This is a Doctor Who soundtrack release I never expected to be holding in my hands or hearing. Composer Dudley Simpson was as close as classic Doctor Who had to the kind of singular composer-in-residence that seems to be the norm for the modern series; other composers were occasionally employed at the whim of individual directors, but from 1964 through 1979, Dudley Simpson was Doctor Who’s default musical “setting”, composing for and conducting a small ensemble occasionally augmented with synthesizers by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But despite his music gracing most of the series across that fifteen-year span, most of the original session tapes of Simpson’s Doctor Who music have been lost. The only remaining specimens, in fact, can be traced to the Radiophonic Workshop – if they added their wobbly analog synths to Simpson’s music, a copy of that was retained in their archives. And that’s where the score from The Sun Makers, a 1977 Tom Baker four-part story, comes in – it’s one of only two Simpson scores that still exist in their entirety, both of them thanks to the Workshop’s involvement. (The other, still unreleased, is 1971’s The Mind Of Evil, a Jon Pertwee adventure that was the second-ever appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master, and as such heavily feature’s Simpson’s sinister theme for that character.) To have a complete Simpson score is a gift; for that score to hail from a fondly-remembered story featuring the fourth Doctor, Leela, and K-9 toppling a regime embracing capitalism-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness is just gravy.
Tracks like “Mahogany”, which starts out with a somewhat plaintive bassoon before bringing the rest of the ensemble in to create a rich, warm harmony, exemplify what Simpson was best at. The same goes for “One Thousand Metres” and its interesting keyboard arpeggios floating over the acoustic instruments. Let’s be clear – a lot of people probably wouldn’t have chosen The Sun Makers to be one of the only complete surviving examples of Simpson’s work; they probably would’ve chosen City Of Death or Genesis Of The Daleks or a more “obvious” entry in Simpson’s canon, but The Sun Makers didn’t exactly burn itself into everyone’s memory the way those stories did. That’s actually what makes it a canny choice for a release: it’s a bit of a surprise because you probably don’t remember the score that well.
“Six Suns”, “The Others”, and “K-9, Bite!” remind me a lot of Blake’s 7, of which nearly every episode was also scored by Simpson. (The Sun Makers has a Blake’s 7 connection too – it’s where director Pennant Roberts met actor Michael Keating, giving Keating a hearty recommendation for the role of Vila.) “Subway 13” is a bit more menacing, and, at less than a minute in length, it’s a reminder some Doctor Who stories lent themselves to lengthier musical travelogues, and The Sun Makers wasn’t one of those stories. It’s comprised of shorter, punchier vignettes without the opportunity for the kind of extended musical interludes that, say, City Of Death afforded the composer. In that regard, The Sun Makers is absolutely a straight-down-the-line typical bit of Doctor Who scoring from the ’70s.
A word about the sound quality: The Sun Makers was remastered extensively by Mark Ayres, himself a Doctor Who composer of a later era (but also a die-hard Dudley Simpson fan, as he himself admitted to when he was interviewed for this site quite a few years back). Ayres is also behind the audio remastering of Doctor Who’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases, so it goes without saying that this entire disc is as crisply, lovingly listenable as if the tape had just been recorded last week.
As a whole listening experience, The Sun Makers is a time capsule that may find an audience only among completist collectors, and the older generation of Doctor Who fans who were there for this story the first time around (he said, addressing the mirror). It may not appeal to everyone. But it’s a lovely little slice of the past where, rather than striving to be epic or futuristic, the sound of Doctor Who was quietly, politely going for baroque.
- Doctor Who Opening Title Theme (0:46)
- Death And Taxes (0:28)
- Mahogany (0:51)
- One Thousand Metres (2:12)
- Six Suns (1:53)
- The Others (1:29)
- Subway 13 (0:36)
- Subway 13 (continued) (1:07)
- A Heart As Big As Your Mouth (0:30)
- A Little Hop (0:23)
- Jelly Babies (0:31)
- Something In The Air (0:24)
- K-9, Bite! (0:54)
- Humbug (1:25)
- The P45 Return Route (1:08)
- The P45 Return Route (reprise) (0:55)
- Morton’s Fork (1:09)
- I’ve Heard That One, Too (1:05)
- The Rebellion Begins (0:46)
- Static Loop (3:20)
- The Steaming (1:18)
- The Steaming (continued) (1:10)
- Gentlemen, Good Luck (0:40)
- Nobody Works Today (2:11)
- The Gatherer Excised (0:43)
- Doctor Who Closing Title Theme (0:55)
Released by: Silva Screen Records
Release date: May 8, 2020
Total running time: 28:49