Even an unexploded World War II bomb couldn’t stop the music, as the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular made its UK debut at the Wembley Arena on May 23rd (a device had been found the day before, meaning half a day of preparation was lost!). In fact, it gave host Peter Davison some extra material to accompany the regular quips at the expense of some of his fellow Doctors…
From the first notes of Murray Gold’s theme for the 12th Doctor that opened the concert to the standing ovation that greeted the final bars of his arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme at its close, the packed arena lapped up the music that the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Chorus of Wales – plus rock group – produced under regular conductor Ben Foster’s baton. Three screens over the stage showed appropriate clips from the series – with strategic lines of dialogue occasionally included – as well as images from around the arena of the monsters moving among the audience (and an occasional fish-eye shot of Foster himself!)
After “A Good Man” (the 12th Doctor’s theme), “Wherever. Whenever (Anywhere in Time and Space?)” combined short movements from a number of different episodes, confirming just varied in tone Series 8 was. “Doctor’s Theme/Song of Freedom” saw clips from the first two 21st century Doctors culminating in that still insane shot of the TARDIS dragging Earth back into its orbit! “The Companions” provided a welcome return for Gold’s themes for Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy, and after “To Darkness” featuring certain metallic foes, the first half concluded with the “Last Christmas Suite” – which was accompanied by a very well edited visual précis of the episode. This suite was taken from the first material that Gold orchestrated himself for the show, and there are a few differences in the orchestra’s “colouring” discernible (even more so on the full CD of music in the recent box set).
Post-interval, “All the Strange Strange Creatures” was a monster mash, while Gold’s theme for Clara, “The Impossible Girl” (to my mind, the best of these companion themes and one of his best pieces of composition for the show) was expanded from previous live performances with some of the additions for Series 8. If – like me – you go to the concert with someone who was petrified by Jamie Matheson’s Mummy on the Orient Express, you might want to cover their eyes during “66 Seconds”, which not only reprises all the 66 second attacks, but also features a “live” mummy in the arena – and full marks to whoever was inside the costume for an accurate mimicking of events that the audience could see on the screen behind them!
“The Pandorica Suite” and “Abigail’s Song” took us back to the early days of Matt Smith’s tenure with soloist Elin Manahan Thomas giving a very affecting performance of the latter (one of many solos she performed across the concert). “Fifty – This is Gallifrey” featured the familiar strains of Gold’s Gallifrey theme, but with a completely new visual accompaniment, tracking through The Day of the Doctor.
The concert allegedly concluded with the “Death in Heaven Suite” – covering the entire finale – which I suspect will become as popular as “The Pandorica Suite” in years to come: like the episode it accompanies, it runs the gamut of emotions, with some beautifully lyrical writing juxtaposed with the bombast of a season finale. Of course that wasn’t the end – there’s an extra number before we get the inevitable reprise of “the greatest TV theme ever written”, and without giving too much away, plaudits to whoever thought of incorporating footage of William Hartnell from The Daleks into the sequence accompanying it.
All the Doctors are represented on screen – McGann from The Night of the Doctor and Hurt from both Listen and The Day of the Doctor – with obvious emphasis on Peter Capaldi, but no fan is going to feel disappointed. There were cheers as the classic Doctors appeared, which echoed (and actually possibly even exceeded) those that greeted the 21st century incarnations – and I was delighted to see that Lis Sladen continues to be represented.
Ben Foster’s rapport with the orchestra, band and singers was evident and it was fun to note, when the screens were focused on him, that he was clearly singing along with the music! Any live performance is liable to an occasional wobble, but these were very few and far between – a tempo change in “The Pandorica Suite” was perhaps the only one really noticeable – and very quickly sorted out. I can see the day coming when we’ll get a live performance of the score to an episode accompanying it on the big screen – as is done with films like Star Trek and Back to the Future!
Verdict: A stunning two and a half hours of pure Doctor Who joy. 10/10
The SSE Arena, Wembley, Sunday 24 May 2015 at 2pm and 7.30 pm
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff: Monday 25 May 2015 at 3pm and 7.30 pm
Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham: Tuesday 26 May 2015 at 3pm and 7.30 pm
First Direct Arena, Leeds: Wednesday 27 May 2015 at 3pm and 7.30 pm
Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle: Thursday 28 May 2015 at 3pm and 7.30 pm
The SSE Hydro, Glasgow: Friday 29 May 2015 at 3pm and 7.30 pm