The Mad Man with a Box (Prologue); An Untimely Arrival
Short Ride in a Fast Machine
I Am the Doctor
Overture, Portsmouth Point
The Planets – Mars, the Bringer of War
Battle of the Skies
Carmina Burana – O Fortuna
Amy; Liz, Lizards, Vampires and Vincent
Die Walküre – The Ride of the Valkyries
This is Gallifrey / Vale decem; Pandorica Suite; Song of Freedom
Ron Grainer, arr. Gold
Doctor Who Theme
Karen Gillan (Amy Pond); Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) – presenters – Matt Smith (The Doctor)
Mark Chambers & Yamit Mamo (singers)
London Philharmonic Choir
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 24 July, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
A number of firsts for the annual BBC children’s franchise Prom (if I can put it like that); which was once the sole preserve of “Blue Peter” but which, in 2008, went intergalactic with the first Doctor Who Prom. After last year’s turn to another venerable BBC one-man institution, Sir David Attenborough, for the Evolution Prom, the return to Doctor Who marked two firsts: it’s the first time an evening slot has been given over to the event (with a repeat the following morning) and it’s the first that Doctor Who himself appeared. Last time the-then Doctor, David Tennant (playing Hamlet in Stratford), had to film a special scene broadcast to the audience. This time, towards the end of the first half, the series’ producer Steven Moffat made passing reference to that by introducing the current Doctor, Matt Smith, first on a screen (supposedly, he’d arrived at the Royal Albert Hall in 2027 – promising us that the concert wouldn’t last that long!) before climbing out of a hole in the Arena floor, complete with a flashing item which could blow Kensington Gore apart.
With a little help from a young friend in the audience – Ellis, who professed he could see the Doctor’s psychic thread (which floored Smith as the Doctor is the only one meant to be able to see it) – the Doctor saved the audience (and much of west London from the potential threat) to thunderous cheers. Only half-a-year in to his tenure as the eleventh regeneration of Doctor Who, Matt Smith, along with his assistants and co-presenters here, Karen Gillen and Andrew Darvill (who play screen couple, Amy Pond and Rory Williams), have rapidly found their way into audiences’ hearts. When, towards the end, we saw ten of the ‘regenerations’ between the eleven Doctors (William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker to Peter Davison to Colin Baker to Sylvester McCoy to Paul McGann, and from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant to Matt Smith – these last two regenerations like exploding akimbo scarecrows) there was as loud a cheer for Matt Smith as there was for Pertwee, Tom Baker and Tennant.
As in 2008, Murray Gold’s music for the, itself-regenerated, series (now coming up for its sixth season), as orchestrated and conducted by Ben Foster, were interspersed with popular classics, conducted by Grant Llewellyn. For the first time on this occasion the orchestra was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, fitting because it is this very orchestra that is thanked at the end of every episode of “Doctor Who”, as – with Foster conducting – it records all the music for the series. John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine eventually did get a Proms outing (having been replaced in 1997, after Princess Diana’s car-crash, and 2001, after ‘September 11’), followed by Walton’s Portsmouth Point (the point here being that Murray Gold was born in Portsmouth) and a fantastically menacing account of Holst’s ‘Mars’. Orff’s opening to his great “Carmina Burana” – ‘O Fortuna’, sung by the London Philharmonic Choir – brought us back from the interval and, after its success at the last Dr Who Prom, the final ‘classical’ item was Wagner’s visceral ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’. As with Gold’s pieces, these were given thrilling performances.
But it was for the Doctor everyone was there, and the spectacularly edited highlights of almost every episode (certainly encompassing every story) which were beamed to at least thirteen screens around the auditorium. Only one screen didn’t show the excerpts – that at the back of the hall immediately opposite the stage, as that was the autocue, which was just like reading surtitles from where I was sitting.
There were eight Gold pieces or medleys, mostly from the very latest series, many of which also attracted some iconic “Doctor Who” monsters – Silurians and Vampire Girls from Venice new this year, joining the Robben, Cybermen and, of course, the Daleks, both as they appeared in the episode about them helping Winston Churchill in the war effort, though only as a backdrop to creating a super Dalek. In the medley entitled “Liz, Lizards, Vampires and Vincent” we even saw one of the stone statues that only move when you blink, rising from the bowels of the hall, from where Matt Smith had made his appearance.
Gold (at the piano at the end of the concert), is a consummate composer. As Moffat remarks in the intricately cut, Dalek-shaped programme (available in different coloured Daleks to boot), in many senses the music makes “Doctor Who”, and in a live context the incident-packed music would probably work just as well without the images. You could argue much of it is derivative – the ethereal tinkling in “An Untimely Arrival” is similar to John Williams’s tintinnabulations in the first Harry Potter film, and the occasional vocal lines (taken by Yamit Mamo and countertenor Mark Chambers) have the Celtic lilt of Howard Shore’s take on Tolkien for example – but it is undeniably effective.
The concert ended with Gold’s latest version of Ron Gainer/Delia Derbyshire’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop theme-tune, leaving the audience expectant of this year’s Christmas special (to star, it has been announced, Katherine Jenkins).
In short, while there were no couches to hide behind, this lived up to the expectation to be a Proms 2010 highlight. As well as the two chances to hear it live in the hall, and the iPlayer Listen Again feature, it was filmed for future broadcast on both BBC Three and BBC HD. As with all “Dr Who” stories, it will be worth revisiting…