Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Q. When is an original soundtrack album not an original soundtrack album?

A. When the original soundtrack has been wiped.

In the mid-1970s, the TV series Doctor Who was happily enjoying its golden era. Tom Baker (above) was playing the title role definitively, and the UK ratings were hitting crazy figures like 14 million. (more than 1 in 5 of the population)

You might have thought that the master tapes of the show’s incidental music, composed by the prolific Dudley Simpson for a five to six piece orchestra, would be something worth hanging onto, at least to release on an LP or cassette or some such technology. However, as was often the way with classic Doctor Who, the BBC dispatched them to that great sound archive in the sky, and so that was that.

The sheet music, on the other hand, was safely put into storage.

Twenty years later in the 1990s, after Simpson had returned home to his native Australia, fan Heathcliff Blair was attempting nothing less than to resurrect these recordings from the dead, using cloning.

By listening carefully to the finished episodes, and filtering out in his head such impurities as Tom Baker’s booming voice, Blair found that he was able to meticulously reperform each of the component parts of some of Simpson’s compositions, note for painstaking note. Well, obviously he pressed the record button on his computer, and began to multi-track with himself, reconstructing whole cues.

Teaming up with Silva Screen Records, he was granted access to the surviving written scores, and gradually recaptured the pieces in their entirety.

The closest possible thing to the original recordings began to grow.

This CD then represents an incredible endeavour to release a 70-minute soundtrack album despite the tiny detail of the soundtrack in question not actually existing.

In my opinion, it’s 90% successful. As I listened to it through once again last Sunday night, I certainly found it to evoke the mood of that era.

For me, the most evocative tracks were 6-13, which are taken from the classic tale Genesis Of The Daleks. Back in the day, the BBC had released a heavily edited version of this story on record and tape, which I had listened to repeatedly. Upon hearing these identical music cues twenty-five years on, in the very same living room, I really felt transported back to those days, and at several points I caught myself involuntarily mouthing the appropriate lines of dialogue. Clearly Blair was doing something right.

Afterwards I inevitably tried to test the disc by comparing the opening music from Pyramids Of Mars with my VHS tape of it, and was pleasantly surprised to find many extra notes on the CD than in the actual programme. This sort of irregularity is partly because the instrumentals were trimmed and faded-down in the final TV edit. It‘s also because Heathcliff has composed the odd bridging section himself, in order to segue between otherwise unconnected cues, which I think is fair enough.

There is sadly just one inherent shortcoming to this collection, which is that several of the instruments have been realised here on a mere synthesiser. Consequently, the result is a CD that only really evokes the episodes, without ever quite managing to sound authentic.

Well, if you know your Doctor Who that is. Ten years on, in the 1980s, all the show’s music was being originated electronically, making tracks like that Pyramids one sound an awful lot like a Peter Davison adventure.

However, as projects to go back in time and rescue an artifact from the past go, only Doctor Who himself could have done better.

Available here.

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