Doctor Who (Series 11) – Soundtrack Review

While not anywhere near as mind-blowing as Murray Gold’s work for the series, Segun Akinola’s musical debut for Doctor Who does have some very enjoyable moments.

So let me just say this right off the bat; I do not like nor enjoy the new musical direction that Doctor Who is going in, nor the latest series as a whole, honestly. I have formed this opinion for a number of different reasons (all of which I shall go through shortly) but if you came here expecting to find a glowing review for either the score or the new series, you aren’t going to find it here. That being said, this isn’t going to be a thousand words of spite or hatred for the show either. Instead, what follows is a critique of the new composer’s work for Doctor Who, as well as some small but relevant insights into why I personally believe the show with Chris Chibnall as showrunner has lost its way. Additionally, there will be a track-by-track analysis (as usual), but for this review it will be a less prominent feature than normal as I’m going to talk primarily about the album as a whole. Please bear the above points in mind as you read the subsequent review.
So, introduction over; let’s begin.

Segun Akinola’s musical approach to Doctor Who is not something I enjoy or frankly particularly like. It’s a harsh opening sentence I know, but honest is something my reviews have and will always be, and I won’t apologise for that. Now, what follows is the primary reason why I feel this way. If we pretend just for a moment that Murray Gold (the previous composer forĀ Doctor Who) is John Williams, then Segun Akinola is Hans Zimmer. Gone are the brilliant themes and massively over-the-top orchestra from Gold’s era, and here in its place we have some more relaxed and rather ambient-sounding score. The music now a takes a much more background-based role, providing atmosphere and mood rather than conveying particular themes or moments in a highly bombastic manner as Gold did. This is the largest difference between the two composers work for the series, and I personally feel that it was the biggest mistake the showrunner/composer/whoever is in charge of these things could have possibly made.

My reason for this opinion? Picture the character of The Doctor. For me, I see them sauntering into a room all charm and smiles, but at the same time with such presence and gravitas that all the bad guys with their weapons pointed at said character suddenly feel like the Doctor has all the power in the room (despite being at an obvious tactical disadvantage – having no weapons). The Doctor then gives one of their big inspirational speeches, and at the same time comes up with a ridiculously clever plan to stop the bad guys and save the day once again.

It’s a rather over-the-top and dramatic description of the character, but that is my point; this is who the Doctor is, fundamentally. The show overall has always been a rather cheesy, over-the-top and sometimes frankly ridiculous show, but that is what separates it from other Sci-Fi. The Doctor has always been a bold, courageous and pretty extraordinary hero, and if there was one thing that Murray Gold’s music did, it was absolutely nail the music for that character. People often criticised it for being too dramatic and massively over-the-top, but my counter-argument is always that is exactly what the show is all about, and the music should reflect that.

The new series however does not have this. The ridiculously excessive dramatic nature to the score has vanished, and it is such a shame. Now, in Mr. Akinola’s defence though, one could argue that the new series as a whole is like this (i.e. not just the music) as that rather over-the-top theme not only takes a backseat in most episodes, but the trait has also entirely disappeared from the Doctor herself. Gone is this ridiculous hero who could make an army of Daleks fly away in terror with just words, and in their place is a rather weak protagonist who actually takes a bit of a backseat in her own show. Now, I have nothing against Jodie Whittaker as an actor, or the idea that the Doctor can change gender, but my point is still this; the main character of series 11 is fundamentally not the character of the Doctor. She has no real presence, no gravitas, and actually not much in the way of a personality. Because of this, I feel that showrunner Chris Chibnall simply just does not understand the character of the Doctor and who they are as a person. Overall, the rather shoddy writing for series 11 points pretty overwhelmingly towards this idea.

Anyway, I’m off topic. Music, that’s right. Yeah. This new, rather “ambient” nature that the score has taken not only doesn’t really fit the tone of the show, but it also makes the music lose one of its most important traits; memorability. Murray Gold’s music was arguably many things, but one thing that cannot be denied was that it was damn memorable, and Mr. Akinola’s music just does not have this feature. While I was listening to the score earlier today, I genuinely believed (and it happened several times!) at points that I had accidentally switched to the score for Mission: Impossible – Fallout or Mortal Engines, or any other Zimmer-style atmospheric album for that matter. The reason for this is that the new music for Doctor Who is not only entirely unmemorable, it’s generic. This up-and-coming modern style of scoring where you get across a mood or atmosphere can and does work for certain media (take Blade Runner 2049‘s beautiful score for example) but a lot of the time nowadays it’s just the same thing over and over again. It’s not bad music per se, it’s just not different. Akinola’s score here could literally be used for any number of movies or TV shows and it wouldn’t feel out of place – because it’s not unique to Doctor Who anymore. That signature style that Gold had is gone, and instead we have this rather generic-sounding score that isn’t technically bad, but certainly isn’t good either.

That being said, Akinola’s music does have some enjoyable moments – his unique take on the classic Doctor Who Theme is a good example. Here the composer literally goes back in time, takinf the original 1963 recording of the theme as a baseline and then mixing it with some pretty dramatic percussion to create a rather striking and very different version of that iconic theme. This rather intriguing blend of classic and modern actually works really well, and makes for one of the better renditions in recent years. The only drawback however is its presentation on the album; one forty-second opening titles track and one fifty-second closing. No three minute album version (seriously, what happened to those?) and worst of all; no middle eight. It was present in the first episode of the new series (so we definitely know it exists!), but sadly seems to have been omitted for this album. I mean, this should be a crime, that middle eight was really damn good.

Thirteen’s theme is the main highlight of the score, being pretty much the only recognisable (well, semi-recognisable) motif that I could pick out. It’s a pretty upbeat and mostly vocal piece of music, but like much of the score it just doesn’t hold the same musical power and presence that Murray Gold’s various themes for the character did (but then again, the new Doctor has no real presence anyway, so perhaps it’s not the fault of the composer). The new theme gets a pretty good fleshing out throughout the album, with major highlights being The Doctor, Sonic Screwdriver, You Really Need To Get Out Of Those Clothes and Thirteen. Other than this motif, the remainder of the score has scatterings of interesting material, but nothing particularly outstanding. I did like I Love You Nani (from episode Demons Of The Punjab) as the Indian-style vocals combined with some pretty heartfelt strings made for a rather sombre but definitely enjoyable track, one that would be the standout cue if not for Thirteen’s theme.

The TARDIS gets a theme of its own in My Beautiful Ghost Monument, which would be pretty cool if the theme itself was actually interesting or really used much in the series; but it is neither. I really struggled to pick out the actual motif for the machine, and if you really have to look in order to find a theme, then it ain’t a good theme. The action cues of the score were OK, moderately-interesting ones being Keep Your Faith and Rebuilt. They do have rather pleasant blends of percussion and strings, but are overall a tad generic and just not good enough for Doctor Who. I kind of enjoyed listening to them, but not enough that I would likely ever revisit them – and that pretty accurately describes the entire album, in all honesty.

Overall, Segun Akinola’s score for the new series of Doctor Who is passable at best. One of the best things about the show through series 1 to 10 was Murray Gold’s score, primarily because of its unique and near ridiculous levels of dramatic orchestra and memorable motifs that suited the always over-the-top character of the Doctor as well as the show overall perfectly. In losing Gold, the music has sadly also lost this feature, and it suffers a great deal as a result. Gone is the unique nature that the music once had, and in its place is just more Zimmer-style atmospheric/mood-setting score that while isn’t awful, it certainly isn’t great either. Thirteen’s theme is by far the best thing about it, but it’s not enough to save the album. On a positive note though, the score does have certain moments that are pretty enjoyable (Thirteen, I Love You Nani, My Beautiful Ghost Monument), so my hope is that the composer will improve as time goes on by perhaps capitalising on these moments, and hopefully either minimising or entirely ditching the unmemorable atmospheric tone that I’m sorry to say just doesn’t suit Doctor Who at all.

Sorry, Mr. Akinola. It’s a no from me this time. There is potential here though, so I still look forward to hearing your future music for the show. Who knows (see what I did there?) it could be really great one day. Keep at it.

 

Score: 4/10

Standout Cue: 22. Thirteen

 

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