Steven Moffat’s approach to Doctor Who extends to the incidental music. Murray Gold’s work has changed with the tone and approach of the writing. On this album you can really hear the influence of both the ‘dark fairytale’ and ‘movie of the week’ approaches to the show. It’s reminiscent of John Williams, Barry Gray, and Disney soundtracks at times, perhaps unsurprisingly as The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is obviously influenced by the Narnia films (once upon a time under the jurisdiction of the Mouse).
The first impression upon listening is that these sound more filmic than most TV soundtracks, and that this is the territory the Christmas Specials are trying to muscle in on. Now that On Demand and streaming services have rendered the Yuletide TV film premières that little bit less special, in steps Doctor Who to fill the breach. It’s got to look and sound the part. So, with help the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (also known under the acronym of BBC NOW, which sounds dying wish of an ex-pat) it brings in blaring brass, sinister strings and occasional bouts of choral flourish.
With no visuals to support, and with better speakers than those on most tellies, the music stands up well. Indeed, in some cases it works better without the visuals. Let’s be honest, if we don’t like a moment in the story, it’ll chequer the music that’s behind it. Here then tracks like Whose Enigma become atmospheric crescendo-builds that rise and then fall without peaking. Armchair Waltz is a lovely wee thing; several tracks follow this style, a fairy-tale lushness oddly reminiscent of the music in Tom and Jerry.
It’s not all satisfying. What might enhance the visuals sounds distractingly Keff McCulloch-y on record. Compared to the more ambient, atmospheric and experimental soundtracks from the Classic Series, here the track sequence and the tone of the pieces enable you to establish the emotional trajectory of the episode even if you can’t remember exactly what was happening. We move from quiet, woodwind led-tracks to alarming, loud, THIS IS A SET PIECE moments. This works well for the show now, but will irk anyone who likes extreme, almost undetectable subtlety in appeals to their emotions.
By itself, shorn of context, the music here is – and I mean this in no way as a criticism – absolutely perfect to play in a cinema that’s about to show The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. It deserves to find a home in seasonal backdrops, and outside of that only the quieter moments feel like something you’d listen to at home. You could try the more bombastic offerings during your day-to-day life, but you’d feel a bit daft doing the washing up to them.
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