Friday, 27 December 2013

Coda - We've Got Work to Do

What might Doctor Who have sounded like in the '90s?

In discussing Survival, I suggested that Dominic Glynn's decision to combine electronic music with a guest musician (and he was hardly the first - see also The King's Demons and The Two Doctors, and we may as well mention Paddy Kingsland's steadfast use of his own electric guitar here) showed a possible way forward for DW incidental music, if the series had continued into the '90s.  The use of stock period music in Black Orchid and '50s covers in Delta and the Bannermen - and the influence of that music in the composers' electronic scores - also showed a balance between newer and older musical styles, and an awareness of the different atmospheric requirements of stories with historical settings as distinct from those set on alien worlds, that would have stood later composers in good stead.

Over most of its half-century run so far, DW has tended towards one or other musical extreme, (nearly) all synth or (nearly) all orchestral/traditional, when a judicious mixture of the two might have better suited the stories' requirements.  The Hartnell era, when commissioned compositions were rare and directors working on DW tended to take traditional or futuristic music from stock, actually shows a better balance of musical styles than any other period in the show's history.  Using Dudley Simpson or the Radiophonic Workshop as "in-house" composers in later years presumably gave the production office (and the composers!) a certain amount of stability and security, but at the cost of this balance.

What's happened since 1989, not just in DW but in general, isn't so much a drive towards harmony between orchestral and synth sounds as a drive to make synthesizers imitate orchestral sounds as closely as possible, and to use real orchestras whenever possible.  I have enough orchestra friends that I can't really consider this a terrible thing.  Professional players need to pay the bills, and rank amateurs like m'self need something more interesting than "Clair de lune" to play in our village halls - from that perspective, orchestral science fiction scores are to be welcomed.  But electronic sound has a beauty of its own, and it has a place in science fiction that can't easily be filled by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

Electronic sounds have been rare in DW's soundtracks since 2006 - since, that is to say, the BBC recognised the show as a marketable success and gave the production office the budget to bring in a roomful of real musicians and get Ben Foster to orchestrate Murray Gold's compositions, which is after all what Gold and Russell T Davies wanted in the first place.  Is DW - are we - better off for it?  I mean, consider the theme Gold composed for the Face of Boe's return appearances.  We have the luxury of being able to use this theme to compare and contrast the two musical styles: it can be heard in its pre-Ben Foster form on the CD of soundtrack highlights from Series 1 and 2, and in its fully orchestrated form on the Series 3 soundtrack CD.  The version heard in New Earth at the start of Series 2, sparsely performed on piano and high synths and overlaid with weird sighing noises, conveys something of the isolation, alienness and strange beauty of this gigantic face in a jar.  The version heard in Gridlock in Series 3, performed by a full choir and the massed strings of the BBC NO of W, arguably fits in the context of a scene of the citizens of New New York ascending into the sunlight, but it's hardly distinguishable from the music of any other film or TV programme.  (It then disappears into two minutes of guitar and violin chunter, over which we draw a discreet veil).  I put it to you, gentle reader, that we have lost something.

Of course, we do know what DW sounded like in the '90s, because it came back for one night in 1996, and it's not unreasonable to draw a line from Survival through the collaborative TV Movie score of John Debney, John Sponsler and Louis Febre - heavy on the orchestral sound, but with clear synth elements throughout - to Murray Gold's work on Series 1.  But it might be more interesting to look at Christopher Franke's work on Babylon 5, a much larger body of work from around the same period.  Franke, like Gold, went through a shift from predominantly synth to predominantly orchestral scores, but over a longer period and from a more firmly entrenched position as a synth composer - he was, of course, a major player in the pioneering German electronic band Tangerine Dream.  He didn't have access to a full standing orchestra for B5, but called in members/sections of the "Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra" as required, a bit like Dudley Simpson carefully selecting his four or five chamber musicians for a Tom Baker story.  Listening to the soundtrack from a story in the middle of B5's five year run - well, let's say the Season 3 finale Z'ha'dum - we can hear big orchestral swells for the dramatic moments and anxious violins in the quieter parts, but also a thoroughgoing range of electronic noises that really sell the alien setting of the Shadows' homeworld and the lurking menace of the Shadows themselves.  We could do worse than look to this as a cousin of the soundtrack for our imaginary '90s series of DW.

Who might have composed incidental music for Doctor Who in the '90s?

Well, it's tempting to speculate.  The McCoy Era Three - Dominic Glynn, Keff McCulloch and Mark Ayres - would of course be shoo-ins, although with McCulloch's DW output diminishing year on year, it's possible he might have moved on.  It's not hard to imagine Ayres providing a makeover for the DW theme tune - in fact it's very easy to imagine, since he's had a few goes at it for fun over the years - and his star seemed to be in the ascendant with the production office in 1989.  And it'd be a sad season for Sylvester McCoy that didn't include at least one Glynn score.

Ken "Prof" Freeman?  Workhorse of the original recording of Jeff Wayne's Musical War of the Worlds and late of the BBC adaptation of The Tripods.  A world in which DW continued to air in 1990 might well also have seen the expected third series of The Tripods, but that would have been over by 1987, so he would have been available.  Those in the know at BBC TV Centre must surely have been going wild over his theme tune for Casualty around the time Season 24 was being planned - it's kind of surprising he wasn't approached, really.  Readers are advised to track down his Tripods soundtrack album (or just watch the DVD, for that matter).

Howard Goodall?  Another surprising oversight.  He'd been working on BBC TV shows since the early '80s, and composed the music for every single episode of Red Dwarf starting in 1988 (although readers might get a better idea of how he might have scored DW by rewatching the "future" section of Blackadder's Christmas Carol).  He's also composed several classical choral pieces and presented a number of programmes about the history of music, so there can be no doubting his range and credentials.  An obvious choice for stories with a contemporary or historical setting.

Christopher Franke?  No, that's just being silly.

Adrian Pack and Michael Fillis?  Also known as Cybertech, the duo who slipped John Nathan-Turner a demo tape during filming of Dimensions in Time in 1993 (left it a bit late there, lads) and ended up providing the theme arrangement for the charity skit.  They went on to produce two CDs of music inspired by classic DW scores and, narratively, by some of the spin-off novels.  (On a side note, the first of these was the first CD I ever bought.)  Their rave version of the DW theme is an acquired taste, to be sure, but the rest of the material on their CDs suggested they would have fitted right in as '90s DW composers.  Their Cyberman theme could have been a contender.

Orbital?  The Hartnoll brothers are confirmed fans, and they've worked on a number of film soundtracks since 1997, something that had apparently long been an ambition of theirs.  Their rave version of the DW theme, performed at gigs since way back when, is a taste more easily acquired than Cybertech's, and was even picked up for use on an official 40th anniversary promo trailer included on several DW DVDs in 2003.  They were just starting out around the turn of 1990 and didn't become a big ticket act until the mid '90s, so they would have been affordable.  At the very least they'd have been the ideal choice for any DW story set at a rave, and after seeing Mags the punk/goth werewolf in 1988, that's not something I would have ruled out.

Kate Bush?  Well, she did write Kinda, after all.

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop?  Come back, all is forgiven?  And why not?  Presumably Dick Mills would have continued to provide the special sound (at least, until leaving the Workshop in 1993), so it would have been easy enough to arrange, if John Nathan-Turner had wanted to repeat the mix-and-match experiment of Season 23.  Peter Howell and Liz Parker were both still working there until the late '90s - another score from either of them would have been more than welcome.  And if JNT had insisted on sticking with freelancers, there was always Paddy Kingsland.

And so, as Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred stroll off into the woods on Horsenden Hill (for reasons we dare not guess at) and the McCulloch arrangement of the DW theme tune plays out the '80s, it's time to thank people.  Thanks to everybody who made the music discussed in this blog, and everybody who made the TV show that caused the music to be made.  Thanks to everybody reading this blog, too!  Thanks to Mark Ayres for archiving all that Radiophonic music and for handling the audio remastering on all those DVDs.  And thanks to Silva Screen Records for resuming their classic series soundtrack releases - I don't think we got quite as many as we were led to expect this year, but there's the mammoth 50th anniversary collector's set to take our minds off that, and I'm looking forward to seeing some more pre-1990 incidental scores on CD next year.

I'd like to give special thanks to Bruce Ngataierua, who lent me several of the DVDs that I don't own - specifically, the ones with no isolated score.  The ones that required careful and repeated viewing just to spot where all the musical cues were.  Huge thanks to Bruce for his generosity and patience with that.

Of course, I wouldn't want to lean too heavily on friendship, nor would I want to see my local libraries go under for want of custom, so thanks also to the Lower Hutt War Memorial and Wellington Central libraries for their extensive collections of DW DVDs and affordable lending fees.  In fact, I should probably thank Anne Olsen for Lower Hutt's range, as I suspect she's responsible for a lot of it.

And obviously, thanks to Jo for staying in the room with me while I was watching Time-Flight.  It's a lot to ask of anyone.

We may have reached the end of this project - barring anything of relevant interest next year - but we've still got work to do.  One of the unstated aims of this blog was to provoke wider discussion of music in DW, and while that's more ambitious than my modest reader base will allow, it's still an aim.  Or rather, it's my hope that DW's incidental music will be more widely discussed, and if this blog doesn't contribute directly to that, it should at least be thought of as a sort of cosmic ordering.  At least one chunky, erudite small press book of essays about DW music in all its forms - is that too much to wish for?  But it's going to take more knowledgeable and better-connected people than me to make it happen.  Fandom, it's over to you.

Friday, 20 December 2013

50 - Survival

Composer: Dominic Glynn

In which the Doctor goes to Perivale, Ace goes to the cats and the Master goes to the dogs.

nyowwww, da-da-nyoww nyoww nyowwww...

What's the score?
Dominic Glynn's last score for DW, and the last story to be transmitted in the show's original run.  Once again Glynn brings in a guest musician to beef up his score - in this case, it's David Hardington on the electric and acoustic guitars.  The electric guitar gets the starring role, contributing a couple of prominent themes and a variety of feline yowls throughout the story.  The acoustic guitar is reserved for the story's more contemplative moments.
Glynn uses an extremely wide variety of synth voices in this score, but the most notable is probably the piano - sinister piano steps feature prominently, helping to build up an atmosphere of menace.  In a similar vein, several of the scenes of Cheetah People hunting or toying with human prey feature the sort of scratching violin sounds one might expect to find in one of Bernard Herrmann's Hitchcock film scores.

Musical notes
  • As with all his work for DW, Glynn's score for Survival is built around themes and distinctive sounds.  The main theme for this score is a wistful, hungry sounding piece heard on various instruments throughout the story, most notably on the electric guitar.  It's first hinted at in faint flute tones in the scene when Ange tells Ace that all her old friends have disappeared (to the planet of the Cheetah People, as we later discover), and it's picked up in a deeper woodwind voice after Ace herself has arrived on the Cheetah planet.  Its last appearance in the story is a quiet reprise on the acoustic guitar in Part Three as Ace mourns over the body of Karra, the Cheetah Person that she befriends.  There's a secondary theme for the electric guitar that has a bit of an Edge of Darkness about it.
  • Season 26 hasn't offered much opportunity for diegetic muzak, but Glynn gets to provide the last example - a soft guitar and glockenspiel melody under high synths - in the scene in the corner shop in Part One.
  • The cue that plays when the Doctor is spying on the domestic cats of Perivale (and John Nathan-Turner's dog...) in Part One is a cheeky one.  It's a playful piece in bass guitar and piano with an up-and-down marimba hook and tambourine accents, and it's a rather accurate spoof of the sort of thing British viewers could expect to hear on any number of natural history programmes.  Bass, marimba and tambourine are practically the signature sounds for BBC programmes about big cats mucking about in the Serengeti - applying them to small cats on a surburban street, with the Doctor cast in the role of natural historian, is an inspired move on Glynn's part.
  • The marimba crops up again in Parts Two and Three, providing the waltzing rhythm for a theme in high synth tones that seems to represent the pull of the Cheetah planet over its inhabitants - it's first heard when the Master describes the Cheetah People to the Doctor and his friends, and can be heard at various times in Part Three when Ace falls under the planet's influence.  The theme makes its last appearance in the middle of the scene of the Doctor and the Master fighting on the planet of the Cheetah People, when the Cheetahs themselves vanish and the Doctor rejects the urge to become like them.  Some cues embellish the theme with horn or electric guitar sounds, or replace the marimba with other synth voices.
  • Our old friend the E-Mu Emulator II shakuhachi sample (remember it from Time and the Rani?) is back.  It can be heard when Ace is transported to the planet of the Cheetah People in Part One, and it puts in a couple more appearances in Part Two.
  • I'm quite fond of the heartbeat-like percussion and reversed breathing sounds that play early on in Part Three as Ace runs off with Karra.  It's a very nicely judged cue.
  • The very last incidental cue of '80s DW is a little walkdown in flute tones based on the DW theme tune, with the melancholic acoustic guitar coming in halfway through.  It plays over the Doctor's "Come on, Ace, we've got work to do" speech, and like that speech, it stands as a valediction to the classic series.

Vox pop
It's a great note to go out on.  Overall, I think this is the strongest of Dominic Glynn's five DW scores, thanks to the tremendously varied sound palette and, of course, that electric guitar.  Like all the best DW scores, it's the right fit for the TV episodes and lovely to listen to in isolation as well; in hindsight, it also strikes just the right note for the story that marked the end of an era - anxious, plaintive, but still promising more.
Next week we can look back at '80s DW music as a whole, but for now, it's farewell to Dominic Glynn.  "Solid" is a word I've used quite a bit in describing Glynn's DW scores - he's not prone to outbursts of sonic exuberance in the way that Keff McCulloch is, but the quality of his work is more consistently high.  And his practice, here and with The Happiness Patrol, of bolstering his electronic score with the non-electronic sound of a session musician adds a lot of extra depth to these later scores, and hints at a fruitful direction DW's incidental music could have gone in if it had continued into the '90s.  Somewhere in that lost decade, uncomposed, is the missing link between the synths of the '80s and Murray Gold's almost entirely symphonic compositions.

  • The BBC DVD release includes the full isolated score as an audio option.

Friday, 13 December 2013

49 - The Curse of Fenric

Composer: Mark Ayres

In which the Doctor faces an ancient and implacable menace - Ace's family issues.  He also sorts out some bloke called Fenric.

baaa-baaa... ba! baaa-baaa, ba! ba! ba! baaa-baaa, ba!

What's the score?
The second of Mark Ayres' DW scores, and the last to be transmitted.  As with Ghost Light, harp and violin synth voices lead the way - the snare drum, horns and woodwind play a smaller part.  As Ayres observes in his liner notes for the '90s CD soundtrack release, the more obviously electronic elements of the score are restricted to the more otherworldly scenes of the story.

Musical notes
  • Various cues during the story, notably at the start of Part One, include a six-note phrase in strings (the very first cue also includes a six-note counterphrase) signifying the approach of Russian soldiers up to and across the Northumberland coast.  Hints of it re-appear in scenes of the Haemovores' advance from the sea in Part Three.  As Ayres has confirmed on several occasions, this phrase is based on - but not directly quoted from - part of Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird".  (Specifically, on what the cellos and bass do in the first couple of bars of the Introduction, folks!)  It doesn't seem to have been a significant choice - Ayres apparently just wanted something with a Russian sound to serve as a hook for his score.  The story of Stravinsky's ballet isn't a great match for The Curse of Fenric, but on a related note "The Firebird" is supposed to be the source of the original sample for the synth "orchestra hit" so beloved of the Sylvester McCoy era composers.  (Check out the start of the "Infernal Dance" movement, folks!).
  • There's a short reference to the Glenn Miller recording of "In the Mood" as the Doctor and Ace arrive at the military base in Part One; Ayres has recalled in interview that he stuck this in as a joke at the expense of the scriptwriter, who'd expressed a concern that the whole score for his 1940s story would be influenced by the Big Band sound.  A further small reprise of the swinging percussion from this cue can be heard later in Part One when the Doctor fakes his credentials in Dr Judson's office.
  • As Rev Wainwright glad-hands his parishioners on their way out of the Church of St Jude in Part One, we can hear an organ pastiche of Hubert Parry's tune for the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind".  It's common enough for organists to improvise a voluntary around some well-known bit of sacred music after a service, but we never get to see St Jude's organist - in fact, the organist and the music have both mysteriously vanished by the time the Doctor and Ace have followed Wainwright back into the church.  What a wasted opportunity for a cameo from Ayres! 
  • The "enemies coming from the sea" motif isn't the only prominent six-note phrase in this score - the titular Curse is represented by a descending sequence of notes plucked out on the harp.  A slow four-note sequence is heard first, when the ancient runes in the St Jude's crypt are revealed; the full motif, the four downward notes plus a two-note "bounce", turns up in the next cue as the Doctor notices some Nordic family names in St Jude's graveyard.  The fast six notes and the slower four notes re-appear throughout the rest of the story with varying degrees of electronic embellishments depending on the significance of the scene.  Ayres throws in some Vangelis-style Chariots of Fire percussion business when the Doctor starts talking about "Evil from the Dawn of Time" in Part Three; the percussion and the harp motif go their separate ways in Part Four after Fenric finally makes an appearance.
  • Less prominent themes include a slightly uncanny piece on the piano for the baby that turns out to be Ace's mother, which is picked up in the final cue of Part Four when Ace's "dangerous undercurrents" have been dealt with; and a series of sombre string chords over a higher-pitched string drone for to represent Commander Millington.
  • Readers who don't believe that the DW scores of Mark Ayres and Keff McCulloch warrant comparison should check out the cues that play while the Haemovores are attacking the Church of St Jude in Part Three.  These bombastic slices of mayhem feature the liberal application of synth choir and orchestra hits over a sustained percussive assault - McCulloch would be proud.
  • A soundtrack CD for this story was released in July 1991, but what it contained wasn't exactly what had been heard on the story's original broadcast.  The story had been released on VHS earlier in the year with deleted scenes re-inserted, and Ayres had been asked to expand some of his cues with new material to match the extended visuals, notably in Parts One and Four.  The CD, released in the wake of the video release, showcased this extended version of the score.  A few of the shorter cues from Part One were left off the CD, such as those mentioned above of the Doctor forging his credentials and of the organ voluntary heard at the Church of St Jude; other cues were expanded substantially.  The net quantity of music on the CD was only two or three minutes more than the quantity used on the broadcast episodes.

Vox pop
It's hard to find fault with a Mark Ayres DW score.  This is probably my least favourite of his three - quite possibly a reflection of my ambivalence towards the story itself - but it's still tremendously listenable.  As with Ghost Light, the balance of conventional to unconventional sounds is spot on, and the sense of a lurking and building horror is brought off beautifully.
This isn't really farewell for Ayres - he continued to provide the music for DW tie-in videos after working on the show just as he had before, and as custodian of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop archives, he's still involved today in the production of the DW soundtrack CDs that Silva Screen Records have laudably started issuing again.  He can even be seen in public performing alongside Radiophonic Workshop members from time to time.  Still, it's tempting to wonder what more he might have done if DW hadn't been taken off the air in 1989 - of the three McCoy era composers, he's the one I can least imagine DW doing without in 1990.

  • The BBC DVD release includes the full isolated score as an audio option.  The DVD also includes a special "movie" edition of the story with a re-recorded score, but no isolated audio option was included for this version of the score.
  • A soundtrack CD for this story was released by Silva Screen Records in 1991, with changes from the broadcast soundtrack as noted above.

Friday, 6 December 2013

48 - Ghost Light

Composer: Mark Ayres

In which the Doctor takes Ace back to a house she burned down - it's a pioneering example of restorative justice.  (Years ahead of its time, this show.)  Unfortunately, the residents are less interested in reforming an arsonist than they are in ending all life on Earth.

pling pling-pling-pling-pling-pling, pling pling-pling-pling-pling-pling, pling pling-pling pling-pling pling-pling-pling-pling-pling...

What's the score?
This is the last of Mark Ayres' three DW scores to be composed - and the last story of this season to be recorded - but the second to be transmitted.  Once again Ayres uses character sounds to "narrate" the story, although not to the extent that he did with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.  But in a sense, the use of incidental music as a narrative device is here taken to a different extreme, with Ayres' music brought up so high in the audio mix and the studio dialogue turned down so low that in many scenes the music is left carrying the burden of having to lead the viewer through.  The story goes that director Alan Wareing had so little confidence that viewers would be able to make sense of the script that he deliberately skewed the sound balance in post-production in order to drown out the dialogue - whether there's any truth to this anecdote is moot.
In the liner notes for the recent CD release, Ayres recalls that he was on a tight schedule to complete this score owing to the fact that it had been filmed so late but was to be transmitted so early in the season.  A false start on the music for Part One left him working on Ghost Light up until the week before Part One was due to be broadcast, but the extra time allowed him to come up with the orchestra-on-a-budget sound that producer John Nathan-Turner had wanted.  Harp and violin sounds do much of the heavy lifting in this score, with scattered cello and woodwind sounds and a healthy dose of unorthodox electronic effects.

Musical notes
  • Ayres' CD liner notes mention a distorted dinner gong sound for Mrs Pritchard, but it's pretty hard to spot this.  There's certainly a faint cymbal-like noise in the background of some of her cues, but it's hardly a prominent element and really no more so than anywhere else in the score.  The signature sound for Mrs Pritchard would surely have to be the sustained, discordant organ notes heard in Parts One and Two, for example in the early scene in which she stares down Rev Matthews.
  • If your humble blogger had to pick out one element of this score that sounds like a distorted sample of a gong, it'd have to be the alarming metallic noise that represents Control, most prominently in her scenes in the "lower observatory" in Part One.  There's a decidedly knife-like quality to this sound - Ayres seems to be positioning Control as the most sinister character in the story, certainly the most alien character, and although to begin with he's just backing up the script, he keeps going after the script's bluff has been called and Control has been revealed as a friendly character.
  • Nimrod the Neanderthal butler has an interesting signature sound (sadly, one that's not easy to pick out in the mix or, consequently, to illustrate with audio clips).  It's a kind of wobbly "oo" sound wedded to something a bit like the sound of the workings of an old clock.  Something similar but less polished - a much more raw, simian "oo" sound - can be heard in the scene in Part Two in which Rev Matthews de-evolves into an ape-like form (again, it's too low in the mix to be easily illustrated here).  We might assume that Ayres is making a connection between the two, but given the subtlety of the sounds, it's likely to pass the listener by. 
  • Redvers Fenn-Cooper, the quintessential image of the white colonial explorer, has plundered the African continent for his sounds.  Percussive, wooden and pipe sounds are heard in several substantial cues featuring Fenn-Cooper - I wouldn't like to guess whether these are meant to be generic "ethnic" instruments or specific to a particular country, but well-informed readers are welcome to leave a comment on the subject.
  • Organ music - more tuneful than Mrs Pritchard's sinister notes - is used for scenes in the "lower observatory", where Light sleeps and Nimrod prays to him.  Once Light appears in person in Part Three, the organ is joined by bells, clashing cymbals and a hushed performance from the synth choir.
  • BBC documentation from the time suggests that "That's the Way to the Zoo", the comical piece Gwendoline performs on the piano while Rev Matthews is regressing, was composed by Irish balladeer JF Mitchell some time around 1883 (the piece isn't well known outside DW fan circles; the composer's a little obscure too).  Ayres cannily reprises the melody of the chorus from this song, in tinny music-box tones, when we see Gwendoline preparing to send the ape-Matthews "to Java" later in Part Two.  Later again in the same episode, there's a snatch of one phrase of the melody when Ace uncovers Matthews' display case.  Less pertinently, the music-box melody crops up in Part Three when Josiah tells Gwendoline to send an unregressed Ace "to Java".
  • The cues for Ayres' first attempt at Part One are included on the 2013 soundtrack CD as bonus tracks.  The producer had lamented that he'd wanted an authentic acoustic score for this story but couldn't afford it; Ayres' stated intention was to emulate the sound of the family/chamber ensemble typical of the Victorian period.  The problem evidently wasn't in selecting the appropriate synth voices, but in making the result muscular enough to carry a DW story - the main run of the draft score is led by the flute, clarinet and harp, with relatively little string accompaniment and some surprising moments of silence, and overall this feels rather more coy and less sinister than the story requires.  Ayres' final version, with a much fuller string section and a stronger element of percussion, fits the bill nicely.  It's worth noting, though, that the less orthodox elements of the score - including Control's sting and Redvers' African music, as well as the organ music for the crypt - are already present in the draft cues.

Vox pop
Another delightful score from Mark Ayres, although I find it harder to pick out favourite bits than I do with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - this one's more concerned with atmosphere than with incident, which does of course make it the right choice for such an atmospheric story.  For all that the use of period instrumentation (or a good synth imitation) is appropriate, I think it's the unearthly sounds and animalistic noises that add the sinister edge that really makes this score.

  • The BBC DVD release includes the full isolated score as an audio option.
  • Silva Screen Records issued a soundtrack CD for this story in 1993; an updated version was released in 2013.

Friday, 29 November 2013

47 - Battlefield

Composer: Keff McCulloch

In which the Doctor's future comes back to haunt him.

pa pa pa, pa-pa-pa-pa pa pa, pa pa pa, pa pa-pa-pa pa

What's the score?
For the final time, Keff McCulloch provides the music for the season opener, and indeed this is his last DW score.  Well, his last until the charity skit Dimensions in Time and the video release of Shada.  Once again he's given the story with heavy martial overtones - UNIT and Arthurian knights this time - so naturally there's some common ground between this score and his work on the previous year's Dalek and Cyberman stories.  Having said which, his choice of sound palette has undergone something of a shift, with synth strings and woodwind providing the backbone of this score.  Percussion and horns are still prominent, but less so than in his earlier work, and his beloved orchestra hits hardly get a look-in.  The synth choir does put in an appearance, though.

Musical notes
  • As with McCulloch's two scores in the previous season, solid foursquare beats are the order of the day, but that doesn't stop McCulloch from having a little fun with the rhythm.  There's actually a touch of swing in the battle scenes in Part One, which isn't a big help when the scenes themselves are so leisurely.  The stand-out funky cue, however, must be the one that accompanies the scene of Mordred summoning Morgaine in Part Two - a regular beat underpins a pleasingly jumpy synth string melody.
  • As ever, McCulloch favours character sounds over themes or motifs, and Battlefield has a few to offer.  Ancelyn is represented with an upward electric guitar whine in his first (armoured) appearance, and repeatedly thereafter during the story - he may be the "good guy" knight, but McCulloch obviously thinks he's a bit of a badass.  Parts One and Three feature some upward violin scratching for Morgaine, although this isn't a consistent feature of her scenes.  The sword Excalibur, in its cutaway appearances in Part One, is heralded by high synth and faint organ notes, not entirely unlike the material used in Silver Nemesis on shots of the Nemesis asteroid in space.  The use of martial snare drum rolls to represent UNIT should be obvious to everyone.
  • The tick-tock harpsichord rhythm from Silver Nemesis makes a surprise reappearance at the start of Part Two when the Doctor, a.k.a. "Merlin", stares down Mordred.  It wasn't used to represent the Doctor in the previous story, but as a motif for magical time-travellers from England's past - it's not a bad match for "Merlin", then, despite the choice of instrument. 
  • The reveal of Bessie, the Doctor's vintage car, in Part Three is heralded with a charming old-fashioned violin piece capped off with an "oo-wee-oo".  Cherish this "oo-wee-oo", folks, because it's the last of McCulloch's long line of DW theme references.
  • Readers who've been playing the Spot the Latin Music Moment game should take particular note of the big fight scene near the start of Part Four.  Unless your humble blogger has missed something, this is the only musical cue in '80s DW to feature the cowbell.
  • When the Destroyer, unleashed, prepares to devour the world in Part Four, there's a sound that reminds your humble blogger of the siren of an ambulance.  And what should we hear in the tail end of the climactic scene in which the Doctor persuades Morgaine not to start a nuclear war?  Why, it's an up-and-down sound reminiscent of an ambulance siren - not the same cue, but similar enough to be worth mentioning.  Perhaps McCulloch has shrewdly picked up on the subtextual connection - apparently intended by the scriptwriter - between the world-eating demon and UNIT's nuclear missile.
  • There's a lovely moment in Part Four when Ancelyn and Mordred are about to launch into a swordfight and the Doctor casually strolls between them - the music pauses and double-takes along with the knights.
  • McCulloch is not averse to ending a DW score with a cheesy walkdown - ample proof can be found in Season 24 - and this story ends with the cheesiest of them all.  A lengthy piece of lounge piano plays over the final scene at the Brigadier's country house, leading into a jaunty wrap-up in pizzicato strings and woodwind as the ladies take the Doctor's car for a joyride.  And they call this Sylvester McCoy's "dark" season.

Vox pop
This is Keff McCulloch at his most reined-in.  We lost the wild invention of Season 24, now we've lost most of the bombast of Season 25 - what we're left with is pleasant, but a bit too smooth.  This score veers closest of all McCulloch's scores to what I've referred to before as the sound of daytime/lifestyle TV - for that matter, there are several cues in Battlefield that wouldn't sound out of place in a corporate training video (most notably, the first exterior shot of the Gore Crow Hotel in Part One).  This is certainly the safest of McCulloch's scores, but I wouldn't say that playing safe is one of his strengths as a composer, or something I look for in a DW score.
And so, farewell, Keff McCulloch.  I still maintain that he's a varied and interesting composer, undeservedly overlooked by too many DW fans.  His work is of its time, but the same can be said of his contemporaries Glynn and Ayres, and there's less distance between the three of them than a lot of fans might care to admit.

  • The BBC DVD release includes the full isolated score as an audio option.

Friday, 22 November 2013

46 - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

Composer: Mark Ayres

With Doctor Who's 50th anniversary just hours away, what better time to talk about The Greatest Show in the Galaxy?

ding, ding! ding! ding, ding! ding! ding, ding! ding! ding, ding! ding!

What's the score?
So here, at last, is Mark Ayres, last of the Sylvester McCoy era's Big Three of DW composers.  Ayres secured this particular gig on the strength of two test cues he composed after being passed the script for Part One of Remembrance of the Daleks.  These were later included in his album of DW spin-off related music, Myths and Other Legends, as "Terror in Totter's Lane" (the appearance and destruction of a Dalek in the junkyard) and "The Headmaster" (the Doctor and Ace first meet Coal Hill School's Headmaster and observe that he's being mind-controlled); they can be heard in context, slightly crushed to fit the scenes as finally shot, as an extra on the DVD release of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
Ayres provides a massive 70 minutes of music for Greatest Show - his score for The Curse of Fenric is similarly large, while even the score for the three-part Ghost Light tops 50 minutes.  Whereas Dominic Glynn likes to build a score around a few strong repeated themes and a selection of story-specific sounds, and Keff McCulloch generally uses a small palette of favourite sounds to react in the moment to whatever's happening on screen, Ayres uses signature character sounds and occasional motifs in a very deliberate and information-heavy way to retell the story through his music - this is true of all his DW scores, but particularly of this one.  In keeping with the circus theme of the story, the soundtrack is peppered with beats on the big bass drum, cymbal swells and crashes, snare drum rolls (for example, when Nord does his weightlifting act), and plenty of calliope music in the background.

Musical notes
  • Signature sounds for everyone!  In addition to the frequent use of high synths and tinging bells for exterior scenes on the planet Segonax, we have the following:
    • a snarling electric guitar for Nord, Vandal of the Roads
    • a pipe organ for the Chief Clown's hearse
    • dramatic stabbing sounds for the footsteps of the robotic Bus Conductor
    • pompous horns for the boorish explorer Captain Cook
    • a hissing, gasping sound (actually an electronically distorted sample of Ayres' own voice) for Mags, intended to hint at her later unmasking as a werewolf
    • a collection of percussive knocks, snaps and ratchets for the troupe of anonymous robot clowns
    • a lazy, spaced-out guitar for the burnt-out Deadbeat
    • a somewhat higher guitar and tinging bells for Bellboy
    Rather than providing specific themes for the characters, Ayres uses these sounds as the basis for a score that varies in response to whoever's on screen in a given scene.  The character sounds can even be heard arguing with each other at certain points in the story - for instance, when Captain Cook deflects the murderous approach of the Bus Conductor in Part One, or when Deadbeat baits a caged Nord in Part Two.
  • One cue that is repeated is the love theme for Bellboy and Flowerchild, heard in their scene together Part One and again in Part Three when Bellboy reminisces to Ace.  It's a heartstring-tugger in a sad guitar and flute, and worth the repeating - DW (pre-2005, at least) doesn't often present composers with the opportunity for love themes, and Ayres rises to the occasion.
  • The dark powers behind the Psychic Circus have their own set of signature sounds: two beats on the bass drum in any cue announce that something sinister is about to happen; there's a downward hollow sound for scenes of the eye at the bottom of the ancient well behind the big top; and echoing, grinding footsteps in the later episodes signal the acceleration of events and the increase of the Gods' power.  When the Gods are revealed, Ayres accompanies the shots of their glowing eyes with a sustained high ringing sound.
  • There are a couple of "oo-wee-oo" moments in this score.  Ayres gets the first one in early, as we cross to a scene in the TARDIS after the Ringmaster's opening rap in Part One.  The second one, heard later in Part One when the Doctor and Ace approach the Stallslady on their way to the circus, carries a small extra riff on the bassline rhythm with it.  It's a pretty oblique reference, but Ayres recalls at this point on the DVD commentary that he was told not to do it again, because the production office would have to pay for any extensive extra use of Ron Grainer's theme melody.  This seems to confirm the scuttlebutt about Keff McCulloch's heavy riffing on the theme in Season 24, but doesn't explain why even McCulloch's most tentative post-reprimand theme reference, in Silver Nemesis, is longer than the almost-reference here.
  • I can't not mention the series of cues covering the end of Part Three and the start of Part Four, during which the Doctor fends off a werewolf attack in the circus ring and the robot Bus Conductor attempts to kill Ace.  (These cues were stitched into a single continuous piece on the 1992 soundtrack CD release, and I still think of them as parts of a single unit.)  The werewolf cues are driven by a rhythm section of bass synth and snapping percussion with a panicky high synth keeping pace, overlaid with the expected bass drum pairs and werewolf hisses.  The beat lapses into half speed and back again to follow the action in a most pleasing way.  The main Bus Conductor cue, meanwhile, features an extremely cheeky "ding! ding!" motif that I'm rather fond of.
  • Following the prevailing trend for providing background muzak in addition to the incidental music, Ayres rustles up three circus tunes for use in the ring, in the vestibule of the big top and in exterior scenes just outside the vestibule.  Two of these are executed in calliope and snare drum, and are easily recognised as distortions of popular circus tunes.  The tune heard in the ring in Part One is clearly based on an inversion of the melody of "Entry of the Gladiators" by Julius Fučík - it can also be heard in Part Four, very faintly and played backwards, when the Doctor walks across the dimensions to the ancient circus and in subsequent scenes in the vestibule.  A spoof of "The Liberty Bell" by John Philip Sousa is playing in the background of scenes in the vestibule in Part Two.  The third tune, heard on the junkbot's promotional video in Part One and in the ring when characters are led out to be sacrificed in Parts Three and Four, is a bit of a mystery - it sounds rather like the raucous "trombone smear" pieces made popular by the famous circus march composer Henry Fillmore, but your humble blogger can't nail down the specific inspiration for Ayres' tune.  Answers on a spinning plate.
  • There's one bit of diegetic music in Part Four not included in Ayres' score, and that's a stock recording of Ethelbert Nevin's "Narcissus" in the scene of the Doctor performing conjuring tricks.  The DVD production subtitles reveal that the use of this tune was specified in the script.  "Narcissus" is a light piano piece once popular with comedians, stage magicians and other light entertainers.
  • During the troubled making of Greatest Show, members of the cast kept their spirits up by recording a song about the story.  "The Psychic Circus" was produced by Ayres, featured vocals from Christopher Guard and Jessica Martin, and included a middle section in which TP McKenna does what can only be described as "the Vincent Price bit".  It was offered to BBC Records, but - possibly not wanting to detract from the release of The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album, or else put off by poor sales of that album, depending on exactly when the approach was made - they declined.  The song can be found among the extras on the DVD.

Vox pop
Having character sounds pop up every time the relevant characters do seems like a somewhat over-literal approach to incidental composition, but somehow it works.  This is a fantastically rich score, extremely listenable on its own and the perfect complement to the TV episodes.  It's easily my favourite of Mark Ayres' three DW scores, and one of my overall favourites.

  • The BBC DVD release includes the full isolated score as an audio option.
  • A soundtrack CD for this story was released by Silva Screen Records in 1992.  For the CD release, Ayres stripped out the background "circus muzak" from the main cues, and presented complete versions of the three muzak tunes as separate tracks.

Friday, 15 November 2013

45 - Silver Nemesis

Composer: Keff McCulloch

In which the Doctor and Ace try to take in a jazz session, but are distracted by a lot of fascists, old-timers and metalheads (man).

pa-paa, pa pa-paa, pa-paa, pa pa-paa

What's the score?
Keff McCulloch dishes up a somewhat similar score for the Cybermen to the one he provided for the Daleks earlier this season.  (In his defence, the stories are pretty similar too, and I'm tempted to follow up my comments about Malcolm Clarke's Davison-era scores and the interchangeability of the two DW monsters.)  Once again the score is characterised by the heavy use of percussion with horns for the villains, which in this case means both the Cybermen and Herr de Flores' neo-Nazis; the synth choir makes a modest reappearance in some villain scenes and a raucous comeback in the scene of the Nemesis statue awakening in Part Three.  McCulloch does introduce some new sounds as well - most notable are the weird distorted synth chords and rattling noises heard in the scene in Part Three in which Ace talks to the Nemesis statue.

Musical notes
  • The directors of the 1960s Cyberman stories used the take-no-prisoners brass library tune "Space Adventure" by Martin Slavin; Carey Blyton used a touch of funereal organ music in the 1970s; Malcolm Clarke set the standard for the 1980s stories by layering the sound of a metal girder being beaten over a growling synth march.  How does Keff McCulloch introduce the Cybermen in Silver Nemesis?  With a tinkly march that makes the metal monsters sound like clockwork soldiers.  This debuts in the lead-in to the Part One cliffhanger, but isn't reprised in Part Two as an entirely different cue (one with plenty of synth choir) is substituted as a lead-in to the story's big gunfight; however, there are hints of it in several later cues.
  • The other contender for McCulloch's defining Cyber-cue is the blaring two note, three note sequence introduced in Part Two in the scenes of the Cybermen relocating their spaceship.  The two-three rhythm recurs in some later Cyberman cues in the story, but overall these are outnumbered by cues that use the clockwork motif.
  • Lady Peinforte and Richard, the time travellers from the Caroline era, are represented throughout by the harpsichord.  McCulloch provides a "ticking clock" rhythm for the scene in Part One in which they travel from 1638 to the present day in Part One; actually, this isn't far removed from the Cybermen's clockwork motif - is McCulloch trying to suggest a connection?  We get a couple of very lovely harpsichord cues later in Part One when the Doctor and Ace nip back in time to nose around Lady Peinforte's home - the second of these adds a pleasant oboe melody that seems, strangely, to include a small quote from the main theme from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake"
  • McCulloch indulges in a couple of small theme-referencing moments in this story.  The first comes in Part Two when the Doctor and Ace find the two skinheads who were earlier tied up in a field by Richard; he asks "Who did this to you?", they reply "Social workers!", and McCulloch slips out an "oo-wee-oo" over the Doctor's bemused expression.  A more substantial bassline quote with two "oo-wee-oos" can be found near the end of Part Two as the Doctor observes a small tree lizard crawling out from under a leaf and deduces that the Cybermen's space fleet must be hidden from view; the ponderous tempo of the cue reflects the Doctor's laborious thought processes in this scene.
  • As jazz not only features in but plays a part in this story - a recording of a jam session being used to jam the Cybermen's communications - McCulloch, with his known love of Latin jazz, would seem an obvious choice of composer.  And yet there isn't much evidence of jazz influences in his score - all the actual jazz heard in the story was provided by special guest Courtney Pine and his band, either in front of the camera in Part One or on tape later in the story.  (Contrary to the blurb on the back of the DVD, you will not be able to hear "the jazz styling that flummoxed the Cybermen" while listening to the isolated score.)  There is, however, more than a hint in a rejected cue from Part Two, which would have seen Lady Peinforte and Richard strolling down a street in Windsor to an absurdly cheery daytime TV-esque air on synth flute; this was replaced with a more earnest, conventional piece, but the rejected cue can be heard on the photo gallery for this story's DVD release.
  • It was during this story that Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred filmed the links for a two-minute trailer for Season 25, for which McCulloch composed a new piece of music.  It's of interest to this blog, as the trailer music was included in The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album, under the cryptic track title of "8891 Royale".  It wouldn't do much good to describe this piece in detail - it's a patchwork of wildly disparate elements, which I suppose reflects the nature of the trailer, although it's worth just mentioning the unexpected burst of upright piano in the middle - but the overall effect is of being attacked by a hyperactive child with a mallet.

Vox pop
As I've suggested, there isn't much to choose between this season's two Keff McCulloch scores.  This one's probably the better of them - the action scenes aren't much different from those in Remembrance of the Daleks with their heavy percussion under synth strings and horns, but the score for Silver Nemesis distinguishes itself in other areas, notably with the harpsichord and oboe cues mentioned above and with the weird shrieking sounds used in some scenes of the active Nemesis statue.  It's less even than the Remembrance score, but more interesting because of that.

  • The BBC DVD release includes the full isolated score as an audio option.