Thoughts on the S3 soundtrack album

I’ve had my iPod in a lot over the last day or so, and FWIW, here are my thoughts.

The moment when I decided I’d have to have the S3 soundtrack was when the Doctor was at the funeral pyre in LOTTL and the soaring music added hugely to the impact of that already very powerful scene. Normally, I’m pretty sniffy about soundtrack albums, and SF ones can be particularly monotonous, falling into either the space opera of “Star Wars” or the Vangelis electronica of “Blade Runner”. Both enjoyable, but only in limited doses.

There are a couple of S2 musical moments that are as precious to me as anything on my iPod, particularly “The Lone Dalek”, which was used for the reunion at the end of TSP and seems to sum up all the wonder, fear and loss of the Ten and Rose relationship. It rarely fails to move me to tears and occasionally I unashamedly wallow in it. And the wonderful “Doomsday” theme, of course, needs no introduction. Not that I can bear to listen to it very often.

Anyway, I’ve had the S3 soundtrack on order for nearly a week now and it still hadn’t arrived yesterday. I’m cynical enough to wonder if this has something to do with the UK launch and heavy promotion of Amazon Prime, but whatever the reason, I broke and downloaded the whole thing from iTunes yesterday. With the Box Set also out this week, it’s time for a reassessment of S3 generally, and the music stands up well, pointing up underlying motifs and themes and imposing some structure on what seemed chaotic at the time. In fact, there are times when Murray Gold seems to restore the dignity to the narrative arc that some of RTD’s more self-indulgent moments take away.

One thing I notice about Murray Gold’s musical vocabulary is that it’s very English, particularly English classical music of the early 20th century, reinforcing the impression that the John Smith two-parter distilled the essence of S3. In the Doctor’s theme, there’s more than a little Elgar and Vaughan Williams. It’s picked up by Martha’s theme, too – romance replaced by longing, regret and a sense of duty. It’s all very old fashioned. In the Doctor’s theme I also saw a touch of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, possibly a tribute to the star. There’s some lovely woodwind here and there which takes me right back to the beautiful Vaughan Williams arrangement of “Greensleeves”, carrying childhood memories of listening to the BBC radio show “Melodies for You” hosted by David Jacobs on Sunday mornings.

Donna’s theme is less satisfactory, I feel. I didn’t like the music on TRB and it hasn’t grown on me. Personally, I find Murray Gold’s lighter stuff less enjoyable, and while the echoes of Walton’s “Façade” (and more than a little Gershwin) certainly pick up the screwball comedy, the overall effect is similar to Donna’s ranting at the Doctor – fun once or twice, but not enjoyable over the long haul. I hope she gets something better for S4,

I’ve only listened to “Boe” a couple of times and it has yet to grow on me. I did notice that the tonal register is actually very similar to both “Abide with Me” and “Lone Dalek”, which look back rather than forward and are imbued with loss and grief. However, the session-musician switch to guitar tends to undermine the emotional impact for me.

The first track of the collection, “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” is in many ways the series keynote. It has tremendous pace and drive, excellent music for running down corridors to, ideally with your coat billowing behind you and a big explosion in the background (I do hope he’s sprayed it with fire-retardant at some point, I don’t want to lose David for a while yet).

My initial impression of S3 was that it was full of memory, grief and regret. The music has made me reconsider that. In some ways, that was more the musical tone of S2. The minor key is mostly maintained throughout, but there’s a gradual movement towards resolution that builds through the score of the later episodes in particular. Compare the initial, rather dreary, “Martha’s Theme” with “Martha Triumphant”, the score of her goodbye to the Doctor, and you really get the feeling that she’s developed as a character, whereas Rose remained a work in progress (I don’t mean to denigrate Rose at all, but that was one of the most painful aspects of “Doomsday” for me – that the story simply wasn’t finished. Nowhere near, on either side). “Martha’s Quest”, surprisingly, is the source of the funeral pyre music, but it does work magnificently.

Overall, though, the highpoint for me was definitely “Gallifrey, Our Childhood, Our Home”, which manages to be epic and emotional at the same time. I loved the insistent ticking motif, very appropriate for the Time Lords, and the slow build of intensity and confidence throughout the piece. It really did seem to be going somewhere; there was a sense of coming to terms with a heritage and history, and moving beyond grief – a kind of “things will have to get worse, but then they’ll get better” which left the feeling behind that we saw that process at work in S3 as a whole. It’s cathartic, uplifting and intensely spiritual, rather in the same vein as the last wonderful chords of “The Firebird”. There really is something phoenix-like about it (Of course, in the case of The Master, this may turn out to be all too apt. I haven’t checked, yet, but I’ve a feeling that’s the music to the scene with the hand plucking the ring from the embers). We shall see.

From the musical point of view, the less said about “The Stowaway” the better – but the lyrics seem clear enough. It really is awfully like “Fairytale of New York”, isn’t it?

Finally, “Abide with Me” rounds things off beautifully. It’s probably very cheesy of me, but I would absolutely love to have a recording of that with the Doctor’s elegy to Gallifrey over the music. If anyone is clever enough to do that for me, I’d really appreciate it as a virtual gift.


6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the S3 soundtrack album

  1. Best review of a soundtrack I’ve read. Not sure if I’ll buy it yet- might see if someone uploads it onto T&C like they did the previous one… Will probably succomb and get it if they don’t. Can’t wait to see if I agree with your impressions.
    I do actually really like The Stowaway. But I am SO GLAD that you think it sounds like “Fairytale of New York”. I thought I was the only one!

  2. Aw – love the hamster cute. Yes, please do friend me. And I hope the flapjack works out okay for you. Will try to find the cookie recipe, too – it’s in a magazine somewhere.

  3. Any ideas on how someone from the US could get their hands on the new soundtrack?
    I’ve tried eBay… I’ve tried Amazon… but they didn’t even have an “available for pre-order” page for it. I’ve tried iTunes… but the UK iTunes won’t let me order it without a UK billing address.
    I’d rather have a legitimate copy, so downloading it off some random site isn’t an option, either. I’m willing to pay… I just can’t find a merchant willing to let me pay. :/

  4. You should be able to order as an international customer from – they certainly have it. I used to get stuff from the US Amazon all the time before we had one of our own over here.

  5. I tried that once before, but I don’t remember why I wasn’t able to order what I wanted from them. Could be that I’m remembering “impossible” when it was really something like I couldn’t afford the price, or whatever. I’ll look into it again, thanks!

  6. Yay! It seems to have worked! Paid double the amount I’d pay if I just waited for it to come to iTunes, and I’ve no idea how much our credit card is going to fine us for currency conversion fees, but… it’s worth it. I hope! 😀

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