(This article was originally published on the 5th of January 2012 at the now defunct website Eye of Harmony. It is not up to my current standard of writing, does not accurately represent my current opinions in places, and has not been altered in any way from its original state. While technically not the last thing I ever wrote for the site, it was the last thing that wasn’t a massively self-indulgent bit of update filler. While it is still not up to my current writing standard and my opinions on certain things have shifted, it is still miles better than anything else I ever wrote for Eye of Harmony, if only by default because it’s a piece of actual criticism. Not a pointless fluff piece, not a shitty game review, not whatever the fuck The RTD Roundup was. Just actual, legit analysis, critique and opinion-giving. It may not be that well-written and it’s stupidly long, but it’s something of substance at least, and not a moment too soon. It is preserved here for archival purposes only, and that should be taken into account before reading.)
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams
I think I can say that the following post has become my own personal Duke Nukem Forever. What started out as a quick little review to fill time until The RTD Roundup – Rose Part III has now mutated into a 16,000 word monster, making it the longest post I have ever written for this site. Month after month of toil, blood, sweat, the bedevilled temptress that is Internet surfing and a hefty glob of procrastination has meant promise after promise to get it done has been broken. Hell, after a while I stopped saying when I’d get it done and kept the deadlines I set for myself to myself, since I knew in all likelihood I’d just break it. Still, if you’re reading this, then it means I’ve finally managed to get my act together sufficiently to polish off this gargantuan mass of a post.
But enough of that, what of the purpose of said post? Well, if you’ve somehow read this far without knowing what said purpose is, I congratulate you on your lack of peripheral vision. The rest of you should know that this is a review of Murray Gold’s score to A Christmas Carol. If you’re wondering whether I mean “the one with CG Jim Carrey or the one with Kermit the Frog”, then I’m wondering what the hell you’re doing coming to this site.
Reactions to this particular episode of Doctor Who were… shall we say, mixed. There were some who said it tried to do too much in too little time, and others who pointed out the rather large plot hole that if the Doctor is willing to change the course of Kazran’s entire life, why could he not simply stop the doomed starship from ever taking off? Not only that, but how can he change history in the first place? Shouldn’t the Reapers (the ones from Father’s Day, not the ones from Mass Effect… although that would be ungodly awesome… and strangely ironic, but more on that later) be showing up and eating everyone? Err… um… fixed points in time, maybe… certain moments in flux… wibbly-wobbly… bow ties are cool…
Anyway, while those are all certainly very valid criticisms to make, I personally loved it. At last there as a Doctor Who Christmas Special that focused on the true meaning of Christmas, of looking at where you were last year and the year before that, and looking at where you want to be next year, and the year after that. Of family and friends. Of patting everyone on the back and saying “well done, we’re halfway out of the dark”. Not commercialism and killer trees, and certainly not a disaster movie pastiche (“but it meshed so very well with the idea of Christmas!”) or a giant Cyberman stomping around Victorian London (CHRISTMAS!).
However, to finally get this post on track, instead of sliding all over the place, screeching about, throwing sparks and nonsensical metaphors, the person we’re talking about today is Murray Gold, who is on the fast track to surpassing RTD in fan controversy. True, Gold-hate isn’t nearly as widespread yet, and there are still many, many fanboys out there to defend their musical messiah no matter what, but it is spreading fast. Once, it was only a small contingent who actively wished another composer with a less bombastic style would take over. Now though, with Series Six sporting episodes where the music actively interferes with the on-screen action (yes, I’m looking at you Night Terrors, and don’t think I forgot you, God Complex), and a major accusation of plagiarism that’s hard to ignore, a small yet increasing number of people are desperate for someone else to take up composing duties on Doctor Who, especially with the 50th anniversary looming and everyone crossing their collective fingers hoping for nothing to go wrong.
But those and other tales are for later. Meanwhile, this review takes two of my greatest loves and puts them together: Doctor Who and soundtracks. Although I tend to avoid ‘song albums’ (i.e. the ones that are just mixtapes of the various popular songs the filmmakers crammed into the movie for about 5 seconds so they could justify pushing a CD of hit songs and thus make lots of money), I simply cannot get enough of ‘score albums’ (i.e. the ones which contain the instrumental underscore composed for the movie). From the retro electronics of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Rocky IV and TRON Legacy (the latter of which is my favourite soundtrack of all time, fact fans) to the gorgeously lush orchestras of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (no, really, the movie may suck, but the score is easily one of the best in the series), Treasure Planet and Back to the Future, soundtracks for films, TV shows and video games are one of my passions. So, hopefully, you can see I come from a relatively knowledgeable position when I come to review the latest Doctor Who score album (emphasis on the ‘relatively’, as I have not, for example, heard a single score composed by Erich Korngold, which among ‘true’ soundtrack fans would get me lynched). But first, let’s take a quick look at Doctor Who’s history on album, both because I enjoy banging on about soundtracks forever more, and because it’ll be good to have made that more-than-6-month hiatus worth it with a colossal mega-post spectacular!
What should be noted, though, is that this is a potted history of the albums I happen to own. A series as big as Doctor Who has resulted in releases beyond number, from Keff McCulloch’s 25th Anniversary Album to Mark Ayres’ various releases of his scores to the compilations of stock music used in the 60’s to god knows how many theme remix singles (e.g. Variations on a Theme, Resistance is Futile, Doctorin’ The Tardis, the list is bloody endless) to the isolated score options on select DVD releases, there’s no shortage of Doctor Who related music out there. Therefore, for the sake of actually starting the actual review section of the review sometime in the distant future, let’s take a look at the few albums I have on CD. We’ll go in the chronological order of the music itself rather than the chronological order of the albums’ releases or when I bought them, otherwise this will be all over the place.
We start, oddly enough, with the album for Amicus’ two Dalek movies. The first movie, Dr Who and the Daleks, was scored by Malcolm Lockyer, while the second’s was composed by Bill McGuffie, both of which were enhanced by electronic effects by the regular composer for the various Gerry Anderson series, Barry Gray. While incredibly fun and painfully of it’s time, the liner notes claim the sultry quality of the score would be better fitted for a sexy exploitation flick instead of a science fantasy movie for kids. While I would agree the twanging guitar of the opening theme isn’t exactly what you’d expect Lockyer to do given the absence of the Ron Grainer theme, the rest of the score meshes really well with the sense of wonder, comedy and, dare I say it, kitsch of the movie. Don’t believe me? Just take a listen to the second half of the second track, ‘Tardis’, and hear that very same opening theme rearranged to give a lovely sense of mystery and wonder.
The second score, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD, is sadly something of a footnote, since only tapes with music and sound effects combined remain, limiting what can be presented on album. This is a huge pity, as although I would not be introduced to Doctor Who as a series until the RTD era, I still grew up with VHS tapes of the Amicus movies on hand, and preferred the more realistic, action-oriented second than the slow, talky and rather silly first. I swear, every time I hear the opening Bach piano beat (DA-DA-DUUUN! DUHN-DUHN-DUHN-DUN-DUN-DUHN!), I’m five years old again and am enthralled. By a shot of a man sitting in a car, smoking. The wonders of music. On the other hand, while the score is less campy than the first, it is still inappropriate in places, with a desperate uprising of human rebels being beaten down by the Daleks set to a crazy jazz beat. Then again, these moments are the exception rather than the rule, with my personal favourite Dalek theme (DAH DA-DA-DA DAH DAH! DAH DA-DA-DA DAA DAA!) and other such moments feeling far more in tune with the tone of the film than the first score did for the most part.
Moving on to music from the show itself, we have volumes one and two of Doctor Who at the Radiophonic Workshop. The first is, like the show itself at the time, more of a collection of sound effects than actual music, but with the Radiophonic Workshop, the line between sound effects and music are always blurred. In particular, ‘Thal Wind’, despite being an atmosphere effect, could easily be integrated with Tristam Cary’s score without anyone noticing, ‘Cyberman brought to life’ was distinctive enough to be used as the trailer music for the animated restoration of The Invasion, and lest we forget that the TARDIS takeoff/landing effect is actually registered as electronic music. As for the music itself, the fact that pretty much every piece of out-and-out score is composed by a different person makes for a schizophrenic listen. From the smooth, laid-back piano of ‘Muzak’, to the aggressive, primitive synths of ‘Mr Oak and Mr Quill’, ‘varied’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Still, there are always the multiple 60’s arrangements of the Derbyshire theme to tie the album together.
As for the second… well, let’s just say the title “Doctor Who at the Radiophonic Workshop – Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970-1980” is as inaccurate as it is unwieldy. The proper title should be “Mark Ayres Is Madly In Love With The Score From The Sea Devils But Couldn’t Get It Released On Its Own So This Is His Way Of Getting Around That”. Of course, due to all but a few of Dudley Simpson’s scores being wiped, it’s acceptable that there’s going to be little to no Fourth Doctor material here, but taking up most of the running time with one score is somewhat unfair, especially a score as divisive as The Sea Devils. The rest of the CD is moot, just barely recognised table dressing around the malformed turkey that the cook has concentrated all his effort on. Inferno has some brilliant and creepy tension-builders from Delia Derbyshire, The Mind of Evil takes the same sounds that would later be used for The Sea Devils and makes them far more palatable than the latter score ever would, and The Claws of Axos has a single score cue, another early synth piece that bounces from excitable and energetic to dark and brooding in under two minutes.
The aforementioned centrepiece, then, is as… ‘inharmonious’ as it’s reputation suggests. The Sea Devil theme, absolutely riddled throughout the score, described best as ‘BLABBLE-BLABBLE-BLABBLE!’ by a You Are Not Alone column in DWM, sounds more like untranslated Tersuran than it does music. While the painfully primitive synths were used to good effect in ‘Mr Oak and Mr Quill’ and ‘The Axons Approach’, overexposure to them removes their novelty, and we’re just left with random electronic tones and sounds as a score. I’m not saying that can’t work, Forbidden Planet used such a technique to create both the first and one of the most revered of all electronic scores. However, their use here is definitely an acquired taste, the sonic equivalent of Marmite if you will. If you like it, you LOVE it, and if you don’t, you HATE it. I fall into the latter camp for the most part. After the first few times it nicely hums along with enjoyable background material then suddenly BLASTS YOUR EARDRUMS OUT and then returns to background noise again, it really starts to grate. Having said that, there are some pleasant moments here and there, such as the wistful, woodwind-like cue in the second third of ‘The Master’ as the Doctor reminisces on their shared childhoods, the rising and falling ‘travel theme’ heard at the start of ‘Stranded’ is memorable and establishes the isolation of the locale effectively, and the slightly off-key piano and wide synths of the Master’s theme (heard from 00:20 to 00:51 of ‘The Master’) is one of the best musical depictions of the character. Then again, these are little islands of attractiveness in a sea of mush, the random noises reaching their atonal peak in ‘The Sea Devils Take The Prison’, which sounds like a pitched battle between a Space Invaders arcade cabinet, an Atari 2600 and Wendy Carlos’ score to TRON, the result of which really is painful to listen to. That comparison’s no joke either, some effects used in this cue literally sound lawsuit-inducingly close to the effects in Space Invaders (which is interesting when you consider that The Sea Devils came first).
There are some redeeming qualities to the CD, however. The ‘TARDIS’ stereo single arrangement of the Derbyshire theme from 1972 is included, and that’s always a point in an album’s favour. A far rarer inclusion is the very next track, the Delaware arrangement. The many cons of this arrangement can be debated for hours, but the crystal clear copy used here shows just how poor previous copies have been. Mark Ayres must exercise black magic or something, how he could come out with such a good quality copy with missing master tapes is completely beyond me. However, I personally prefer the slightly slower version from Thirty Years At The Radiophonic Workshop, which sounds far more creepy and mysterious than the one presented here. After some jiggery-pokery, I found that playing the New Beginnings version at 96% speed (the equivalent of converting PAL video to NTSC video) results in a very close match to the Thirty Years version (suggesting the Thirty Years version was taken straight off an NTSC tape), thus I now have another copy of the Thirty Years Delaware arrangement, and this one doesn’t sound like a fiftieth-generation copy, so there’s another pro to balance the album out.
As for the short selection of sound effects, these continue the theme of blurring the line between effects and music, ‘Metebelis III Atmosphere’ sounding eerily close to the Inferno tracks, and ‘The Mandragora Helix’ sounding like an unfinished outtake from Blade Runner. The final part of the album is also its best, culminating in the demo cues Peter Howell created for The Horns of Nimon Part Two to prove what the Radiophonic Workshop could deliver. These are pretty much practise runs for The Leisure Hive, with many effects and sounds used in these demos being carried over to the latter, right down to the quoting of the theme tune in the regular underscore, which would be occasionally done again at various points throughout the 80’s. What really excuses everything seen thus far, though, is the very last track: the full 2 and a half minute single release of the Howell theme, my favourite televised arrangement. Mark Ayres, you are hereby forgiven. Especially since you produced the 2007 remix (the definitive version) of it for the Castrovalva DVD.
Sadly, I don’t own volumes three and four, which cover The Leisure Hive, Meglos and Full Circle. Both are now rare, and neither is really worth the effort or money. The isolated score tracks on the DVD’s are far more comprehensive, and the full Howell theme is already available on volume two. The only possible reason you could have to track them down would be the new stereo remix of the Derbyshire theme on volume three, but after listening to it, it seems no different than the ones on volumes one and two. I recall reading somewhere that Mark Ayres had messed up one of the arrangements on volume one or two (using the wrong swoop track or not syncing up one of the bass line layers or something, I don’t remember), but you’d need the guv’nor Mister Stewart to explain what the difference is, as I can’t hear it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: In the 2002 edit of the stereo Derbyshire theme, Mark Ayres replaced the dum-dum-diddy leading back into melody 1 with a D dum-dum-diddy which bends up into it—a bizarre bit of bass which never appears anywhere in the original theme. He eventually corrected this to a G dum-dum-diddy and re-released it in 2006. For the record, the “second layer” of the bassline is out of sync (like this when it should be like this) on both versions of the theme. This was never corrected. —DS)
However, we have now crossed the 2300 word mark, and yet the actual review itself is still nowhere in sight. Fear not, tl;dr-ers, we are slowly but steadily inching our way closer as we reach Murray Gold’s albums for the new series. Oh, where to begin. Firstly, there are his title themes. If you step back and listen to them as just pure music, they’re pretty good. The 2010 theme in particular is a great piece of music, eerie melody, pulsing bassline, thudding brass… the only problem is that it’s not just a piece of music, it’s a rearrangement of one of the greatest television themes of all time. With that accolade comes a certain level of respect and loyalty, neither of which has been shown by Gold.
Now sure, you could make the argument that the best remakes are the ones not afraid to change stuff that didn’t work in the original, and to modernise the original to make it more palatable to modern audiences. The problem with that argument? How do you improve on and/or modernise one of the most perfect, timeless pieces of music in television history? Hell, you want a tutorial on how to make something more ‘modern’ and ‘down wit da kidz’? Take a listen to Howell’s theme. Not only is it a brilliant piece of music in of itself, it surpasses Gold’s themes in almost every way.
The key word here is loyalty. From second hand reports, Howell purportedly spent weeks not composing anything, simply studying the original Derbyshire multi-tracks. Gold could easily have availed himself of these multi-tracks, but I highly doubt he did outside of use for sampling. Even then, he’s decreased their prominence with each rearrangement, completely doing away with them by the time of the 2010 version. Factor in the fact he seems to be trying to make sure they take up as small a role with each successive album (more on that later), and you get a clear picture of a man not respectful of one of television’s greatest themes, but instead indifferent to it, despite what he may say in interviews. As I mentioned a few paragraphs above, my favourite arrangement of my favourite TV theme isn’t one of Gold’s, they range from decent (the 2005 arrangement) to guilty pleasures (the 2010 arrangement). It’s Mark Ayres’ 2007 remix of Howell’s theme, which is one of the most glorious things a Doctor Who fan could possibly subject themselves to. Not only is it just a rockin’ tune to listen to (I will never try to use ‘hip’ lingo again, I promise), but it’s a perfect recreation of the original structure. Howell knew he couldn’t top the original, so he did all he could to take each individual element, recreate it with modern sounds, and make it both an exciting introduction to each episode for the average viewer and a joy for enthusiasts of the original. Gold, on the other hand, simply treats it as just another piece of music, to be hammered at until it sounds presentable, recorded, and then moved on from.
I would like to say this is the worst aspect of Gold’s music, but sadly I cannot. As this blog post was being written, Eye of Harmony’s own Danny Stewart noticed a very troubling thing. He found that one of Gold’s most famous works was, in fact, plagiarised from the score to a video game that came out not long before the recording sessions for Series Five. This news shocked me; not only because of its implications, but also that it came from a score cue both from one of my favourite video games and a cue that I have placed on my list of favourite video game themes of all time. It goes without saying that my opinion of A Christmas Carol’s soundtrack was altered by this news. However, this does not come into play until Series Five, so for the moment, let us put this nasty business aside and return to the happier, halcyon days of the earlier albums.
The first album, covering Series One and Two, is evidence of just how low Silva Screen thought the release’s chances of success were, cramming two series’ worth of music into one CD. Did it work? I honestly can’t tell you. With both this and the following Gold album for Series Three, the nostalgia goggles are stuck fast. These were two of the earliest soundtracks I added to my collection (another titbit for fact fans: the first one I ever got was the 1984 album for Dune), thus listening to them smothers any honest criticism with memories. Series One and Two leaps around from mood to mood, going straight from the frenetic energy of ‘Westminster Bridge’ to the slow, mysterious choir of ‘The Doctor’s Theme’ and so on. In a way, this constant shifting of mood and musical genre makes it feel more like a video game score than anything else.
This might present a problem, as this is a type of music that sometimes feels very inconsistent on album. The music for video games has to constantly adapt for each new environment and situation, which usually happens very often. While video games have increasingly become far more film-like in terms of coherency (such as the excellent scores for Mass Effect and Dragon Age Origins… it seems ironic that I mentioned one of those scores, as I wrote that sentence before this plagiarism thing came up and… well, again, we’ll get to that later), often, particularly in older games, the tone and instrumentation can jump massively from track to track, resulting in a rather schizophrenic album. In fact, the video game comparison may be more suitable than it first appears (again, very ironic in hindsight). It’s rather obvious here that Gold did not have as much money available for the score as he does now, with a lot of tracks relying more on electronics and acoustic instruments than the orchestra.
That’s not to say there are no fully orchestral tracks here, there’s the gorgeous ‘Hologram’, the foreboding badassery of ‘Unit’, and my personal favourite from the first disc, ‘The Cybermen’. However, for every swelling orchestral number, there are tracks like the solo piano and theremin-esque synth of ‘Cassandra’s Waltz’, the lone vocal and swirling synths of ‘The Doctor’s Theme’, and (a close second personal favourite) the acoustic-guitar-and-piano-with-a-bit-of-strings-near-the-end ‘Doomsday’. This makes it feel similar to video game scores that were made before high profile composers and orchestras started working in the medium. In fact, it feels very reminiscent of the first two Halo games in particular, but also occasionally slides towards scores like Timesplitters 2 and other games of the early XBox era.
Following on from this, the Series Three disc follows the first disc’s formula to a tee, although sadly doesn’t have quite the lasting impact of Series One and Two. That’s probably because it doesn’t have as many memorable moments as the former release, which was stacked with ‘big themes’ (as Gold calls them in the Series Four release) like ‘The Daleks’, ‘Madame de Pompadour’, and all the tracks I mentioned at the end of the last paragraph. Series Three isn’t a step down in quality by any means, in my opinion at least, but there’s less that’s striking here than on the last disc.
Again, that’s not to say there’s nothing of note here. The heart-wrenching beauty of ‘Madame De Pompadour’ returning in ‘Miss Joan Redfern’. The tribal drums and ethnic-styled vocal of ‘Yana’. The hopeful, triumphant and yet nostalgic ‘This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home’. But my personal favourite of Series Three has to be the fast-paced rock of ‘The Futurekind’, which sounds more like a Torchwood track than a Doctor Who one (both albums of which shall hopefully be discussed some other day, maybe if a Miracle Day OST comes out I’ll do a retrospective on all three albums). With only one series’ worth of music to fit onto one CD this time, the two new themes introduced this season have a chance to flourish. The first theme, which is somewhat ignored on disc, is the one-two-three-four motif for the Master, which is given an extended, and very well arranged, suite in ‘The Master Vainglorious’, as well as opening and building ‘Yana’ towards it’s second, very different (and superior) half. The second theme is ‘Martha’s Theme’, which, just like the show itself, absolutely infests the disc, and is seemingly never far away. Even the majestic choir-and-strings of ‘The Doctor Forever’ which you would expect to be a reprise of ‘The Doctor’s Theme’, is instead another reprise of Martha’s theme. In their review of one of the series, the DWM review summed it up better than I can when they said they were now “more familiar with [the theme] than [their] work associate’s ringtones”. It’s not even that bad, the latter part of the melody that isn’t as overused as the first is actually rather beautiful (heard from 1:05 to 1:20 of the eponymous track 2). But, the first part is what we all remember as the character’s theme, and is a perfect example of familiarity breeding contempt.
Already we’re starting to see Gold’s music slowly change away from electronics with precise use of limited time with an orchestra to an exclusive use of the orchestra. Tracks like ‘The Runaway Bride’ and ‘After the Chase’ already sound similar to the large scope that would become the norm in The Specials and Series Five, but these are sparse amongst tracks using more varied instruments and sounds like the whistling in ‘Only Martha Knows’, the warlike woodwinds and drums of ‘Just Scarecrows to War’, and the acoustic guitar, piano, strings and choir all melding into ‘Boe’. If I did my level best to be subjective, I’d say Series Three is slightly superior to Series One and Two, with the constant jumping of music styles much less jarring and feeling more consistent as an album, while the tracks still feel distinct from one another and still employ a wide variety of different sounds. However, I’ll always think more highly of the former disc, as it had far more unforgettable tracks, and I played it far more often simply because it was released a year earlier. The nostalgia goggles are still on for this one, but for Series One and Two, they’re on that little bit harder.
Where they come off, however, is for Series Four. One thing you can be certain of as you advance through each year of education is that your free time will dwindle more and more. Because of this reduction of spare time, Series Four didn’t get the large amount of replays its predecessors had, which means I’m not nearly as familiar with it as I am the first two discs. Also, when I changed from casual watcher to fully fledged fan of the program as I followed the first two series, there was a point where I was just obsessed with it. From about 2006 to early 2008, I was always adding a Doctor Who title sequence to the little short films I made, buying up every classic series DVD I could afford… it was just sick. Eventually, around when Series Four was transmitted, it finally turned into a simple (and far healthier) love of the program, instead of thinking about it every waking moment. Not only this, but I was starting to take interest in the world of soundtracks at large, not nearly to the level that I have now, but still far more varied than just Dune and Doctor Who. All of these factors combined to make sure the nostalgia goggles would come nowhere near this album. Still, I was excited as hell all through 2008, waiting impatiently for the next soundtrack, which finally arrived in the autumn.
The album opens and closes with the 2007 version of Gold’s main theme. Returning to the point I brought up earlier, this is another recurring problem with Gold’s albums for Doctor Who: the presence of the title theme dwindles with each rearrangement. First, we had the opening and a specially recorded extended version on the Series One and Two album, then simply the opening and closing versions on this disc, then just the closing version for the 2010 arrangement. It has been a source of frustration for fans of Gold’s themes, to say the least. However, the stuff Gold will try to put out as much of on each album is his scores (getting more and more confident each time in shoving out the theme arrangement to make more room for his own compositions, perhaps?), and this kicks off in sassy style with a reworking of Donna’s skittish little theme from The Runaway Bride, turning it into a rhythmic, almost jazzy rendition. The ‘big themes’ Gold describes in the liner notes make a huge return here, with the theme (I assume) so demanded by the public it got headliner status on the packaging, ‘Song of Freedom’. While it may be scoring one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes of the RTD era, at the time I thought it was a very moving piece of music.
However, for me at least, it has not aged well. It’s been less than three years since the album was released, yet it already lacks the power it once had. Maybe I’ve gained better perspective and felt stronger emotions from far greater works of film scoring (‘Ship of Hope’ from Space Battleship Yamamoto, ‘Adagio’ from Alien³, ‘Love’s First Kiss (Finale)’ from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I could go on), maybe it’s the previously mentioned lack of nostalgia, but I just don’t feel the same enthusiasm for it I once did. Ironically, the other statement of the Ood’s song, ‘Songs of Captivity and Freedom’, is far more beautiful in its lone vocal and slow strings, and yet is somehow deemed less worthy of note than the somewhat overblown ‘Song of Freedom’. Despite the rather strange focus on this and the return of ‘The Doctor’s Theme’ (far more worthy of headline status, in my humble opinion), there’s still many great tracks on display here. There’s the title-says-it-all awesomeness of ‘UNIT Rocks’, the pumping action of ‘Corridors and Fire Escapes’, the outright terror of ‘Midnight’ (I completely agree with Gold singling this episode out as one that deserved its own album), the stirring (far more so than ‘Freedom’… sorry, I’ll stop banging on about that now) guitar work and sweeping strings of ‘A Dazzling End’, the almost mythical haze of ‘Turn Left’, and of course the absolutely mammoth ‘Voyage of the Damned Suite’. I almost wish they had chopped this suite up into short sections, since there’s so many great moments within it it’s a shame they can’t be enjoyed on their own.
This album would mark a turning point for the Doctor Who scores. While the first two albums, as discussed above, very much sound like extremely varied compilation albums, from this point on there would be sufficient money to afford the orchestra far more often, meaning the instrumentation doesn’t wildly vary from track to track on album, and results in a much more coherent sound. While Series Four is a strange hybrid, bouncing between the earlier style in tracks like ‘Hanging on the Tablaphone’ (my personal favourite track from Series Four) and ‘Davros’, other tracks like ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’ and ‘The Dark and Endless Dalek Night’ could easily be incorporated into the later albums without sounding out of place.
Speaking of which, while we’re not on the home stretch yet, it is in sight as we get to the last two albums released prior to today’s (supposed) topic of discussion. Although both run to two discs thanks to Silva Screen finally getting its priorities right and giving the franchise that’s an instant hit on album whenever one is released its due treatment, the same factors which lessened my familiarity with Series Four are back and even stronger. Free time continues to dwindle, there’s so many other amazing scores in my collection I can listen to, and the sheer volume of two discs’ worth of music (which is debatable in The Specials’ case, but we’ll get to that in a moment) exacerbates the lack of familiarity I felt for earlier entries in the series.
Let’s get through them and finally start talking about A Christmas Carol. The Specials album, as the title suggests, covers the four specials broadcast between 2008 and 2010, putting the first three specials on the first disc and devoting the entirety of the second disc to the last, two-part special, The End of Time. As both this and the next disc split the album up into each individual episode, I’ll talk about each in turn.
Around the time of the announcement that the Specials would get their own release, Gold went on record saying The Next Doctor was an episode he felt not many people were clamouring for, yet was a perfectly good score that deserved just as much attention as the other specials. While I agree with the first half of the statement, the second half is debatable. While there is some material of note here, even with the brief smattering of cues here it overstays its welcome. Whenever Gold is asked to be ‘comic’ he often goes way too far over the top, and turns from simple comedy into pathetic farce. This is what kills ‘A Bit of a Drag’, which sounds like circus music at times. This is not a good thing. Fortunately not all the overtly comic material is this unlistenable, the high-energy segment in ‘A Victorian Christmas’ is actually quite enjoyable, not nearly as pandering as ‘A Bit of a Drag’, and also a good contrast to the wide-eyed whimsy of the opening of the track. While the episode does have memorable highlights, like the appearance of all ten Doctors up to that point at about two minutes into ‘Greats of Past Time’, the previously mentioned ‘A Victorian Christmas’ is the one thing you’ll remember most after the episode is done, and the fast paced ‘Hidden in the Closet’ leaps from shades of comedy to Gold’s usual style of running-down-corridors-music. However, the episode, while not that bad when it isn’t trying desperately to get you to laugh (with all the understanding of human emotion of GLaDOS), won’t stick with you at all once it’s finished. Beyond the whimsical opening of ‘A Victorian Christmas’ and the brief quoting of prior themes here and there (such as the short blast of the Cybermen theme at the end of ‘March of the Cybermen’ and a subtle quote of the Doctor’s theme that I heard once and, because this episode’s score is so forgettable, I then couldn’t find again), there’s little here that you’ll actually be able to remember.
Now we move on to Planet of the Dead. Since the episode is more serious (relatively speaking of course, we are still dealing with RTD here) than The Next Doctor, the comic vibe is replaced with faux-spy music for the cat-burgling companion. We also get a return of sorts to the more electronic instrumentation of the early days in ‘The Cat Burglar’, although Gold clearly prefers to leave as much electronic material as possible off the albums (as documented in the famous case where he threw out the first cut of the Series Four album for not having enough orchestral cues), making sure to focus on cues like the Hans Zimmer-esque ‘A Special Sort of Bus’. The comic undertones do return for brief moments, such as the midsection of ‘Alone in the Desert’, but are thankfully kept subtle (by Gold’s standards). While this episode does have more personality and is more memorable than its immediate predecessor, it still isn’t the kind of music you can still recall perfectly afterwards, like the earlier albums were.
The least represented episode on this album is the next, The Waters of Mars. Limited to just four reasonably sized cues, it has little time to make an impression. This is understandable, at least. Being a horror story, anyone unfortunate enough to have listened to many horror scores of recent years know they aren’t so much music as they are sound design, ordering the strings to wail and the brass to blast as loud as they can to create cheap jump scares. If we were spared several long, tedious minutes on unlistenable shrieking, then it is no big loss. The cues that did make the album were well selected though. Mostly they comprise the sadder, more downbeat material required for the dark turns the story takes, with the painfully stock opening scene underscored with the memorable cue ‘Letter to Earth’, the (mostly) beautiful ‘The Fate of Little Adelaide’, and the melancholic ‘Altering Lives’. The rest of the episode, the action and horror material, is summed up in ‘By Water Borne’. From this, you can see why it’s not a big loss to see so little from Waters of Mars. However, as I’ll mention when I sum up the album, just because the cues heard on album are well-picked doesn’t mean there aren’t any gems that were sadly left unheard outside of the episode.
Now though, it’s time for the main event. All of the above episodes were just afterthoughts around the big focus of the album. Lavished to the point that it was given a whole disc to itself, this was clearly what Gold really wanted to release; all the other specials were just afterthoughts. This is what you’ll remember of the Specials album after it’s finished, this is The End of Time.
Being the finale of the RTD era, you’d expect Gold to be going ballistic with the ‘epicness’, lots of sharp string ostinatos, heroic brass, pounding percussion and a massive choir screaming the chants of hell. You know, just like practically every major blockbuster movie score these days. Fortunately, while Gold doesn’t succumb to these clichés, after all it takes an extremely talented composer to keep them from sounding like awful, headache-inducing noise (an example of this done well: the excellent score for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. An example of this done badly: the blisteringly stupid score for Transformers 3), he doesn’t exactly replace them with anything better. Hell, it doesn’t even sound that different to most of his scores. True, he probably knew by that point he would be continuing on with the series, and didn’t want Series Five to feel like a step down, or he was limited by budget to the orchestra he had and couldn’t do anything to make it sound unique, but it is rather off for a supposed ‘MASSIVELY EPIC FINALE OMGWTFLOLBBQ’ to sound… exactly like any other episode.
Despite this, the episode does have its moments to make it stand out. While the choir does add some minor pathos in the opening cue ‘We Shall Fare Well’, it does briefly go into shouty mode around three to four minutes into ‘The World Waits’, and of course the very memorable ‘Vale Decem’ is the poster child for this album, but other than that the choir is very subdued, limited to a minor supporting role in all their other appearances.
One thing that might lend itself to the scale of the episode is the return of several popular prior themes. The Master’s swirling theme from Series Three returns in ‘The Master Suite’, now supplemented with the choir (I didn’t mention their major role in this cue above because although they are quite high in the mix, they don’t add much to the atmosphere), ‘All the Strange, Strange Creatures’ returns in ‘Final Days’, and ‘Rose’s Theme’ returned for her brief cameo near the end of the episode. However, that final theme was tracked in to the final edit quite literally from the Series One and Two album masters (the originals had been misplaced). Originally, it had been a far more interesting music choice: a more downbeat version of ‘Song for Ten’. It was a rare example of Gold showing some subtlety, and is my pick for best track on the Specials album. I can see why they decided to chuck it out and just copy-paste Rose’s rather bland piano number.
But what of the material removed from prior themes? Well, as a result of the extensive album treatment for this episode, we run the full gamut of Gold, from his obnoxious comedy (‘A Frosty Ood’, the strangely Jewish-sounding ‘Wilf’s Wiggle’), the mile-a-minute action material (‘A Chaotic Escape’, ‘Speeding to Earth’, the latter third of ‘The World Waits’), the rather sappy and manipulative ‘sad’ material (‘Four Knocks’, ‘A Lot of Life Behind Us’), and finally his outright heroic triumph mode (‘The Clouds Pass’, ‘The New Doctor’).
It’s here where Gold’s shortcomings are thrown into light. When he’s being triumphant or heroic or exciting, his work is memorable and performs well. When asked to score not a chase scene or a triumphant speech, but instead a comedic or a tragic scene, his work falls apart. Often it’s rather pleasant but forgettable, but occasionally it can be obnoxious, ruining a potentially funny or scary scene. Not to mention the fact he has openly stated that he is always aware that the audience can flip channels at any given moment, so everything has to be VERY scary, VERY comedic, VERY heroic etc, and this can lead (for some) to feel that he doesn’t think the audience is very bright (“Look, monkeys! This scene is scary! See, I’m playing a piano off key and having the string section pretend they suffer from Parkinson’s! See? See how scary this is?”).
With the extended run time for this episode, it only brings further attention to these issues than normal. While highlights break up the monotony, such as the triumphant yet ominous ‘Final Days’, the aforementioned ‘Song for Ten (Reprise)’, and the surprisingly subtle and touching ‘A Longing to Leave’), most of the score is just completely forgettable and bland, that is when it isn’t failing to be funny (‘Minnie Hooper’ et al) or failing to be scary (‘The Master Suite’).
That, I believe, is this album in sum. While there is good material here and there that would make fine additions to a fan compilation covering Gold’s time on the show, outside of these highlights it’s either forgettable or annoying. Not only is the score annoying, but so is the album situation. I’ve mentioned before how the limited album space has forced quite a large amount of good material from the show to go unreleased, but in this case that is no excuse. Both discs have plenty of space left on them (prior albums have all been very close to the 75 minute limit of CDs, but here the music only fills 52 and 64 minutes respectively), so it makes the missing material’s absence all the more frustrating. With the advent of fan-made bootlegs made from the surround-sound audio of the episodes themselves, fans of the music are becoming more and more aware of music in episodes they look forward to seeing on the subsequent albums. This combined with the fact that there was easily another half an hour of space across the two discs means that this is an album that very visibly passed up some great material for the vast stretches of flavourless nothing we got instead. Here are just three examples of cues so memorable they actually stood out in the episodes themselves, and contrast them with what was actually deemed worthy of the album by Gold.
1) In Planet of the Dead, when the Doctor and the other occupants of the bus first arrive on the planet and realise the bus has been damaged, there’s a haunting atmospheric cue playing, rendered entirely on electronics. This would probably be explained by Gold’s preference for orchestra over synthesizer, again evidenced by his treatment of the Series Four album, but it is rather sad that personal preference on the part of the composer has meant the exclusion of a memorable cue when so much of the supposedly ‘superior’ orchestral material is so utterly disposable.
2) Here’s one I’ve heard many people bemoan the absence of: towards the end of The Waters of Mars, when the Doctor decides to screw the laws of time and save Bowie Base regardless, there’s an example of Gold’s enjoyable triumphant action mode as the Doctor uses the robot to return to the TARDIS. The exclusion of this cue is the most baffling. A full twenty minutes of space was available on the disc, and The Waters of Mars is already badly underrepresented, yet they decide against using up five minutes of the wasted space with this entirely orchestral cue? A very sad loss.
3) One other omission which I haven’t seen complained about as much is the many other variations of the ‘Strange, Strange Creatures’ theme that were left out of The End of Time. The two most glaring omissions would be the brooding variation used for the ‘Previously On…’ segment opening episode two, and the fast-paced action variation used during the sequence in which the Doctor returns to Earth in the Vinvocci’s ship. Both would have made great highlights to further break up the monotony, but yet again were omitted. Even more infuriating, the cue ‘Speeding to Earth’ and iTunes exclusive cue ‘Never Too Old to Shoot and Fly’ basically bracket the ‘Creatures’ variation, meaning we literally have every second of score from that sequence other than the one part that was actually memorable.
The fact that I used the word ‘forgettable’ so often in that review is sufficient description of my opinion of the album. By far the most disposable, and the most infuriating, seemingly designed to include every moment of score other than those the fans were actually waiting for. A massive disappointment.
In brighter news, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. We’re almost there now. We’re about to look over the last album released before the one this review was supposed to be about, the album for Series Five.
Before we get into the album, though, it’s finally time to return to the sticky plagiarism issue I’ve repeatedly alluded to since I brought up back at the start of this post roughly three decades ago. In January of 2010, the highly anticipated sequel to the excellent video game Mass Effect was released under the ingeniously inventive title Mass Effect 2. Both games featured similarly excellent scores from Jack Wall (the first co-composed with Sam Hulick), which combined atmospheric electronics with strong orchestral elements to create something wonderfully unique and entertaining as a standalone listen. In April of that same year, Doctor Who returned to our screens with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. With a new Doctor and production team came a new theme for the Doctor. Out went the messianic ‘The Doctor’s Theme’, in came ‘I Am The Doctor’, a more traditionally heroic and slightly manic theme for orchestra rather than electronics and lone vocals, an indication of the higher budget and Gold’s own bias. For the longest time, things were good. In fact, back when this review was first slated to be written, one of the biggest positives I was going to credit A Christmas Carol with was its handling of this very theme.
However, the reason I bring up Mass Effect 2 and ‘I Am The Doctor’ in the same breath is simple: whether by intent or by coincidence, ‘I Am The Doctor’ is shockingly close to the main theme from the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack. Already, this has been debated. I brought it up in a soundtrack forum, for instance, and apart from one musician who immediately confirmed the similarity, the response I got ranged from dismissive apathy to outright denial by the Gold fanboys. Really, I shouldn’t have expected any different.
Meanwhile, the ungodly long amount of time this post spent in development hell has had some benefits. For example, originally here I had this little game you had to play where you had to get a track from Mass Effect 2, put it in a Windows Media Player/Winamp/iTunes/whatever playlist with a track from the Series Five album, play certain parts then skip to the other track and yadda yadda yadda. Fortunately, with the release of the Series Six album, I no longer have to. Simply play ‘Suicide Mission’ from the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack, and then play ‘A Majestic Tale (Of A Madman In A Box)’ from the Series Six album. There. Point made.
Rather close, isn’t it? I would elaborate, but that musician I mentioned earlier, one ‘tangotreats’ from the FFShrine Forums, put it better with far more authority than I ever could. I considered quoting him, but after copying three posts here, it added over 2000 words to the word count, and I believe this is the last post in the world that needs that kind of padding. Nevertheless, after ‘tangotreats’ makes his brilliantly pithy arguments, the discussion goes on for a short while before it peters out under a hail of fanboys claiming they either can’t hear the similarity or don’t care, and others quickly change the subject back to wondering when the Series Six album will come and immediate reactions to Let’s Kill Hitler. You can read the discussion starting on this page, and the discussion ends completely after page 97.
But, at the end of the day, does the fact that this theme was likely stolen from elsewhere detract from the experience? Well, I’d say that depends on your own opinion. My colleagues who already despise Gold with a passion will find (and have found) this to be unforgivable. In my own humble experience, at first this ruined the enjoyment I found in the many variations of the theme in A Christmas Carol, and coloured my opinion of A Christmas Carol as a score. However, now that I’ve had time to mull this over, I personally have come to terms with it. Yes, this unsubtle lift is indefensible. If you feel this to be so unacceptable you cannot accept any praise to be levelled at any album that includes the theme, I don’t blame you. However, all reviews are subject to personal opinion, and in mine, I can accept the possible theft; at least in the case of A Christmas Carol, which you may remember was meant to be the topic of this post, if you’re old enough to remember it. Hell, you think this is blatant ripping off? Try comparing ‘Ilia’s Theme’ from Star Trek: The Motion Picture to the ‘Love Theme’ from Battle Beyond The Stars for a rip-off so transparent it’s a wonder no-one got sued (and, in fact, led to James Horner being hired for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).
I think I’ve said enough now to leave this plagiarism thing to rest now. Yes, again, I don’t blame you if you cannot look past this fact. I, on the other hand, can. While I will have a lower opinion of any cues using ‘I Am The Doctor’ to any great extent, I won’t completely condemn it, since, in my opinion, Gold handled the theme a lot better. In Mass Effect 2, the theme didn’t vary. At all. The theme was changed so little each time it was used, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they recorded the theme once, and simply played that one performance every time it was used. Sometimes elements and instruments would be used or not used, sometimes a segment of the theme would be looped with elements slowly added piecemeal to make it sound like it’s slowly building, but apart from that, it sounds pretty much identical from appearance to appearance.
‘I Am The Doctor’, conversely, began in Series Five in a rather similar fashion, only brought out to denote awesomeness in a scene, but soon after became far more varied in its use. It changed tones and instrumentations frequently in A Christmas Carol, from comedic to low-key to frenetic to triumphant, but there I go talking about the actual point of this review again. One last album stands in our way before that happens for real, though. So let’s do it. Series Five. Bring it on.
I’ve already discussed Gold’s interpretations of the title theme previously (hell, at this point, what haven’t I discussed previously?), so I won’t go into it again. One little thing that bugs me is its placement, though. I know it wouldn’t make much sense to casual viewers, but to people like me who heard rips of the music made from the original broadcast, the order feels… off. You get so used to the final, long note of ‘Down To Earth’ bleeding into the opening scream, having the title theme precede it and have the ‘Little Amy’ cue follow it feels wrong. It’s like listening to the Powerpuff Girls opening theme and not having it end on an explosion sound effect, it just doesn’t sit right. But, now I’m nitpicking.
The album proper starts with perhaps the strongest score from this series, The Eleventh Hour. All three major themes, ‘I Am The Doctor’ and the themes for young and adult Amy, are introduced in suite-like fashion with the eponymous ninth track, ‘Little Amy’ and ‘The Mad Man With A Box’. It also contains a rare example of Gold’s comedy music that is actually bearable: ‘Fish Custard’ may not be the best comedy music ever written, but it’s certainly the best comedy music Gold’s ever written. Outside of that, though… well, there isn’t anything else. On album at least, almost the entirety of The Eleventh Hour is nothing more than setting up the principle themes of the Matt Smith era thus far, and it accomplishes that well. It clearly establishes each theme, and gives each their due. Although the theme for young Amy is near identical both times it appears, the adult Amy’s theme’s appearance is little more than foreshadowing for its fuller performance in the next episode, and ‘I Am The Doctor’ completely overwhelms the others by being given far more airtime, you still get a good grasp on each theme. Even if one of the three is probably plagiarised, the other two are still great themes in and of themselves, and the way they’re presented makes you excited to hear more. Yes, although ‘I Am The Doctor’ (the cue) is turgid and overlong, I’d still rate the theme’s performances in ‘The Sun’s Gone Wibbly’ and particularly at the end of ‘Amy In The TARDIS’ above the identikit performances it received in Mass Effect 2.
The Beast Below, thankfully, is quick to evaluate. It has a measly three tracks on album, one of which is the suite arrangement of a recurring theme, so technically there’s only two tracks’ worth of album material to discuss. From those two tracks, however, you can see why most of it was left unreleased. It’s mostly decent choral material, and that’s about it. You get some good orchestral action towards the end of ‘The Beast Below’, and at the beginning of said track there’s some unpleasant electronic ambience (if the rest of the score is anything like this, no wonder Gold dismissed it), but there’s nothing here to really look at. While ‘A Lonely Decision’ is pretty if unsubstantial, the only thing of real note here is the suite for adult Amy’s theme.
In stark contrast to this, Victory of the Daleks has only three tracks as well, but leaves a much bigger impact. True, this is mostly down to ‘Battle In The Sky’, which is perhaps the most memorable standalone cue of this album. Heroic brass, sweeping strings, thumping percussion, this is where Gold excels. It’s too bad that his attempts to reach other emotional states often result in horrible, mutated pieces of music, since when you give the man a scene like Spitfires in space fighting Dalek ships (P.S. I don’t care what anyone else says, that scene was FUCKING AWESOME), and he can deliver something as good as this. This is the one cue you’ll remember from this episode, though, since ‘A Tyrannical Menace’ is two minutes of nothing and ‘Victory Of The Daleks’ seems like yet another attempt to give the Daleks a new theme when they already had a perfectly good one in Series One’s ‘The Daleks’ (actually, I personally think the Invasion Earth theme for them was definitive, but that’s just my own silly opinion). Once again, that’s all there is to this episode on album. Definitely leaves a bigger impact than The Beast Below, but that’s down to one standout cue, the rest is still very skippable.
That’s nothing compared to The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, though. Two forty-five minute episodes, only two cues and roughly four minutes of music between them. I’ve heard other people single out this two-parter in particular as one that got shafted on album, so I must assume there’s good material in this episode that got left out, because if the two cues here are any indication of the whole, two cues were too much. ‘River’s Path’ has some interesting instrumentation at the outset, but doesn’t use it much, since it’s only a minute long and most of it is bog standard Gold percussion-and-strings material we’ve heard a thousand times before. The second track, ‘The Time Of Angels’, on the other hand? Absolutely dreadful. Dissonant sound effects, stings, random percussion movements and violent string screams, all of which can be found on pages 29-36 of the ‘Big Ol’ Book Of Clichéd B-Movie Horror Scoring’. It’s low-grade horror movie level. Yes, that bad. Really, that’s all that needs to be said. Just imagine any bad horror score from the last decade or two (Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows is a good place to start), and you’ve heard this track. The only notable part of it is its brief sampling of Midnight, but one good element can’t save this stinker. Skip with extreme prejudice.
The Vampires of Venice is the first episode since The Eleventh Hour to get any great stretch of album space, and will be the last to do so on this disc. You can see why. While not particularly memorable outside of the odd minute or two, it’s a return to full orchestral accompaniment, and so will immediately mean plenty of cues will make the album no matter their worth. Then again, as I said before, there are some memorable moments. The vampires’ theme, as displayed in ‘The Vampires of Venice’, is a very good musical depiction of pretty women transformed into monsters, the lyrical string, harp and (what sounds like) celesta figures descending into demonic choir, deep horn blasts and clashing percussion, before alternating between the two disparate halves throughout the five-minute track. Other than that, ‘Cab For Amy Pond’ has its moments, but the rest is decent if not particularly memorable stuff.
On to Amy’s Choice, the shortest score on album with two tracks just barely making up four minutes. Once again we have one very short cue and one slightly longer cue, but this time it’s the longer one that is the superior. ‘Wedded Bliss’ is the most disposable cue on the album, and can’t justify even the paltry minute of album space it takes up. ‘This Is The Dream’, meanwhile, is an entirely different story. A piano solo played backwards, creepy brass tones and an unnerving background ambience from the string section, all of these things blend together well to give the kind of eerie atmosphere that ‘The Time Of Angels’ so utterly failed to provide. It’s one of those cues that never fail to unnerve me every time I hear it. True, the rather non-descript section from about 0:56 to 1:09 does spoil the atmosphere somewhat, the rest is strong suspense music. One amusing thing I noticed in re-listening to this cue was that the one memorable moment of scoring from The God Complex (the end of the teaser when the Minotaur approaches) is at least partially a recycle of 2:24 to 2:37 from this track, with the rest of the teaser up until the opening titles similar to the rest of this track with slightly altered instrumentation and added elements. It fits that the one good moment from The God Complex was one of those many times the production team recycled previous music to save budget. But, that’s a review for another day. I really should get on with the present review before teasing the next.
Another very short sampling follows in The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood. Only two tracks for a two-parter once again, but at least the two tracks make up six minutes total. ‘Rio De Cwmtaff’ begins in mediocre style, with the kind of music Gold always conjures up when given a few people talking. You could splice music from anything from Tooth and Claw to The Eleventh Hour into the first part of the track, and no discernible difference would be detectable. Fortunately it moves out of ‘boring’ territory. Unfortunately, it decides to head into ‘barely existing’ land. Other than a brief foreshadowing of the Silurian theme, and the occasional bizarre sound effect, it’s nothing but new age ‘hold one chord forever’ ambience. Now, in skilled hands, this style of low-key scoring can work really well. For example, the entire fourth disc of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was forty-two minutes of nothing but this kind of synth atmosphere. Yet, in the hands of someone as talented as Jeremy Soule, it’s a great listen, which really envelops you in this relaxed state of mind, and places your mind firmly in the mountains of Tamriel if you close your eyes and let it play. Here, on the other hand, it doesn’t work nearly as well. Maybe it’s the substitution of relaxing ‘outdoor background’ sound effects (like bird song and rain falling) with weird buzzing noises, maybe it’s the fact that Soule had forty-two minutes to slowly draw you in while Gold has less than four, maybe it’s just that Soule is a better composer. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the middle section of this track simply doesn’t work. While things look up with some pretty good frenetic string movements near the end, it’s too little, too late. The aforementioned Silurian theme, meanwhile, is far better when given full suite treatment in ‘The Silurians’. This is a far better representation of the race than the one Carey Blyton gave them in Doctor Who and the Silurians, but quite frankly anything could be described as such. The deep, rumbling brass that defines the theme is a clever way to convey the feeling of menace from beneath the earth through music. I’d say that the fact that the Silurians are once again being represented by brass instruments was a sly wink to their comedically bad brass theme composed by Blyton, but that would assume Gold did actual research and cared about Doctor Who’s musical history, so I won’t.
On to disc two, and Vincent and the Doctor. From here on in, the rest of the episodes have much better representation on album, with this being the shortest at five tracks. However, as previously proven, just because an episode is given more album time does not necessarily mean it is worthy of such treatment. This is the case with Vincent and the Doctor, which is one of, if not the, most forgettable episode score given any kind of lengthy treatment this series. It is almost entirely composed (no pun intended) of the kind of pretty niceness that you’d hear in any given romantic comedy score, cute in context but leaves you completely unable to remember anything about it after it has finished. Apparently, despite giving the episode considerably more time than most others here, Gold is of the same opinion, as he felt the need to wake up listeners with a random guitar-and-drum piece that comes out of nowhere and vanishes just as quickly from 2:20 to 2:41 in ‘With Love, Vincent’. ‘A Troubled Man’ is the only cue to truly break the diabetic-killing sweetness, with an eerie opening that transitions into a troubled performance of ‘I Am The Doctor’. It then loses the bonus points it was thus far gaining by having the sappy strings return almost instantly, before layering it on even thicker with soulful piano. While I would advise you prepare vomit bags if you hate the kind of disgusting, fluffy nonsense that has always accompanied godawful rom-coms, I won’t. It’s too forgettable for that. The only thing you’ll remember is the moment in ‘Vincent’ from 1:12 to 1:26 when, apropos of nothing, Gold rips off the Jawa Sandcrawler theme from Star Wars. Whether it was imitation of a temp track or just sheer laziness is both unclear and unimportant.
Strangely, this irks me far more than the ‘Suicide Mission’/‘I Am The Doctor’ controversy. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the brevity of time between Mass Effect 2’s release and the Series Five recording sessions give just enough doubt that maybe it was all a massive coincidence (that was until Series Six, but that’s another story). Here, though, there’s no excuse. Not only was it a theme recorded over thirty years before Series Five, but it also happens to come from perhaps the most famous and beloved score in film music history. Why does this annoy me so much? Why should I hate this transparent lift, yet love it whenever My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic does the exact same thing, and far more often? I expected to be pondering this for a while, but realised the reason almost instantly: intent. When MLP:FiM plays a slightly altered version of the Batman: The Animated Series theme, ‘Yakety Sax’ from The Benny Hill Show, or, hell, ‘The Throne Room’ from Star Wars, the exact same score Gold is ripping off, it is for very different reasons. See, the makers of MLP:FiM would love to use said pieces of music, but the money needed to do so would eat into the budget needed elsewhere, so they get the composer to create a very similar but legally distinct version so they can get across the reference they’re making without spending money they likely don’t have. On the other hand, Gold does this for the Jawa Sandcrawler theme for no discernible reason. Do you remember any Star Wars references in Vincent and the Doctor that would require this theme? I don’t.
In a nutshell, when MLP:FiM does it, it’s because they want to make a winking nod to a movie or TV show or some other such thing as a little Easter egg for nerds like me to notice and enjoy. When Gold does it, it’s either because he’s too lazy to come up with something original or he has an uncanny knack for unintentionally writing music incredibly close to previous works that no-one notices or brings up (or they do and are ignored). I, for one, look forward to hearing ‘Icarus – Main Theme’ from Deus Ex: Human Revolution in the next series of Torchwood (if there is one), and a snatch of ‘Parade of the Ewoks’ from Return of the Jedi to turn up in Series Seven.
Finally moving on, we come to a bulging dollop’s worth of The Lodger. Eight whole tracks of Gold’s comedy music. Be still, my beating heart. Actually, that’s a touch unfair. While I was bracing myself given the episode’s tone, it isn’t nearly as filled with Gold’s obnoxious idea of “comedy” “music” as I feared. ‘A Useful Striker’ and ‘Adrift In The TARDIS’ have decent performances of ‘I Am The Doctor’. ‘A Painful Exchange’ initially lives up to its name, but improves drastically at around the 0:40 mark. ‘Kiss The Girl’ never feels long despite its five minute runtime and has its moments, but never pushes out of ‘above average’ and into ‘really good’. ‘Friends and Neighbours’ is harmless enough. While it may seem that I just listed off most of the tracks there, that still leaves the teeth-grinding ‘You Must Like It Here’, the insufferable ‘Doctor Gastronomy’, and ‘Thank You Craig’, which makes an unwelcome return to Vincent and the Doctor’s sickly sentimentality, only turned up from ‘Rom-Com’ to ‘Hallmark TV Movie’. It may be pandering to the point of being unlistenable, but hey, it’ll go perfect with Parent Dying of Terminal Illness Scene #48,923,650,298! So, although it’s not as permeated with Gold’s awful comedy writing as feared, it still has some doozies. Yes, it has a few highlights, but that can’t make up for its low points.
Thus, we come to the final hurdle to be jumped before we get to A Christmas Carol at belated last. However, it’s one hell of a big hurdle. It’s what got many episodes reduced to two or three tracks. It’s the massive, gelatinous mass that is the series finale two-parter The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. It opens, however, in promising style with the tense and heavily electronic mood-setter ‘River Runs Through It’. From there, there’s little more than the kind of background fluff that infested the Specials album for two tracks until the very effective and memorable ‘Who Else Is Coming’. The heroic string motif towards the end of the track was a standout in the similarly overlong suite of music from this episode that played at the Proms. As it is wont to do this disc, Gold’s comedy oeuvre returns full force for the first half of ‘The Pandorica’ suddenly before quickly shifting into a nice, low-key tension-builder for the second half. I swear, for this one disc at least, the comedy music is like the guy running on stage during a music concert, interrupting the performance by waving his arms and yelling before security pulls him off stage. It’s about as seamless a shift of tone as this is. Then we come to one of Gold’s beloved ‘big themes’, ‘Words Win Wars’. Although I tend to hate it when dialogue is mixed with the music on album, here I wouldn’t mind it. After hearing the Proms version with the Doctor’s speech over it, this version seems lacking in comparison. Granted, I’d have complained if that had come to pass, but there’s no reason not to have both. Just insert either the clean or the dialogue version at the end as a bonus track and people who prefer each version are happy. Even with the unnecessarily huge amount of space taken up by this two-parter, there’s still ten minutes’ worth of space left. Just saying.
‘Amy’s Starless Life’ is the next notable cue, with a beautiful, almost Elfman-esque arrangement of adult Amy’s theme for music box and strings segueing into some above-average orchestral atmosphere (by Gold’s standards) before returning to finish off Amy’s theme. While ‘Into The Museum’ is mostly just more background noise, it ends on another sudden instance of Gold comedy, this time some random brass flares which I assume is Gold’s attempt at being Carl Stalling. ‘This Is Where It Gets Complicated’ has some good build-to-opening-credits material, and ‘Roman Paradox’ contains great performances of both adult Amy’s theme and ‘I Am The Doctor’, although they’re bridge by yet more random comedy music. This is becoming obnoxious, not only because the music is obnoxious in of itself, but because it keeps popping up to unexpectedly ruin what could have been good cues.
The next track is ‘The Patient Centurion’, which periodically reaches ‘good’ but is content to wallow in ‘yet more bloody background noise’. While the comic music escapes security’s clutches and takes to the stage once more in ‘The Same Sonic’, at least this time it’s confined to its own cue instead of being paired off with far more promising material. Of all the things to return to in ‘Honey I’m Home’, it’s the Elfman influences, with some pretty if inconsequential cooing choir work straight out of Edward Scissorhands.
As we near the end of the episode, the reset button ending is represented by reversing elements of the recording, not an entirely original technique, but a rather effective one. At least, it is when it’s used in ‘The Sad Man With A Box’, when reversed thuds swamp the mix in ‘A River of Tears’, it can get very annoying. Speaking of ‘The Sad Man With A Box’, that’s another standout cue that only goes to emphasize how much Specials-style filler has made it onto this disc for these episodes. Beginning with another great rendition of Amy’s theme, it builds and builds up to a similarly strong performance of ‘I Am The Doctor’, before ending on a good climax after the effective if gimmicky reversed segment. This strong cue is followed this time not with unfunny comedy music or background noise, but instead the kind of quiet atmosphere you wish Gold would come up with more often: the genuinely touching ‘You And Me, Amy’. It’s a rare occasion where Gold is asked for sentimentality and then actually delivers something that feels authentic rather than forced and trite. Contrasting the plastic, manipulative piano in ‘A Troubled Man’ with the beautifully heart-rending piece from 1:43 to 1:55 here would give uninformed listeners the impression that they were composed by completely different people.
Of course, we can’t have two cues as good as those without following it up with a return to either comedy or filler. Gold chose comedy. Thus ‘The Big Day’ was placed next. After that, ‘I Remember You’ desperately tries to clear the air with some good rhythmic writing, with some more sudden reverse notes before ‘I Am The Doctor’ kicks both that and the comedy out the door, with a strong showing at the end of ‘I Remember You’ and ‘Onwards!’ closing the album on a high.
Overall, if the Specials album wasn’t evidence enough, this should be more than enough to prove that few, if any of Gold’s episodes deserve as large a runtime as this. While there are strong highlights, Gold isn’t the kind of composer who deals well with being asked to score a scene without a big emotional element. If it isn’t VERY SAD or VERY HAPPY or VERY EXCITING or some other emotion typed in capitals with the word ‘very’ preceding it, the resultant background noise, while acceptable in context, doesn’t make for an enjoyable listen.
Compare this to how other composers handle such scenes. As much as I bashed James Horner above for Battle Beyond The Stars, when given such a scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he provided ‘Spock’. Going with a less remembered score, if Gold had scored the travelling montage in Disney’s Dinosaur that James Newton Howard scored with ‘Across The Desert’, I guarantee it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable or as strong as Howard’s cue. If you really want to see how much better this kind of subtle, quiet scoring can be, look at any of the Elder Scrolls games scored by Jeremy Soule. While they have their dramatic cues, their battle cues, their tension cues and otherwise, a lot of the scores are taken up by quiet, atmospheric music that’s a thousand times more unforgettable and enjoyable out of context than the listenable but utterly disposable and instantly forgettable miasma Gold churns out for such occasions. If the episode had only a few tracks and was limited to just the highlights, it would probably have been the strongest episode on album (including everything up to the end of Series Six). As it stands, it’s a few, straggling peaks of quality surrounded my anonymous mediocrity with the all-too-common dip into Gold’s trite comedy music.
As an album, though, it’s a definite improvement from The Specials. While that album was absolutely stuffed with Gold’s dull filler writing, giving it a very stable level of quality that hovers around ‘mediocre’, with this album the quality levels vary immensely. The mediocre material is occasionally present but only truly becomes noticeable in the offerings from the finale; the rest of the album has clearly defined high and low points. While the plagiarism aspect stains any ‘I Am The Doctor’ performance, both themes for Amy are magnificent, and there’s several cues like ‘Down To Earth’, ‘Battle In The Sky’, ‘Amy’s Starless Life’ and ‘You And Me, Amy’ that, while great in of themselves, only make you wish all of the music for Doctor Who these days sounded nearly as good.
With that… that’s it. We’re here. What was intended to be a brief bit of context to preface a quickie filler review has become so massive that I considered renaming this post, as the review the title alludes to makes up little more than a conclusion to a gargantuan 12,000 word retrospective. In the end, I decided to keep the title. I’m not sure why. I’m just a bit stubborn like that. Nevertheless, the long, long journey is finished. We’re here. We have arrived at A Christmas Carol. Come, my friends, and let’s end this once and for all!
Unlike Series Five, where there were highlights that were unconnected with ‘I Am The Doctor’, the strongest aspect of A Christmas Carol is its use and variations of said theme. Therefore, the plagiarism angle does more damage, since it doesn’t have as many strong cues without the tainted theme. It does have one or two strong cues, but not enough.
The opening cue, ‘Come Along Pond’, is one of said strong cues. As previously stated, give Gold a scene not going a thousand miles an hour and the results often end up poor, but give the man an action scene and he can create some sterling stuff on occasion. Thus, a scene clearly meant to ape the look, pacing and feel of Star Trek XI is right up Gold’s alley. Although there are hints of ‘I Am The Doctor’ here and there, the cue is mostly devoid of callbacks to prior themes, and can be judged on its own merit: that of a great brass-led action cue that, while somewhat generic, does still stick in the mind and works well.
Moving on to ‘Halfway Out Of The Dark’, which is a huge step down. The choir repeatedly overpowers the mix, but then again when you’ve heard as many moronic modern blockbuster scores as I have, you’re a lot more forgiving for this sort of thing. Compared to Hans Zimmer and his army of ghostwriter drones, this is understatement and refinement incarnate. Still, while the opening seconds may stick with you, the rest is Gold Background Noise™ with an overly shouty choir attempting to drown it out.
Then, we get to our first two instances, in quick succession, of the variations of ‘I Am The Doctor’ that would be great were the theme not of someone else’s creation. ‘Pray For A Miracle’ begins and remains above average filler until ‘I Am The Doctor’ hits at roughly the halfway point, where it’s performed in mysterious, whimsical mode before building to the next track, ‘Geoff’. I hold up the first few seconds of ‘Geoff’ as evidence that Gold’s work with the theme is far more varied and interesting than what Jack Wall did with it in Mass Effect 2. Rather than simply a button you can press that is the aural equivalent of a neon sign reading ‘BE IN AWE NOW’, here it’s used in the polar opposite of that use, as a comedic moment. Not only that, but it’s a rare case of listenable comedy music from Gold. True, Gold has also used the theme for such ‘EPIC’ purposes and after the first few seconds the first half of the four minute track constantly threatens to sink into Gold’s hideous ‘wacky’ music, but just barely keeps from doing so until it gives up and transforms into anonymous filler until the cue ends, but shut up I’m making a point here.
We get another ‘I Am The Doctor’ rendition in ‘You Didn’t Hit The Boy’, which is possibly the most diverse track Gold has produced. Starting with the whimsical strings and harp that define this episode, we move into the above-mentioned performance, this time brass-led with light percussion, before a depressing solo cello leads into not-quite-Elfman territory which then reverts to another, very different percussion-and-brass ‘I Am The Doctor’ variation. I do give it the credit that these incredible tonal shifts aren’t as jarring as they could have been, but trying to judge the cue as a whole makes my head spin.
‘Fish’ isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, even in this score alone. More choir mixed too loud attempting to be Edward Scissorhands so hard it’s cute. Far more interesting is the first appearance of Kazran Sardick’s theme at the outset of ‘Kazran Sardick 12½’. It’s a gorgeous, echoing piano theme set over synth ambience that only truly blooms later on. Here, it’s little more than foreshadowing for later, since after a fleeting few seconds the cue devolves into yet more forgettable background noise. Such a shame, but thankfully the theme will get its due later.
Continuing this score’s theme of forgettable cues having an interesting opening few seconds, along comes ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’. Opening with an attention grabbing string effect which sounds a lot like the harp glissandos you hear accompanying a screen-wobbling flashback effect, it does then transition effectively into string movements which complement the opening, but not much happens after that. The rest is just more theme-less Elfman choir, and while you’re no doubt as sick as I am of referring to Elfman at this point, it is a recurring problem. While Elfman can take a choir making ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ sounds and make it extremely emotional and heartwarming, Gold doesn’t give his choir the same melodic charm that Elfman gives his, so it sounds like Gold simply got a choir section together and threw together some pretty chords for them to perform. It sounds pleasant, yes, but there’s no meat to it. Having a choir mindlessly belt out a few notes that sound nice isn’t enough, you need to have clearly delineated themes and melodies for them to use. I’m not asking for a strict, overriding theme that you hear each time the choir performs, but any kind of thematic structure is better than the approach used in this score, which boils down to “no, I didn’t write anything for you, just make some noise that sounds nice”. At least in ‘Babysitter’, the next track, the mindlessly cooing choir is a background element, so it works a hell of a lot better than when the choir is the focus.
There’s more unremarkable filler across the next few tracks until ‘Just A Little One’ breaks the monotony. This is a strong cue, and in contrast to ‘You Didn’t Hit The Boy’, has several different tones throughout the cue which transition from one to the next really well, from swirling tension to an apparently obligated quick brass performance of ‘I Am The Doctor’ to whimsical mystery to a choral performance far more effective than any other so far.
While ‘Big Colour’ is action-orientated, and thus should be more interesting and memorable, it tries to be but fails. The trembling strings and blaring brass should be far more effective than they are here, where it leaves little impact and isn’t nearly as strong as you’d expect. Conversely, ‘I Can’t Save Her’ doesn’t stick in the mind like ‘Come Along Pond’, ‘Battle In The Sky’ or ‘The Cybermen’ do, but it is much stronger than ‘Big Colour’ because of how well the elements work together. The choir isn’t saying much, as per usual, and there isn’t much that will make it the cue that leaps to mind when you think of this score, but it’s definitely preferable to the usual standard of Gold filler by creating a strong sense of atmosphere. Is it memorable? Not really. Does the choir still not resist the urge to shout down the rest of the orchestra here and there? Yes. Is it still superior to the indistinct noise usually pumped out by Gold? Absolutely.
If it’s the cue that’ll jump to mind when thinking of this score you want, that could well be the next cue, ‘The Other Half’s Inside The Shark’. While the ending may not live up to the rest of the track, the first half is a possible highlight of the album. It is an ‘I Am The Doctor’ performance, true, but it conveys so much enthusiasm and energy that you almost forget its plagiarised nature. This is the cue I played many, many times, and if we look at the album without the context of Mass Effect 2, it’s likely my favourite track.
However, you may have noticed that Gold hasn’t truly gotten into wacky comedy yet this album. Fear not, for ‘Abigail’ is here. Luckily, it’s far from the worst comedy music Gold has produced. While it still has an air of the forced and insincere contrivance that Gold’s comedy usually emits, it’s structured here in a waltz-like pattern, and so it is listenable at least, which is a rare advantage. Eventually the comedy and some (but not all) of the waltz feel fades into much straighter choir-led cue, with said choir back on good form as an atmospheric element.
The choir returns to centre stage at the outset of ‘He Comes Every Christmas’, but for once Gold gives them a distinct melody, so this is acceptable. However, because this score is absolutely riddled with the theme, ‘I Am The Doctor’ returns again, shaking things up this time with a string led performance before the most jarring transition of the album occurs as it suddenly jumps from ‘I Am The Doctor’ to the sharp sound of Christmas bells before seguing out. Well, it may be two cues obviously jammed together, but it makes the cue memorable if nothing else.
‘Shark Ride’ is memorable not because of clunky editing, but because it previews ‘Abigail’s Song’. That’s right, you remember, the supposed focus of this episode? The cue that no doubt influenced Silva Screen into giving a single episode its own standalone release for the first time? Funny that the ‘big theme’ of the episode only shows up now, past the half-way point. You could argue that it’s effectively Abigail’s theme, and so should only turn up at this point, but I would counter-argue that there have been plenty of opportunities to use the theme before now. A brief, quiet segment of it when Abigail is seen frozen at the outset of the episode would have been very welcome, and wouldn’t it have made sense to hear it at some point during ‘Abigail’, a cue named after the character? Don’t tell me that the footage he scored wouldn’t have allowed for such a thing, the tone of that cue (apart from the comedy waltz in the middle) was perfect for such a performance. Even the waltz segment’s inappropriateness for the theme is questionable, since ‘Shark Ride’ is very waltz-like in its movements also. The point of this all? The supposed main theme of this episode should have turned up far earlier than this. The variations on ‘I Am The Doctor’ were nice to hear, but when it gets to the point where you’re actively disappointed that ‘He Comes Every Christmas’ contains an ‘I Am The Doctor’ rendition, it should be clear that the theme’s been overused this episode.
To apparently make up for this, both ‘Shark Ride’ and ‘New Memories’ feature the theme prominently. ‘Shark Ride’ is a very enjoyable waltz arrangement for brass of the theme, while ‘New Memories’ focuses more on the choral beauty of the theme. While both are strong, I personally prefer ‘Shark Ride’, since the weak choir of earlier cues sours ‘New Memories’ slightly while ‘Shark Ride’ is a fun novelty.
This fun distraction is followed by the more conventional ‘Holding Hands’. Like ‘I Can’t Save Her’, the cue avoids being forgettable filler by creating a strong and effective mood, and reminds of ‘Little Amy’ in its use of instrumentation and tone. In a move that will have you wondering if the album is set on shuffle and is replaying tracks you’ve heard already, the next track, ‘Christmas Dinner’, returns to the comedy waltz of ‘Abigail’.
‘Goodlucknight’ is a timely and varied return to ‘Abigail’s Song’, starting with a woodwind-led rendition, until the brass section aids the smooth transition into a straight choral performance, so once again the choir works because they were given a strong melody, and because ‘Abigail’s Song’ is a recognisable recurring theme, its performance on cooing choir is all the stronger for it, and while ‘Goodnight Abigail’ may not focus on the theme, its brief appearances throughout the track lift it. Both cues prove how much stronger a score this would have been if there had been less sudden and brief quoting of ‘I Am The Doctor’ and more of a presence of ‘Abigail’s Song’. While cues like ‘Geoff’, ‘The Other Half’s Inside The Shark’ and the finale cue ‘Everything Has To End Some Time’ use strong performances of ‘I Am The Doctor’ to great effect, cues like ‘He Comes Every Christmas’, ‘Fish’, ‘The Planet Is Ours’ and especially ‘Abigail’ would have been vastly improved by renditions of Abigail’s theme.
Speaking of ‘The Planet Is Ours’, is the one cue I can say without caveat or disclaimer is the true highlight of the album. It is the full rendition of Kazran’s theme promised earlier, and a gorgeous theme it is. Here, the strings provide ambience for the piano-led theme, while a strange, otherworldly instrument or sound effect push this cue from ‘strong’ into ‘one of Gold’s best’. Sadly, even here, the omnipotence of ‘I Am The Doctor’ is felt, with yet another performance taking up the middle third of the track. It truly shows how overused the theme is this episode when I’m actively saddened when it appears to pull down was otherwise the standout cue of the album. If it were to be removed from the album and put in the context of a compilation album, putting all the best cues from Gold’s tenure, I imagine the ‘I Am The Doctor’ performance would be less off-putting, but in the context of an episode inundated with performances of the theme, the rest of the cue comes nowhere near the level of quality it achieved in the first third.
After a 48 second cue not worth mentioning and ‘The Course Of My Life’, which while above the average for Gold’s background music doesn’t quite reach the standard of ‘Holding Hands’ and ‘I Can’t Save Her’, we get a change of pace with ‘Ghost Of Christmas Future’, which is much darker in tone than the rest of the episode, with a deep, ominous ambience from the lower strings, and once again the choir is much more emotionally engaging as a background element supporting the orchestra. It’s another strong cue that goes from brooding to despondent to a tense yet hopeful finale, without ever seeming jarring in its transitions.
And with that, we come to the ‘big one’. The full, central performance of ‘Abigail’s Song (Silence Is All You Know)’ led by the beautiful voice of Katherine Jenkins. It is a beautiful theme, and a well performed one here, with the orchestra, choir and Jenkins mixed wonderfully to do the theme previewed so well in ‘Shark Ride’ and ‘Goodlucknight’ justice. However, this is judging it in context of the album. If you judge it in the terms of what Steven Moffat wanted for the scene, or the comments made by Ben Foster on Doctor Who Confidential (remember that show?), it is less of a success. As seen on said behind-the-scenes show, the script asked Gold for “a brand new Christmas carol, just for Doctor Who”. As a carol, it is a failure.
The point of carols is very similar to that of the kind of pop songs that are perennial favourites on karaoke machines: instantly memorable melodies and lyrics that even the most tone-deaf of us can belt out with confidence. ‘Abigail’s Song’ may be beautiful, but as Gold states in Confidential, it was written for and was performed by someone possessing an extremely powerful voice, whereas a carol is written for everyone. ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’, ‘Away In A Manger’, ‘Jingle Bells’, these are carols. You may not know all the words, but the melody and lyrics are memorable and simple enough that you can at least get away with “#awa-a-a-ay in a ma-a-anger, no-ho crib for a bed, dah-da-daah-dah-da-daah-dah, dah-dah-dah sweet head…#”. That’s why it fails as a carol, it’s like trying to claim ‘Walking in the Air’ is a Christmas carol. It’s Christmas-related, sure, but have you ever tried singing it? Okay, let me rephrase that: have you ever tried singing it whilst sober? Unless you possess an amazing set of vocal chords, that’s probably a no. Thus, while it is certainly an elegant piece of music, it isn’t the Christmas carol that was asked for. Then again, we are talking about the man who admitted on national television that he flat-out forgot about the song he was asked to compose until a few days before the sessions with Jenkins, and quickly threw it together.
That’s also the reason that Ben Foster’s comment at the end of said Confidential episode, “an instant classic”, drew groans and sarcastic exclamations of “oh, yeah?” from myself and my family. It may be a lovely piece, but it doesn’t have nearly enough of the transcendent qualities that “classics” have. What I’m saying is, it may be a great song, but it isn’t Living on a Prayer, Total Eclipse of the Heart or Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. That’s not a comparison of quality, but of genre. Claiming something like ‘Abigail’s Song’ has the qualities of a Christmas carol is like saying fresh water is the same as sea water. On the surface they may look the same, but given any level of thought and scrutiny you’ll realise they are very different things. Not that either one is inferior, they are just not the same thing. In short, yes, ‘Abigail’s Song’ is a high point of the album and a terrific song, but no, it is neither a Christmas carol nor an “instant classic”.
Anyway, enough of ‘Abigail’s Song’, as there is just one cue left. ‘Everything Has To End Some Time’ ends the album on a high with yet another rendition of ‘I Am The Doctor’, but here it is excusable. It isn’t a cue otherwise totally different in tone, it’s the end of the episode, and you have to bring in your big theme for the finale. Plus, it’s a strong performance of the theme anyway, so that makes it all the more justifiable. It’s a follow-up of sorts to ‘Onwards!’ from Series Five, both have similar tones and goals, and at least it isn’t pointlessly spoiling the best cue from the album here.
At the end of it all, A Christmas Carol is a mixed bag. As always, there are standout cues like ‘Come Along Pond’, ‘The Planet Is Ours’, ‘Shark Ride’ and ‘Abigail’s Song’, but it also has a lot of filler. Early on, the choir fails to add anything when given background material yet are pushed to the foreground, but things pick up as the album goes on, as their foreground material gets stronger and whenever they are given the kind of simplistic supporting material they actually given supporting roles in the mix. The obnoxious comedy of Gold is thankfully absent, limited to a few cues that manage to stay on the right side of ‘decent’, and while the oversaturation of ‘I Am The Doctor’ brings much of the score down, it is given several strong performances here and there. Overall, it’s mixed, but no more so than Gold’s usual offerings these days.
And… that’s it. I sit here genuinely dumbstruck and delighted to have finally made it. Month after month this review has weighed on my mind, and to finally see it done is an odd sensation. If you made it all the way through this, then I congratulate and thank you. Ever since I starting working on this post back in June, this has been a slog, but it’s been an enjoyable slog nevertheless. I love soundtracks and music for media, and love talking about them. Perhaps, sometime in the future, I’ll review more sci-fi orientated scores. But that will come later. First, because I hate myself, I’ll return for more Gold antics with the recently released Series Six.
All that is still quite a way off yet, though, since I have more obligations to uphold before then. Next, we’ll be finishing off Rose in the third instalment of The RTD Roundup, and then we’ll head back into the first series of The Adventure Games, looking back at City of the Daleks and Blood of the Cybermen to see how they hold up on a half decent PC this time (and actually finishing the latter), before we move on to take a look at TARDIS and Shadows of the Vashta Nerada.
Christ. Looking at all that, that’s a lot to get through. I will get to it eventually, I promise. No matter how long it takes, even if it kills me (and given that the above list includes watching an RTD episode again, it could well do); you will see all the posts listed above.
So, just before we go, since it will be a while before you see it, here’s a quick preview of what’s in store for the Series Six soundtrack review:
Until next time, everybody, this is ReddiShadow signing off.