'Doctor Who' composer discusses sound of the series
Published: Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 23:06
When "Doctor Who" returned to television in 2005 after a 16-year absence, it wasn't the same show as fans remembered it.
The show about a time and space traveling alien saving the universe from impending threats with a human companion suddenly seemed more "serious."
The wobbly sets were gone, the monsters slightly more convincing, and the special effects were better than anything previously seen.
Another change – one that has come to help define the new series of the show – is the music.
Murray Gold has been writing and composing music for the show since its rebirth in 2005.
In his time at the show, it has developed a dramatic soundtrack – more like a Hollywood blockbuster and less like a TV show.
"The executive producers knew what they wanted," Gold said. "They knew they wanted a melodic type of score."
The original series, which ran from 1963 to 1989, featured a more synthetic soundtrack.
"The main difference is not the instrumentation – it's the script and the attitude of the music to the script," Gold said. "We work with very different types of script to the classic series. The emotional range is much larger than it was."
BBC America, which airs the show in the US, recently aired a two-part episode that saw the Doctor (Matt Smith) confronted by the menacing Silurians, a reptilian off-shoot of the human race.
"The Silurians music was the most ‘monster' driven in the season," Gold said. "There wasn't a huge variety of styles. Tonally, those episodes were quite serious, which made it easier."
Other, less dramatic episodes, are the most challenging.
"The hardest episodes to write for, apart from ones which I'm not too keen on, are the ones which are completely genre-bending," he said, adding "the comedy-family-saga-action-melodrama-horror episodes."
The show's latest season, its fifth, has so far been all about change. There's a new actor playing the lead role, a new companion (Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan), a new main set for the show's ship (the TARDIS) and a new arrangement of the iconic theme song.
Despite some early criticisms, Gold said the reception to the theme has been "more positive than to other versions I've done."
"Steven wanted something new, so I gave it to him," Gold said." I didn't see any more controversy about it than when I first did it in 2005. There's always a bit of web chat. I altered the tune at the beginning to the point where it's probably beyond just a new arrangement."
Fans have also remarked about lightning bolts added to the show's opening credits sequence, something Gold wasn't aware of.
"I wish they'd have mentioned (the bolts)," he said. "I found out when I saw it on YouTube."
Despite having 13 episodes to score for, the show typically only has two days with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Due to the show's new direction, a rare third day was added to help produce an entire season's worth of new scores.
The orchestra is typically used for "big cues," such as themes for the major characters and action sequences.
Gold will send music to Ben Foster, conductor of the series, to work with the orchestra before the recording session.
Other scores also feature the work of smaller band and electronic synthesizers.
"As a general rule, I try not to leave any episode completely artificial (at the same time very few are completely acoustic). It's very jigsaw-like, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't give me a headache," he said.
Gold writes much of the music while watching the footage from the episodes.
"In the case of episode one, I read the script and prepared some themes which were very useful," he said. "Mostly I guess I sit and watch and write. I guess I see myself as well attuned to the show. I do it and hope people connect with the way I've seen something. There's no plan B."
Despite the average nine month production schedule for the show, Gold's time is much more condensed.
"There is never more than two weeks for a complete turnaround," he said. "This season, at one point we dubbed five episodes in five weeks. It was almost impossible. I would start an episode and it would need to be finished four days later."
Gold has not begun working on the Christmas, scheduled to begin production – nor has he heard of any involvement in the US co-production of the fourth series of "Torchwood," a spin-off of "Doctor Who."
The final episode of the series, "The Big Bang," will air this weekend in England and the two part season finale will begin July 10 on BBC America.
"Toby Haynes is an interesting young director, and he has intelligent things to say about music," Gold said of the final episodes. "I mention that because it is by no means a given. I'm proud of the last two episodes."