia Derbyshire arrangement and use the thing in the next series

Amid Murray Gold’s gold, the classical, some would say archival music was well chosen: the incessant, metrical sound of John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine brought to mind the ticking of a clock; Walton’s busy Portsmouth Point Overture suggested the bustle of a space port; Wagner’s repeating Die Walküre (which I made some good jokes about last time); Orff’s O Fortuna, the certain inspiration for much of Murray’s choral work and Holst’s Mars from The Planets the certain inspiration for much of the music in the Star Trek films, almost unlistenable now without imagining Picard growling “The line must be drawn here!” just as the Enterprise shatters into a thousand tiny pieces.

During the interval in 2008, the BBC controversially commissioned science fiction writer Justina Robson to provide an audio essay on the programme which quickly descended into a bonkers evisceration of the sexual politics of the show.  This time, much more in keeping with the mood of the concert, Matthew Sweet offered a pleasant and intelligent short history of the score music in the classic series from An Unearthly Child through to the unearthly noise of Keff McCulloch which 2Entertain would do well to snap up and put out as an extra on one of their future releases.

All of the composers interviewed were on good form and although some of the stories were well worn (Dudley Simpson biking over the pages days before transmission), it was interesting to hear how their experiences and the demands placed upon them by successive producers were very similar across the forty years, assuming that if the video wasn't of the standard they'd hoped, the music would be able to somehow pull it together.  That it did, is a testament to their creativity and like Sweet, I too sometimes whistle City of Death out in the world, and even did it in Paris.  But that's a story for another time.

the unearthly noise of Keff McCulloch

Back in the Albert, any disappointment about the audience’s genuine sympathy for the exterminated Daleks before the interval (has it come to this?) quickly dissipated in the face of Matt Smith’s lively and mostly live turn as the Doctor.  In an interview at the back of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine, the actor suggests, going into the next series, that he has a better handle on how to play the character and that was certainly on display here as he navigated a mix of improv and script with a volunteer from the audience.  Smith is able to fully inhabit the Doctor now and it seems to be because he’s realised that the best way to make him convincing is to simply be himself (unless he was simply being himself tonight and so therefore he was the Doctor – there’s a brain teaser).

Music of the Spheres succeeded because of its evocation the beauty of classical music through a rather gorgeous speech; whatever this was called simply brought the magic of the show right into the auditorium.  We weren’t given an indication on the radio as to the age of this small boy, but surely the experience of interacting with a fictional character will have interesting repercussions for his future psychological development.  Let’s hope for the sake of his parents he doesn’t spend the next decade or so obsessing about this mysterious imaginary friend from his past who he helped save half of London, but then, unlike Amy, but like the rest of us, he can keep in touch with his friend’s adventures.  And how they sound.

Next: Dvořák's Slavonic Dance in E minor Op.72 No.2


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