Murray Gold continues to impress with his latest entry into the roster of Doctor Who soundtracks. While his soundtrack for series 6 already demonstrated a willingness to depart from the "typical" Doctor Who sound, Series 7 represents a far more complete transition. This is easily his most mature and experimental soundtrack yet -- for the most part, every one of the tracks is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to hear backing a major feature-film. In part, this is certainly due to the disconnected nature of the series 7 episodes themselves, which enabled Gold to give each episode a distinct musical flavor without overreliance on the leitmotifs which were used abundantly in the earlier series' -- their usage in series 7 usually arise from actual recycling of earlier music (e.g., during the Doctor's encounter with River in the final spisode), and so do not appear on this album.
The album is divided up into two disks corresponding to the two half-seasons. Thematically, however, there are three distinct "flavors" in the album:
Tracks 1-11 on disk 1 cover "Asylum of the Daleks" and "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," and most tracks here could best be described as "darkly whimsical." Such tracks have a similar feel to many of those on the "Snowmen/Doctor, Widow, Wardrobe" album, but would also not feel out of place in (for example) the later Harry Potter musicals. Although a few of the tracks are hard to listen to when taken out of context (like, for example, "Khan's Pets" on Horner's "Wrath of Khan" soundtrack), there's no denying the skill involved in composing them. Gold brings a lot of finesse to these tracks, and uses a similar approach to tracks 18-29 on disk 2 ("Nightmare in Silver").
Tracks 12-11 on disk 1 cover "A Town Called Mercy" and "The Power of Three." These are the most experimental of the tracks. The "Mercy" tracks take the traditional vibe from spaghetti westerns and overlays it with a dollop of technosound, creating music which is both nostalgic and somehow alien. "The Power of Three" is slightly more "traditional" Who, but uses electronic overlays which add the wi-fi context of the Spoonhead villains, creating a sound that is more evocative of old-series Who (and frankly somewhat jarring to listen to out of context).
The remainder of the album (excluding the "Nightmare in Silver" tracks mentioned above") are far more traditional "Who" in tone, filled with drama, bombast, and a tonal beauty, although the music is original and does not overuse old themes. Indeed, the Doctor's theme, although teased in earlier tracks, doesn't make a true appearance until track 25 on disk 1, and rarely appears afterward -- Clara's (very charming) theme is in fact the most reused leitmotif on the album, but even that is kept to a minimum. Although there's good listening to be found in all of the episodic music involving this "flavor," "The Rings of Akhaten" (tracks 1-10 on disk 2) stands out. Because this episode involves actual music performances in-episode, Gold clearly spent a lot of his time here. Although all of the tracks are easy on the ears, folks who are fans of his "big" pieces like "Vale Decem" and "Rose Defeats the Daleks" will find particular payoff here with "God of Akhaten" and "The Long Song." The lyrics are not challenging (nor need to be, given the episode context) -- the beauty of "Akhaten" comes from the combination of a tenor descant over the female treble melody, resulting in a theme which is both "high church" and yet very accessible, and "The Long Song" moves this to a more choral plane. The only downside here is the abrupt ending of "The Long Song," which makes sense in the episode but is a bit jarring when listening for pleasure.
The problem of episodic context vs. pleasure listening creates the biggest problem for the Series 7 soundtrack, and are the reason why I give it a "4" instead of a "5." This is an album which has neither a defined beginning nor and end, without even the "Doctor Who" theme to bracket it. The listener is dropped unceremoniously into the chilling tones of "The Asylum of the Daleks" tracks and is left to linger in the disquiet for many minutes (with some brief relief brought by Clara's leitmotif on track 4, disk 1), and while these tracks are clever and clearly well-suited for their episode, they are simply very hard to get through when pleasure-listening. Similarly, the end tracks, which come from "The Name of the Doctor," do not deliver a proper final pay-off for the listener -- much of the more dramatic music in the actual episode was recycled from series 6 ("Melody Pond"/"Tell Me Your Name") and so aren't even on this album. Since the episode itself led to a frenetic cliffhanger, this again makes sense in episodic context, but "Remember Me" (the final track on the standard album) is not a conclusive piece by any means -- and "Whisper Men", the final track on the extended album, is even more problematic in that regard. I want to stress that these are not bad tracks -- they're actually quite good -- but when listening for pleasure, the listener is apt to be let down by the album's conclusion. The "Akhaten" pieces would have actually made better introductions/conclusions for the album, but that would of course place them out of sequence.
Those problems aside, this is a fine album which is sure to please Gold's fans. He continues to refine and get more experimental with his craft, pointing to even greater things to come musically for Capaldi's version of the Doctor. I highly recommend this album.