It’s four year’s since ‘The Christmas Invasion’, when David Tennant stepped out of the TARDIS for the first time clad in the Ninth Doctor’s clothes. Once he’d found his new wardrobe, gotten used to his new teeth and re-grown a hand it was non-stop action, thrills, spills, humour, pathos and brilliant turns throughout three series’ and a collection of specials. Those specials, which have provided viewers with their only Doctor Who fix this year draw to a close on New Year’s Day as the Tenth Doctor faces regeneration once again and a new chapter in The Time Lord’s many lives begins.
While his companions, friends and enemies may have changed over the years since Russell T. Davies first re-imagined the BBC’s flagship science fiction drama, one man has been there by the Time Lord’s side, composer Murray Gold. October 6th 2009 saw the final orchestral scoring session for ‘The End Of Time’ with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at their brilliant new home venue in Cardiff Bay. Just metres from the location of the Torchwood hub, the BBC NOW were working their magic as once again they recorded almost an hour of original music in just two three hour sessions. All the team were present and accounted for, Murray of course overseeing his score pages as they were recorded on the stage, Ben Foster – energetic as ever on the podium, Dave Foster – on hand as ever and a second pair of eyes and ears for Murray and of course Gerry O’Riordan, lord of the mixing desk (and a shiny new one at that). Joining us in the control room also were seasoned Doctor Who and Torchwood director Euros Lynn (responsible for ‘The End Of Time’) and later in the day the show’s new executive producer Piers Wenger. Wenger was in good spirits as the day also marked revelation of the new Doctor Who logo…
Cue after cue knocked our socks off and Nick Joy – who was on hand with a camera – and I found it hard not to fix our eyes on the screen showing the episode itself, albeit unfinished (missing key effects work). It all looked very special though, and we knew immediately that this score would be counted among Murray’s best work.
Ultimately though it felt like the closing of a chapter and there was a sadness in the air – thanks in part to a handful of achingly beautiful cues laid down by the orchestra during the evening. When David Tennant’s Doctor does pass into eternity many a tear will be shed by those fans who have come to know him as the quintessential Time Lord and those tears will likely be helped along by Murray Gold’s dazzling finale cue, which features orchestra, choir and solo counter tenor Mark Chambers (the voice of ‘Songs of Captivity and Freedom’ on the Series Four album).
It’s all change of course in 2010, with the arrival of The Eleventh Doctor – played by 27 year old actor Matt Smith – and a new series of adventures with a new companion (played by Karen Gillan) not to mention a largely new production team led by head writer Steven Moffat. One thing is for sure the music should be as good as ever with the music team remaining on board…
Throughout the month we’ve travelled back through Murray’s tenure on the show, finding him in 2006 recording ‘The Runaway Bride’, then in 2008 with Ben Foster following the success of The Doctor Who Prom and looking ahead to the 2009 Specials. Now we find the composer on the other side of those special episodes and I caught up with Murray a week after the Cardiff session as he put all the pieces together at AIR Studios in London. We spoke at length in the studio, reflecting not just on his music for the year’s specials and the two-part grand finale ‘The End Of Time’, but also the life and death of The Tenth Doctor and what it means to him.
So last time we spoke, which was just over a year ago, it was ‘The Beginning of the End’, does it feel like ‘The End’ now in some way?
Was that in the BBC canteen with me and Ben, and we started making all those jokes about Winston Churchill? I think it might now be ‘The Middle of the End’.
Okay, but Tuesday kind of felt like an underlining in a way.
Yeah, I think musically it’s definitely informed by death, you know, the idea of just before death, so it’s got all the real extremes of life in it. The spectre of death makes the living more vivid, and I think that’s true of the last two episodes. I like death as a theme in music, it’s very rich; it’s not like saying I’m going to write a suite about shoes or something, or safety pins…
It’s a definite emotional trigger…
It definitely gets the music flowing, yes.
And did you get a sense over this last year, doing ‘The Specials’, that it was literally building to just this moment? Were you always thinking about the end point?
I guess because he hasn’t had a companion in these last four episodes, it has felt like there was one emotional dimension missing and it’s certainly an emotional dimension that I’ve come to love on Doctor Who. I think it was particularly missing in ‘Planet of the Dead’ and I feel that 2 of the 4 episodes are just stand alones; the first two really are stand alones with little moments thrown in to remind you that they’re preparing for the end, and then ‘The Waters of Mars’ establishes the moral circumstances that lead to the consequence.
Did you bear that in mind musically then? Did you begin inserting ideas you might draw on later, or not?
Not so much actually. Obviously ‘Planet of the Dead’ did establish The Four Knocks and to some extent they’re repeated through the episodes, otherwise all of the material for the last two episodes is certainly specific to those episodes.
And being sort of standalone, mini features if you like, did that present a different way of working to the normal series episodes?
Well to be honest I think ‘Planet of the Dead’ probably didn’t deserve to be ‘Special’, it probably could have done with being just 42 minutes; I don’t think there was anything that was added to it to make is special. Even ‘Waters of Mars’ could have fitted into 42 minutes probably; again the final two were certainly paced – they’re stuffed, they’re bulging and it doesn’t feel like there’s any wasted space or anything that could have been done in 42 minutes, in fact it was barely possible to do those in an hour each. So they are all very different; I mean I loved ‘The Next Doctor’, other than the last two that was my favourite one.
They are each really quite different musically as well; ‘The Next Doctor’ has its festive moments, ‘Planet of the Dead’ has a bit of everything and ‘Waters of Mars’ is more of a horror score I imagine…
Yeah actually ‘The Waters of Mars’ is so dark, it’s dark visually and it’s dark spatially and it’s very dark morally because it concerns the idea of having power and getting complacent with your powers, as The Doctor does. It all stops being fun suddenly and the business of saving people ceases to be fun and starts to become a sort of demonstration of power for which he’s really punished.
When we spoke last time you said that ‘Midnight’ was one of your favourite moments of Series Four; were you able to continue that kind of trend then in ‘Waters of Mars’?
It’s awkward because ‘Midnight’ was something we could fit into our regular season budget; because of its length, because it was only 40 minutes, you can do all of these things. It had a very clear 25 minutes in which the music was very specific and very specifically orchestrated, and then there were a couple of jolly songs at the beginning to establish a false mood. What I mean is in one 3 hour recording session with 15 people we could do 20 minutes of music, and that was enough to get us through the episode. The trouble with ‘Waters of Mars’ is it’s an hour and we were still only allowed to record about 20 minutes of music, so you have to find another half an hour from somewhere!
And where is it coming from?
Basically it’s electronic; there’s a lot of sort of very spooky dark stuff and then for the end we’ve used some of the orchestra.
So in that sense is it a case of saving up the means you have to make music for the last two?
Well yeah… It’s hard to talk about budget and all that kind of thing, obviously we do it all on a budget and we get a certain amount of music we can record with live musicians, but it’s never enough to cover what’s wanted musically by the producers. So basically the specials have about 3 hours 15 (minutes) of film of which about 3 hours is covered musically, but we only have about 100 minutes with the orchestra over 4 sessions and then 25 minutes with another band, so we’re about 55 minutes short across the whole thing. And that just had to be found from somewhere, and it’s damn good what we’ve got, but it’s never quite enough. If we had the means to produce another hour of music then we’d have to pay everybody again for that hour, all of the other things would become exponentially more costly. But anyway, let’s not talk about budgets. The budget’s fine, it’s brilliant considering everything.
Okay so the finale was always going to be the biggie and just from watching those scenes just now I can see it’s bloody emotional. It must have been quite an emotional experience to sit and work on it?
Yeah, this is what I do… If I get involved with an episode to the degree where I’m thinking about it and it’s my friend and I’m upset by it, then that’s a really good sign. So when Euros played me the last two episodes it was deeply moving, especially the last one, and it was so fantastically well written that I just couldn’t wait to start working on it with that emotional bond that I had with what was going on. It’s all I ever want from an episode, I just wanna watch it and feel like ‘I wanna write music for it’. But yes it clearly was very emotional.
Did you immediately have a sense of what you would probably do for specific moments?
Yeah, basically… Well there’s a kind of through-line in the last 20 minutes, because The Doctor dies slowly – he’s more or less poisoned – he goes off saying goodbye to his friends. To be honest it was almost exactly how I’d imagined death, Russell’s version of it, having his creation kind of go and say goodbye to all of his friends in life just felt like the kind of emotional journey we all have in life. We get together with people, fall in love and have amazing friendships and then if we’re lucky we’re given the chance to go off and say goodbye to them, and they mourn us. And watching it all happen with this jolly, lovely man, and actually having Bernard Cribbins as this foil who seems to be more broken that any of the other characters about losing The Doctor, and having an older man in that role who’s so trustworthy, who’s seen so much, was really good at heightening that feeling. I’m a bit worried for everybody to be honest, I mean I just started shaking when I watched it the first time and then I bawled my eyes out. And now I’ve added music to it…
So even without music it reduced you to tears.
Well it still had some music, it had the ‘Song of Freedom’ at the end, and they had the characters’ music when you went to each character, so it was still quite touching. I don’t know, maybe I’m too close to it to have a perspective on it, but my feeling is that it will deeply effect people and they will suffer a loss.
No doubt, I mean there are people out there watching it who have been ‘involved’ with this for almost five years and when you draw the curtain on something familiar in this way it’s bound to be painful. I know the show is going on, but it is an ending isn’t it…
If you were born in 1999 and you’d been watching since you were 5 years old, this will have been half your life with David Tennant.
We do make strange emotional bonds with people that we don’t even know – television characters, film characters – particularly over series you become completely connected to them, so I can understand that and I think you’re right it will be a complete devastation for a lot of people.
It’s not going to be easy. Even when the choir and the counter tenor stopped singing on his first take I just said ‘Congratulations, you’ve broken the hearts of a million children’.
In terms of themes then, ‘The Doctor’s Theme’ is apparent in the finale – it’s been there since day one – but what other themes are lurking here, old or new..?
There’s a big sort of Time Lord theme – ‘The Time Lord’s Are Coming’ theme – and ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’ from Series Four is reprised. There’s ‘Donna’s Theme’, one note of the ‘Father’s Day’ theme, ‘Martha Vs. The Master’, and of course lots of ‘The Master’. ‘This Is Gallifrey’ comes back a lot and weirdly there’s only one mention of ‘The Doctor Forever’ pretty much… I don’t know why that was.
So quite a lot of material returning then…
Yeah, but it’s all re-set… you know the beautiful ‘Gallifrey’ theme has become a sort of Darth Vader-ish type of Time Lord march thing…
Is it fun to re-visit things and re-shape them?
Yeah. Sometimes I’m almost a bit too careful about not going there, because I’m conscious of wanting to do something new, and I sometimes I feel like I don’t use them enough, but there’s still loads of new stuff. It’s still 70% new music this one. This final episode is probably going to be the best score I’ve done…
So in terms of this final moment, this long cue, what can you tell us?
Well I don’t know, it just all seemed so right. I actually hit this chord, I was messing around on the piano and I think I went from B to Dflat7 or something… Did I do that? (plays keyboard) Anyway, whatever the chords were, I started singing. Oh it was Bflat to D7; anyway, I got that first bar for this melody (starts singing) and I was thinking about certain songs that encapsulated a life well lived, like ‘My Way’, and there was an attempt to make something as epic as ‘My Way’ but almost as if it was an Aria from Puccini, one of those Arias that went on and on. I’ve also always loved Verdi, ‘Chorus Of The Hebrew Slaves’ and that kind of thing, and I was just thinking it’s all ‘Good Bye’ so it’s called ‘Vale Decem’. So I was writing that song in the background while I was writing all of the cues. It wasn’t something you could do in a rush at the last minute because I had to sustain that feeling of going higher and higher. You don’t really need any crescendos in there or any diminuendos or anything like that because the notes just all keep getting higher and higher, so the strain on the choir is progressively stronger as is the orchestra, and it’s brilliant orchestration in the orchestra part by Ben. Once I’d got the song underway I put it to the pictures and started adapting it knowing that it had to be 2 minutes 47 seconds, or whatever it was. So I had to balance the chord progression so that it was most effective; I just worked it up, sculpted it and it’s a tone that I like that one of sort of defiance and sadness and a long life lived. It’s not something you can sing about a boy, it has to be about an elder; it’s a song for all of the memories…
An old soul.
Yeah. So we got the arrangement down, by Ben, I did the choir arrangement and we’ve got Mark Chambers singing it, the counter tenor, who sang it at this incredible clear register that he has. He’s an amazing singer. I’m really proud of that cue…
So that would be your standout moment?
Yeah, well right now if I had to play a piece of music for someone who came in through the door I’d play them that. There’s obviously a bunch of other things too that I like listening to, but right now it would be that. I also love the one with the detuned violins – Ben tuned the G strings to an E and then the D strings up to an E, so we had violins whose bottom two strings were both on E and we got this really funereal pulse. But there are a lot of cues in this last one that I’m really proud of, I think I’ve got better at doing them… It’s just a shame I got better by the end!
So it’s become easier to do these things?
I don’t know if it’s become easier, I think the team works well. I mean Ben’s orchestrations on these last two episodes were amazing, and either I’ve made it more clear what I’m looking for – there were times when I’d mix up lines so that it was unclear whether you followed this line it would all be intended for the one instrument – and this time I was quite clear about the presenting the lines as separate so that Ben could see what was intended to be a separate line… That didn’t make any sense did it? (laughs) But I think the whole process and the whole team is so gelled together now; I mean we have Dave Foster who comes along, who has a piece of music printed before the person playing it has finished their complaint about why they can’t read it. Before they’ve shut their mouth Dave’s had a new piece of music put in front of them!
There’s a definite shorthand between you all now, which I’ve noticed more and more over the last couple of years.
Yeah. People who watch it happen are amazed that the whole thing is so well choreographed and organised basically, and it’s good that it is because if you start messing up, with the amount there is to do, it would become disastrous.
So looking to the future then, and the Fifth Series, what is your involvement going to be?
I’ve been approached and we’ve talked about it and by December I should be working on things for Series 5. I have started writing some themes and it all looks good; I really wanted to work with Steven. Writing music for Doctor Who, there are no limitations on it; it’s not like other jobs which immediately create a ceiling to your ambitions, you know you have to work within these kind of confinements. There aren’t any confinements on Doctor Who and if there are in one episode, they’re pretty soon gotten rid of in another episode. I love Steven Moffat’s stuff…
With having a new head writer, producer, a new Doctor even, is there a sense that they want to keep the music as one of the few constants in the new series? Or will it change musically as well do you think?
I think they like the music and I’m sure they wanna make some refinements. I’m sure they don’t wanna throw out the baby and the bath water, otherwise they would have got somebody else. In all honesty I make refinements anyway, when I score Steven’s episodes, because they do come at the story from a different angle. I don’t know if you can even talk about a single approach, musically, to all of the episodes as they’ve been done so far – there’s a different approach to each one – and that’ll be the same again. I mean with Mark Gattiss and Gareth Roberts and people like that writing episodes, you know what their episodes are like from previous series. So it’s going to be that, with Steven’s comments, and Matt’s performance are going to be different and they might be different in structure somehow… every episode might not involve so much running down corridors! I don’t know.
So until you see it you just won’t know how it’ll be, and what your reaction will be creatively…
No, not until you see it on the screen. I mean I’ve read scripts and they’re amazing. Episode One is just complete joy.
So there’s not a sense of re-tooling for Series 5, scaling down somewhat?
You’d think about scaling down, and I discussed scaling down with Piers and he may want that. I don’t think Steven is keen to make major changes in a way that this is a directive from him before the show has been shot; nobody knows and you react to what’s on the screen and as much as you feel you know from the script – and looking at the script it doesn’t feel in any way small, it doesn’t feel like there’s no running around, in fact it feels like one of the most energetic scripts I’ve ever read in my life. Are there different ways of doing it? Yes. Even orchestrally, if we use the National Orchestra of Wales there’s a difference between them playing Wagner and them playing Poulenc, I mean there’s a lot of different noises we can make with them.
I suppose much like the transition from Series 1 to 3, which we’ve discussed before, you’re dealing with what you’ve got to work with at the time.
Yeah and I think in those subtle ways there might be differences.
You said in Nick Joy’s 2006 interview – ‘The Runaway Composer’ – that you find the more intimate musical moments to be the best… Now there are so many massive statements in these scores, has your thinking changed?
I think back then I felt that you can go hell for leather and blow and gust away with the orchestra for almost half an hour and then find your most effective moment is achieved with a solo guitar, or something. I mean, whether that is because all the heaving and puffing actually paves the way for something that’s very simple to be most effective, so in other words it wouldn’t be that effective if it was all that. It’s almost a case of one requires the other and I did used to find that with a drone and maybe a human voice you could make people’s hair stand on end or their skin go goosebumpy. With a great big orchestra pounding away you don’t achieve those effects, but with that you achieve thrill and excitement. I loved how ‘Doomsday’ worked all those years ago in the end of Series 2, and that was just a bass guitar, a voice and a drum machine really and one solo cello, and I loved how that was effective and I loved how Melanie Pappenheim was effective. I love chamber music as well – and we haven’t used it that much – but the most effective use of that, in a way, was probably in ‘Midnight’ where you probably had a ‘type’ of chamber music sound and an interesting collection of instruments which actually sounded like an ensemble. I really liked that.
In terms of the new series then, is there anything you have in mind, anything you’d like to do with the music? Even just perhaps in terms of the title theme…
I’ll play it to you…
You’ve done it?
I’ve been working on it…
Note: Murray played me what is likely to be his new take on the opening theme… all will be revealed in 2010. In short, it’s marvellous… Back to the interview:
So on a more personal level, where is all this going for you – what else do you want to do?
I just got commissioned to write a musical for Radio 3, which I have to deliver by March. I actually wanted to write a musical where you never get to hear any of the songs because someone’s always slamming a door, so you only get to hear one verse of it… (laughs). Like I was saying downstairs though, it’s that one question I just can’t answer – ‘Where are you headed, where do you see yourself?’ – If I knew the answer it would be so boring; I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone, but surely the answer is ‘Not dead…’ ‘Where do you see yourself in two years?’ I’d say ‘Here, On Earth… Happy’.
I suppose it’s more a question of is there anything else you’d like to accomplish… You say you’re doing a musical, you started working in theatre music… what other dream projects might there be?
Maybe now and again the prospect of a big movie comes along and I feel like in two minds about it because I could do it… There’s something very cosy about doing Doctor Who and I don’t like doing things unless I enjoy it and I like to enjoy the process as well. I’d rather do Doctor Who than Batman 5 or something like that…
Because you know you’d have that freedom of expression on Doctor Who..?
I just think the music’s more important… The things that I should be desperate to do, don’t immediately appeal to me. I mean I’d love to do Batman, it would probably be really good fun if you could get through all of the stuff that you have to go through on a film.
Do you think though, if you did a film like that you’re style would be compromised? Would you be at the mercy of somebody else’s cookie-cutter vision…
Well I think my music is very expressive and I definitely have patches where it’s Hans Zimmerish – and if I’m lucky it’s Hans Zimmerish – but the stuff I love is where it’s touching and expressive and it feels real and human and sincere and it’s utterly transparent. There’s not much demand for it these days, but I think Michael Giacchino has been breaking that barrier down… I loved the score for Star Trek, it has a bit of sparkle, like it’s winking. I still see myself as New York based and theatre based in terms of my overall ambitions. The theatricality of things, performance and doing something with a musical… you do get that feeling with Doctor Who, that combination of heightened drama with heightened music to create a feeling that feels like you’re quite awash with emotion.
That makes sense then in terms of what I was saying, because so many of the scores that are thrown out seem to be simply too big, too heightened – some might say too good – Troy for example…
Right… I’ll have to bear that in mind. I think sometimes it’s worth doing two scores when you’re asked to do a film, do your one and use the other if you’re asked to replace it. I hope my score to Hoodwinked Too isn’t thrown out… (laughs).
Each of the Doctor Who Specials will be available together on BBC DVD from January 11th and the Fifth Series, starring Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, premieres this coming Spring.
With thanks to Murray Gold, Ben Foster and all the Doctor Who music team, Matt Bannister and of course the BBC.
Originally published at Music from the Movies.com in December 2009.