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BWW Reviews: DOCTOR WHO SYMPHONIC SPECTACULAR Was Almost as Good as a Ride in the TARDIS

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 24th January 2015

There would be few people who cannot instantly recognise the theme from the BBC science fiction series, Doctor Who, and many would be able to name Ron Grainer as the composer of the original 1963-69 version, but very few would be aware that it was engineered by an amazing woman by the name of Delia Derbyshire, at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. One could say that it was, in fact, more due to her genius as an electronic music composer and engineer, than to Ron Grainer, that it is such an instantly recognisable and memorable theme, as well as a landmark in the history of electronic music.

This is not, though, all of the music that has been written for the Doctor Who programmes but, with audiences, naturally, focussing on the storylines and action, the incidental music is often overlooked. From the start, all of the music came from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of whom was a co-founder of the group, Tristram Cary, who migrated to Adelaide and took up a post as Reader in Electronic Music at the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, where many of us had the privilege of studying with him.

After a long hiatus, the BBC wisely brought the Doctor back to our screens, and the composer for everything in the new series has been Murray Gold, with all of the music being conducted by Ben Foster, who was here in Adelaide to conduct this brand new version of the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular. This is the first time that the Spectacular has been performed in Adelaide, and this latest incarnation was premiered here. Foster is also credited with most of the orchestrations for this concert.

Central to everything, of course, is Murray Gold's music. Large forces are involved in this production, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, The Graduate Singers, the Elder Conservatorium Chorale, and soprano, Antoinette Halloran adding her voice on a few of the pieces.

The newly regenerated twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, asked his companion, Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, "Am I a good man?" The first piece is A Good Man?, a theme to introduce the latest Doctor, which seems a most appropriate starting point. Eerie and ethereal, the opening showcased the marvellous wordless voice of Antoinette Halloran, before moving into the familiar martial music.

As well as the music there are the visuals, snippets of scenes projected onto a huge screen behind the orchestra, and two other slightly smaller screens to either side. Some are silent, while others also include dialogue over the music. Added to this is an impressive lighting plot and, of course, the appearance of a selection of well-known aliens and monsters, designed to please any Whovian. I must admit, from viewing the televised concerts from overseas, I did rather expect to see many more of them, and they were certainly scarce in the second half.

The concert was introduced by an old favourite, the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, who injected some humour into the proceedings, often at the expense of the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, who has gained a bit of weight since his appearances in the role. Davison's daughter, Georgia Moffett, has carried on the family business, playing the Doctor's genetically created daughter, and she is also married to David Tennant, who played her Doctor father. This, of course, makes her character a Time Lady, and has caused some speculation that she might turn up again, as well as making Tennant the son-in-law of Davison This is all very amusingly confusing, of course, from the point of view of their characters, if they only knew.

Davison, having made his first entrance to enormous applause and cheering, immediately reminds us that he is a very amiable man, who chats to the audience like old friends as he introduces the various sections of the concert, interacts with Foster, and with the occasional alien. He gives a relaxed performance that engages the audience and displays that he, too, is a big fan of the Doctor Who saga, set in motion a half century ago by the great actor, William Hartnell.

Halloran's voice was again to the fore in Wherever, Whenever (Anywhere in Time and Space?), with the wheezing sound of the TARDIS making a brief appearance before the poignant "fear is a super power" speech. This piece highlights the subtlety, depth of feeling, and superb control of which the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is capable, some of the traits that make them one of the finest orchestras around, and of which South Australians are justifiably proud. The concert itself, of course, is testament to their amazing versatility.

The Doctor's Theme, and the Song of Freedom, referring now to the ninth Doctor, were combined in a medley, this time featuring marvellously rousing vocals from the combined choruses. A tribute to The Companions followed this, reminding us of four of the people who have most recently travelled in the blue police call box with the recent incarnations of the Doctor, again with the two choruses contributing to the power of the piece, and more ethereal wordless vocals from Halloran soaring above everything..

We then find ourselves heading To Darkness, as the Daleks attempt to invade Adelaide and, well, what else, the nearest available Doctor confronts them, armed only with a nice hot cup of tea, the English solution to everything. Once again, this ominous slow march draws on the human voice, provided by the two choral groups.

The Last Christmas Suite brought to a close the first half of the concert and, although Santa himself did not appear, there were some sleeping dreamers. The full forces, including Halloran, combined in this piece, with its juxtaposition of the pretty lullaby against the fearful theme of the alien monsters eating the brains of the slumbering people, before the excitement of the wild ride in Santa's sleigh.

The second half opened with a scream and the self explanatory, All the Strange, Strange Creatures, with a brief self-introduction from the big screen by Missy, and giving the percussion and brass a chance to turn up the heat, before The Impossible Girl was given her tribute. This gentle, delicate piece depicts the young woman who appears over and over again throughout history, acting as the Doctor's guardian angel.

The urgency of having just 66 Seconds to solve a mystery, or be taken by an Egyptian mummy that can only be seen by the person about to die, is conveyed in this piece, beginning with disturbing tonalities and then presenting fear and urgency in the thematic material, and a relentless driving rhythmic section, reminding us that it all takes place on a train in space.

The Matt Smith Doctor is sealed in the Pandorica in Earth's distant past, by every enemy he has ever had combining their efforts in an unimaginable alliance, but there is far more to the story than that, including the man who waited and watched over the Pandorica until its reopening in modern times, the wide ranging music embracing all of the stories in, The Pandorica Suite. An extended sentimental section recalls the sadness that surrounds the stories of those involved in the journey of the Pandorica through time, before the exciting urgency of the conclusion.

Halloran returns to the stage for Abigail's Song, from the episode, A Christmas Carol, originally sung by Welsh soprano, Katherine Jenkins. Abigail is in suspended animation and is revived each Christmas, but there is a limit to how many times she can be brought out of cold storage. Her song has almost magical properties and Halloran gives a moving performance, beautifully accompanied by the orchestra.

Fifty - This is Gallifrey is, as might be expected, a tribute to the entire history of this remarkable television programme, all of the Doctors, their many companions, and their adventures, taking the material from The Day of the Doctor.

Halloran is forefront again in the Death in Heaven Suite, from the story in which we discover what Missy has been doing, her ultimate goal, and the revelation of her identity. The heaven of, which she seem to be in control, is depicted in quasi-religious music, with male voices hinting at Monk's in worship, but suddenly takes a turn towards hell as her plans begin to unfold, becoming more terrifying and disturbing, eerie voices entering, and finally rising to a dramatic climax, followed by massive applause; certainly not the first of the evening, but surely the loudest.

Not yet satisfied, the audience were given two encores, the first taken from the theme for the tenth Doctor's regeneration in The End of Time, the poignant, Vale Decem (Goodbye Ten), sung by the Ood, again a feature for Halloran and the combined orchestra and choruses.

The second encore broke with the core music of the evening, leaving behind the music of Murray Gold and going back to where it all began, with an arrangement of Ron Grainer's original Doctor Who theme music, closing off an evening that delighted every Whovian in the vast audience. This, like the first encore, was received with enormous applause and a standing ovation, a fitting conclusion to a concert that is still drawing glowing comments on social media which, in today's terms, is commendation, indeed.

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From This Author Barry Lenny