Symphonic Spectacular 2015 Review (Part 2)
Guest contributor Sam Glover reviews this year’s Doctor Who concert held in Cardiff.
“All the Strange, Strange Creatures”
And the second half kicks off with a TARDIS-load of monsters and a true fan favourite. We all know this one, and it’s a beauty. I suspect many could hum it with little prompting (just in case: DUN dun dun DA-DA DUN dun dun DA-DA DUN dun dun DA-DA-DA-DA-DA, DA-DA-DA repeat). The strings and brass sections get to join together while a thudding drum beat propels the orchestra onward. And the kids (and totally not adults) get to squeal as Cybermen, Judoon, Vampires, Vigils, Akhaten Mummies, Ood and a plethora of Doctor Who creatures march around them. They’ve really got the marching style down too; the resemblance to the Cybermen from Series 7 & 8 in particular is amazing.
“The Impossible Girl”
Unlike earlier companions, Clara gets her own theme played out in full. Giving the flutes a well-earned moment to shine the theme softly trills over a featherweight string backing, “The Impossible Girl” is the absolute embodiment of Clara herself; gentle, funny and joyous. She definitely gives as good as she gets in Doctor Who but strip away the battling “control freak” side of personality and we reach the core of Clara’s character: she cares. And so does the music.
“Mummy on the Orient Express” medley
“Start the clock!” One of the best surprises of Series 8 was Jamie Mathieson’s debut featuring a certain Egyptian legend, and all of the most memorable aspects of the episode are vividly brought to life in an arena in Cardiff. The introduction of the monster as he advances on an elderly lady is backed by panicking string sections that fade into dissonant silence before the brass section marches through, all activity and menace, before giving way to a swaying, dreamy string sequence. This blends into a slow reprise of Clara’s dainty theme but this holds off the monster only so long before its theme collides with “A Good Man”… oh, and the actual mummy is wandering the arena by this point. To my complete astonishment it really did go and “touch” someone in the audience at the 66 seconds mark. From a distance it was unnerving enough; I dread to think what it was like up close.
The first minute of the Pandorica Suite takes its time to settle on anything thematic, flurries of snare drum-backed offbeat marching pushing the strings on before they eventually slow, visuals of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and River investigating underneath Stonehenge onscreen. There is a lovely, hesitant build up before the brass comes into play before it once again falls into slightly disarray. In a brilliant way, of course. The woodwinds raise their heads above the orchestral pit with the arrival of Rory until we eventually build into Series 5 highlight “I Am The Doctor”. It was one of the most triumphant moments of the concert and the drop out to music from “The Big Bang” didn’t quite sit rightly with me. All is well once more though when The Last Centurion segment is given a run out before “I Am The Doctor” emerges once more as The Doctor hurtles the Pandorica into an exploding TARDIS. A mostly thrilling ten minute piece then, once more accompanied by monsters.
“Abigail’s Song (Silence Is All You Know)”
But who needs monsters when you’ve got the beautiful Elin Manahan Thomas singing the majestic ending from 2010’s “A Christmas Carol”? There are not enough superlatives for this piece of music, and to say the orchestra and vocalist do it justice is pretty much the highest compliment I can pay it. I was absolutely not holding back the tears.
“This Is Gallifrey”
Beginning with glimpses of John Hurt’s War Doctor and backed throughout by images from “The Day of The Doctor”, “This Is Gallifrey” is a drum-led piece that I’m rather fond of. That said, it didn’t seem to sit right at this stage of the concert. I love the piece and it’ll always make me think of The Master being cremated in “Last of the Time Lords” (even though it’s been used much more!) but following the epic “Pandorica Suite” and rousing “Abigail’s Song” it felt a wee bit anticlimactic. Of course, not all pieces can be epic, and nor should they be, but nonetheless it didn’t quite sit right for me. That’s a really minor quibble though!
“Death in Heaven” Suite
Like the “Last Christmas Suite” earlier this was not one I was expecting but, with hindsight, should’ve known was coming. Music from the finale to Series 8 catapults through all emotions: joy and sorrow, calm and rage, war and peace, good and evil. It’s another section just to sit back and soak up. Starting with very, very slow strings backing Manahan Thomas’ vocals, the melody floats down to the woodwinds as Danny Pink walks through a colourful park, Clara looking at post-it notes and it’s oh so much harder than watching it on television. The violins are grieving before building to a crescendo as Clara eventually arrives at the crash site with choir and timpani joining the fray.
Then, once again, the melody drops to the reedy woodwinds, this time accompanied by the choir. The choristers do themselves wonders as Clara threatens to throw keys into the volcano, before it gets manic and sinister as we arrive at the 3W Institute. The 12th Doctor’s theme is twisted and tainted and suppressed behind a creeping, foreboding brass rising… And then Missy’s bonkers music kicks in. It’s as batty as Donna’s but infinitely more sinister before finally being replaced by the brass-backed Cyber-music as the 12th Doctor begins to realise how much trouble he’s in.
The music was so captivating that it took me quite some time to notice the ACTUAL Cybermen patrolling the arena. I clearly wasn’t the only one who’d missed them; perhaps the funniest moment of the evening was seeing a Cyberman sneak – yes SNEAK – up on an unsuspecting woman in the front row and scaring the willies out of here. I was in stitches. And finally the music crawls out of the darkness with the 12th Doctor’s dive into his TARDIS and Danny’s rousing speech to the dead, before culminating with the entire orchestra (sonically) rising to watch the beloved Brigadier save the day. Over ten minutes of glorious music.
ENCORE (a curious notion given that only conductor Ben Foster and Elin Manahan Thomas actually leave the stage, and no one’s fooled as a certain theme was yet to be played…)
But first we get “Vale Decem”, and I can’t really hide the tears any more. It’s my favourite bit of Doctor Who music (yes, including the theme itself) and I know it’s popularity is a bit of a cliché by now but it’s raved about for a reason: it’s stunning from start to finish. It’s haunting, it’s powerful, it’s beautiful, it’s evocative: it’s all things great music should be. Backed by slow motion pictures of each Doctor – loudest cheers to Smith, Tennant, Baker 1 and host Davison – at their moments of regenerations is devastating. Heck, I’ve just watched it on YouTube and I’m in tears again. And I loved every minute of it.
The only question for this was: which version? Well, it was the one from the 50th Anniversary. All the monsters return, Ben Foster is now wearing the 5th Doctor’s coat, and it gets one of the biggest standing ovations I’ve ever heard. It’s ridiculous but totally, completely earned. The orchestra take in every second, Davison, Foster and Manahan Thomas take their bows, and it’s eventually over.
As is to be expected by anyone who’s watched the proms the production values are excellent. The lights and sound quality are wonderful and the accompanying video footage has been very well chosen. The use of actual speech sporadically through the show (such as Capaldi’s “Flatline” speech) is even better given the sheer wealth of available material. Cheesy as it was, I also loved the banter between Davison and conductor Ben Foster. Foster talking about having acting lessons from Colin Baker is one highlight but my favourite bit was when Davison pointed out the ages of the forthcoming line up for the following weeks in Cardiff versus that of London and Wembley. “It’s like there’s a time rift running through Cardiff…” Very meta, and very well played.
All in all then; it was a wonderful experience for grown up and child alike. Even if you’ve seen the proms on TV and know what it’s all about, it pales into comparison to the live experience as much as watching a blockbuster on an old phone compares to a cinema. It’s brilliant in every respect, worth every penny and recommended for all.
Plus I listened to “The Chimes of Midnight” on the way home. What a day!