The music of Doctor Who is worthy of a documentary in itself. While Matthew Sweet’s interval interviews during the recent Doctor Who at the Prom broadcast on Radio 3 hit the spot, you get the feeling that there’s several hours of indulgent geekery in there for a show to chew over. Inevitably contributing would be Ghost Light‘s composer, Mark Ayres.
You may have seen him in the Prom Clips, conspiring with Peter Howell from behind banks of synths to perform the score from The Sea Devils to a disbelieving yet delighted audience. Ayres and Howell are of the Eighties, the decade where the composer was largely left to their own devices with only some synthesisers and a long-sleeved-shirt for company. No Library Music or four-piece woodwind scores for them. Bookmarking the decade, their music is markedly different. By the time of Ghost Light – the final story recorded during the show’s original run – Ayres is sampling real instruments and Dominic Glynn is playing yowling guitar notes across Survival, but with an undercurrent of electronic tones and drones. Earlier in the decade, Howell was making satisfyingly non-acoustic noises with synthesisers the size of pianos.
With Ayres also being the Keeper of the Crackle (which is like the Keeper of the Flame, but for audio), Silva Screen have access to the original analogue stereo tapes here, and so we have re-mastered cuts, demos, and tracks missing from the final cut of the story.
As Ghost Light is a haunted house story set in the Victorian era, featuring explorers, Eliza Doolittle, evolution, ghosts, angelic Aliens and perhaps not quite enough exposition, there’s a lot for the music to draw on. As a result we have pounding tribal drums, creepy tinkling lullabies, sudden stabs of noise, sepulchral choirs, and ominous chords galore.
It isn’t really something to put on your mp3 player while going around Tescos. However, if you’ve got a dark ritual to carry out or a murder mystery party to hold, this is good strong backing music. Reflecting the material on screen, it is atmospheric and oppressive. Ghost Light is not a story necessitating pacy chase-music, bad-ass legendary Time Lord heraldry, or aids to your inevitable weeping. Ghost Light is a story about fear, among other things. Because of this, there are no jaunty music hall piano romps in this set. That would be jarring.
Considered in the context of Doctor Who, this is good, solid stuff, though due to its nature it isn’t rife with melody (though there are a few motifs here and there). Even its most memorable piece – Heart of the Interior – only temporarily gets its groove on between ambiences. There’s a Detroit House mix of it waiting to happen. Bring a cowbell.
Ghost Light‘s score isn’t especially fondly remembered (compared with, say, Ayres’ work on The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) and it isn’t part of a hugely influential body (for that, try Brian Hodgson’s score for The Krotons), but it does the job for which it was intended. The Royal Geographical Society could do worse than use it as their theme music.
Ghost Light will be released by Silva Screen Records on the 26th of August.
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