Although best-known today as the core composer of the hit BBC TV series Doctor Who and the spin-off series Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, Murray Gold has enjoyed a creatively rewarding career scoring an eclectic mix of TV productions, including both seasons of the original British series Queer as Folk, the eccentric mystery tales of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and the period series Vanity Fair (1998). His feature films include the twisted comedy-thrillerBeautiful Creatures, and Frank Oz’ latest film, Death at a Funeral.
Gold recently took time out during his intense schedule to chat about his careers as a composer and playwright, composing for television, and scoring the subtleties of comedy – the latter perhaps his greatest contribution to the Doctor Whoseries, given so much of each episode’s success comes from the exploitation and support of each character’s wry and sometimes daffy eccetricities.
Mark R. Hasan : There aren’t many composers who have multiple careers, though John Ottman readily comes to mind, because he also edits sound and picture, and has occasionally directed a feature film.
Murray Gold : Mike Figgis comes to mind as well, and John Carpenter, although these are actually directors who compose. I think Danny Elfman does a lot of scriptwriting as well. I guess as long as you don’t get too big, you can keep doing both things at once, but I haven’t been able to sit down and do any writing for a few years, so I guess that’s a sign of the times. I’m doing some this summer, but I just have to take these chances when I get them.
MRH : When you started to compose for film & TV, was it difficult to tackle projects without worrying or being critical of a film’s writing quality or directing style?
MG : It was a little awkward for me, because I really wanted to do the writing, but at the same time it made it much more easy for me to get inside the brains of the scriptwriters and directors. [It also] made it easy for me to judge the merits of a script when it arrives. I imagine some people are more dependent on their agents, [but] I think to be really good, you really have to commit to one thing.
MRH : I think the reason why some artists like to switch between different careers is because if, as a composer, you’re involved in a heavy, intensive project, it can drain ideas and energies, but when a writing opportunity comes along, it’s fresh, and you can go into that project without the baggage or exhaustion from the prior discipline, and later return to a scoring job reinvigorated, if not craving another pure scoring opportunity.
MG : It’s true… Even if I’m only working on music, I’ve got quite often two or three different musical projects on the go, and I guess in some ways it’s no different than having a writing project on the side. It’s not so much that it’s not possible to allocate the time; it’s just that I’m a kind of monogamous composer; I like to have one love in my head at a time [and] I like to allow the unconscious mind the opportunity to do its creating for you.
MRH : How did you become involved with the BBC’s new Doctor Who series, because that must have been a very high profile project that was being talked about for some time?
MG : Yeah, but I never paid any attention to the chat around the project… Even when I was working in the industry during Queer as Folk – I was 27 or 28 – I didn’t really pay any attention to people around television, and to be honest, I didn’t think television was much of a big deal.
MRH : Britain has a long history of making great TV series, and I wonder if, just in looking at your background, you find that by working in television, the diversity of stuff that’s been offered to you – whether it’s a Medieval project or science-fiction series – has provided the kind of apprenticeship or training ground like the old studio system?
MG : Oh, absolutely. British television is far better in quality than our film industry, so it would be natural for a British composer to get that apprenticeship in television, and I’ve been lucky because I haven’t had to actually do anything I didn’t really think was a great show. Recently, Channel 4 did a rundown of the top 50 dramas of all-time, and it encompassed television across the world… but when it got to the top 30, three of those shows I scored – so I’ve been really lucky to be offered great TV that’s even regarded across time as being really quality drama.
And it has been an apprenticeship, because they are obviously, as you mentioned, different genres I’ve worked in, and I tried to bring something personal to each one of those projects… I’ve tried to bring a kind of innocence and enthusiasm and energy and melodiousness, I supposed, without being too sentimental or cliched.
MRH : Comedy is one of those genres that requires a great deal of finesse and subtlety, and whether it’s the wit within Doctor Who, the new series Torchwood, or a film like Beautiful Creatures, you’re been able to tackle the comedic needs of any given project.
MG : [Beautiful Creatures] is such a dark, dark film, really, but I’ve just worked with Frank Oz [on Death at a Funeral] who’s a master at comedy and whose career is steeped in quality entertainment.
One of my first really big things was at Cambridge University, being Musical Director of the Footlights (they’re the comedy society that spawned Monty Python and beyond the Fringe and a lot of well-known British comedians) and I was actually more associated with light comic scoring; I did a lot of that when I was younger, and did theatre as well.
I used to present a live comedy show – I was on stage throughout with a piano, and I was kind of a host – so you do need a different head or mindset for it.
When you’re scoring comedy movies… You don’t want anything that sounds too overbearing. It’s lightness and timing, and they’re really hard to get right. You get your grand, massive Wagnerian scores like Danny Elfman and Howard Shore and that sort of thing, but at the other end of the spectrum there are composers [like Thomas Newman]… He can do a lightness that is beyond the reach of almost every composer in an amazing stylistic way.
People like Rolf Kent who scores all of Alexander Payne’s movies like Election and Sideways has got a wonderful kind of lightness. [It] can be kind of underestimated in music, because people are more impressed by heavy; it’s more immediately impressive, whereas lightness… is a really tricky thing to do… It’s very much supportive of the jokes, and it’s very supportive of the buoyancy of a piece of work.
KQEK.com would like to thank Murray Gold for squeezing in some time between his globe-trotting schedule, and Tom Kidd at Costa Communications for facilitating this interview.
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This article and interview © 2007 by Mark R. Hasan
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