Film Review – Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)

Spooks-One-Sheet-v2 Spooks (or MI-5 as it was known in America) remained one of my favourite television shows throughout its ten year run on the BBC. Its dramatic plots, strong acting and the knowledge that no character was guaranteed to survive (who can forget poor Lisa Faulkener’s Helen in only episode 2?!) meant that Spooks became revolutionary television when it arrived in 2002 and I was rather sad when it ended in 2011. After rumours of a film, it was fantastic to see that it was returning via the big screen and I finally managed to see The Greater Good this month. Was it any good? Could it live up to the series? Could it spark a series of films?

Overall it’s an enjoyable action thriller, but it still felt as if it was an extended episode of the television show, simply on a bigger screen. This is a testament to the strength of the original show, which always had the level of quality that made it television at the top of its game. However, I’m less confident The Greater Good is strong enough to compete with big action / spy film franchises.

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Peter Firth (Harry Pearce) & Kit Harington (Will)

Don’t get me wrong, this is a decent film, but it didn’t impress me in the same way some episodes of the series used to. Due to the revolving door nature of the characters in Spooks, which saw so many brilliant young actors come and go including Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage, David Oyelowo and Keeley Hawes, the film could only ever revolve around Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), head of MI5 and the only original cast member still standing.

When a crucial CIA prisoner Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escapes on Harry’s watch, blame falls on the Service and questions swirl as to whether it has outlived its use and importance and Harry’s sudden disappearance raises all manner of questions amongst the higher levels of power – is he dead? has he been turned? where is he if he is alive? Finding Harry becomes the key to finding the terrorist and understanding what bigger terrorist plans are being formulated. The task of finding him falls on decommissioned MI5 agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington), who has a personal connection to Harry, of which MI5 is all too aware and when Harry reaches out to Will, those in charge take the opportunity to use Will to their advantage, despite his reluctance (he still blames Harry for ending his MI5 career).

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Elyes Gabel as terrorist on the run Adam Qasim

There is a strong cast of British actors in this film, in which Jennifer Ehle, David Harewood and Tim McInnerny (reprising his role from the series) are convincing government figures, playing their manipulative games for what they perceive to be the greater good. There are also some great performances from younger actors – I particularly liked Eleanor Matsuura’s Hannah Santo, who would have been a great addition to the series as a regular were it still on. However, the film has to focus on Harry and Will, which is both a strength and a weakness. Peter Firth is on excellent form as usual as Harry, a character we all grew to care about, after seeing him endure so much over the course of the series. I certainly don’t envy his job! He’s a brilliant actor and is able to convey so much even when saying very little and it’s great to see him out in the field. Nothing is more important to him than protecting the integrity of the Service, regardless of the consequences for himself.

As for Will, he is an interesting character and Kit Harington plays him well. However, had this been the series, he would have had weeks to develop, as the audience grew to know his character, backstory and grow to like him. Without that scope the character has to be fully formed immediately and I think at times this wasn’t achieved, which left the character seeming quite weak sometimes. However, I did enjoy the aspects of the film that focus on his and Harry’s paternal relationship and again this would have been more effective unfolding over a series.

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Kit Harington on the roof of the National Theatre!

Spooks’ strength on television was that it didn’t need to be showy like a big spy film franchise – it was intelligent and gripping and often frighteningly in line with current events. There are some exciting sequences in this film and some tense stand offs (the lovely National Theatre gets a supporting role here!), in which you know anyone could die, but I still felt it was lacking that extra sparkle for a film. I’ve seen references to Bond/Bourne-lite in other reviews and I can understand what people mean by that. As Spooks seems unlikely to return to the small screen, this film needed to be strong enough to revitalise the world for a film franchise, by attracting more than just loyal fans of the series. As much as it saddens me to say so, I think that’s unlikely to have happened, meaning we may never get a sequel. Maybe we should all start petitioning for a return to television instead – as, despite being a decent movie, The Greater Good only seemed to highlight just how strong the series that inspired it was. Come on KUDOS / BBC – you know it’s the sensible choice! Bring back Harry and his team…..please!

Spooks: The Greater Good is still running in select cinemas throughout the UK. Watch the trailer here. Spooks series 1-10 is also available on Netflix, for the uninitiated or those looking to relive all of its twists and turns!

Book review – The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

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Have you ever thought about how your life may have been different if you’d made another decision about something? What if you’d never gone on that holiday? What if you’d never moved to the City? What if you’d never met that person so important to you now? The possibilities for each of us are endless and it is this thought-provoking and emotional topic that Laura Barnett’s debut novel, The Versions of Us, brings to life so beautifully.

Without wanting to take any of the magic from this book by saying too much, it tells the story of two people, Jim Harper and Eva Edelstein from their first encounter at Cambridge in 1958 where they are both young students. Over the course of the novel we see the path of their lives as they move through all the stages of life, from youth to old age. This is one of the book’s most powerful aspects (and for me, something which makes it resonate much more than, for example, Sliding Doors, which I have seen referred to in some reviews). You genuinely grow to have a true sense of who these people are and how their experiences shape their lives over so long. I certainly became quite attached to Jim and Eva after spending so many decades with them and it certainly gives you perspective on your own life, whatever stage you have reached, whether 18 or 80.

The other beautiful and clever aspect of Laura’s story is her decision to not just tell their story, but to tell three possible versions of it, within which the lives and destinies of Jim and Eva (and, as a result, of those around them) take different turns, some only slightly altered, others much more drastically so. Through these three paths of the book, the reader has the opportunity to walk through 60 years with Jim and Eva, down three different routes and the effect is an incredibly moving one, especially the further through the story you go.

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Author Laura Barnett

It may sound confusing, but it really isn’t, which is a testament to Laura’s skill as a writer. The honest telling of the journey of ordinary people’s lives is something each of us can connect with and due to Laura’s ability to create such grounded characters (not just Eva and Jim, but those around them, who all feel very believable and well realised), The Versions of Us so quickly draws you in and captivates you to the end.

Although all three versions are split out throughout the novel, the events in one may still happen in the next and rather than repeat them, they instead build on each other, to lay the stepping stones we travel on through this couple’s life. So as well as reading effectively three versions, as a reader you still have a very real sense of an overarching journey.

I was lucky enough to go to a reading by Laura, at my wonderful local bookshop last week, West End Lane Books in North West London (always worth a visit for browsing or for one of their author events) and I was surprised to hear that she actually wrote the book as it is, jumping between the three versions, after waking up one morning with the idea fully formed in her head. I had wondered if she had written each one separately and then split them up and was impressed to hear that wasn’t the case and her description of plaiting the versions together is a brilliant way of describing the experience of reading it. Apparently some people choose to read each one as a whole, but I’d certainly recommend reading the novel as you find it, as part of its magic is the fluid movement from one path to the next and back again. I did ask her which version was the hardest to write and she said that was Version Two, which varies more from the others and she said trying to keep Eva and Jim apart was difficult, as they were like magnets wanting to come together.

I’m sure everyone will have a different response to the book, but personally, I took from the story that there are always different choices that could be made in life, with differing consequences, but that some things in our lives are always going to endure in some form. No matter the deviations along the way, the important people and events will hopefully remain. It’s this sentiment that I felt on reaching the end of the novel, as I said goodbye to Eva and Jim myself and as a result, found this to be a very moving and quite an emotional read. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough!

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett is published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and available in all the usual book stockists. It will be published in the USA in May 2016 (but I’d urge American readers to get a copy another way so as not to have so long to wait)! The website for the wonderful West End Lane Books (with details of the upcoming author events is here or follow @WELBooks).

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in Cardiff – the home of modern Doctor Who!

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Ever since Doctor Who returned to the BBC a decade ago, one constant presence has been the series’s distinctive musical soundtrack. While we’ve had four Doctors over eight series, composer Murray Gold has remained and personally his score is always one of the highlights of Doctor Who. I recently struggled to choose my favourite tracks of Murray’s music from the series for this blog, which you can read here.

Since Christmas 2005, we’ve also been lucky enough to have Murray’s music recorded by a full orchestra and chorus – the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. This has given the music a wonderful level of depth and quality and has resulted in the regular soundtrack releases becoming a must-have addition to my collection.

A decade in to New Who and after the success of recent Proms (always selling out within hours), Murray’s music has this year been on a world tour, in the form of this concert – the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular and last Bank Holiday Monday it arrived in Cardiff. There seemed no better place to see this concert than in the city that has become home to modern Doctor Who and I can certainly say that Monday’s concert was a brilliant experience for fans of all ages.

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Peter Davison standing up to the Daleks

I confess to being a little worried that this would be similar to the Doctor Who Live tour of 2010, rather than the wonderful Proms. Thankfully my worries were unfounded and the show gave fans of the series two glorious hours showcasing some of Murray’s most iconic pieces from the series, as well as providing the first live event for the music from Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Twelfth Doctor. By the nature of the show constantly moving forward, some pieces have not been played at recent Proms and it was lovely to hear tracks from all ten years again.

The show opened appropriately with the latest Doctor Theme – “Am I A Good Man?” I admit, on watching the first few episodes, I was unsure if Peter’s Doctor’s theme was very distinctive, but this track truly shines when heard in all its glory. Its suitably grand horn section and fast pace compliments wonderfully its more quiet and calm beginning, which reminds me a lot of Vangelis (I can hear aspects of it belonging in Blade Runner). Accompanied by footage from the show, it was a brilliant summary of Peter’s first year (one which I for one thought was very good indeed – more of that here).

From there host Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor and now father-in-law to the Tenth Doctor) took us through the rest of the show, with fun and yes some cheesy jokes. Continuing with the most recent music, we were treated to a suite from series eight, “Wherever, Whenever,” including score from Robot of Sherwood, Listen (including the beautiful track “Fear”), The Caretaker, Time Heist and In The Forest of the Night. I was impressed with how many great pieces of music had been condensed and combined to highlight how crucial the music is to the series. It brings lightness and fun in episodes such as Robot of Sherwood, but also moments of darkness, fear and emotion (such as Listen).

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Ben Foster conducting the end of the show in the Fifth Doctor’s coat!

Other highlights for me were The Companions Suite, which brought back the beautiful themes created for each of Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy and it’s interesting to be reminded how each one was unique to each character. I also love the series three piece “This Is Gallifrey”, which was given a new life by being accompanied by footage from the 50th Anniversary, in which Gallifrey was so important. This did however mean that the music from that special itself wasn’t included, which I did think was a shame. To close the first half of the show, we heard a selection of music from our last trip in the TARDIS, Last Christmas. As well as the music, as with the Proms, the show welcomed some of the frightening foes of the Doctor, as Cyberman, Whispermen, Silurians, a Muumy and many other creatures appeared on stage and roamed through the audience. It’s always wonderful to see the reactions of children when they get to be so close to the monsters! Of course there was also the compulsory entrance of the Daleks, who faced off to Peter Davison and conductor Ben Foster on stage. It was cheesy, but all in good fun.

The second half of the show also had some classic as well as recent themes and opened with yet more monsters with the superb All The Strange Strange Creatures, first heard in series three. The Death In Heaven Suite was particularly good, including within it lovely pieces such as the Theme for Clara and Danny, which strikes me as being quite a mature piece of music and very moving. Although not a favourite episode of mine, Abigail’s Song from A Christmas Carol was brought to life wonderfully by Elin Manahan Thomas. This half also included music from one of the stand out episodes of series eight, “66 Seconds” from Mummy on the Orient Express, as well as the wonderfully triumphant and uplifting The Pandorica Suite (although I was sad this didn’t include the music played at the end of The Pandorica Opens – The Life and Death of Amy Pond).

The show was always going to end with some classics and it was lovely to hear Vale Decem again. Although always associated with the end of the Tenth Doctor, it has now become the concert anthem for paying tribute to all the previous Doctors and is clearly a fan favourite at such events. Of course such an event could only end with one anthem – the latest imagining of the iconic Doctor Who theme! Peter Davison even gave Ben Foster a Fifth Doctor coat to wear for the occasion!

This was a wonderful celebration of the music of Doctor Who. Without it the show would shine a little less brightly in the universe and I will always be grateful for the extra effort that the BBC has invested in the music for the series. Its quality and popularity among fans was very clear in Cardiff at this concert and I’m sure similar events will continue to be a huge success. Fingers crossed for another Prom in 2016!

Theatre review – Rules For Living at the National Theatre (Dorfman stage)

BzQ7d8yIIAANmVc I recently made my second trip to the newly refurbished Dorfman Theatre (I think it’ll always be the Cottesloe to me) to see this new play by Sam Holcroft and what a treat it is. If you are in need of a good laugh at the moment, Rules For Living will certainly do the trick.

Set on Christmas Day (it did feel a bit odd having this run in Spring!), we find ourselves in the family home of one rather eccentric family, gathering together for the traditional Christmas lunch. Whether anyone will survive is another matter! Brothers Matt (Miles Jupp) and Adam (Stephen Mangan) have arrived with their new girlfriend and wife respectively, while their mother (Deborah Findlay), is planning lunch with military precision, in anticipation of the return from hospital of their father. However the play is unusual in its style, in that it explores our cognitive behaviour and how each of us is living by our own set of rules, which may not always mesh with those of the people around us.

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Photo: Simon Annand

This is brilliantly conveyed in gameshow style staging, with two large, colourful scoreboards at either end of the promenade stage, there purely for the audience’s insight in to the minds of the characters. As more are introduced, we learn their “rules”, such as Matt sitting down every time he tells a lie and their mother cleaning whenever she is stressed. As more people arrive on the scene, the more rules are in play, leading to some hilarious moments. As the play continues and the relationships over Christmas Day become more and more strained, the rules expand, so now Matt must eat and sit down when lying. As an audience member, you can’t help but laugh at the embarrassing and awkwardly comic moments unfolding in front of you (the scene in which the family attempt to play a card game was one of my favourites)!

Setting the play on Christmas Day makes wonderful sense, as it is a day during which most families experience some form of stressful interaction, often being thrown together on a day when we are all expected to be overly happy! There are aspects of all the characters here that will be familiar to you, although hopefully not all of them in one family gathering! The staging is ideal for the play, with the audience on ground level sitting either side of the promenade stage, lending the theatre a voyeuristic, Big-Brother style feel (especially with the audience on the upper levels surrounding all four sides of the theatre space). The colourful scoreboard and glitzy gameshow noises that accompany it add to the fun, as we watch each character effectively competing to score the most points, through fulfilling their rules, whether they realise it or not and the more the rules expand, the more ridiculous events become.

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Maggie Service as Carrie. Photo: Simon Annand

It is also a wonderful cast, who work together brilliantly and seem to be having lots of fun bringing their characters and the play as a whole to life. Deborah Findlay is wonderful as the family matriarch, desperately clinging to order among the chaos. Maggie Service is a delight as Matt’s girlfriend Carrie. She isn’t part of the family and in a way feels like a spectator, much the same as the audience, but her bubbly personality adds a sparkle to the production. Stephen Mangan seems in his element as Adam, the frustrated son, never good enough and increasingly suspicious of his brother’s feelings for his wife. He is wonderfully sarcastic and you find yourself liking him, while also being frustrated by his stubbornness. Claudie Blakley, who plays his estranged wife Sheena also has some fantastic moments with both brothers.

The dialogue is wonderfully witty and full of humour, but also includes some very real moments of emotion, whether a couple trying to deal with their crumbling marriage or the bitter rivalry of siblings, all of which makes the play, despite the craziness, feel believable. Watching the tensions bubble can be both funny and uncomfortable and the truly bonkers and entertaining scene when all hell breaks loose feels inevitable. I thoroughly enjoyed this production, having not known what to expect and I haven’t laughed that much in ages. If you need something to pick up your mood and you can nab a ticket (it’s almost sold out) don’t hesitate.

Rules For Living continues its run in rep at the National’s Dorfman Theatre until 8th July 2015. For more information and ticket availability, visit the website here.

Book Review – The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

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I came across this novel through my local bookshop (the wonderful West End Lane Books in North West London), which regularly hosts evenings with authors, giving us a chance to hear an extract of their latest book and ask questions directly to them. One such event recently welcomed Paula Hawkins (author of The Girl on The Train – read my review here) and Kate Hamer, author of this new debut novel. I intend to write up that event (watch this space), but Kate was lovely to chat to (like me, she still prefers to read a book rather than one on a Kindle) and after hearing more about her book, it sparked my curiosity and I bought a copy. On finishing it, I can say that it is quite an emotional experience, which at times I found quite difficult to read.

The girl of the title is eight year-old Carmel, a young girl who seems wiser than her years, with a love of books, her red coat and who is curious about the world around her. Her mother, Beth, recently divorced and struggling to move on with her life, senses that her daughter isn’t quite like other children and has a fear she’ll lose her, which never goes away. Tragically that’s exactly what happens when, on a trip to a literature festival, they are separated. I imagine this is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Through the story, Kate Hamer takes us through their separate lives, as Carmel, abducted by a religious preacher / spiritualist, adjusts to a whole new existence in America, replacing the tents of the literature festival from which she is taken, with those of the faith healing circuit. As she moves from place to place, she soon understands that Gramps (as she calls him, believing him to be the grandfather she has never met) is planning to have her perform faith healing, so certain is he that she has a special gift. At the same time, Beth tries to cope with the devastating loss of her daughter, whose disappearance is marked at the start of each of her chapters by the number of days, months and years since she was taken.

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Author Kate Hamer

It is an incredibly moving story, but I admit that I did find it very difficult to read at times. It became a book I had to finish, desperate to know whether there was a happy ending, rather than one I looked forward to picking up. This has nothing to do with the writing. The book is very well written, as Kate Hamer creates two incredibly realistic characters in Carmel and Beth and the worlds they inhabit feel believable. It just made me so upset that I almost couldn’t continue reading. The thought of a child so young being taken, told her mother has died and removed from all she knows was heartbreaking to me and I admit to feeling very angry at the old couple in the story, who seem to think a religion would approve of such awful actions. I did skim some of the early Carmel chapters as I couldn’t bare to read what was happening, as it seemed all too possible that a young child could be deceived in such a way.

I think some people may assume this is a thriller, but I don’t agree with that description of the novel. It is a book that doesn’t sit perfectly within any genre. Instead it is a story about loss and how we cope with it in our lives, no matter our age. It is also a story highlighting the bond between mother and daughter. Carmel has to process the loss of her mother and her old life, while Beth is forced to try and survive, in the hope that one day Carmel will come home. Their bond is always there, as each continues to take strength and courage from thinking of the other.

Reading Carmel’s chapters, I tended to forget how young she was, as she thinks very maturely. Hearing her determination to maintain her sense of self in her own words was very moving and as a reader you are hoping for a miracle that will help her get home. I did however prefer Beth’s chapters, perhaps because I found it easier to imagine how I would feel in her place. As time goes on we see her grow stronger – Carmel is never forgotten (a scene in a shoe shop brought tears to my eyes), but she realises that she has to rebuild her life in order to keep going and I found myself feeling incredibly proud of how much she begins to achieve.

I’m not sure I would say this book would appeal to thriller fans. Instead, if you enjoy a character-based story, which focuses on relationships and our connections with each other, then this is certainly a book you should read. Although it wasn’t the easiest novel to read personally, it was deeply moving and is a very impressive debut by Kate Hamer. I’ll definitely make sure I keep an eye out for whatever she writes next.

The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer is published by Faber & Faber and is available from all the usual book stockists.

Murray Gold’s Out of this World Music – My top 20 tracks from a decade of Doctor Who!

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This weekend saw the arrival through the post of the latest Doctor Who soundtrack, containing Murray Gold’s music from series 8 and the most recent Christmas special Last Christmas. Across 3 CDs! I’m a huge admirer of film and television composers, whose music I strongly believe is integral to the shows they accompany. None more so than Doctor Who. So many moments of the series over the last decade have been made stronger by Murray’s contribution, whether emphasising a sense of fun and joy or deep sadness and heartbreak. These scenes and the world of New Who wouldn’t be the same without him.

So, as I listened to the latest soundtrack this weekend, reliving Peter Capaldi’s fantastic first series as the Time Lord, while looking forward to next weekend’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular concert, it made me think about all the other musical moments from the eras of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith and which ones would make my track list if compiling the ultimate soundtrack to modern Doctor Who.

So, here are my top 20 choices (10 was too hard!). Let me know which ones you’d include in your list.

1. “I Am The Doctor” – 11th Doctor’s theme (series 5-7)

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From the moment I heard this piece of music, I knew it was going to be a firm favourite and it came to encapsulate Matt Smith’s time on the series. It is grand and sweeping in scope and exploded this new Doctor on to the screen with fun, fanfare and excitement. Surely no soundtrack or Prom could ever be without it and it’s a shining example of the powerful contribution music can have, to not only a mood of a series, but also to a character. I now cannot imagine the Eleventh Doctor without thinking of this track and it’s certainly my favourite theme of all the Doctors so far.

2. “Doomsday” – Farewell to Rose (series 2)

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The Doctor and Rose’s parting on the beach at Bad Wolf Bay is an iconic moment in modern Doctor Who, which certainly caused quite a lot of tears from some fans. David and Billie are exceptional in this upsetting final scene together (well at the time anyway) and Murray’s haunting theme, accompanied by Melanie Pappenheim’s vocals added a deep sense of heart and emotion to an already intense moment. It’s also quite an interesting track by itself, as the vocals and piano, carrying such sadness mix with the guitar, giving the music a heartbeat of sorts and an edgier tone too.

3. Together of Not At All – The Song of Amy & Rory / Goodbye Pond (series 7)

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This piece of music from series seven’s The Angels Take Manhattan immediately stood out for me on first viewing the episode. Although it begins very creepy in the first few bars, it becomes something altogether different, capturing through the music and the vocals of Halia Meguid the love between the Ponds and how ultimately being together was the most important thing in their universe. As long as they were together they could face anything, even death. The graveyard is perhaps the sad moment for the Doctor (and indeed “Goodbye Pond” is a gorgeous track to go with it), but it was this moment that moved me the most, watching this couple take that leap of faith together. It was a highlight of the last Prom for me and I’m still sad it was one of the sections cut from the televised version. This is one of Murray’s finest tracks so far in ten years and it was always going to make this list.

4. Fear – Clara’s message of strength to a young Time Lord (series 8)

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Listen was one of my favourites of Peter Capaldi’s first year (see my review of series 8 here) and the more I watch it, the more it edges to the top of the list. Despite being such a spooky and scary story, it also had a wonderful message for children (and indeed adults) about how fear is a superpower that we shouldn’t be frightened of, but instead should use to give us strength to achieve things we may not be able to do otherwise. This piece (thankfully on the new soundtrack) accompanies Clara’s speech to the young, scared Doctor. It is some of Jenna’s best work and is a genuinely beautiful piece of music from Murray and highlights how he helps enhance some of the most passionate and crucial scenes and messages in the series through his music.

5. Vale Decem – Goodbye to Ten and Tennant (The End of Time, series 4 Specials)

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Oh how this piece of music will always take me back to New Year’s Day 2010, as we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor and Russell T Davies in The End of Time. Some may think it was a drawn out end, but I loved it and Vale Decem (Farewell Ten in Latin) was the perfect choice to end David Tennant’s incredible time on the series. It was grand and emotional and still provided a sense of hope for the future with the arrival of Matt Smith. Hearing the combination of the music and choir live in the Royal Albert Hall, bringing this moment back to life at the Prom was a wonderful experience.

6. All the Strange, Strange Creatures (series 3 and 4)

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This piece of sweeping music has become a staple of the Doctor Who Prom and although associated with the Tenth Doctor’s time, it can easily be used as the theme for the variety of monsters all the Doctors have faced. It was one of the first pieces of Doctor Who music, within which you could truly appreciate the scope and power of the National Orchestra of Wales that bring each episode to life. Hearing it live is always a joy.

7. The Doctor’s Theme – Welcome Christopher Eccleston! (series 1)

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The first of New Who’s Time Lords, Christopher Eccleston was superb on the series. His Doctor’s theme was a perfectly otherworldly piece of music, which seemed to speak to the vast time and journey of this 900 year-old alien. It’s haunting and emotive and tinged with sadness, highlighting the great losses he has suffered in recent years. It was an early indicator that the music of the series was not simply going to be background noise, but a crucial thread of the production and this track will forever make me think fondly about Doctor number nine and his arrival in 2005.

8. This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (series 3-4)

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Another classic piece from Ten’s era of the show is this one, first heard in all its glory during The Sound of Drums as the Doctor described his home to Martha and Captain Jack. The wistfulness is perfectly played by David Tennant and the graphics bringing our first real glimpse of his home were wonderful. However it’s this music that has come to be the biggest association with Gallifrey and is a lovely creation by Murray.

9. Rose’s Theme (series 1 and 2)

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She was the first companion of New Who and integral to the show’s initial success and Rose’s theme was one of the first pieces of Murray’s music to resonate through the episodes. It was such a great decision to have themes for key characters and this is definitely one of my favourites. I love how light the notes of the piano sound, giving it an air of romance and beauty, which matched the heart of Rose perfectly.

10. Four Knocks (series 4 Specials)

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Another tearjerker here in the form of Four Knocks, the heartbreaking music written to accompany the Tenth Doctor’s realisation that he still had to die in order to save Wilf. It’s some of David Tennant’s finest acting and this subtle, gentle, emotionally raw music is absolutely perfect. Well done to Julie Gardner, who I believe fought with Russell T Davies to have music over the scene. My one gripe with Four Knocks now however is the choice to have it play again over the top of Clara’s lovely scene with the old 11th Doctor just before he goes off to meet his fate in the clock tower in Matt Smith’s swansong. I can’t have been the only fan of the music of the series to be taken out of the emotion of the scene by the distraction and surprise on hearing what should always have remained a piece capturing the Tenth Doctor’s sacrifice.

11. A Good Man? (Twelve’s Theme) (series 8)

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I admit, on first watching Deep Breath I was listening for the Twelfth Doctor’s theme and by the end I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Matt’s Doctor’s theme had been so iconic and stood out immediately. Peter’s theme however, despite being just as strong, somehow seems less obvious. As Murray points out in his sleeve notes to the latest album, the horns that signal the heart of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme do pop up within every episode of series eight, weaving each story to the next. On listening to the theme by itself as part of this soundtrack, it’s power, excitement and beauty shines through the music and it’s a worthy successor to I Am The Doctor.

12. The Life and Death of Amy Pond/Amy’s Theme (series 5-7)

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Yet another theme for a memorable companion. I admit I wasn’t a huge Amy Pond fan, but her theme is lovely piece of music, which captures her special bond with her raggedy Doctor. It carries with it a sense of childlike magic, perfect for the girl who has known the Doctor most of her life and whose story is always a little unknown to the audience. This was expanded on in The Life and Death of Amy Pond track, which plays over the tragic scenes at the end of The Pandorica Opens, as River is trapped in the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica and Rory unexpectedly kills Amy in his arms and represents some of the most heartfelt music of the series.

13. “This Time There’s Three of Us (The Majestic Tale)” (The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary)

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The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was certainly a proud moment for the BBC’s flagship show and Murray’s music was right at home on the big cinema screen. Capturing the celebration and grand scope of the episode and everything it represented, I loved this track from it, which is equally exciting to hear in its own right without watching the episode. It picks up the emotion of the scene with the Moment, before whisking us up in to the sweeping grandeur of the hero-like fanfare that accompanied the Doctors joining together to save their home. There were three Doctors (and then 13) and what a wonderful team they made!

14. The Long Song / Infinite Potential (series 7)

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Okay so The Rings of Akhaten was not a great story in my view, but I did love the stirring choral singing in this track. It ensures that the end of the episode at least pulls off something lovely, together with the following track, Infinite Potential, which accompanies Clara saving the day with the power of infinite memories in her leaf. It’s an example for me of where the music of an episode is something I enjoy much more than the story itself! Also, it was a magical number to hear live at the Prom.

15. Song of Captivity & Freedom (series 4)

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Most of the attention goes on the Song of Freedom played in Journey’s End as the Earth is towed to safety. However I’ve always liked the other half of this theme, The Song of Captivity from The Planet of the Ood and this track from the series 4 soundtrack wonderfully combines both in to one piece of music. It is tinged with sadness through the incredible voice of Mark Chambers, but it’s a lovely part of the score of the show and was something a bit different in tone.

16. (The Majestic Tale of) An Idiot With a Box (series 8)

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I love what Murray has achieved with this piece from the series 8 finale and reading his sleeve notes makes it all make sense. Apparently Mr Moffat missed I Am The Doctor, associating it with his time as showrunner, whereas Murray associates it with Matt Smith’s era (I agree with Murray). So, as a compromise, this piece incorporates both! You can hear I Am The Doctor, albeit slightly tweaked in style, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor theme, with its bold, powerful horn section. What you get is an epic, bold, exciting and glorious number, which had better be played at the next Prom!

17. Up The Shard (series 7)

bellsofstjohnFarewell to the Ponds and hello to Clara in series 7. Her first adventure as an official companion, The Bells on St. John, was bonkers, but lots of fun and I particularly loved Murray’s grand musical choice to accompany the Doctor’s mad motorcycle ride up the side of the Shard, which uses I Am The Doctor as a base and expands it.

18. With Love, Vincent (series 5)

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This is one of my favourites stories of New Who and after the tears are shed after watching Vincent in the museum of his own art, it’s this lovely track which accompanies Amy as, through her tears at knowing she didn’t save Vincent, she sees her sunflowers, now bearing an affectionate message for her. It gives the episode a happier ending, in which the Doctor and Amy can look fondly on the life of an extraordinary man.

19. Altering Lives (The Waters of Mars, series 4 Specials)

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Waters of Mars is a much darker story than most of the Tenth Doctor’s time, deliberately building up to his exit in the following episodes. However, its story is one that on the whole is praised by fans and for me is the strongest of the Specials that year. It’s a story about loss, accepting destiny and sacrifice and this quiet, spiritual track enhances all of those important themes and is most associated with the scene in which the Doctor finally tells Adelaide her fate, as he stands in the airlock, preparing to walk away yet again from a fixed point in time, no matter how painful it is for him.

20. The Cybermen theme (throughout)

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Ever since its return in 2005, there have been two constant enemies, popping up over and over again for the Doctor to defeat. I love Murray’s themes for both the Daleks and the Cybermen, the first with its almost Darth Vadar style evil. However, it’s the Cybermen music, with its eerie strings and bold horns that has always grabbed me, especially once the frantic violins and choir join in and the piece builds to a crescendo. The theme always crops up in some form when the Cybermen appear, most recently of course in the series 8 finale, but I admit this track always makes me think of Rose desperately clinging the the lever in Doomsday!

So that’s my selection. It was a lot harder than I imagined, hence it becoming a top 20 and there were so many other possible candidates (The Impossible Planet suite, The Carrionites Swarm, Boe, Final Days from The End of Time to name just a few)! Now all I need is a re-release of series one and two, which only ever had one CD for both years. That is criminal! Surely others out there would agree that this is a much needed addition to the Doctor Who soundtrack collection? Come on Murray Gold and Silva Screen. You know you want to!

The Doctor Who soundtracks are released by Silva Screen (see their Doctor Who music website here) and are available through all the usual stockists.

Theatre review – American Buffalo starring Damian Lewis & John Goodman

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I have been very strict with myself this year, capping my ticket prices at a lower limit. However that rule was broken this week in order to see this production at the Wyndam’s Theatre, which currently has some of the highest prices in the West End (£127.50 at the top end). I’m a huge fan of both Damian Lewis (especially the relatively unknown series Life) and John Goodman, making his London theatre debut.

The play, written by David Mamet in 1977 is certainly not an easy one to watch and requires a great deal of concentration from its audience, due to the amount of dialogue pinging between the three characters, a lot of which is pretty strong language too. Set in a Chicago junk shop run by Don (John Goodman), we learn that he is planning a robbery at the flat of a local man, who recently visited his shop and bought an American buffalo coin for $90. Feeling short changed, now believing it must have been worth much more than that, Don now wants it back (together with any other valuables on offer) and has enlisted the young, impressionable, drug addicted Bobby (Tom Sturridge) to help. Bobby clearly sees Don as a father figure and will do anything for his approval. In to this situation, enters Teach (Damian Lewis), who soon wants to be in on the job instead of Bobby. Over the course of two hours, we see their relationships shift as the day goes on and the time of the job draws nearer and the play takes on a more dark, disturbing tone.

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John Goodman, Damian Lewis & Tom Sturridge

Although quite a tough play to sit through due to the density of the dialogue (how Goodman and Lewis remember it all I do not know!), you can’t fail to be impressed by the acting of all three actors. Teach is a manic character, whose temper seems constantly on a knife edge. You get the feeling he could erupt over the slightest matter and Damian Lewis is wonderful in the role, talking at a million miles an hour, with anger, sarcasm, humour and frustration all coming to the fore at some point during the play.

In contrast John Goodman’s Don is a calmer man, who seems to grow more and more weary by the events unfolding around him. He also has a strange, paternal bond with Bobby, which tends to put him at odds with Teach, who has absolutely no time for the strange boy. Tom Sturridge is very impressive as the damaged and impressionable young Bobby. He is capable of bouts of aggression, but is also at times quite childlike in his behaviour and you sense that he is taken advantage of by a lot of people due to his personality. I’ll certainly look out for Sturridge on stage in future (he’ll be seen on television next year as Henry VI in the new Hollow Crown series).

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Paul Wills’s set is a work of art

Daniel Evans (current Artistic Director of the incredibly successful Sheffield Theatres) directs all three actors very well indeed, ensuring that each of them gives a nuanced and multi-layered performance. The choice of set is also wonderful, with so much effort having gone in to the props used to dress Don’s shop by Paul Wills and his team, so that you genuinely feel that it is brimming with items that have been building up for decades.

Overall, I enjoyed the production, but I can’t say that I think the inflated ticket prices are justified and I would strongly recommend trying for day seats if you are prepared to get up early. Day seats are £20 and I understand from the box office that they are the front row and some boxes. As the stage didn’t appear too high, this seems to be a pretty good deal for atnyone keen to see it for a more reasonable price. I would say though, don’t choose the central front row seats, as a piece of prop may possibly impede your view, so choose the seats slightly off centre.

American Buffalo continues its run at the Wyndams Theatre until 27th June 2015. For more information and ticket availability, visit its website.

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