During Series 4 David Tennant announced that he wanted to leave the show after another year, and that he also wanted to play the role of Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009. To cater for this Russell T Davies came up with the idea for a season of hour-long "Specials" and this worked well in many ways: it made David Tennant's final year "special", there were fewer episodes but the gaps between them were shorter, the episodes had more content and better pacing, and you get the impression that the support teams had more time to produce their best quality work. This was certainly true of Murray Gold's music, and the CD release for "Series 4 The Specials" is a double-album which showcases his major contribution to the show.
The first three Special episodes are largely stand-alone and Murray Gold has given each its own unique feel. The double-album has chosen to strengthen the connecting story-arc across the episodes. The theme of "Farewell" comes from the Doctor's expected regeneration (with David Tennant and some of the production team leaving the show). The opening track "Vale" (latin for farewell) emphasises this theme, though it was first heard in the story "The Waters of Mars". Though with the final farewell still a year in the future, the first story "The Next Doctor" (shown on Christmas Day 2008) kicks off in a great mood. The Doctor lands in a Victorian Street and it is snowing in the track "A Victorian Christmas". The Victorian feel stays with much of the story: there is the Dickensian idea of children in work-houses, scenes in a graveyard, and lots of old-time gadgets - a hot-air balloon, the workings of the mill and the enormous CyberKing.
But there is also a mystery to be solved: who is this person who thinks he is the Doctor? The mystery starts with "Not the Doctor" with Murray Gold quoting the doctor theme and giving a slow homage to Prokofiev's music from Romeo and Juliet. Then pieces of the mystery are revealed in "In the Sea of Memory" and "The Greats of Past Time", a strong reflective track to accompany some of the Doctor's memories. Being a Christmas episode there is also some fun in "A Bit of a Drag" while a cybershade drags the two doctors and even in the action track "Hidden in the Closet". The big dramatic monster track is "The March of the Cybermen" and in his liner notes Gold shows his knowledge of Doctor Who music history by mentionimng the Cyberman March composed by the late Malcolm Clarke (1943-2003) in the Peter Davidson story "Earthshock". There is also a moment of calm with some relaxing music for "The Wonder of Balloons" and the episode ends on a happy note in "Goodbyes" as the Doctor enjoys a family Christmas with his new friends.
The next story "Planet of the Dead" is also mostly fun in mood. It kicks off with "A Disturbance in the Night" and "The Cat Burglar" as a mysterious figure dressed in black steals an item from a museum. Gold's music is very much in the Bond style as this daring Mission Impossible theft takes place. When the escape vehicle (a bus) lands on a desert planet, Murray Gold treats us to some "Lawrence of Arabia" music with timpani in "Stirring in the Sands" and of course you need a double-reed instrument to play desert themes in this and "Alone in the Desert". The light-heartedness continues with the verbal repartee between the Doctor and Lady Christina de Souza, and their meeting with the Tritovores who as Fly people have a buzzing sound heard at the end of "Alone in the Desert". Of course there is a threat and "A Special Kind of Bus" is one of those slow building tracks with voices joining later, as the threat of a deadly swarm gets closer and closer. The story ends in fun mood again as the bus flies in "Lithuania".
"The Waters of Mars" is where things start to dark darker, though there is still the light relief of running down corridors or hitching a ride on gadget-gadget. The darkness comes initially when Murray Gold uses modernistic orchestral effects in "By Water Borne" to represent a very different type of threat, and a dripping watery feel comes from a mix of orchestral instruments and synthesised sounds. "The Fate of Little Adelaide" largely covers a flashback sequence where Adelaide Brooke is visited by a Dalek as a girl. The Dalek seems to recognise her importance and spares her. This moment inspires her to reach for the stars, and in a sense this cleverly mirrors the Doctor's dilemma - good can come unwittingly from evil (and vice versa?), and there are pitfalls to altering time. "Altering Lives" has some surreal dreamlike music for the history-changing sequence and the ominous appearance of the Ood at the end.
CD2 covers the 2 episode "The End of Time" shown on Christmas Day 2009 and New Year's Day 2010. This huge story delves again into the mythology of the Timelords, it explores the origin and destiny of the Master (why he hears knocking in his head), we find out who it is who knocks four times, and the Doctor holds back his inevitable regeneration until he can say goodbye to his faithful companions. Light relief (since it is a family show broadcast during the Christmas season) is provided only partly by Donna's grandfather, since Wilf now plays an important role in the story. And there is also some light relief from the character of Minnie hooper (played by June Whitfield) and the green spikey-faced Vinvocci. The CD kicks off with another Farewell reminder - "We Shall Fare Well" is sung by unaccompanied sopranos as a mysterious Time Lady first appears to Wilf while he is visiting a church.
In "A Frosty Ood" the Doctor has some fun with an Ood but is he just trying to take his mind off the inevitable end? But the Ood finally get him to take things seriously in "A Dream of Catastrophe". The musical highlights of episode 1 are "The End Draws Near" as the Doctor and Wilf share some thoughts in a cafe and "Final Days" when a familiar tune brings the edisode to its climax. We hear his knocking theme again "The Master Suite" but the Master's stand-out music is "The Ruined Childhood" where we start to feel some sympathy for the evil timelord - not just for what he has become but for how he started as a boy and the TimeLords using him to help them return, and the story reveals that the narrator (played by Tomothy Dalton) is not just the Time Lord President but Rassilon himself.
"A Chaotic Escape" plays it for laughs again as the Vinocci help the Doctor to escape, before we hear one of the best tracks "The World Waits" which starts with a Didgeridoo type drone, dark and low, which builds to a portentous climactic statement. The next two tracks are reflective in mood "A Longing to Leave" and "A Lot of Life Behind Us" which starts on guitar and its developed by the string section. The action reaches its climax over the next 3 tracks until "The Clouds Pass" where the End of Time theme with voices suggests that there might be a happy ending. Then fate laughs at the Doctor like some Greek tragedy with "Four Knocks", but he is more than willing to sacrifice himself. Then all is sadness in "Song for Ten" and particular "Vale Decem" (farewell ten) as a lone voice (sung beautifully by Mark Chambers) initiates the sequence of indulgent but deserving farewells - one of Murray Gold's most moving statements which includes a reference to the Doctor's theme. Following the regeneration sequence "The New Doctor" introduces Matt Smith in the form of a rock and roll Geronimo!
These Doctor Who CDs just get better and better. On 2 CDs "Season 4 The Specials" covers the music of the 5 episodes comprehensively, with a wide range of styles and there are some truly outstanding tracks which makes for repeated listening. This release is a must for Murray Gold fans and fans of the Good Doctor. It is available from: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
The Next Doctor
Planet of the Dead
The Waters of Mars
The End of Time parts 1 and 2