In Defence Of…Murray Gold
During the 9 years since Doctor Who returned to our screens, you may have stumbled across a thread or comment on various fan sites and forums that went a little something like this; “Murray Gold’s music is too loud.” Or perhaps; “Gold’s music is intrusive.” Or maybe even;”I hate how Murray Gold’s music takes me out of the moment.” Aside from one or two individuals who just don’t have very good taste in music, the majority of those who make these sort of comments are talking about the volume of the incidental music used in an episode of the show. So before I go any further into this article, let me clear something up for those people.
There is a job on any television series that involves an individual being responsible for the sound mixing. Usually this person is refered to as “Sound Editor” or “Sound Mixer”. There job is to ensure that all of the audio elements of a television show are mixed appropriately, in order that no one element of sound becomes overbearing and drowns out the other elements.
Murray Gold has never filled this role on Doctor Who.
It’s absolutely, undeniably true that in the first series of New Who the music was unbearably loud. It really was noticeable, even to those who don’t have an ear for these things, and it became a continual distraction week after week. But that’s not the fault of Murray Gold. That’s the fault of the sound editor. And the fact that, 9 years in, I still see people complaining about Gold’s music because it “doesn’t sit well in the mix” really pisses me off. Why? Because the people making those complaints don’t seem to have any interest in the quality of his music, only that the sound editor has done a bad job. So if you have a problem with the volume, please, stop blaming Murray Gold.
With most TV shows I could never tell you the names of the pieces of incidental music used. For the most part, they are generic filler tracks or else they just aren’t that memorable. The same goes for Classic Who; sure, there are pieces of music from certain episodes that always stick in my mind, but I could never tell you who composed them or what the pieces in question were called. That’s not the case with Murray Gold. His music is so good that, even when listened to in isolation, it is a joy to experience. I have favourite pieces from the New Who soundtracks and I can name them all. That alone, in my opinion, is testament to the quality of the music he produces. You remember it. You can conjure up particular scenes in your mind just by remembering the music. If you have the soundtracks, like I do, you could even hum the tune of a certain piece if someone were to say to you “How does All The Strange, Strange Creatures go, then?”
But leaving that aside, Gold’s music elevates the show’s content. Yes, the synth-driven scores of Classic Who do have their own charm and there’s a whole section of the fanbase who long for that kind of music to return in New Who. But the fact is, those old scores sounded like what they were; cheaply made bits of music to stick into an episode. Murray Gold creates music so evocative, so beautifully composed, that not only does it add weight and gravitas to an episode of Doctor Who, but it’s also wonderful to just listen to on my headphones on the bus to work. And it clearly isn’t just me who thinks so; the music of New Who is often performed at the BBC Proms. That too speaks to the appeal of Gold as a composer.
Another common complaint that I’ve seen levelled at Murray Gold is that he re-uses pieces of his music rather than composing new ones. Again – Murray Gold is the composer, the man who writes the music. He is not the man who selects which pieces of his music are going to be used where. He is asked to compose and whatever he composes will then be recorded and used as and where the showrunner and episode directors see fit. Besides which, what’s the problem with using a piece of music again?
Sometimes a piece will end up being used in an episode and it won’t work. Perhaps the tone is wrong, perhaps the mood of the scene doesn’t fit the mood of the music. It happens all the time in TV shows. The beauty of Doctor Who using older pieces of music again is that it gives those pieces the chance to shine in a new, sometimes more fitting context. I’ll give you two examples off the top of my head;
1. “The Dark and Endless Dalek Night”. Originally used in the two-part series 4 finale, this piece is an excellent orchestral march that suitably summons up the impending doom that will arrive with a fully developed Dalek fleet. And yet when it was originally used, it seemed too big for the episode. It didn’t quite fit. Cut to a few years later, when the piece was used again in the 50th anniversary special “The Day Of The Doctor”, and now it becomes the haunting soundtrack to the destruction being wrought upon Arcadia during the last day of the Time War. And it works BRILLIANTLY.
2. “Always The Doctor”. This beautiful piece, that so perfectly underscored the Eleventh Doctor’s emotional farewell, is actually made up of three separate pieces from other episodes of the show. “Trenzalore” comes from “The Name Of The Doctor”. “Infinite Potential” was originally used in “The Rings Of Akhaten” and “My Husband’s Home” originated in Amy & Rory’s departing episode “The Angels Take Manhattan”. All three of them worked just fine in their respective episodes but, when put together back to back and used to add suitable emotional weight to Eleven’s regeneration, they become one complete piece. And a classic one at that. Even listening to “Always The Doctor” in isolation is enough to move me to tears.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t think that music matters in a show or a film, or perhaps someone who doesn’t understand how music elevates the visual material, try watching the original Star Wars without the music of John Williams. Suddenly everything feels very bland and nowhere near as gripping as it did before. The same is true of New Who and we have Murray Gold to thank for creating such brilliant pieces of music – both loud and bombastic and quiet and heartbreaking – that give our favourite show the gravitas it needs and, more importantly, deserves.
Written and edited by Richey Hackett