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Soundtrack Review

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Doctor Who
Ghost Light
Original Television Soundtrack


Composer: Mark Ayres
Silva Screen Records
RRP: £9.49 (CD), £7.99 (download)
SILCD1372 (CD), SILED1372 (download)
Available 26 August 2013

Mark Ayres’s dark and mysterious synth score accompanied Marc Platt’s three-part television serial Ghost Light. Originally released by Silva Screen Records in 1993, the soundtrack has been freshly re-mastered from the original analogue stereo master tapes. Also included are additional tracks previously omitted and the complete initial “demo” version of the music for Part One. Though the score features small themes and motifs, the musical narrative relies on “sounds” rather than “themes”. The composer juxtaposes the tender sound of strings, harp and clarinet with native drums and unearthly sounds of pipes, distorted gong, organ and choir. Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, Ghost Light was the final production of Doctor Who’s original 26-year run...

Despite having listened to the soundtrack to Ghost Light on a number of occasions over the years, as part of the original television serial in 1989, in the form of the 52-minute soundtrack CD issued in 1993, and now this new 72-minute extended version, I still find it very hard to describe.

None of the music really says Victorian England, except perhaps the grandeur of the organ blasts that we hear in “The Madhouse”, “Nimrod Observes”, “Lighting the Touchpaper”, “Requiem” and other tracks. This, I think, represents the foreboding edifice of Gabriel Chase itself. Then again, the soundtrack doesn’t really need to proclaim the period setting, since this is readily apparent when one watches the adventure on screen.

It’s often what we cannot see that the music needs to tell us about. Pan pipes and woodblock percussion in “Redvers, I Presume?”, “Heart of the Interior” and elsewhere evoke the tribal wilderness in which Redvers Fenn-Cooper was once trapped – and in which, mentally, he still is trapped. Harsh slicing noises during numerous tracks suggest deadly danger.

Apart from that, it’s all very strange and chaotic – which is fair enough, since strange and chaotic pretty much sums up Ghost Light itself. What the music conveys is the lurking presence of something unknown, something alien, something life-threatening. In some ways harking back to the work of Tristram Cary and Brian Hodgson in 1960s stories such as The Daleks and The Krotons (the previous Doctor Who soundtrack release from Silva Screen), Mark Ayres eschews melody in favour of a diverse collation of odd and unsettling sounds. In fact, it’s as though the composer has a different sound for every kind of oddness that resides in Gabriel Chase!

Previously unreleased tracks include “Gwendoline”, “The Fang of a Cave Bear” and “The Hungry Inspector”. There are also alternative, earlier versions of all the music composed for the first episode of this serial. The differences between versions aren’t enormous – it’s usually a case of differing levels on the various musical elements. The tracks are presented in story order, apart from the Part One “demo” tracks, which can be found at the end of the album.

If you’re looking for something more melodic, then I’m sure Silva Screen will get around to re-releasing Ayres’s earlier and less experimental scores for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and The Curse of Fenric at some point. However, if you’re looking for unsettling and strange, then you’ve come to the right place! Welcome to Gabriel Chase...


Richard McGinlay

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