Songs in the Key to Time

For the last few days I’ve been in the company of Murray Gold’s latest Doctor Who soundtrack, a dual-CD affair covering the debut of Smith and Gillen, all the way up to “The Big Bang”. I’m no stranger to Murray’s audio work, having lapped up every DW CD since the series returned in 2005 (and nibbled Ben Foster’s Torchwood offerings for dessert, too), and I’ve spent the last few days soaking in the latest wanderings of the TARDIS. At work, at home, driving, writing, designing – the CD set has been a companion of my very own, so I thought I’d jot down a few of my musings here.

This, like the recent Tennant Specials soundtrack, uses its longer total run-time to split the CDs up by episode. Previous years arranged each piece in a vague sort of chronology, but the Silva Screen twin-pack editions chop everything up into the order it aired, providing a flow between the tracks that comprise each episode.

It’s a surprisingly large change because the music – like the showrunner, the production team and the Doctor himself – has regenerated. What Murray serves up here is far more measured, filmic and invested than soundtracks of previous years, toying with ideas across several tracks before finally bringing it all together at the climax of an episode.

Leitmotifs resurface repeatedly to provoke memories of a Weeping Angel attack, or to underscore those moments where the Doctor does something particularly Doctor-ish. They’re more pronounced here than ever before – the Eleventh Doctor’s theme in particular will pop up half a dozen times across the CDs – and it makes the boxset as a whole feel like a single, unified performance spanning two discs and nearly three hours.

This is both good and bad. What works beautifully for the CD as a whole means that today’s iPod generation may well find the music less impactful – take a single track at random and it may be that the build-up is not as satisfying as previous soundtracks, where each theme was arranged in isolation. It’s an adjustment made all the more startling by the increased use of leitmotifs and the more restrained attitude this latest incarnation of Doctor Who has supplied us with.

It’s a tone that seems to echo its showrunners – the music under Russel T. Davies was bombastic, punchy and unapologetic, ricocheting between faux-Latin choruses and distortion guitar as the episodes demanded. In contrast, Moffatian music is measured, confident and intricate. I normally try to avoid directly comparing two musicians, largely because I don’t like being punched in the arm, but there’s something decidedly John Williams about the way the score tinkles and sweeps. It’s the fairytale magic Moffat promised when he took the helm of the series, and it creeps rather than blasts its way into your head. It’s also more consistent but somewhat less adventurous – Series 3 nestled the Master’s stirring theme tune up against “Abide with Me” and the scraping strings of “The Impossible Planet”; you won’t take in so many diverse musical landscapes this time around.

I’ve found this latest soundtrack to be as enjoyable as previous years, but only if I’m able to take the time to absorb it without interruption. To convince a non-believer of its charm is tricky – there’s no “Boe”, no “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” and no “Doomsday” – no bite-sized opportunities for an entire TARDIS ride in four minutes or less. The music you’ll hear is as nuanced and as lovely as ever… but you’ll need to take your time if you’re going to make the most of it.

About Taskbaarchitect

Game Designer and Writer.
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