An Adventure in Space and Time Soundtrack Review
David Selby reviews the soundtrack release for the Doctor Who docudrama.
In preparation for this review, I had the pleasure of re-watching An Adventure in Space and Time a couple of weeks back. As an emotional, often hilarious depiction of the team of wonderful and unlikely people who started Doctor Who, it remains my favourite BBC movie of all time – and thus entirely warrants a score to fit that demanding bill.
An Adventure in Space and Time was scored by Edmund Butt (The Dark, In the Flesh and Life on Mars among other film and television credits). Butt had not just his own high track-record to compete with, but the diversity and ingenuity of Doctor Who’s Murray Gold. Within the space of an hour and a half, he most definitely succeeded.
Because if there’s one thing Adventure’s score demonstrates perfectly, its sheer variety. The twenty-five-track album moves from the dark, atmospheric vibrations of The Daleks to the twinkling madness of Piss & Vinegar and from the cheerful excitement of The Fans to the utterly heart-breaking melancholic qualities in I’m so sorry, Bill. Others – such as Kill Dr. Who – are reminiscent of blockbuster tragedy scores. Butt creates a mood for every situation; he instils ambiance where it’s needed and pumps adrenalin where silence would be flat.
There are recurring motifs, imaginatively embedded within the ‘story’ of the soundtrack which takes us through Hartnell’s narrative. You’ll also recognise the warming Scarlett O’hara from several points during the docu-drama. Tracks which are more ambitiously-titled – those which set themselves a simple but demanding premise, such as The TARDIS and Goodbye Susan – entirely live up to their foundations.
The atmosphere alone makes the soundtrack worthy of purchase; it’s continuously haunting and magical with an almost unearthly range of dynamics and harmony. Whilst you could in places accuse the soundtrack of repetition, at only £7.99, it’s hardly fair to criticise it for being overpriced.
Here is a selection of my favourite tracks from the album:
The First Woman Producer/I’ve Got an Idea?
These two tracks are easy to associate with each other, for they’re both as eventful and upbeat as the BBC itself. Part of their charm is that you’re not quite sure which instrument will come in next. Divinely-layered, they’re a joy to the ears.
This Is My show
My personal favourite track from the album, This is My Show is recommended with the aid of tissues. It has an exquisite awareness of timbre; the instruments and how they interact with each other give off a haunting ‘feel’ and as the tune kicks in – backed by warping sounds not unlike A River of Tears – it’s a heartrending composition. You’ll want to re-listen as soon as it’s finished, even if it does pull vehemently at the heartstrings.
There’s something very Sherlock-y about JFK Assassinated, with the notes that could be either vocals or strings; the heavy, booming undertones and the sliding, sweeping percussion. Drum beats rumble as the tension racks up and it’s quite clear that Edmund Butt had an absolute ball experimenting with an ambience he hadn’t got his hands on before. It’s followed by The TARDIS which is completely different in tone but equally listenable and inimitable.
A soft, evocative combination of strings lead into a string and brass section to orchestra Hartnell’s profound goodbye to co-star Carole Ann Ford. He doesn’t like farewells.
I’m so Sorry, Bill
A re-working of Hartnell’s theme introduced in track two, The Right Man, I’m so Sorry Bill depicts the poignant real-life dénouement of the first Doctor as he is finally ousted from the role which ultimately defined him. It begins with the familiar sweet low-key arrangement we’ve heard before but tones down midway to allow room for some graceful piano notes to be played over a vibrating undertone. The end result is of something genuinely moving, granting the listener the chance to step inside Hartnell’s shoes as he prepares to say a final farewell to the Doctor.
Kiss Goodbye is one of the shorter tracks and for that reason I fear it will be overlooked. It feels more violin/cello—based making it somewhat more distinct from the other tracks. It’s a short, simple but extraordinarily beautiful melody.
ISOP Galaxy is a simpler, darker variation of Hartnell’s theme which accompanied the early stages of his illness in the night. It’s something very different from what I’m used to hearing but overall it was a hugely successful experiment.
The New Doctor
Arguably the highlight of the album, The New Doctor is the longest and perhaps most memorable track of the selection. The angel-like vocals kick in and the strings increase in power for a heart-stopping climax which transitions into some woodwind, building up gradually until where the credits would be. Rather than just concluding with the opening title music, Butt is more ambitious and chooses to finish on a high – but I’ll let you purchase the soundtrack to see exactly what that entails.
The opening title music with a small – but, nonetheless, valued – addition of some haunting keys and what I’d presume to be pads of some kind at the beginning. The titles are inventive with their use of percussion; and indeed it’s Butt’s unconventional use of percussion that gives his tracks such originality.
There’s no doubt about my conclusion: this is a must-buy album. It’s taking a ridiculously long time for a Day/Time release, but this will do more than tide the time over while we wait. Edmund Butt brings something brand new to Doctor Who, but it makes you realise that it would have been a catastrophe had he never had the chance to score An Adventure in Space and Time because no one else could have done the job so wonderfully.