Conductor – Ben Foster
To compare the fifty-years-strong fanbase of Doctor Who to self-proclaimed Beliebers feels like blasphemy; yet, here we are. I'm playing a game of spot the Dalek cosplayers in among the thronging body of fans and it's just occurred to me, not quite for the first time, that it takes dedications to pop baubles – or styrofoam balls, I'm not quite what they are – down your skirt and happily declare oneself an attendee of a musical event dedicated to Doctor Who. Coupled with music, the MSO's latest venture sounds packed with potential for mockery: classic music and good British geekery? Who'd go to that?
Answer: it looks like damn well everyone. Or at the very least, the show's sell-out season has something to say about the loyalty of Doctor Who's crowd. Housed within the gargantuan Plenary Hall of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the concept does, at times, admittedly look selfish; with the symphony orchestra seated below three projection screens, it’s difficult to know where one should focus their attention. Up on stage among the musician’s chairs, a single blue TARDIS sits stage left, reminding us that strings and bows be damned; there’s a place for all sorts of unorthodox instruments – be it the handbrake noise the TARDIS makes on the show, or the synths that appear sporadically throughout the night’s soundtracks – and similarly, there’s a place for misfits in all sorts of institutions. The MSO open the night’s proceedings with a thunderous rendition of the Eleventh Doctor’s Theme (I Am The Doctor), which in person feels more like a tidal wave breaking over the crowd; and a fitting introduction to the epic and emotion-riddled saga of the Doctor's story, which we're due to trace. Peter Davison – better known to these fans as the Fifth Doctor – proves as charismatic a figure as he was back in the day; his pointed nods at his British heritage and almost boyishly proud mentions of his own Doctor's exploits are emblematic of the goodwill the series has towards it's viewers. Yet another Doctor makes an appearance via pre-recorded video, though the MSO's publicity team has made no prior mention of his contribution – much like how his appearance in the fiftieth anniversary wasn't discussed? (Fellow Whovians, I'll let you calculate the rest.) Alongside them and the MSO's Chorus, soloist Antoinette Halloran proves a formidable presence also; her crystalline soprano lifts otherwise challenging pieces, such as Abigail's Song or Amy's Theme, into heart-rending renditions. Whether it's sheer commitment to the series they've no doubt researched, or emotional involvement – as orchestrator Ben Foster would likely stick it as – to the depth of the scores, chorus and symphony work as a faultless machine.
Speaking of faults, it'd be remiss of me to mention that while monsters and signature moments are celebrated in score, other pivotal characters are glided over. River Song, while divisive, barely gets a look-in. It's debatable whether this is deliberate or merely a matter of needing to prune the concert's admittedly snappy running time – but that said, it's undeniable each fan has a certain set number of songs they'd prefer to see on stage. Beyond the matter of new-era Doctor Who pieces, the concert ensures to pay tribute to Doctor Who's roots in the form of Classic footage and a recreation of the original theme that sets the tone for the rest of the night; unadulterated, unremitting dedication to all facets of the show, from the camp to the devastating. Brevity can be found in the steady appearance of the show's monsters, and bless the good men and women who fill the shoes of those Cybermen, Silence, and Daleks – and beyond. While the MSO's pruned back on most of the Video Games Symphony's extraneous details – which proved detrimental in the amount of clutter the night saw – Doctor Who's monsters stalk the aisles and point their weapons at various members of the audience in perfect sync in time to the throbbing drumbeat or sudden silence of the string sections up on stage. The last of the monsters listed (the Daleks) prove particularly entertaining: one segment is specifically scripted to highlight their character makeup, wherein the night's conductor (Foster) gets a brief look-in as the stand-in for the Doctor, and if they happen to be seated at ground level, the better part of the audience find themselves eye-to-stalk with the great metal 'bots.
It's a conversation, you see; a call and response of music to emotion; reference to laughter; out of character commentary to acknowledgement. There’s not much point in attempting to divulge meta construction of the concert beyond the TARDIS up on stage: MSO’s merely staged a celebration, not solely of music, but of the spirit of the show. It’s immersive; it’s engaging; it's earnest, as proven by the dedication and the candidness with which famous figures speak to the audience as little more than fellow lovers of science fiction. We glide through companions, new and old; and it's the audience that provides the response and the discussion MSO's team, perhaps, cunningly knew would be had.
At it's very core, the Doctor Who Symphony is a love letter to the show and it's supporters; and an opportunity for them to celebrate a landmark year for a story that's still growing it's legacy.
No concert could have been be better timed.
Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Venue: Plenary Hall, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
Dates: 31 January 2014 @ 7:30 and Saturday 1 February 2014 @ 2pm and 7:30pm
Tickets: from $49
Bookings: 03 9929 9600 | www.mso.com.au