Anybody who hasn’t enjoyed the new series of Doctor Who so far is presumably impossible to please; we have been treated to the best season opener since at least 1988, with a script that was witty, frightening and fiendishly clever without being wanky – and which, most importantly given the show’s recent past, packed in more story than you’d think possible in 45 minutes. Long may it continue: it looks gorgeous, the acting is great and it is genuinely edge-of-seat/behind-the-sofa stuff (depending on your age and furnishings).
Yet still it remains, the one element of the series that noticeably falls painfully short of the standard now being set: the music. From the synth-clappy theme music onwards it is simply relentlessly crap.
It isn’t that Murray Gold can’t write suspenseful or exciting music – he can, though his vocabulary is woefully limited, even for a television composer. The problem is the lack of imagination with which he persists in slapping his literal and banal musak onto every scene. The Doctor makes an announcement: Murray Gold gives us a fanfare. The Doctor makes a discovery: Murray Gold gives us a fanfare. The Doctor is sad: Murray Gold gives us Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This is tantamount to writing a ‘duh duh duhhhhhhh!!!’ cue every time something bad happens. Twice in the last episode the American President walked into a room and Murray felt it necessary to give us a blast of the ‘Hail to the Chief’. Twice. Was it meant to be a joke? If it was, it was a shit joke (and a shit rerun of the shit Mr Smith joke from The Sarah Jane Adventures at that). But the fact that I don’t even know if it was a deliberate joke or just unintentionally laughable says it all, really.
Film music is a subtle and nuanced art, at best matching a level of sophistication found in many an opera, and there’s no reason why television shouldn’t aspire to the same (especially television that clearly aspires to be great in every other way). Indeed, Doctor Who‘s past is littered (albeit rather sporadically) with some brilliant scores. The understated but often inspired composer Geoffrey Burgon (who sadly died last year) penned two exceptional scores in the Tom Baker era, and Mark Ayres’ scores for three Sylvester McCoy stories were thematically and harmonically urbane in a way that punched well above the weight of the synthesisers they were made with. Moreover, Doctor Who was in those days both a breeding ground and a pension plan for talent and in the same way that it continues to give brilliant writers, directors and designers either a leg up or a way in, it ought to be finding the best composers out there and employing them.
Until it does, the series will continue to have in the ears of at least one viewer a Creature From the Pit-sized flaw running through it. Yes, that was a Doctor Who reference.