Photos of Segun Akinola by Hannah Woodall and Chrissy Jones.
One of the most exciting aspects of a new regeneration—when the Doctor dodges death and creates a new body—is the promise of a new version of the program’s classic theme tune. The revelation of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who’s lead proved no exception, but following Murray Gold’s lavish scores since 2005 would be no easy task, especially as so many fans (of both Doctor Who and its soundtracks) understandably went “Who?” when incoming composer Segun Akinola was announced. A quick check of his CV revealed a wide range of fascinating projects, from science programs to social documentaries, and as his 10 episodes (and a New Year’s Day special) of the long-running BBC series have confirmed, he really was the right man for the job.
Akinola caught up with FSMO shortly before the Christmas break, and he was looking forward to some time off after a hectic year.
Nick Joy: Are you ready for a break after such a crazy year!?
Segun Akinola: I’m working currently, but I’m shortly going on holiday with my wife, which is the most important thing.
NJ: For sure. And will you be using your time off to reflect on that huge body of work that you composed this year?
SA: Yes, it’s that period where I can reflect from a close perspective as opposed to in a few months when I’ll have had more distance. I’m very much someone who wants to keep learning in every way. I believe that, musically, you never finish learning. I always want to be getting better and learning more, to improve in every way that I can, whether it’s in terms of writing better music, or music that fits better to the narrative, or just being more efficient. Inevitably, that requires a period of analysis.
NJ: Doctor Who is a show that people say presents some of the biggest challenges, because it’s a different show every week. How did you approach this challenge of one week you’re in the Punjab and the next in outer space?
SA: I have to go back to the beginning and talk about the early conversations that [showrunner Chris Chibnall] and I had about the series. It was just before I got the job and we were talking about the series. The stories were going to be set in all these different places, but the music needed the freedom to either closely follow the story or bring something out about that particular episode. It wasn’t necessarily going to be the same each time. It was very important that we had a series sound, but still go with the individual requirements of that story.
NJ: How did that work on a practical basis?
SA: It was more a case of every time we started an episode, we’d have our spotting session and figure out where all of the music was going to go, as well as which characters needed themes. We also had a conversation about what felt right musically. This is where I’d say, “Well, we could do this or we could do that for this character.” It was very organic, and toward the end, we looked back and said, “Wow, we’ve moved around a lot musically.” It was a very natural and fun part of the job. Chris has said a number of times that he had listened to some of my stuff before we started talking, and that’s something he was really interested in. It was an opportunity to flex a lot of very different musical muscles.
NJ: Was the Doctor’s theme the one to crack first, your way in to the overall series sound?
SA: That came very, very early. Very early, before I actually had the job! Chris and I had a conversation, and I asked him about the Doctor as I was going to write a little something. I asked, “Who is she? What’s she about?” It was really good, and then just a case of trying to embody all of that musically. I wrote a little something for them and sent it over, and what I sent over is the Doctor’s theme as you hear it in the series. It hasn’t changed in any way, shape or form.
NJ: It’s a lovely, glorious and optimistic theme, but not too blockbuster. It feels like Jodie.
SA: Thank you.
NJ: Are there secondary themes for the other characters? It can be tricky to pick them out in the mix, and hopefully when we get the chance to listen to the music in isolation they will be more apparent.
SA: Yes, there absolutely are character themes. So, we’ve got them for all four of the main characters, and then we also have a team theme for when they’re all working together. The Doctor’s theme had to appear in episode one—narratively, it’s when she worked out who she was, up on the crane, and that’s the first time that you get [her theme] in its pure form. There is a cue earlier when she’s making the sonic [screwdriver], where you get a version [of the theme] that’s close but not entirely pure. It’s in that moment on the crane that we get the pure version, and we get it again when she is looking for and finds her clothes.