Music, Magic & Monsters…

BBC Proms: The Doctor Who Prom – Sunday July 27th at The Royal Albert Hall

All manner of strange strange creatures descended on the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday, and that was just the audience. I count myself in that, as I dizzily took my seat for the BBC’s Doctor Who Prom, the thirteenth ‘promenade’ concert in this year’s series of music events at the famed London venue. My schoolboy grin was reflected in many of the faces around me, and on the multiple video screens around the hall as the television camera swooped in on a few particularly excited individuals clutching and waving homemade paraphernalia. One audience member simply waved a much sought after ticket at the camera and the audience erupted… this, it seemed, was not to be your average visit to the Proms.

Having had the great honour of writing the programme notes for this concert I knew what to expect musically from the two hours ahead of me, but what followed surprised and delighted me and the few thousand people who had shown up on one of the hottest days of the year to celebrate all things Who. This event was so much more than a music concert and while Murray Gold’s thrilling themes and suites dazzled on stage, it was apparent from the very beginning that this would be a very theatrical experience and one we wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir had to have their wits about them as conductor Ben Foster (the show’s regular orchestrator and conductor) led them through some of the last four year’s most exciting music. Of course they performed it fantastically well, but it was a small shame that the BBC National Orchestra of Wales hadn’t been invited to perform. This is their music after all and their presence would have completed the ‘family’.

With the iconic TARDIS glowing centre stage behind the performers this was a fan’s dream, and it didn’t stop at the blue box. The energetic piece ‘All the Strange Strange Creatures’ paved the way for just that as fully costumed and made-up monsters from the series marched down the aisles. We were invaded by the Rhinocerous-like Judoon, who took great delight in scanning/marking small children as they passed, while a small legion of Cybermen made their way into the pit and, living up to their scary onscreen image, incited shrieks from the children, who clamoured for the safe clutches of their parents. Doctor Who had been brought to life before our eyes.

Our main host for the show was Freema Agyeman , better known as Martha Jones in the series. She took the daunting task in her stride, appearing at various places in the hall to present her pieces to camera – and to us. Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri (aka Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler) also took to the stage to introduce a section of the concert; each received an excited reception from their fans, who could barely contain their excitement at seeing the stars of this amazingly popular series. The biggest reaction though came at the surprise appearance of Catherine Tate, who introduced the music for her own character Donna Noble. It was a lovely surprise for fans as Tate has become such a popular figure in the Who universe.

Musically there were highlights aplenty – what am I talking about, it was one big highlight – as Foster energetically wielded the baton for epic, infectious and at times moving music. ‘The Doctor Forever’, with its swashbuckling latter section, the beguiling simplicity of ‘Rose’ and the epic storytelling of ‘Martha Vs The Master’, not to mention the rambunctious theme for Donna and the sweet romantic sweep of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and ‘Astrid’. It was of course The Daleks who made a weighty impact as we were caught up in yet another invasion. Rolling onto the stage, and chasing our conductor, a lone Dalek informed us that they had travelled back in time and kidnapped the founder of the proms, Henry Wood, and that we were all to co-operate or be ‘exterrrrminated’. If that wasn’t enough to give us the willies, then the appearance of Davros himself (played by Julian Bleach) rising from beneath the pit certainly did. He rotated to address us and told us, in his gravely tones, that the Albert Hall was now to be his palace and we would all remain as his ‘obedient servants’. It was a fun touch, which served to introduce what Davros himself described as ‘music of destruction’. With that we were treated to ‘The Daleks and Davros’, a lengthy suite that took in music from all four series, including the mighty invasion march from the Series 4 finale. Orchestra and Choir raised the roof as Davros surveyed them, and us, before descending once again.

Further notable moments came, as a specially filmed new scene was premiered for us. David Tennant starred of course and, with the aid of a window-like time portal in the TARDIS wall, discovered us in the Albert Hall. It was a cleverly interactive piece of work and The Doctor went onto ‘throw’ through the portal some pages of music for the orchestra to play. The pages came fluttering from the back of the stage and the ensemble performed The Doctor’s composition. It was a wonderfully unearthly sound, which the composer seemed rather pleased with – even if it did sound like a series of cats being strangled. A fun moment for fans once again…

‘Doomsday’ formed the musical basis of a key emotional moment at the end of Series 2 and performed live it truly raised the hairs on the back of your neck. Murray Gold performed the piano parts himself and the piece’s original vocalist Melanie Pappenheim recreated her beautiful, ethereal performance. It was a stunning moment, which was followed by another in the shape of ‘The Doctor’s Theme/Song of Freedom’. The fully orchestral and choral version of our hero’s theme was scintillating, with the latter ‘song’ a rousing celebration from the Series 4 finale.

A small selection of classical pieces were scattered throughout the programme, conducted by Stephen Bell. The pieces, ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, ‘Jupiter’, ‘Ride of the Valkeries’ and ‘Montagues and Capulets’, were well chosen and fit the space, gods and monsters theme of the day, as did the UK premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage’s ‘The Torino Scale’ – the second movement of his piece ‘Asteroid’.

The immortal ‘Doctor Who Theme’ closed the show, a rousing live performance which the orchestra performed alongside the familiar, and indeed legendary, whooshes and effects created by Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This followed ‘Song for Ten’, a high spirited song written for the first Christmas special in 2005, though the performance here by its original singer Tim Philips left a lot to be desired sadly. While it was a nice touch to feature the original vocalist, we’ve been spoiled by the more exuberant and joyful performances of Neil Hannon (on the album) and Gary Williams (at the Doctor Who Children in Need concert)…

So that was that and after a long standing ovation and a brief reprise of ‘Song of Freedom’ we had to depart the world of The Doctor, his TARDIS and all those strange strange creatures we know and love (and are still a bit scared of). Thankfully the sun was still shining and everyone left with springs in their steps, smiles fixed on their faces and a lifetime of memories made through music, monsters and magic.


Originally published at Music from the, July 2008.