Music Review: Doctor Who Prom - Royal Albert Hall ✭✭✭✭

Doctor Who Prom
Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Royal Albert Hall

Review by Sebastian Petit 

Saturday 13th July 2013: The Doctor Who Prom Concert is a now an established musical pilgrimage for Whovians every two years. So successful has it become that it was necessary to perform the same programme twice over two consecutive days. Even with another 5,000 seats available to fans it still sold out quicker than any other Prom, even beating the John Wilson Orchestra. So it was, on the hottest day of the year, we crammed into a sweltering Royal Albert Hall along with 4,998 other enthusiasts, a 70 piece orchestra and nearly 200 choristers. The RAH is famous (or infamous) for its lack of a decent air cooling system and, alas, it lived up to that reputation but, despite that, and a large rig of hot stage lights, nothing was going to damp our enthusiasm.

The orchestra was conducted, as usual, by Ben Forster (also responsible for many of the arrangements) who somehow managed to appear suave despite the heat. As on the recorded sound tracks (mainly by Murray Gold but also including some of the Classic Series tracks) the orchestra was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales backed by the massed forces of the London Philharmonic Choir.

There is a tendency for film music, when removed from its creative wellspring of visuals, to appear samey and even bombastic. This issue is cleverly addressed by playing related clips on big screens in the hall and many of these, especially the big sections related to “The Final Chapter of Amelia Pond” and “The Companions” were as moving in the hall as they had been on the small screen. Particularly affecting were the moments of Matt Smith’s Doctor’s grief after losing Amy and the agonising scenes of David Tennant visiting Billie Piper’s Rose who is stuck for eternity in alternate reality.

But half the fun of the Doctor Who Prom is the guests, both musical and monstrous. All the usual suspects were there including the Cybermen and of course the Daleks as well as newer frighteners such as the Whisperers and The Silence. But this year the delightful double act of Neve McIntosh’s Madame Vestra and Dan Starkey’s diminutive but eternally over-aggressive Sontaran, Strax, formed a comedic thread running through the evening. Also there in person, as themselves, were Matt Smith, almost unrecognisable with shorn hair (presumably for another part) and the gorgeous Jenna Coleman. Both of them made their first appearances from within the orchestra much to the delight of the audience. It was also, for those of my generation, marvellous to welcome back Peter Davison, still looking remarkably youthful. Clearly his regenerative powers are still at full strength!

Interspersed between the soundtrack excerpts were several original classical works associated with the series over the years. These included a particularly haunting arrangement of Debussy’s “The girl with the flaxen hair” used in The Robots of Death originally arranged by Dudley Simpson and Brian Hodgson and now re-worked by Ben Forster.

Probably my favourite Murray Gold track of the evening was the shimmeringly evocative “The impossible girl” with accompanying visuals of Clara and the different Doctors through the ages. This was musical character painting of high order.

The final treat was a new song to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the series beautifully sung by Allan Clayton, taking a break from his recent successes in Britten and Benjamin, and Elin Manahan Thomas. Clayton also appeared, extravagantly costumed, with young Kerry Ingram (one of the original London Matildas) in the Ritual Song section from “The Rings of Akhaten”.

All in all, despite the heat, a vibrantly enjoyable evening in the company of the Doctor, his companions and his enemies.

4 stars ✭✭✭✭