Wonder of Who is as much about the music as the monsters, writes Phil Welch.

Music has always been an important part of Doctor Who. From its first episode in 1963, viewers were enchanted with its weird and haunting electronic theme tune, realised by Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop. It is a fantastic piece, groundbreaking at the time and still one of the most recognisable theme tunes in the history of TV and film.

The incidental music, like in all TV shows and films, plays an important part in telling the story, but what once ranged from electronic hoots and beeps to synthesised 80s chords, now uses a full orchestra and choir. The music of Doctor Who, like the series since its return almost 10 years ago, has become a far more powerful story-telling tool.

The Spectacular began as Doctor Who: A Celebration, a concert to raise money for the Children in Need charity in 2006. It was well-received and has grown into the show that is touring across the world today. Last year, Wellington hosted the Spectacular, and now it's Auckland's turn to welcome Daleks, Cybermen and a multitude of other creatures in an event that no fan of the show should miss.

I travelled to Adelaide to see it at the beginning of its run.


As soon as I stepped on the tram to the events centre I was in no doubt I was heading to the right place. Every person was a Doctor Who fan. Everyone, from grandparents to young children, was talking excitedly about what they were going to see, which monsters might be there. One little boy earnestly told his granny if she saw a weeping angel she mustn't blink: "Even if your eyes are stinging, don't blink!"

The dark stage is lit by swirling blue lights and smoke. To the side, standing like a glorious dark blue monolith, is the familiar police box that has captured the public's imagination since two school teachers stumbled into it in 1963.

The lamp and windows of the Tardis glow as an orchestra takes its place on the stage beneath huge screens on which the Doctor Who logo is surrounded by a spinning star field.

I'm sitting beside a young boy and his mum and it is difficult to tell who is more excited. He has a sonic screwdriver clutched in his hand and she has a grin from ear to ear. "It's the first time I've been to see a symphony orchestra play," she tells me.

A quick glance around reveals row after row of fans bedecked in Who regalia, ranging from Tardis pompom hats and long scarves (risking heat stroke), to tweed jackets and fez hats. All completely bonkers and loving it.

The wonderful sound of the musicians' tuning grows louder until the distorted emotionless voice of a Cyberman announces the beginning of an extraordinary two hours of music and fun.

It's presented with obvious delight by the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, who jokes with the audience between introducing the musical pieces, accompanied by excerpts from the show on huge screens above us.

As the orchestra plays, the stage and the auditorium are invaded by some of the show's fantastic monsters: tentacle-faced Ood raise their arms to sing with the choir, rhinoceros-headed Judoon patrol the aisles and robot knights face off against each other.

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular is all encompassing.
Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular is all encompassing.

A Dalek glides across the stage in front of the orchestra and the audience is lit up as hundreds of small hands frantically wave their sonics at it. Their blue and green lights are accompanied with the screwdrivers' characteristic electronic buzzing and it is as if a shrill swarm of metallic fireflies has joined us.

An excited shriek to my left announces a second Dalek moving through the audience, its eyestalk glowing blue as it scans the throng for young (and old) fans to exterminate. It finds a little girl dressed in a small replica of the 10th Doctor's costume. She couldn't be more pleased and shrieks again.

The excitement of the younger members of the audience is contagious. This is what Doctor Who is all about: fun.

The incredibly talented Ben Foster is the conductor and the man behind the orchestration of the Spectacular. He has been part of the show since David Tennant took control of the Tardis in 2006, bringing to life composer Murray Gold's scores and conducting at all of the Doctor Who Proms at London's Royal Albert Hall. Foster also composed the music for three series of the spin-off show Torchwood.

Foster, a long-time fan, obviously enjoys himself. He battles Daleks with a sonic baton and exchanges banter with Davison.

I ask him later if he is ever distracted by everything going on around him as he conducts and he admits that yes, he did get a bit distracted trying to look at the Foretold (for non-fans: a mummy-like creature who, once seen, causes its observer to die within 60 seconds) as it lurched past the string section.

He's also a new dad and proudly tells me his baby boy recently had his pic taken with a Dalek. Marvellous.

Peter Davison.
Peter Davison.

With a different orchestra in each city, I wonder how he gets to know them and if he gets nervous.

He tells me that each time is like standing in front of your mates with your trousers around your ankles, but they are professionals and do an incredible job.

Listening to the music live is a different experience from hearing it on the show or listening to a soundtrack because the music is alive. Watching the orchestra perform, seeing it create the sounds of so many stories, having the myriad creatures in front of you, interacting with the audience and having an actual Doctor Who there to take you through his incredible world was special and unforgettable.

Symphonic Spectacular is a fitting title for the show because that's exactly what is is. Spectacular.

Master of the Who-niverse

My first memories of Doctor Who are, like most people's, of the Daleks. I vividly remember an episode ending with them bursting through a wall, lamps flashing and eyestalks twitching, as they shrieked their murderous intent to the Doctor's companion, whose scream merged into the closing credits. I was convinced that Romana was in for a blast of extermination. I was 4.

We grew up in England's northeast with the Doctor in my house. We all watched him; my mum, dad and brother (and sometimes even the dog) every Saturday night after Grandstand. I remember being deliciously scared by the music and the swirling blue time tunnel opening credits. And the Tardis.

In my childhood, a few real police boxes could still be found. My brother and I once spotted a Tardis in a railway museum and waited outside, refusing to move, until a kind curator opened the box for us to peek inside. My mum has a picture of us fighting to get in. (It was tiny inside and the door opened the wrong way.)

I was 6 when a piece of the true magic of Doctor Who was revealed to me. The Time Lord with the curly hair, big teeth and scarf, fell off a radio telescope and suddenly regenerated into a new, younger face. The fifth Doctor. Peter Davison. I watched eagerly each week as he fought Daleks, Cybermen, Terileptils, all manner of monstrosities. I wanted to join him in the Tardis with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. He was my Doctor.

Phil, 9, and Gareth, 6, in a police box.
Phil, 9, and Gareth, 6, in a police box.

A special charity episode in aid of Children in Need brought the classic and new series together in the first proper multi-Doctor episode since 1985.

And suddenly, for a glorious 10 minutes, there was Peter Davison, looking only slightly older, alongside David Tennant reminiscing about the old days. It was fantastic.

So imagine my delight when I was given the chance to travel to Adelaide and watch the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular plus meet the wonderful conductor and orchestrator Ben Foster and - wait for it - Peter Davison.

My Doctor.

My hands were shaking as I walked backstage past a horde of monsters on their way to a photo shoot. It wasn't the Cybermen who had me swallowing furiously to ease my suddenly dry throat. No, it was the thought of meeting the man who had flown the Tardis through my childhood.

I love listening to Davison's DVD commentaries. They're informative and often hysterical. They point out the flaws, but never in a disparaging way. You can tell they are having fun and that he has an absolute love of the show. After all, more than 30 years later, he's still portraying the Doctor for Big Finish audios, travelling the world with the Symphonic Spectacular, and he wrote the fabulous Five(ish) Doctors Reboot for Doctor Who's 50th anniversary, in which he managed to get Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Peter Jackson to appear alongside three other past doctors and a panoply of other actors. Free. And it was nominated for a Hugo Award.

Anyway, I digress. I was led into Davison's dressing room, interrupting his post-performance sandwich, and he very kindly listened to me nervously babble my way through a list of questions.

I'm sure he'd been asked most of them a thousand times before, but his answers were engaging and enthusiastic. The prolific actor loves being on the road with the Spectacular, introducing music from the new series to fans, some of whom are experiencing a live orchestra for the first time.

He's away from home for a month and, although he thought he'd have time to work on the fifth Doctor graphic novel he's been planning, he's been busier than he expected and has discovered that writing storyboard-style is very different from writing for TV.

But with the success of the Five(ish) Doctors Reboot maybe a script for the new series could be on the cards. Time will tell.

Davison is musical. He wrote the theme tune to the 1980s children's show Button Moon. When I suggest that maybe he'd secretly like to join the orchestra one day he laughs. But for an instant there's a far away look in his eye.

Doctor Who is a job for life. Davison is still stopped in the street 30 years after he stepped out of the Tardis. The availability on DVD of almost all the classic episodes have introduced Davison and the seven other incarnations of the Time Lord to millions of new fans across the globe. Imagine the thrill of discovering that your favourite series has 50 years of adventures for you to explore. I sometimes envy the new fans because they have fantastic adventures to enjoy for the first time with the Doctor.

It's difficult to explain what it is about Doctor Who that makes it so much better than other science-fiction shows. The Doctor is inventive, funny, anti-authority, brilliant, mad, unique and marvellous. And he changes, highlighting the important message that everything has its time and nothing lasts.

But for me, there is something about that blue box. That gateway into anything. Any story can be told, silly or serious or even sad. Any place can be visited, in any time. The sound of the Tardis' engines are distinct and unmistakable. That sound still gives me goosebumps because it represents escapism, fun and adventure. And it's the same with the music. It is Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular,Vector Arena, 1pm, February 15. Tickets from $79.