There are gateway items in every field you can think of. Things you get, enjoy and they lead you to more and more stuff. Most people hear the term in reference to drugs, like “pot is a gateway drug to harder substances,” which is neither here nor there, but the same theory holds true for pop culture. You can hear about one certain movie that everyone loves, which can lead you into a whirlwind movie marathon. For example, you see a movie with a lens flare and decide you need to view every J.J. Abrams movie known to man. It works in books, art, theatre and music. Yet, there are many occasions where the product is not meant to draw in new fans at all. It’s meant for collectors, for lovers of the subject, for the devoted and devout to pour over and cherish in their ever-growing libraries of stuff. This 2-CD set is one of those for the Doctor Who clan. It’s not for the meek of geek.
Doctor Who – The 50th Anniversary Collection: Original Television Soundtrack chronicles choice pieces of score and musical interludes from the inception of the show to the most recent episode in the Matt Smith era. It takes you on an orchestral journey from Doctor One to Eleven with many jumps in style and tone along the way.
Upon listening to it for the first time, the most ear-catching thing you find is the huge shift from the older series into the recent reboot. The musical leadership of Murray Gold and the superb talent of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales brings a huge change in the weight, the gravity and the strength of the songs. Gold truly flips the script on what can be done in sound design for a television show, yet he does have a full orchestra at his disposal which likely was not possible with earlier budgets.
A couple of the standout tracks from Gold’s period so far are “I am the Doctor” and “Vale Decem.” The former is a powerful, yet playful track, encompassing the duality of Matt Smith’s incarnation of the character. It’s hearing him really stand up to everyone and everything in the universe, chest out, head held high and calling the bluff of time itself. Even the violins seem to sing, “Come on, let’s do this.” The latter track is more tender, sad and operatic. It feels like tears and swells in your chest, as if a tidal wave is crashing inside. Not something you come to expect from a sci-fi television show.
From the earlier collection of tracks, there are a handful that feel like filler, like “Zoe’s Theme” and “Back to the Tardis (Version 2),” but again the uber fan out there may find it a necessary piece to their collection. I liked “The Trial of a Time Lord Suite” which begins with gongs ringing in the end and signaling the last march. The guillotine hangs musically in the foreground. Yet halfway through, the song shifts to a more hopeful side, as if there is a light at the end, a chance to make it through once more. “Survival Extended Suite” also stands out for its creepy, sneaking and hopeless tone, like a bad dream with a terrifying confrontation waiting around the next corner. It is not something to listen to before bedtime.
Much of the earlier sound was darker, more spacey and used as background and filler versus the reboot years where it took a much more lead role in escalating the show. This is not to downplay the talent or skills of the earlier composers, just commenting more about how their work was used. It’s a battle between soundtrack and soundscape, which serve incredibly different purposes. The early tracks also falter a little in their enjoyment because they feel like you are being dropped in the middle of a scene with no context about what’s going on. They are more sporadic and constrained versus the later ones, which tend to deliver a fuller story or meaning each time.
For the Whovian, this is a nifty addition to their collection, with more than enough content to make them giggle, jump and cry. But for the bellwether fan or someone looking to be introduced to the Doctor for the first time, this is not the way in. Those people should look behind another door, preferably one marked “Police Box.”