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Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular


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It was only a matter of time (sorry) before a touring show like this was created. It is entirely appropriate, too, since it acts as a showcase for one of the world’s foremost composers of film music, Murray Gold.

Gold has been composing for the BBC’s Doctor Who series since 2005. His high profile among fans of the successful space drama is likely linked to their interest in the show itself rather than any direct attraction to scores. Nonetheless, it is a useful way to promote good composition. Good film music is often hardly noticed at a conscious level. That’s no reason to discount it, however, as this evening’s fare amply demonstrated.

Peter Davison, the fifth doctor, played the rather cheeky host at this Adelaide Entertainment Centre performance. His appearances on stage involved banter that was often at the expense of sixth doctor Colin Baker. If the jokes were a bit limp, at least they were good-hearted. Conductor Ben Foster modestly played along with Davison’s repertoire, periodically flourishing his glowing Sonic Baton.

Foster has an international reputation, including having orchestrated and conducted more than 100 episodes of Doctor Who. Adelaide’s redoubtable Adelaide Symphony Orchestra provided the live music, along with soprano Antoinette Halloran and the Graduate Singers and the Elder Conservatorium Chorale.

If one moves beyond a die-hard fan’s less discriminating attachment to the event, it must be said that the musical program was mixed. It began with thrilling rumbles with “A Good Man?”, which set the atmosphere and segued into urgent, bass-heavy sounds suggesting grave matters afoot. Halloran ooohed along well but better was to come from her later on.

The sorrowful “Wherever, Whenever” was less successful, focussing too much on a distracting, long and sentimental speech by Clara. The first strong indication of the singers’ and choir’s valuable support emerged with “The Doctor’s Theme/Song of Freedom”. The “Last Christmas Suite” seemed bent on telling the episode’s story visually, a difficult factor in balancing interest in the event.

Three large screens projected identical scenes from relevant episodes, sometimes with audio, to the packed centre. Roving cameras caught pictures of the villainous characters that frequently appeared in costume, both on stage and in the aisles – especially with “All the Strange Strange Creatures”.  These weren’t enough for many patrons, who had to have their own phones or iPads or tablets mediating everything. Maybe they’ll see later, but on a screen rather than live, what they missed when they were there.

“The Pandorica Suite” moved delightfully from tenderness to an exhilarating climactic mood. Halloran illustrated best what she can do when offered a piece with lyrics, such as “Abigail’s Song”, with its swirling and, yes, “haunting” emotional landscape. Instead of merely adding a cooing but repetitive sound, she could inject some real personality into the performance.

The anthemic “Fifty – This is Gallifrey” presented a catchy martial beat, highlighting again a frequent pop-rock reliance on drums. The well-executed “Death in Heaven Suite”, ostensibly the last number, was appropriately sombre but no match for a goose-bumpy version of “Vale Decem” as the encore, with Halloran once more showing her chops.

Could it have ended there? Maybe, but why not the theme from the show? And that’s what we got, delivered in a thrilling fashion with massed creatures on stage and much percussion.

Gold says it is always saddening to hear great music associated with a film or TV series that he senses won’t be popular enough to attract significant viewer acclaim. The music then sinks along with its host. There is no danger of that happening in this case.

The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular was in Adelaide for two shows only over the Australia Day long weekend, and will soon play in Perth and Sydney.




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