REVIEW: Doctor Who at the Proms 2013

Music by Murray Gold, et al

Conducted by Ben Foster

All pictures courtesy of Chris Christodoulou, BBC
(Click on them for bigger versions)

Review by Cameron K McEwan

The Royal Albert Hall came a calling again for Doctor Who's wonderful music, but this being the 50th Anniversary for the world's greatest telly show, it was an even more spectacular and emotional event than in previous years.

Before I get to the most important part of the evening, the music, there were a number of very special guests throughout the concert. Early on we were treated to the lovely surprise of Matt Smith and Jenna-Coleman popping by, via a most amusing pre-filmed sketch, where Matt's new "hairstyle" was explained (I shan't say, spoilers!). They returned a few more times during the show, in character, and added much humour to the proceedings, especially from Smith who was, as always, on top form as The Eleventh Doctor.

But he wasn't the only Time Lord on display at the Royal Albert Hall - stand up Peter "The Guv'nor" Davison (pictured right). Petey D came on to introduce the "classic" section of the concert (which I'll come to later) in his usual self-deprecating style. Lovely touch to have the best Doctor Who ever there but even lovelier to have another Gallifreyan present - Carole Ann Ford. Looking youthful and graceful as ever, it was a delight to have the First first Doctor's era represented by his "granddaughter", Susan.

But, best of all, were the presenting duties performed by Madame Vastra and her little buddy Strax - dutifully played by the lovely Neve McIntosh and hilarious Dan Starkey. As two of the most loved recurring characters in recent years (possibly ever), the pair really established themselves as firm favourites with impeccable performances as two-thirds of Team Vastra. If I may digress, a spin-off show for these guys is a must as the audience clearly adored their presence on the evening. Special marks too for surviving so well under the heat of the Royal Albert Hall with the costumes they wore - it cannot have been easy in the stifling conditions.

They weren't the only ones, however, dressed in costume - The RAH (as everyone should call it) saw the likes of Skaldak the Ice Warrior, some Ood, Cybermen, vampires, Judoon, Whispermen, a Silent and numerous Daleks (with Nicholas Briggs providing the voices). When you hear kids scream (I'm assuming they were kids) at the sight of these things in real life, then you know there's something good going on - Doctor Who still scares!

And so to the set-list, if one can refer to it as that [I think "running order" would be more appropriate - Ed.], it started off almost low-key with The Mad Man with a Box but then rustled the rafters with the rousing I Am The Doctor - to which the monsters began to invade the stage and audience in the most pleasing of fashions. And it wasn't too long before my eyes began to do something odd when a medley of companion themes were played.

Kicking it off were the piano sounds from Rose's theme, accompanied by her image on the screens throughout the beautiful building. The "awwww" that came from the audience almost drowned out the orchestra and their sounds; the feeling in the room was palpable. Such an amazing character, so well-written and crafted, and so well-loved, still. And the nostalgia didn't end there. Up next was Martha, whose appearance was just as appreciated by the five thousand strong crowd. But it was Donna Noble's theme that evoked huge cheers and massive "yays" with its blusterous and banging melody.

For me, this was the highlight of the concert. It was a reminder of a time when I absolutely loved Doctor Who without contestation; a reminder of when I truly adored the show and was unable to pick flaws in story, character or presentation and could sit down each week knowing I was going to see something remarkable, engaging and fun. A genuinely heart-breaking moment for me and, I imagine, a few others. It's been a while since I've shed a tear to music. Anyway, moving on.


In the first half we also got treated to some Series 7 sounds from Nightmare In Silver and The Bells of Saint John, the latter of which scrubbed up very well with its dramatic bass tones, and also the incredibly moving sounds from The Angels Take Manhattan and The Rings of Akhaten (here, the song able to shine on its own without a clunky episode around it). More S7 episodes were represented later on with music from The Name of the Doctor (complete with a neat short video version of the story) and Asylum of the Daleks, and Clara's gorgeous theme (titled The Impossible Girl). 

The second half fired off with the glorious All the Strange, Strange Creatures, again evoking strong memories of the "past" but a stout reminder of another great, stonkingly uproarious Murray Gold composition. Certainly one of his finest and rousing themes.

The second half also saw the appearance of the aforementioned Petey D to introduce the "classic" section of the show (a word which Mr Davison took comical umbrage at). At just ten minutes, there was much to cram in, but we were treated to some cracking melodies from the real past with delightful cues from The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Sea Devils (although a bit of a push calling that one a "melody"), the amazing City of Death (fact fans note: its composer, Dudley Simpson, was in the audience) and the mournful yet triumphant synth sounds from Logopolis, amongst others. The cheers for each story were heartwarming as the audience embarked on a short and not so winding road into the past. A great way to celebrate the golden anniversary.

Before the finale, came the much-touted Song For Fifty, a Murray Gold composition which honours the fifty years of Doctor Who as television show. The final verse, according to the programme, reads: "Fumbling and bumbling while all around is crumbling and stumbling through time like you're a mad man still it's humbling to watch you reconcile divergent creeds without succumbing to the lure of weapons, force or greed you only use intelligence and jokes and charm." A wonderful sentiment eloquently portrayed in an epic eleven minute opera featuring the London Philharmonic Choir beautifully. Sadly, there was no accompanying video montage of the show's Whostory with this tune, which would have been greatly appreciated.

The finale consisted of, as one would expect (nay demand!), the Doctor Who theme tune but it was prefaced with the tear-inducing, heart-wrenching Vale Decem which, again, saw the talents of the fabulous choir employed. Aside from the massively affecting melody and moving sounds, the accompanying video was incredibly well-produced - featuring the numerous regenerations intercut with one another. The magic of the Time Lord's special gift has never been so effervescent.

If I had a criticism of the show, which lasted a very satisfying and VFM two hours, it would be that there was a little too much attention paid to the most recent series. I would have absolutely loved to have heard tracks like Doomsday, Madame de Pompadour, The Dream of a Normal Death or my personal favourite, A Dazzling End. But a small, and my own rather selfish, point.

As a celebration of Doctor Who and its music, the Proms served up a joyous occasion which may have contained a few tears for the more emotional of us in the audience, but kept a huge smile on everyone's faces for the duration of the evening. Murray Gold's music, told through the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the London Philharmonic Choir via conductor Ben Foster, is a sublime experience. As a celebration of life, and what it means to be alive and enjoy things like music and television shows and monsters and characters, the Doctor Who Prom served up the perfect platter of joie de vivre, positivity and life~affirming goodness; an event that will never be forgotten.

Thanks to BBC Proms & BBC Performing Groups

All pictures courtesy of Chris Christodoulou (BBC)

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