Proms diary: Doctor Who Prom
Neil McKim joins an enthusiastic crowd of fans and Daleks for a night of music from the BBC TV series
‘Attention humans, this Royal Albert Hall in now under Dalek control’ grates the instantly recognisable Dalek voice. ‘There is no escape from the Daleks. You must obey or be… exterminated!’ Two Daleks have glided out on the stage in front of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with another raised on a platform above the arena. When conductor Ben Foster defiantly waves his (now glowing) baton at Doctor Who’s best-known adversaries they become agitated. ‘Alert, Alert, the conductor is over-acting’, grates the Dalek voice, as laughter erupts across the packed Hall.
This audience is delighted to be at this Prom, one of the most popular of the entire season. So popular, in fact, that the tickets sold out almost immediately when they went on sale and the BBC Proms has had to schedule two separate concerts of the same material (Prom 2 and 3). And it’s a formula that has worked well in the past too – this is the third time a Doctor Who Prom has taken place.
It’s fair to say that you would probably have to at least like watching Doctor Who to want to be at this Prom, which many (myself included) clearly do. And there are those who also enjoy dressing up. Waiting outside, there are many children in fez hats (a nod to the current Doctor, Matt Smith) and among the adults; quite a few are in Tom Baker scarfs (the ’70s era I grew up with) and there’s even a lady in a Tardis dress.
This Prom’s programme mainly consists of music from the newer Doctor Who (since it was resurrected in 2005), composed by Murray Gold and orchestrated by Ben Foster. And Gold’s emotionally charged pieces such as ‘I am the Doctor’ and ‘All the Strange, Strange Creatures’ are instantly recognisable to anyone who has watched this recent incarnation of the series. As extracts from the show are played on the Hall’s screens, the audience can see how these orchestral pieces brilliantly match the action. And the might of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales becomes further enhanced by the London Philharmonic Choir along with soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and tenor Allan Clayton. Then there are excited gasps from around the audience as aliens emerge, often mid-piece, from the Albert Hall’s side exits. Cybermen, Vampires, Whispering Men and even a motionless Weeping Angel appear in the Hall. (Fans of the show know that this terrifying alien can’t move when people are looking at it. Fortunately, with 6,000 pairs of eyes in the audience there’s no danger of this.)
As it’s Doctor Who’s 50th birthday, it’s appropriate that the First Doctor’s (William Hartnell) first companion Susan (Carole Ann Ford) is in attendance. She recalls first meeting the Daleks 50 years ago (and being told not to use their cases as dodgems). Notably she reveals that ‘one of the great things about being in this show was that you get to be a kid again’. And this surely sums up the wider appeal of Doctor Who, as generations young and old still experience and remember the thrill of hiding behind sofa cushions.
But the highlight of this Prom is hearing the show’s ubiquitous theme music. With its legendary ‘woo hoo’ melody, composed by Ron Grainer and famously developed by Delia Derbyshire using the innovative technology of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop to create its otherworldly sound, it now has the added orchestral colours of Murray Gold, here displayed by the full forces of BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the London Phiharmonic Choir. The eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, aptly introduces this piece as: ‘one of the most iconic theme tunes in the history of the universe’. Just don’t tell the Daleks!