So, at long last, the BBC is releasing a soundtrack album for the new Doctor Who. Hooray!…kinda. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll certainly buy a copy, and I look forward to listening to it. But in only two seasons (a total of 27 episodes), dear old Murray Gold has achieved the same effect that it took Christopher Franke about four years to accomplish: he composed a lot of music that I thought was brilliant the first couple of times I heard it, and then reused all of these wonderful pieces to the point that it just completely robbed them of a lot of their power.
Franke did that for me during the fourth season of Babylon 5. Don’t get me wrong, that whole “floor” of my CD shelf that’s wall-to-wall Babylon 5 episodic CDs says it all: I loved me some B5 music. (Same for that shelf below it and one over – the one that’s almost wall-to-wall Doctor Who music spanning from the second story shown in 1963 to the 1996 TV movie.) But Chris Franke started reusing certain bits of music in the fourth season until I just started tuning it out (the music, that is, not the show – you know me better than that).
I’ve interviewed quite a few composers, and in a conversation (not published in any of the interviews on this site), I let my guard down a bit and mentioned my beef with Franke. My interviewee’s response was more or less, “Hey, let’s see you come up with completely new music that doesn’t in any way reference anything you’ve done in the past, or sound similar to it, every week for five years.” And I stood corrected in that opinion – yeah, it’d be next to impossible not to sound like…well…yourself. And as big a fan of TV soundtracks as I am, I will admit that it is a limitation of both the medium and the schedule on which it has to be made. And let’s face it, not a brag here, but I probably listen to television scoring more closely than the average viewer. For the average viewer, the occasional reference in the musical library merely reinforces a consistency of sound, rather than red-flagging a reuse of material.
That said, I’ve loved Murray Gold’s music from day one of the new Doctor Who, and yet I also admit that the Franke Effect is in play. There’s one theme in particular which is rolled out every time Rose experiences some emotional revelation, and by now it’s come up so many times that it’s almost its own cliche. But it’s a beautiful piece of music. Also, for season two, even the cues which were recycled from season one were recorded anew with big, widescreen arrangements by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. (I’ve a feeling that the CD is going to present us with very few, if any, of the all-synth/sampled scores of the first year.)
There have been one-off episodes whose scores, never referenced again, have been brilliant – School Reunion and The Girl In The Fireplace, to name but a couple – and truthfully, the scores have probably all been that brilliant, but like a perfectly good hit song played ad nauseum on the radio, they’ve just been overexposed.
That said, I look forward to the CD. There are plenty of bits that I hope are on it (and I’m hoping like mad that the pleasantly Phil Spector-ish “Song For Ten”, heard at the end of The Christmas Invasion and later referenced toward the end of School Reunion, is among ’em). I hope against hope that anything from the Eccleston season isn’t automatically out of consideration just because no one paid to put a real orchestra in (surely the choral stuff from Dalek / The Parting Of The Ways is grand enough to make the cut, and I liked the theramin-esque version of the End Of The World theme just fine, thanks), and I’d like to add both the Eccleston version of the main theme and the orchestrally heavy Tennant version to that wish list too.
Just look at that. Orchestral Doctor Who music. And to think, people still write off the 1996 McGann movie as a detour? It was more of a road map to the future of the show, like it or not.
Thanks to the readers of this site, I’ve got a few pounds’ store credit laying in wait at Amazon UK, just waiting to pounce on the pre-order for this. If you haven’t been able to tell from the number of music reviews I’ve done from this series and its offshoots, or that huge overview analysis of the music’s influences and styles, or the number of times that a Doctor Who track appears up there in my “now playing” box on this very blog, chances are I’ll still like it.