Film Score Friday: ‘Sherlock’ Series 1 & 2 by David Arnold and Michael Price

My affinity for Doctor Who has to be well-known at this point in time, but there is another Brit series that really floats my boat these days. Coincidentally, or more likely not, both shows are currently headed by the same mad genius, Steven Moffat.

Sherlock co-stars one of my favorite british actors, Martin Freeman, and introduced me to the wonder that is Benedict Cumberbatch. But the show has another secret weapon that I am excited to dig into today, a wonderful score by David Arnold and Michael Price.

The name David Arnold should ring a few bells for a few of you, he is most well-known for his many recent James Bond scores, in fact he the second most frequent Bond composer right after the legend, John Barry. Aside from Bong, Arnold also has several other geek cred credits, most notably writing the scores to Independence Day and Startgate.

The music in the show isn’t exactly what you would expect. The quirkiness of Holmes plays a vital role in the show, but it is rarely played for outright laughs. The score is a big help in this regard, often helping to set a tone that is at the same time playful and unhinged. This keeps you from ever feeling completely comfortable with what you think Holmes is about to do or say.

That amazing tone is the hallmark of this score. The fact that it balances serious and sinister themes so well with playful and humorous cues is one of the major reasons I love the show. Of course that all sounds fine and dandy in the TV show, but on the album, separated from the visuals of the show, does it hold up as well?

One important thing to remember about this series is that each season is only three episodes. Granted those episodes are extended and are more like mini movies than an episode of a drama. But that does mean you should expect less variety of sounds and more in-depth exposure to each episode’s.

This works both ways for Sherlock. On one hand the more time devoted to each episode is a great thing, it allows the listener to really get invested in the individual scores that make up each season. On the other hand though, with a total of six episodes encompassing two discs worth sometimes it does feel like each episode’s music is stretched a bit too thin.

While the music can seem a bit stretched in places, the minimal number of episodes does not hinder the variety of sounds as you might think of a show with so few episodes. especially in the Series 2 disc, all three episodes have a distinct feel and vibe that fits in with the whole, but feels very much a part of its own.

This does bring me to one of my organizational complaints. Why in the track listing or titles do we not get information about the episode? I guess I never noticed this in the Doctor Who sets because the track names, and my avid fandom give me all the info I need. But in Sherlock for the most part I had a hard time determining where one show ended and another began.

I also want to spend a moment giving some props to the main theme of the show. Out of principle I tend to leave main themes off of my favorite track lists, mostly because that feels a bit like cheating. But the main theme in this show is especially great, I am very pleased at how often it is weaved into the show’s score, usually popping up at the most sherlock-y of times.

Also worthy of special note in this review is the entire portion of the second soundtrack devoted to The Hound of Baskerville episode. I adored what they did with that classic story in the show, and the music is brilliant, glad to have it well represented on the soundtrack.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Pursuit by David Arnold & Michael Price – Probably my favorite track that incorporates the main Sherlock theme. This track is stellar chase music, giving off a great sense of tension, and having an excellent flow about it. I really love how it is bookended by the Sherlock theme, giving off the feeling of starting a chase with confidence, being weary in the middle and getting away at the end. This is the kind of music I want playing when I active, or running some sort of obstacle course. Don’t ask me why, it’s just what I think about okay!

Number Systems by David Arnold & Michael Price – This track is one of the first major departures in sound on the first disc. It has a really striking intro that sucks you into a great track. If the last track is my favorite individual track that includes the Sherlock theme, this is the one that uses it the best. Very subtly and very briefly, but the middle portion of the track ends with a great nod to the theme in a very cool way. This is the kind of modern music that really fits with the most famous detective, and brings him into today’s world.

To Dartmoor by David Arnold & Michael Price – Now it is rather funny that this is my only Series 2 track in my favorites list, because I actually think that disc plays better as a stand alone album. This is one of the Baskerville tracks I mentioned previously, and it is probably my favorite, if for no other reason it has the most sinister but confident music of the bunch. The music in this episode branches the furthest out of any single episode, and that direction is so strong it almost single-handedly makes the whole set of soundtracks worthwhile.

Least Favorite Track: 

Woman On The Slab by David Arnold & Michael Price – I didn’t initially dislike this track, in fact it was very interesting to me at first. But then I made it around to the second soundtrack and I heard the Baskerville tracks and I knew this one was only a fraction of what the composers were able to accomplish later on. I almost feel I have it in my least favorite track spot to heap even more praise on Baskerville stuff. Although this track is the least likely to ever get singled out in my iPod, and that is usually enough to warrant this lowly position.

At the end of the day these two soundtracks are fantastic. As separate pieces I think the first disc offers more to fans of the show, but not necessarily score fans. On the other hand the second is a better start to finish listening experience, and includes some superior work.

Final Score for Sherlock Series 1

3.5 out of 5

Final Score for Sherlock Series 2

4.5 out of 5

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