It's funny how sometimes you don't hear how good something is when clearly it's excellent. For the first time in its revived history, the music for the 4th season of 'new' Doctor Who didn't (generally) leave much of an impression on me. Sure, there were some typically outstanding moments but somehow it didn't dazzle. However, on the basis of the new album, I'm clearly a deaf moron. Either that, or I've become so accustomed to the quality of Murray Gold's music that it has to be truly astounding to have an impact. I suspect it's the same with John Williams fans who bemoan his latest score not being the best thing he's ever written. High benchmarks are hard to maintain. However, in fairness to Gold, his writing here is as good as ever. I realised that I may have been unduly mean in only giving the previous album 4 stars as it's easily the match of the original and, in many ways, more coherent. The same goes for this one. Sure, there are changes of direction but, despite coming from 14 episodes and being distilled from 7 hours of original material, it effortlessly bounds from one thing to another without pausing for breath; for example, on of the most gorgeous tracks of the entire album - Songs of Captivity and Freedom - jumps straight into the militaristic UNIT Rocks. The eerie music for Davros gives way to Gold's trademark epic choral writing for Davros' creation, the Daleks. However, none of that seems to matter, the genius of the show is the way comedy and tragedy, epic and intimate are juxtaposed in often quite startling ways and the same is true of the music.
The aforementioned Songs of Captivity and Freedom was one of the most memorable moments of the series and one that really did stand out for its truly haunting beauty. One particularly pleasurable feature of the album track is the Freedom part which introduces the Song of Freedom theme, later expanded upon in the penultimate cue. However, in this first appearance, its more lyrical version presents one of the most memorable film or TV themes of the year. Dare I say it, but Ennio Morricone fans would probably be fairly impressed. Easily as gorgeous as anything by the maestro and arranged around a female vocal, it's a gorgeous, soaring theme which really deserves more airplay (and greater exposition and variation). The more epic finale version might have said Morricone fans change their minds when Gold adds some rather more contemporary percussion and it gets a bit world anthem-ish. Although, given that it features the Earth being towed by a flying police box, not entirely inappropriate. As the first album demonstrated, Doctor Who scoring can involve a lot of epic finales and so there's also The Greatest Story Never Told as well as A Dazzling End to add to the collection, a whirlwind of strings and brass, plus the closing moments of the lengthy suite from Voyage of the Damned as Kylie becomes stardust (or something like that). Said suite zips along with gusto, with some impressive use of the Stowaway song melody (featured on the previous disc) and lots of the usual slightly OTT, but thoroughly enjoyable action music.
A number of existing themes get dusted down and given a new lease of life, not least of all an even more ballsy version of Ron Grainer's original theme. I must admit that this version is starting to get to overkill with the extra percussion and edgier orchestral part (albeit fairly similar to the prior version), but it still works. The Doctor's Theme also gets an extended treatment and appears with rather more frequency than previously too, notably in The Greatest Story Never Told. UNIT Rocks slightly elaborates on the music for Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart's outfit, one of the Doctor's only military allies on Earth As noted, the truly epic finale (the existence of reality being at stake... I rather if it's going to be difficult to maintain this level of peril at this rate) features the Daleks and it's a welcome return for their choral music in The Dark and Endless Dalek Night. Donna's theme from The Runaway Bride is given a more substantial arrangement in the first score cue and makes a nice change to the more wistful themes for the prior two companions (Rose and Martha). Further highlights abound, the snarling Goldsmithian brass of Midnight (you don't get TV music like that any anywhere else these days), the creepy, some Howard Shore-esque music for Davros and impressively eerie, yet occasionally sweet writing for the Library.
Yet again, Gold and arranger Ben Foster (whose contributions to the orchestration should not be underestimated) have come up with a Who album that is stupendously exciting, sad, eerie, hopeful, epic, intimate and plenty more besides. Any film music fan not thrilled by Songs of Captivity and Freedom or A Dazzling End needs some serious head examination. I know I seem to hit new levels of apparent hyperbole with every new Doctor Who album (and I do love the show, easily surpassing current American sci-fi, although I've not seen the new Battlestar Galactica), but compared to so much lame film music that's about these days, this is dazzling stuff. Tuneful, imaginative, passionate and, above all, memorable. I wonder if Gold would even get a job in Hollywood, so slack has its standards for film music become. By rights, Gold should be doing something top rate films such as Iron Man or The Dark Knight and their respective composers should be slumming it on some third rate sci-fi show, but fortunately for us, Gold is as first rate as the show he writes for. Add to that the rousing performance by the BBC Orchestra of Wales and the Crouch End Festival Chorus and it's another winner. Buy without delay.