Series Two of Doctor Who marked a time of massive change. A new leading man would soon take it to the levels of popularity it knows today, raising the programme from cult concern to required prime-time viewing. But somewhere deep in the bowels of BBC Wales, another shift was taking place, spearheaded by musical director Murray Gold, who was it seems as surprised as anyone by its success!
"It’s important to get this all in context. At the time they gave it to me I had a sense that it might just have been a small programme on BBC2. I didn’t know if it was going to be big budget or just some nostalgic little remake. In all honesty, it was only when I saw the first episode that I realised quite how big a deal it was.For as he admitted, the majority of the music for Series One had been made up of electronic/sampled sounds, with the exception of a real cor anglais and clarinet, a female solo vocal used to create some of the new series' most haunting themes, and a small choir, which was used for the malevolent chanting in the theme he wrote for the Daleks, the music for the first series was entirely created from samples and finished at Murray's North London attic home studio.
There was also an element of continuity to me getting the job, as I’d already worked with Russell (T Davies) on quite a few things (notably Queer as Folk, The Second Coming and Casanova). When I heard that he was working on Doctor Who I knew I’d probably be in the running.
Because I didn’t hear about it until late in the day I naturally assumed that they’d given it to someone else. Then an email arrived from (BBC Head of Drama) Julie Gardner and I was excited enough to email back ‘yes’ immediately."
Speaking to Sound On Sound, he said,
"There was only one type of music they specifically didn't want, and that was Radiophonic Workshop-style electronic stuff. They said they wanted an orchestra. Or rather... the sound of an orchestra — there wasn't the budget for a real one!"Until, that is, the BBC noticed just how overwhelmingly positive the response to the revival of the series had been and started to put a little more into its budget. Some of that money was then used to secure a real orchestra at last! Which meant it was time to get a little organised.
"I got one day with the National Orchestra of Wales to record the 45 minutes of music I needed for the Christmas Special, and used the afternoon of that day to re-record some of my favourite cues from Series One, which I also used in the second series, and eventually to make the soundtrack album.
Later on in the second series, we had another day with the orchestra, to record 45 more minutes of music which I needed for the series finale. So I had about 90 minutes of orchestral recordings to draw on in the second series."
A great start indeed, beginning with a humble piano...
"I now write in the studio with a piano sound exclusively. Having a piano score is a tried and tested way of getting music to an orchestra, and of course, until fairly recently, that's how directors would have heard their scores for the first time anyway."It's interesting that he uses the word director there, no? But in a sense he's right to, Doctor Who & its extensive production department having more in common with cinema than mainstream television in a sense nowadays - of course there have been several instances of composers becoming associated with certain behind-camera greats on the big screen too. Think Bernard Herrman alongside Alfred Hitchcock, or Ennio Morricone & Sergio Leone working on spaghetti Westerns, say?
And indeed the relationship between Murray G & Russell T is a similar meeting of like minds. As he put it,
"I have a kind of 'shorthand' when working with Russell now, which is important. I thought it would be a tough gig, but nobody knew that we wouldn't be getting a day off for six months. And I do mean any days off... It's unlike anything else I've done. I like writing music very fast, but nothing quite prepared me for Doctor Who."The schedule was tight...
"At the height of working on the series, I'm having to write, record and deliver 35 to 40 minutes of music every 10 days."And his first thought may well have been to spruce up the theme tune - as he told The Telegraph,
"The simplicity of that tune is what makes it so easy to change. The only thing that’s annoying is that glam rock triplet beat, which makes it sound like The Sweet. As soon as you add drums to that you end up with a party tune from the Seventies. That’s why I broke that up on Series One."
Not much, if anything, changed for Series Two, of course. But it's without doubt reassuring to know that the much-changed musical landscape is being mapped by a fan, surely? Murray was, much like his friend & collaborator RTD, a fan of the Fourth Doctor, and would later say,
"I get very sentimental when I talk about Doctor Who – he’s like an intergalactic Atticus Finch. It’s one of the last great morality tales out there but it also celebrates life. For that reason I think it’s a great show for kids. I couldn’t write this much music for it if I didn’t feel that way."Talking to Music From The Movies, he was keen to stress just how much things would change even after The Christmas Invasion. The 2006 Christmas special, The Runaway Bride, proved yet another turning point as he started planning his work on Series Three.
"This story brings in a new sound for Doctor Who; something that I’ll be working on in Season Three. It’s a very bold, confident score, underlining a confident performance from David Tennant"
The chance to take that new sound on the road with the Symphonic Spectacular was too much to resist as part of the magic.
"It’s anthemic music, so the emotional pitch of the show is like a rock gig. Because Doctor Who’s a geeky sort of show – one that celebrates wit and humour, rather than brawn and power – it’s a congregation of people who are revelling in their underdog status. I like that."All us "underdogs" like that too!