CD: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection – 2-CD set (2013)

December 11, 2013 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Silva Screen Records/ Released: March 25, 2013

Tracks & Album Length:  CD1: 23 tracks + CD2: 22 tracks


Special Notes: Also available as a digital album.


Composer: Various




To mark the 50th anniversary of the BBC’s Doctor Who series, Silva Screen’s been allowed to mine the broadcaster’s huge archive of music and release a series of sets, each seemingly designed as a teaser towards the release of a limited 11-disc ultimate set which will follow the 4-disc set coming out this month.

This 2-disc edition is a tighter distillation of material spanning the show’s five decades, and provides a sampling of the various styles and uses of electronic gear that an assortment of composers employed for their respective scores, plus some previously unreleased music.

Whereas Disc 2 favours music from the 80s through the rebooted series scored by Murray Gold (of which season and episodic suites were released in separate discs), the real treats arguably reside in the first half of Disc 1 which focuses on the early material crafted by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

The contrasts through the decades does become apparent as the music shifted from mono to stereo, and budgets were boosted for the 2006 reboot, allowing Gold to craft increasingly huge orchestral-synth scores with his own rich thematic material, often augmented by chorus. The earlier material from the eighties and nineties tended to favour more minimal motifs, with thematic material timed to get in and out of scenes with strategic precision. The budgets also necessitated a need to create more abstract sounds since there wasn’t always room to fully develop material into lengthy cues.

Most of the music from the nineties offered a balance of atmospheric and thematic music, quoting Ron Grainer’s famous theme only when necessary, giving the composers optimum room to develop and explore their own material, whereas the earliest scores from the sixties and early seventies were much more experimental – a reflection of the talent within the BBC’s workshop, and perhaps a decision to approach the show with abstract sounds that better matched storylines involving time travel and alien cultures.

After the original mono theme version – crafted not with synthesizers but  audio sounds edited from differing pitches – Disc 1 moves into a classic sixties jazz-pop instrumental (“An Unearthly Child – Three Guitars Mood 2”) with bopping drums and electric bass. The classic Tardis takeoff sound effects are followed by “The Daleks,” an amazing 3 min. piece filled with tones and undulating shrill sounds, organ chords, and airy sounds with just a slight evocation of a Theremin. The breathiness and crawling bass chords are followed by an assortment of sharp tones, echoplexed ambient tones, and shrill drones reminiscent of the Martian machine sounds from War of the Worlds (1953), and the cue’s closing bars consist of wavering sounds.

Other cues contain more traditional instruments – drums, trumpets, and guitar heavily echoplexed for a sense of displacement – or descending electronic pulses reminiscent of Louis and Bebe barron’s Forbidden Planet (1956). Cimbalom and oboe are used in the suspenseful “The Invasion – The Company,” and the rare stereo cue “Music from the Sea Devils” is a narrative of pulses and glassy tones and harsh chords which runs over 4 mins. Heavy abstraction also dominates the 6+ mins. of “Music from The Mutants” with synthetic keyboards, undulating tones and Moog chords, some affected by primordial vibrato and staccato effects.

“Terror of the Zygons Suite” offers a welcome shift to delicate chamber orchestra with harp, woodwinds, and a lovely flowing melody in the first half, and in “Logopolis – It’s the End,” the approach is an overt prog-rock with synths, electric bass, and rock drums.

The cues in this 2-disc overview collection have been nicely mastered from surprisingly clean sources, with clarity in the highs and resonance in the bass coming through nicely in the mono tracks. While fans may prefer the new 4-disc set (or might prefer to hold off until the 11-disc set, house in a wooden Tardis, finally debuts), this compact sampler gives a good overview of the changing styles which supported the Doctor through the first fifty years on the BBC.



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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