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Doctor Who at the Proms 2013 Review

Guest contributor Patrick Durston attended last weekend’s Proms and gives his verdict.

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For its 50th year, Doctor Who brought conductor Ben Foster, the London Philharmonic Choir, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the scary monsters, and some of the big legends of the Who world back to the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London for another spectacular live event to celebrate 50 years of the great British institution played out to thousands of gleeful fans. I was lucky enough to attend the event and watch as the buzzing concert hall became a space for Murray Gold’s scores to come to life in a sublime fashion.

For the concert, Whovians were treated to a few of Gold’s musical favourites, including Vale Decem, The Mad Man in a Box, I am the Doctor, All the Strange, Strange Creatures, and a few of his mor e recent compositions, like The Final Chapter of Amelia Pond, The Rings of Akhaten, and The Impossible Girl – all of which were conducted by the Sonic Baton of Doctor Who’s own maestro, Ben Foster. Each piece was accompanied with skilfully edited clips from the series, enhancing both the visual and audio experience. A few classical pieces were also featured in the medley, including Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair. These didn’t dominate the Proms as much as Gold’s compositions did, but they gave the younger viewers some insight into how classical music can be integrated into modern television.

Fans were also transported back in time into the inner workings of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the incidental music of the classic series. The godfathers of synthesizers and electric effects for Doctor Who, Mark Ayres and Peter Howell, were there to lend Ben Foster and his orchestra a helping hand in bringing together electrical and musical instruments to work in perfect harmony with each other. This was an attempt to give fans a wider appreciation for the pioneers behind some of the most eerily atmospheric and otherworldly themes of the classic era.

Monsters were aplenty, from Silurians, to Judoon, Cybermen, Ood, Vigil, Whispermen, Daleks, ‘Sexy Fish Vampires’, an Ice Warrior and a Silent. They all invaded the Royal Albert Hall, scaring the kids to their wits and forcing the adults to cower behind their seats once again. Like the Proms before it, the monsters would march down the aisles and wander around the audience. If you were standing in the arena, you would have more than likely encountered a few of these menacing aberrations up close.

Hosting the proceedings was the Great Detective herself, Madame Vastra, and Strax the dutiful but overzealous Sontaran. Dan Starkey gave it his all to make sure he was at his most humorous. I’ve always been a bit of a critic when it comes to Strax, but I was reminded just how funny he can be when given the right lines. The audience relished in his awkwardly funny demeanour. Neve McIntosh was as ever sophisticated in her performance as the Silurian, proving that she can operate as a character both in and out of the series.

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Other guests of honour included Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, who were welcomed with rapturous applause. Similarly to Strax, Matt and Jenna’s in character performances injected a lot of humour to the proceedings. Most surprisingly of all was an appearance by Doctor Number 5 Peter Davison, who was given an almost show-stopping reception.

Carol Ann Ford also made a surprising entrance on stage, though it may have taken a while for some to realise who she was. Both Davison and Ford were there to promote the classic elements of the Prom, with Davison helping to launch the ‘Classic Doctor Who Medley’ segment, whilst Ford providing a brief insight into her time on the show. It was wonderful seeing these two legends taking part in the celebration and uniting old and new together.

The feeling of nostalgia had a huge presence in this year’s concert. Many of the themes and accompanying clips played evoked strong memories of the past. The Companion Suite in particular showed us the first four companions of the new series that a lot of us remember being introduced to; a time when we could appreciate these characters fully and love Doctor Who for what it was without picking it apart. It reminded me just why I adore the show so much and why sometimes, I shouldn’t be so cynical about it. I think other people may have felt the same too – the feeling that the present should be just as loved as the past and that the show is the same as it’s always been for 50 years. Seeing the likes of Martha and Donna took me back to when I was a younger viewer. That was the beauty of the concert.

So what were the highlights? All the Strange, Strange Creatures and The Companion Suite were two of them, but the one that blew the audience away was The Rings of Akhaten. Tenor Allan Clayton and young singer Kerry Ingram gave an incredibly moving performance to close the first half of the concert. What started as a slow and harmonious variation of the theme (minus the Doctor’s full speech) gradually built up to an explosive climax in which the orchestra burst into life. It was possibly the most powerful experience I’ve had in a long time. Watching it on television or hearing it on radio just wouldn’t have done it the same justice as seeing it live. It was breath-taking.

Murray Gold’s much anticipated Song for Fifty made its world premiere on Saturday night, but already it seems to have received a somewhat mixed reaction. At an epic duration of approximately 11 minutes and 12 seconds and with no visuals present, Song for Fifty did slightly drag. But Gold’s celebratory opera is undoubtedly a beautiful and heartfelt love letter to the fans, the Doctor, and 50 years of adventures in time and space. It may be seen as ‘cheesy’, but the lyrics are meaningful and written with clear admiration for everything that’s great about Doctor Who. The London Philharmonic choir were on hand to help tenor Allan Clayton and soprano Elin Manahan Thomas bring Gold’s lyrics to life as beautifully and as poetically as they could.

The Prom was brought to a stunning finale with Ben Foster’s orchestration of the iconic Doctor Who theme music, resulting in a standing ovation from the exhilarated audience. Finally, I’d like to close by saying that the whole event was well-organised, both by the staff at the Royal Albert Hall and all those concerned with organising the concert. Personally, I found the whole experience exhilarating, captivating, and had me on the edge of my seat in anticipation for what was to come next. And because the design of the auditorium gave you the feeling of being part of a huge family brought together in the glorious celebration of the last 50 years, you could feel the atmosphere and joy from everyone who was there. So, let’s raise a large toast to Doctor Who and long may it continue.

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