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Doctor Who: Score Review

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1996-06 Film Score Monthly.jpg


The following is a review of the score to Fox's recent Doctor Who telefilm as it appeared in the picture; no soundtrack album has been released:

Change has always been commonplace for Doctor Who. Beginning with the departure of lead actor William Hartnell in 1966, change has propelled the show through different Doctors and different eras for 26 seasons. After a hiatus of seven years, Doctor Who has returned to television with a new Doctor (Paul McGann), a new production company (Universal, broadcast on Fox), and a new look and feel crucial to the effect of the change is John Debney's score. Unlike the distinctively offbeat nature of much of the music from the British series, Debney's music sounds like most other American action film scores these days—exciting and fun, yet temp-tracked to death.

This can be noticed immediately as the title sequence commences. Instead of the eerie opening motif of Ron Grainer's signature tune, Debney uses the secondary motif, with a lot more pomp, and a little lest menace. Returning to the eerie opening motif, we swirl through a void to set credits that recall the aces in Superman.

Inside the Doctor's ship—the TARDIS—the remains of his arch-enemy, the Master, "escape" from a sealed compartment and slide into the ship's main console (causing it to veer off course towards Earth). Urgent punchy synths—the first of such in the series—add a contemporary pulse and help generate the edgy energy.

The TARDIS crash-lands in 1999 San Francisco in an alley, right in the middle of a gang war which is punctuated by piano bursts that uncannily resemble Danny Elfman's work in the "rooftop" sequences for the first two Bantam film The Doctor is caught in the crossfire and rushed to a nearby hospital, thanks to surviving gang member Chang Lee (Yee Joe Tso). The Master's remains seek refuge via the arriving ambulance.

Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) rushes to save the Doctor's life. The urgent synths sound again as she subdues the frantic Doctor (who warns her not to operate on him—he isn't human, after all). A probe sent into one of his hearts snaps, and the source cue of a Madame Buseilly CD reaches a screaming crescendo as the Doctor dies on the operating table.

Back in paramedic Brace's house, the eel-like Master slides from the sleeve of Brace's ambulance coat, glides across the floor to the bed, and jumps down Bruce's throat, with the obligatory menacing music in the background. The Master has taken a new body.

Meanwhile, trapped in a morgue locker, the Doctor regenerates. There is a direct parallel to the "It's Alive!" sequence From Frankenstein, coupled with some fun horror music cliches. The Doctor, who has suffered temporary amnesia. breaks down the locker door and walks around in a daze. When he finally confronts his image in the shards or a broken mirror. Debney's score reaches operatic heights, banging away at the minor chords to the Dcctor's "Who am I?!"

It's only after he meets Grace again that the Doctor's memories begin to return. While Grace initially rejects him being the man she tried to save (new body, remember...), the evidence soon points to the Doctor's alien physiology. The two go out for a midnight stroll, with the Doctor piecing his life back together. The romantic music (usually present in most scenes with Grace tend lifted from "Jenny" from The Rocketeer !]) builds to a nice climax which culminates with the two kissing (!) as the Doctor regains his faculties.

Everything goes sour, however, as the Master and Chang Lee harness the Eye of Harmony in the Doctor's TARDIS and see through his eyes. Dizzying strings are heard as the Doctor realizes that the Master is going to try to take over his body (at the cost of the world, naturally), and to stop him, be needs an atomic clock. one of which is conveniently located at the Institute of Technological Advancement and Research.

Grace, who's convinced again that the Doctor is insane, calls for an ambulance, but the driver turns out to be Bruce, aka the Master. During the ride they encounter traffic, and the Master attempts to attack them, but the Doctor and Grace escape and take to the streets on a motorcycle. The subsequent chase recalls the one from Terminator 2, accompanied by music appropriately reminiscent of Brad Redei's synthesized adrenaline-fest. Over this. we hear a motif which has come right out of Jens Goldsmith's theme from The Shadow!

The Doctor and Grace make it to the institute, retrieve the essential piece front the atomic clock, only to find the Master and Chang ice hot on their trail. In a move borrowed from Die Hard, the two use a fire lame to reach safety from a rooftop. As their feet touch down on the roof of a police cruiser, Debney begins to play around with some triumphant James Horner material, I'm not sure what it's from. Star Trek II, The Rocketeer, probably all three. The music quickly shifts to an energetic version of Grace's theme as she and the Doctor reach the TARDIS.

Within the Doctor again confronts the Master in a big-budget sci-fi ending with lots of splashy special effects. Debney's score serves to add to the onslaught of audiovisual information, pounding at us with gargantuan chords, even adding a searing organ.

In the end, evil is defeated, Chang Lee joins the side of good, and the Doctor has settled nicely into his eighth body. Saying good-bye to Grace against a sky of New Year's fireworks (with yet another surge of Grace's theme), the two kiss end pert their separate ways.

While John Debney's score does incorporate a lot of other material, it's hard to condemn the music because it works so well with the other filmic components. The scene where the Doctor describes a Gallifreyan meteor allows!: to Grace is heartwarming and touching, largely thanks to the score (despite the Racketeer rip-oft of Grace's theme). When I first watched the movie, I was so caught up in it that I failed to notice the score—it had affected me on a subliminal level. Debney's music for Doctor Who may not be original, but it adds a nice texture end livers each scene in which it is heard.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Szpirglas, Jeff (issue 70 (June 1996)). Doctor Who: Score Review. Film Score Monthly p. 20.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Szpirglas, Jeff. "Doctor Who: Score Review." Film Score Monthly [add city] issue 70 (June 1996), 20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Szpirglas, Jeff. "Doctor Who: Score Review." Film Score Monthly, edition, sec., issue 70 (June 1996)
  • Turabian: Szpirglas, Jeff. "Doctor Who: Score Review." Film Score Monthly, issue 70 (June 1996), section, 20 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Doctor Who: Score Review | url= | work=Film Score Monthly | pages=20 | date=issue 70 (June 1996) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 November 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Doctor Who: Score Review | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 November 2023}}</ref>