With the broadcast of ‘The Power Of The Doctor’ on Sunday October 23rd 2022, so came the end of an era (as some wags would have it, pronounced the American way, to sound like ‘error’), as both the programme’s star – Jodie Whittaker – and controversial showrunner – Chris Chibnall – took their final curtain call, having been in place since 2017.
Step aside, folks, because the new (old) gang is back in town, bringing us Russell T. Davies at the creative helm once more, and David Tennant donning his trusty Converse yet again as the once-and-future Doctor, all in time for the big diamond jubilee shindig for Doctor Who in November 2023. However, bowing out alongside the old guard is series composer Segun Akinola, having been an equally important part of the series over the last five years, with his musical contributions being heard in every episode during that period.
With only three specials in 2022, rather than a full series, the offerings on telly this year have been rather slim pickings for Who fans. However, at least the variety of subject matter, as well as the scope of the episodes, means that all concerned have had a chance to show their range as much as possible, and perhaps none moreso than Akinola. From an offbeat sci-fi romance, to a pseudo-historical, and finally a grand time (and also space) hopping climax, it would seem every effort was made to sign off with a last big flourish.
Kicking off this lap of honour year was ‘Eve Of The Daleks’, seeing the Doctor and her fam stuck in a temporal trap with her oldest and deadliest enemies, the Daleks, in the run up to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Shenanigans of a timey-wimey nature are always good for a bit of a lark, and it gave Akinola a chance to be very playful when putting together his score, taking full advantage of the intentionally recursive nature of the story being told here, choosing to use that in the musical backing for this time loop.
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The beautifully minimalistic approach taken here by using the strings of a double bass to accompany the characters of Sarah and Nick is done in such a fashion that it reflects their awkward circling of each other, with their unconventional love story building throughout the episode, and this motif is used over and built on as events start to repeat. For the rest of the tale, Akinola brings in a mixture of synths and a more conventional orchestral sound, using a broad audio palette to help bring this adventure to life.
The next special, ‘Legend Of The Sea Devils’, saw the return of those titular amphibious creatures for the first time in 38 years, having last turned up in Peter Davison’s 1984 season opener ‘Warriors Of The Deep’, alongside their cave dwelling reptilian cousins, the Silurians. Anyone who has ever had the chance to watch their debut in 1972’s ‘The Sea Devils’ would have certainly found the musical accompaniment to be quite distinctive and memorable, although not necessarily for the right reasons.
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Radiophonic Workshop composer Malcolm Clarke created a rather harsh, jarring electronic score which was out of kilter with what the show was usually serving up around that time. Thankfully, Akinola has chosen not to mimic that approach, going for something more melodic and soothing to the ear, instead of an avant garde aural assault. The historical setting of ‘Legend Of The Sea Devils’ – 19th Century China – means that Akinola uses some of the string instrumentation typical to the period and culture, giving a weight and authenticity to help boost the story.
Things do go slightly off the rails, however, when it comes to ‘The Power Of The Doctor’, as Akinola manages to not truly give the necessary oomph to see out Whittaker’s reign with quite the kind of epic sound that it really deserves. Some of Akinola’s contributions to the series have verged at times on the understated, flying beneath the radar, and having rather more subtlety at points than his predecessor, Murray Gold, a composer who used everything including the kitchen sink at times, and it really showed.
However, some of Gold’s boldness would perhaps have been a bit more suited to the job here, as it does feel a little bit like Akinola failed to understand the assignment. Big and showy sounds would seem to properly befit a huge episode drawing a close to a Doctor’s time on the show, but a lot of the tracks here feel mostly interchangeable, and not striking enough to stand alone when stripped of their context. Audio wallpaper is perhaps the best way to describe much of what we actually get here, which is a real shame, but at least things do pick up for the accompaniment of Whittaker’s final scene, tugging at those heart(s)strings.
With Silva Screen’s release of Doctor Who: Series 13 – The Specials, we do get to see a decent cross-section of Segun Akinola’s work for the programme, which suitably reflects his overall style and approach to his compositions for Who across the last half a decade: both the good, and – although certainly far from bad – the sometimes too subtle and even bordering on lacklustre.
Doctor Who: Series 13 – The Specials is out now from Silva Screen.