The new Children in Need album and single lands two Doctors in their most terrifying challenge yet
The official BBC charity Children in Need has a long history with Doctor Who. Some years there’s a special preview of an upcoming episode. Others the Doctor themselves puts in an appearance on stage. And yet others there’s even a special mini-episode of Doctor Who itself to get kids of all ages on seats and donating to a good cause. Another Children in Need tradition is the charity single. Over the years the likes of Lou Reed, Girls Aloud and the Spice Girls have gone to No. 1 in aid of Children in Need. And, er, the Aborbaloff himself, Peter Kay, too.
This year the two traditions collide. The lead single for Children in Need this year is a cover version of Coldplay’s Yellow. And it’s performed by the Thirteenth Doctor herself, Jodie Whittaker. And, as if that weren’t enough, the celtic tones of her predecessor David Tennant can be heard on backing vocals. Tennant also gets his own track, a cover of Sunshine on Leith by the Proclaimers, thanks to the fact that this time Children in Need haven’t just made a single. They’ve made an entire album, Got It Covered. Furthermore, there’s even a ninety minute TV special detailing the recording of the album.
Mastermind Shaun Dooley has raided his contacts book for a star filled line up
The entire thing is the brainchild of Shaun Dooley, best known to Doctor Who fans as Ezpo in The Ghost Monument. But he’s famous also for his roles in Broadchurch, Gentleman Jack, and The Witcher. Dooley’s passion for the idea shines through the entire documentary, and also illustrates the tangled web of celebrity friendships. As David Tennant himself notes, Children in Need is like “national service; you get the call and you answer.” Dooley has assembled former cast-mates Tennant, Jodie Whittaker, Suranne Jones (two Doctors and the TARDIS herself!) and Olivia Colman as part of his line-up.
And once Colman is on board, she’s followed by her The Crown co-star Helena Bonham Carter. She even gets Phoebe Waller-Bridge involved for both emotional and improbable musical support. There’s a real joy in seeing the creator of Fleabag playing the ukulele on Colman’s cover of Portishead’s Glory Box. Though Colman’s crowning achievement is probably getting an old friend’s girlfriend to drop in. That just happens to be Taylor Swift herself, lending support to Dooley for his reinvention of her Never Grow Up.
And reinvention is very much the order of the day here. Dooley’s gravely, broken take on the song turns it on its head in a similar way to Johnny Cash’s Hurt added whole new layers to the Nine Inch Nails original. This Never Grow Up is no longer a young woman’s letter of advice to her childhood self. Instead it’s a father’s impassioned plea to his children. A plea to never lose sight of who they are now, and to never forget that they are forever loved. Tinged with that essential parental angst and creeping sense of mortality, it’s not the vocally strongest track on the album but it is the most touchingly and nakedly emotional.
Going behind the scenes of the recording, the BBC One special shows the raw emotion and talent behind the track list
That mix of the innovation and unvarnished sentiment runs right through both album and television special. Right from the start, it’s established that the producers are keen for the line-up to not hide behind other roles. They ask the actors to show the ‘real them’ through their song choice and performance. So an endearingly shy Jim Broadbent turns in a sweet, country and western themed version of Blue Moon dedicated to his wife. Colman is so sweet and simultaneously vulnerable and nurturing that you instantly want her to be your new best friend. On top of that, she turns in an astonishingly perfect version of Glory Box despite her nerves.
Elsewhere Adrian Lester’s reimagining of Stevie Wonder’s I Wish combines an extraordinary 28 layers of singing, beat-boxing and vocalizations by Lester himself in place of any instruments. Only Suranne Jones maintains a certain distance, appearing alongside a group of children. They not only pick the song (Clean Bandit’s Symphony) but allow her to maintain a certain ‘CBBC’ persona throughout.
Jodie Whittaker provides not only a beautiful song in Yellow, but the program’s emotional heart
In contrast, our own Jodie Whittaker proves herself to be courageously open and emotional. She’s incredibly sweet and funny throughout, with one of the most infectious laughs in the business. And her tears of joy when surprised by Coldplay members Johnny Buckland and Will Champion, and again when Buckland’s guitar kicks in during her first performance, are adorable. But she also sheds tears of true sadness and love when laying down her final recording in memory of her late nephew Harry. You’d need a hear of stone to keep a dry eye as she finally breaks down completely, promising through the tears to do better in the next take. And she certainly does. Yellow earns its place as the track selected to be released as a single. Whittaker’s pure voice and unhidden Yorkshire tones create a beautiful version that perhaps actually surpasses the Coldplay original.
Whittaker takes the lead for another central part of the Children in Need formula too. The fact that this is all to promote and raise funds to help children across the UK is never forgotten. Like all Children in Need programs, the action is routinely paused to demonstrate how your money can change real lives. So we also see Jodie Whittaker’s visit to the Halo Children’s Foundation. Halo is a Children in Need funded charity which lends support to children dealing with family bereavements.
Got It Covered never loses sight of the children it’s fighting to help, as Whittaker’s visit to the Halo Children’s Foundation shows
And it’s here she meets Sophie, learning with Halo’s help to cope with the death of her beloved sister. Jessica Whittaker takes part in the children’s games and lends a sympathetic ear to their stories. And on a second watch, as the children decorate stones in memory of their lost loved ones and arrange them into a giant heard, there’s a real catch at the back of your throat as you realize that Whittaker’s stone is marked with a ‘H’ for her nephew.
There’s a now ancient truism about playing the Doctor, that it involves playing the two-hearted, bimillennial Time Lord as ‘yourself.’ It’s an idea that famously alarmed Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison, while Tom Baker wouldn’t have had it any other way. But kind and funny, even during a day’s recording following a sleepless night’s filming, and brimming with enough love and compassion to fill a solar system, there’s little doubt that Jodie Whittaker and the Thirteenth Doctor were made for each other.
Her obviously deep and heart felt friendship with David Tennant also shines through. The two giggle naughtily whenever put together, and provide great support and encouragement to each other throughout the process. And Tennant’s Sunshine on Leith provides that difficult mix of melancholic happiness that perfectly highlights its lyrics of a man in the depths of love recalling his past loneliness.
If Shaun Dooley doesn’t have letters after his name by this time next year, there’s no justice
Of the remaining tracks, experienced singers Luke Evans and Himesh Patel both provide the most effortlessly professional tracks with, respectively, Smile and All These Things That I’ve Done. Though, perversely, that almost make them the least compelling songs and stories. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter’s Joni Mitchell cover, Both Sides Now, is vocally one of the weakest but is just as brilliant, original and unique as you’d expect from one of British cinema’s last great one offs.
Children in Need has always provided a compelling mix of entertainment, emotion and opportunities to make the world a brighter, better place for the nation’s children. Got It Covered is one of the finest examples of that in the charity’s history, and if Shaun Dooley doesn’t have letters after his name this time next year there’s no justice. If you haven’t already seen it, then brighten your day by catching up with it on iPlayer. And if you haven’t already bought the album then do your bit for children in need by ordering it from Amazon, iTunes or the retailer of your choice today.
Children in Need: Got It Covered
Children in Need: Got It Covered is currently #1 in the Amazon Album chart.
Meanwhile, at time of writing, five of the tracks are in the Amazon Songs chart, led by the two Doctors.
- #1 – Yellow, Jodie Whittaker
- #12 – Sunshine on Leith, David Tennant
- #32 – It Must Be Love, The Actors
- #36 – Symphony, Suranne Jones
- #65 – Glory Box, Olivia Colman