It seems you wait ages for a new Doctor Who soundtrack, and then for Series 13 you get two bumper releases almost back to back. First we had a 3-CD box-set with music of the 6-part Flux plus the 2021 New Year Special "Revolution of the Daleks". Now we have the follow-up soundtrack release "The Specials" which is another 3-CD box-set with scores to the 3 Special episodes broadcast in 2022, which are also the last three stories with Doctor 13 played by Jodie Whittaker and with Chris Chibnall as showrunner. So this is very much the end of an era and Segun Akinola, appointed by Chris Chibnall back in 2018 as the show's resident Composer, has also announced that he will be leaving the show. The soundtracks for these 3 stories featured in "The Specials" box-set therefore mark the final Doctor WHo scores of Segun Akinola, so this is a very special release for him too. In this review we will focus on that second extra-special box-set, with each CDs allocated to a different Specials: "Eve of the Daleks", "Legend of the Sea Devils" and "The Power of the Doctor". The music of all Season 13 seems to be more orchestral, with less of the electronics heard back in Season 11.
"Eve of the Daleks" is a light-hearted romp in the tradition of the Christmas Specials with the exception that this is a New Year Special. There is the oblique Christmas reference to the "ELF Storage Facility" (the initial "S" is missing) and a "Fireworks" show at the end adds to the Seasonal feel. It's a nicely satisfying self-contained story with minimal character arcs and all the better for it. The Doctor and "family" get stuck in a time-loop where they are continually exterminated by Daleks before the time-loop restarts itself. The story is also something of a romantic one with relationships developing between the story's new characters Nick and Sarah, and also between the Doctor and Yaz. The music kicks off with "Here We Are Again" and the homely feel of an acoustic guitar before a bass adds a moderately quirky jazz-like element, before "Out of Service" returns to a more familiar sonic world and thematic material such as the 3-note tri-tone motif heard frequently in the "Flux" episodes.
It should be said that the episode is busy with lots of action, sound effects and dialogue, so the score as televised recedes into the background. This is one reason why soundtrack albums are popular, because they let the music shine away from other distractions. Akinola's Doctor Who scores are generally just a few minutes shorter than the televised episodes, so almost certainly we are hearing extended versions of the soundtracks, and without some of the rapid cutting between scenes, and perhaps this might be how they are recorded before being edited to fit scenes. "Eve of the Daleks" becomes a familiar "race against time" story, and the action music has a ticking-clock beat to it with dramatic hits at key moments. However there is plenty of time for moments of contemplation, and here the two guitar riffs are allowed to shine, along with other melodic elements such as an echoing plucked sound and a introspective piano. All of these are well put together on the album, and give the feeling of the different time-loop iterations. This all comes to a satisfying conclusion when "the fam" enjoy the "Fireworks" and the bass and guitar return. We even hear the Tardis theme when its reset is complete.
"Legend of the Sea Devils" features an old monster in updated form, and it has pirates though of the Chinese variety rather than from the Caribbean. And there's a huge sea monster something like Dune's Sandworms but with fins. Its definitely an effects-heavy story with lots of technical and watery sound effects for the music to compete with, and a lot of the music has to be big, powerful and action-oriented to complete with all this. Akinola manages to include some Chinese traditional instrumentation in the score for some of the earlier establishing sequences, and thankfully we are able to hear more of this on the album, whereas as broadcast the ethnic flavour seems very brief. This middle special has a screen run-time of 48 minutes and the score album is just under 47 minutes.
"The Power of the Doctor" is the climactic conclusion of Jodie Whittaker's Doctor and the Chibnall era, with returning companions and doctors galore. Clearly the idea is to go out with a bang dramatically, and the music rightfully takes a back seat to allow the multiple plot threats room to breathe. The score for this Special is surprisingly conventional, but it does have a lot of big events to accompany and its purpose is also to somehow wrap up the era with some callbacks to earlier themes. There are a lot of what might be called establishing tracks as a complicated canvas of enemy forces is painted, with plenty of action (Cybermen attacking a space train) and puzzles (e.g. a mysterious planet with a strange alien) and we are re-introduced to a number of allies for the doctor. Musically the high-octane action (brass or percussion dominated orchestral) and the more restrained moments of tension (string ostinatos and/or brass gestures) or interpersonal (piano) are joined by an almost omnipresent guitar beat or occasionally a pedal point (in low or high registers). All of this just dials up the tension as a whole, which reaches a crescendo with the album's central tracks.
Then "We Are Not Finished" meaningfully brings back the 13th Doctor Theme with wordless vocals from Jodie Whittaker's opening story, before "What's The Plan?" changes the Tempo with an heroic burst of the Tardis (Ghost Monument) theme before turning introspective. "Reunite" plays a percussive beat as though it has come from a Terminator film, and then there seems to be a hint of emotional Inception chords. There are a number of changes in mood as the music ebbs and flows to allow the final steps in this drama play out, until the conclusion of "Activate Everything" bring a resounding victory with brass chords, drum rolls and strings but then a few piano notes seem to say "at what cost?". "She's The Doctor" starts with a sad Doctor Theme as the end draws near. This track is tragic and finishes on a brief yet mysterious recapitulation of the theme's vocal rendition. It's a complex story with many characters and plot threads. Segun Akinola's score brings all this together into a meaningful whole, and perfectly wraps up the 13th Doctor's story arc.
The Doctor Who Series 13 The Specials boxset is available from: Amazon.co.uk and available to stream from Amazon.com.
Disc One - Eve of the Daleks
Disc Two - Legend of the Sea Devils
Disc Three - The Power of the Doctor