Review: Doctor Who: The Doctor Who Prom

Who Logo 7bRoyal Albert Hall

Sunday July 14, 2013

Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrated in style!

You could feel the excitement building in the Royal Albert Hall a quarter of an hour before the concert began as the cameras panned around the venerable auditorium, picking out Matt Smith lookalikes, banners complaining that the Doctor hasn’t yet been ginger, and even marriage proposals for the actor. The packed house wasn’t disappointed by the programme, which was probably the best yet, particularly in terms of the way it acknowledged the entirety of the Doctor Who franchise, not just the most recent incarnation.

The majority of the music was by Murray Gold, who has scored every episode of the new show (and who was seated across the aisle from us, clearly enjoying himself, occasionally playing air guitar or drums – notably in The Name of the Doctor). The arrangements weren’t necessarily exactly as they were heard in the show – the companions suite, for example, gave us some nice little extra riffs in both Donna and Martha’s themes – and some of them benefitted from the inclusion of the mighty Albert Hall pipe organ. (It was a little ironic, then, that the one organ piece on the programme, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, was played by the full orchestra – since it was the piece that I wanted to play on the organ at a very young age, and therefore took up the instrument as a result, I was looking forward to hearing it played there.)

All the Strange Strange Creatures – and all of the modern pieces – saw actors sweltering inside the costumes marching around the building: the look on the face of the small boy in front of us was priceless as Whispermen, Judoon, Cybermen and many more gave him a close encounter he’ll never forget. The Ice Warrior bursting out of his ice prison was spectacular, as was the recreation of the Cyber chess player from Neil Gaiman’s recent story.

But the classic series wasn’t forgotten. Mark Ayres produced a fantastic suite based on music from all seven original Doctors – to hear the Tomb of the Cybermen music (even if it seemed to me that some of the syncopation was altered from the original) and Dudley Simpson’s beautiful themes from City of Death played live was a real treat, and one that should be repeated. How about it, Mark? A full orchestral rendering of some of the classic scores?

The clips that illustrated the Who pieces (old and new) were very well-chosen – the selections for Amy Pond’s piece were heart-breaking all over again – and gladdened the heart of this sometimes jaded Doctor Who fan. Clips weren’t used in the classical pieces, so full concentration was on the orchestra: Ben Foster’s scoring of Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin used the orchestral sound beautifully, and the Stokowski arrangements of the Bizet and Bach pieces worked well.

There were guest hosts galore: Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey were as funny as ever as Vastra and Strax; Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman appeared both as themselves and in character (with a lovely little pre-filmed scene to set the latter up); Peter Davison got a huge cheer, introducing himself as ‘father-in-law of Doctor 10’; and Carole Ann Ford was clearly hugely affected by the warmth and love from the audience. Nick Briggs had to do multiple monster duty – and had fun with some adlibs when Ben Foster a) forgot his anti-Dalek conductor’s baton and b) proceeded to…shall we say, overact a little. ‘This is our bit,’ one of the Daleks reminded him pointedly!

Before the regeneration-featuring Vale and the theme (which was accompanied by nearly all the visualisations from over the years), we had Murray Gold’s birthday song for the Doctor. This was an ambitious piece for soloists, choir and orchestra, full of heart-felt emotion and contrasting musical imagery which kept the audience spellbound – it’ll be interesting to get the chance to hear a mixed version to get more of the sense of the words, which did become a little lost.

Verdict: A brilliant celebration of all that is magical about Doctor Who: kudos to all involved with its creation, and especially to Ben Foster, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the London Philharmonic Chorus. When it hits television later this year, don’t miss it.   9/10

Paul Simpson

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