Doctor Who
Music from the Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures

Composers: Alistair Lock, Nicholas Briggs, Russell Stone and William Allen
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 903654 55 6, BFPCDMUSIC4
Available now

Whereas Big Finish's previous three collections of music have been themed around specific composers, this volume concentrates on the first "season" of Paul McGann's audio adventures. Thus we hear the work of four different composers - as well as David Arnold's rendition of the Doctor Who theme - which makes for a lot more variety than usual.

Alistair Lock's Storm Warning music has an intentionally cinematic feel to it, reminding me particularly of the works of James Horner. When I reviewed the audio drama itself, I commented that the plot bore a resemblance to the tragedy of the Titanic, and Lock's music certainly echoes the strident signatures that Horner brought to James Cameron's epic movie. Later tracks introduce more discordant themes, as well as tinkling, ethereal sounds, all of which evoke the less earthly realm of the alien visitors.

That jack of all trades Nick Briggs provided the score to Sword of Orion, taking inspiration from Jim Mortimore's music for the original amateur audio version of the story, which was itself inspired by Malcolm Clarke's Earthshock score. More than a hint of Clarke's ominous percussive themes remains in Briggs' work, which similarly creates a real sense of foreboding. In his sleeve notes, Briggs also claims to have drawn upon the instrumentation of Carey Blyton's Revenge of the Cybermen score. I can't hear it myself, but then that's a good thing - I thought Blyton's music for Revenge was terrible! In context, the repetitive, doom-laden signatures of Sword of Orion brilliantly underscored that adventure's dramatic tension, but heard in isolation they quickly grow tedious.

Like Alistair Lock, Russell Stone, in his score for The Stones of Venice, pulls out all the stops to create music for the latest Doctor that sounds new and different, yet still recognisably Who. Not for the first time (and not for the last) the instrumental style of Mark Ayres, the last great name to join the pantheon of composers for the original BBC TV series, is evoked. Meanwhile, the emotional nature of both the story and McGann's Doctor are underscored by melancholy signatures and funereal percussion. The dying Venice is also an eerie and mystical place, and Stone captures this feeling too.

More discordant themes suggest that something is amiss in the score to Minuet in Hell, composed by William Allen. Sinister organ music and a distorted guitar echo the diabolical goings-on in Malebolgia. These are offset by a few jauntier signatures, which underscore the story's more whimsical moments, and by the more tuneful theme of the heroic character of Becky Lee. The use of electric guitar also reminds me of the theme tune to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the heroine of which inspired the creation of Becky Lee.

Rounding off this collection is David Arnold's theme arrangement. It took me a while to warm to this version, because I would have preferred Big Finish to have used the theme arrangement from the TV Movie for their Eighth Doctor adventures, but Arnold's work has grown on me during the last year. It has a fresh and modern feel, yet manages to reinstate some of the scariness of Delia Derbyshire's original rendition.

There are many moving sections on these two CDs, especially during Storm Warning and The Stones of Venice, but each of the medleys seems to slightly outstay its welcome. Few movie soundtracks contain every single bit of music that was composed for the film in question, simply because incidental music tends to be repetitive in order to establish its themes. Perhaps Big Finish should not strive to be so completist with its soundtracks.

Richard McGinlay