25 May 2015

LIVE: Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

Review and Photos by Tom Newsom

The official concert based on one of the UK’s biggest TV shows has finally come to, er, the UK. After a couple of tours of Australasia, it’s now moved further afield - starting in London and then travelling to Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow, cleverly timed for the May Bank Holiday and half term. And it’s a sell-out hit.

I was lucky enough to attend the show at Wembley on Sunday the 24th - which of course was packed with people. I’d watched the various proms from the past ten years before on the telly, but this was my first time hearing an orchestra play them live - in this case, the same BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales that they use on the show (‘the house band’ as host Peter Davison calls them).

Did it go down a storm? Of course it did. A live playing gives the music so much extra energy and emotion, even in a massive arena. And I realised just how much emotion was contained in the music all over again: once it’s stripped from the words if not the visuals, the themes of the episodes and characters are majestic. It’s almost like seeing what’s in the writers’ heads before act structures and appreciation indexes, that raw Doctor Who feeling in all of us.

The set-list seemed very well chosen and skewed quite heavily towards the newest series - performed in these shows for the first time live, and released on CD a week earlier. I hadn’t heard the CD before the show, which meant that I was listening to a lot of the music for the first time away from the episodes. But what a series to go out on - lots of visual episodes, and music from nearly all of them were played. Plus this is the first concert since Peter Capaldi joined - and incredibly, he happened to be in the audience, watching himself and listening to the orchestra play his theme!

When you compare the new music to some of the older, more simpler themes (although the set-list doesn’t stretch back too many years), it’s like Murray Gold is writing the music now with this big, BIG broad sound in mind from the start. Because it’s the big orchestral numbers that are the stars here, especially the opening, which immediately gets the pulse racing.

If anything, it’s designed to be fun - lively talk between the pieces from the excellent host, nothing in the show that’s especially off-putting for children or first-timers (although monsters like the Foretold walking around can give you a fright!), and a whole lot of variety encapsulating light and dark, older and newer, traditional and a bit funky. And there’s slightly smaller but no less powerful pieces like those sung by soloist Elin Manahan Thomas. (Who knew that Missy’s theme had such beautiful words?)

And because of all this, it means it feels like it’s over far, far too quickly!

The Symphonic Spectacular, then, is aptly named. If you’re visiting in future, expect a big, incredible hit of Doctor Who music that will make you feel like a child again. It’s a pretty awesome event.

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