A time travel trip 3hrs into the future was all it needed to meet Murray Gold and Ben Foster. Now which Whovian music aficionado wouldn’t do that? I calibrated my TARDIS and set off down south, on an 11-hr, 6000km flight, to a land of wombats and beer. Melbourne, Australia it was and I was to attend both shows of the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular. Situated at the Plenary, a comfortable venue located opposite the iconic Crowne, the inaugural Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, inspired by the Doctor Who Proms 2008 and 2010, was to take place and showcase the music of Doctor Who from its last two series. For me, it did just that, and more…
As the crowd settled in for the afternoon performance, among them, various regenerations of the Doctors, the medium-sized Melbourne Symphony Orchestra commenced with “The Mad Man With A Box”, much to the delight of every “mad man” in the auditorium. It was to begin. Conductor Ben Foster took his place on stage, surrounded in a semi circle by the strings, the percussions to stage right until upper mid stage, the brass and woodwinds to stage left, followed by the Concordis Chamber Choir on a podium on upper stage left. A proscenium arch stage.
The programme line-up was brilliant; pieces included several well-known ones from Series 5 and 6 like “I am the Doctor”, “Amy”, “Abigail’s Song” and “The Wedding of River Song”, as well as favourites from the previous seasons like “This is Gallifrey”, “Vale Decem” and “Song of Freedom”. Even surprise non-releases like “Marge’s Theme” from “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” made it to the programme. I was ecstatic that “The Majestic Tale” was in the line-up. I once said that I would kill to hear that piece live just once. On that day, I heard it twice and no one had to die.
As the programme proceeded on, applause was heard piece after piece. It was inevitable. Ben Foster is an amazing conductor. The fluidity of his hands; I was literally taken in; such wonderful gestures in precision; like an invisible metronome or click-track moving away. Those hands. And, not short of being the best in his league, in terms of stage presence, while most classical conductors project a stiff upper-lip deameanour, Ben exuded such remarkable stage presence, engaging the audience with his funny antics. At one part when the video failed during “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe”, Ben looks at the audience, almost upset as us, yet equally apologetic, it was endearing. Of course, then someone suggested sonicing it, and an amazing sight, like a kaleidoscope, of blue and green lights went up into the air in the dark auditorium; forget mobile phones, sonic screwdrivers are cool! Of course, how can we have a “proms” without dear “Bennnn Fossssterrr” being menaced by a dalek. The conductor slave… Clearly, he was the man of the night!
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was another visual and audio ecstasy to watch and listen to. The strings during “Almost People Suite” and “The Wedding of River Song” broke my heart, well in the end they all do, but this was like violin heaven. The percussions; the drums that reverberated in the hall during “The Majestic Tale”, “Liz, Lizards, Vampires and Vincent” and “Closing Time” sent chills to my heart, as it started to beat to the same rhythm.
The Concordis Chamber Choir were exquisite, their vocals in “The Majestic Tale” and “Vale Decem” projected such strength and range, it felt like listening to a beautiful and powerful requiem. “Dies Irae” comes to mind. Of course, looking and listening to them also makes me proud to be part of the choir section of the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra. And last but not least, the soloists. The beautiful voices cascading around the hall like the ebbs of the sea, was painful but in a good way. “Vale Decem” was so ethereal and wonderfully high, it was magical.
Hosted by the wonderful Mark Sheppard, I could not have asked for a better host for this first DWSS in Australia. Mark was such a nice bloke too.
At the post autograph session, he even decided to stay a little longer to sign more autographs, telling his liaison/manager that he had been doing this (signing) all his life. That single line, “I’ve been doing this all my life”, as an arts management graduate, made me smile; I love artistes like that. He even managed to find a spot to sign Eleventh’s sonic screwdriver when a little Whovian boy asked him too. Amazing… Aside from that, Mark was clearly ‘excited’ at seeing my TARDIS iPhone; I passed it to him and he exclaimed towards Murray on his right. Of course, dear Murray glanced at it, and then at me and proceeded to tell Mark, “Yeah, that’s Vanessa, I know Vanessa. She came all the way from Singapore”. Mark then goes to ask me if I’ve brought anything for them from Singapore.
Of course, now that I’ve mentioned Murray, who can forget that maestro of Gold? Live tweeting from the event since 1pm, Murray was kind enough to reply to me, and couple of times too, that he would be at the sound console, and that I could come to say hi. Unfortunately, I had lost my way in the huge venue, and couldn’t even find door 4, let alone Mr Gold, seemingly to his worry as he later said.
All was not lost though, I managed to finally meet the Gold on person. He exclaimed, in a rather high voice “Vanesssssaaa”, and then we hugged. He then proceeded to ask me about my flight, if I had found any of the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra members (I was supposed to be meeting them) and that he was getting worried that I could not even find door 6 (sorry Murray, it was door 4. But yes, I was worried too, considering they were already doing the 10-min call). Blimey! Talk about talking like old friends! And I just met the guy! Somewhere in there, I rambled that some twitter friends from Europe said hi. Literally rambled. Of course, then, deciding not to take anymore of his time, I asked for a photo, of which darling Edward Russell ‘Murray’s unofficial photographer’, actually brand manager of the DWSS obliged. Thank you Edward! Did that mention that Murray also told Edward about my avid twittering and coming all the way down from Singapore. This guy was clearly happy at my over 6000 kilometres journey. Well, I was too…
In a conclusive analysis of the other aesthetics of the production, the spectacular was well…spectacular. The monsters that thronged the aisles of the auditorium proved to be a hit with everyone.
Flash photography was prohibited by Judoon law but everything else was not. Which explains my deluge of live tweets, photos and a video, much to the dismay and delight of Whovians on the other side of the world, who I kept up through the night. My DSLR and iPhone were my best friends, and I was literally multi-tasking throughout. For the 2pm, I was seated in the first row of stalls. Staging was marred as it was a side view, but monsters stood and walked right in front of me, so that was rather exciting.
For the 7pm, balcony seats provided me with a great overview of staging and despite being far, was excellent for some nice photography. Although, this would have been better with more powerful lenses. My 18-55mm proved basic. Still, I had some nice shots. The fans were amazing sight to watch, from kids to adults to teenagers and pensioners, Whovians lit up the Plenary! There were probably more kids and teenagers for the 2pm and adults and college and university students for the 7pm, but that was expected.
And, although failing to meet the other DWFO members, I did meet some twitter friends; Georgia from New Zealand, Alex from Brisbane and Katherine from Sydney.
Acoustic-wise, it was not concert hall material, but for an auditorium, it was not too bad. The sound crew did excellent. And I enjoyed the Concordis Chamber Orchestra. Everything was magnificent. My fingers magically moved to imitate playing the piano of all the pieces. I adored the lighting design, in terms of how they were focused, rigged and plotted. For example: the special effects blinking, to imitate cybermen proximity, during “Closing Time” was brilliant. There were also some really nice gobos. With the video projections, there was only one minor glitch, which was nothing. Even with technical rehearsals running well, it’s without a doubt that stuff can happen. In terms of special effects, the use of the smoke machine and/or dry ice accentuated the effect of the monsters walking around. No fly bars for sets were used and the only props were the “enemies” that took over the halls. Still, I like to think how chaotically brilliant it must have been backstage. Well done to the stage manager. Bravo!!
Finally, in order to fully execute *#theDWSSscoop, I reckon I “over stalked” Murray Gold. I met him like four times; at the sound console during both intermissions for 2pm and 7pm performances, and at both autograph signings. I claimed my second photo with him, at the theatre auditorium snack bar counter before he left for the day. He had his infamous hat on! Almost like Sherlock and his hat! How could I not?
The autograph he gave me (during the 2pm session), of which I had asked for something funny, had him wish me an assortment of greetings; “My dear Vanessa, Happy Birthday, Christmas, New Year/ Year of the Dragon, Anniversary”, he wrote. He even wanted to forge Ben Foster’s autograph when I didn’t manage to get one. Crikey!
Though failing to get an autograph or photo with Ben Foster, the chap was so nice to tweet me to thank me for coming down for this first DWSS. 6000km, remember?
All in all, Feb 4th will always be an unofficial Doctor Who day for me.
Many thanks to Ben Foster, Murray Gold, Mark Sheppard, Edward Russell, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Concordis Chamber Choir and everyone else part of this production. Yes, even the ushers, box office and backstage, audio and sound techies. I’ve been one of you, and it’s not easy, I know, so I appreciate every aspect that made this possible. You are all BRILLIANT!
* #theDWSSscoop is an academic portfolio that I am working on, coverage of the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, from the perspective of a Whovian, arts management graduate and freelance writer. It includes a photo collage, video log and various write-ups. Unfortunately, no interviews were conducted/recorded.
For a read on the newspaper article on the DWSS Melbourne, please click here
The DWSS Melbourne Youtube playlist can be found here
For a read on the DWSS Sydney review, please click here