Doctor Who

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Doctor Who - original score

This page is about various versions of the Doctor Who theme music. Delia is also credited for several episodes of the TV series:

"Derbyshire also composed some pieces for the BBC's stock music library, some of which were eventually used in Doctor Who as incidental music. Such contributions to the stock library include "Chromophone Band" (appearing in The Macra Terror), "Blue Veils and Golden Sands" and "The Delian Mode" (both of which were used in Inferno)."[1][2]

The Doctor Who theme music

In 1963 Delia created the Doctor Who theme from a score by Ron Grainer, which became "one of the most famous and instantly recognisable TV themes ever" and ranked as the 76th greatest song of the '60s on the music site Pitchfork.

Doctor Who is first mentioned in Delia's papers on 27th July 1963 and it was first broadcast on 23rd November 1963.

The version that has Delia's stamp of approval is the 1:30 version broadcast during the Radio Scotland interview.

[The Doctor Who theme is] the single most important piece of electronic music.[3]

Forty years on, Delia Derbyshire’s realisation of Ron Grainer’s tune remains the single most influential piece of electronic [music].[4]

In those days people were so cynical about electronic music and so Doctor Who was my private delight. It proved them all wrong.[5]

The first producer of Doctor Who, Verity Lambert, she had in her mind Les Structures Sonores, this group from Paris. Their music sounded really electronic but in fact they were all acoustic instruments and because the Radiophonic Workshop was a below-the-line cost she came to the Radiophonic Workshop and the boss recommended Ron Grainer because he had done something called "Giants of Steam". Ron saw the visual titles, as usual something like a black and white negative, and he took the timings and went away and wrote the score.
On the score he'd written "sweeps", "swoops"... beautiful words... "wind cloud", "wind bubble"... so I got to work and put it together and when Ron heard the results, oh, he was tickled pink![6]

It was a magic experience because I couldn't see from the music how it was going to sound.

She used concrete sources and sine- and square-wave oscillators, tuning the results, filtering and treating, cutting so that the joins were seamless, combining sound on individual tape recorders, re-recording the results, and repeating the process, over and over again. When Grainer heard the result, his response was "Did I really write that?" "Most of it," Delia replied.[7]

I think, from the public's point of view, Doctor Who was the big milestone. Suddenly they became aware that it wasn't just funny noises, that you could actually make music with it as well.[8]

In an official history of the first 25 years of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Delia tells how she created the Dr Who theme tune with a series of 'carefully timed handswoops' over oscillators.

Dick Mills, who helped Delia create the piece, says:

   "We started with the bass line. You know those 19-inch jack-bay panels? You could get blank panels too, to fill in between them. They were slightly flexible, so Delia found one that made a good musical twang and played it with her thumb. We recorded it then vari-speeded up and down to different pitches, copied them across to another tape recorder, then made hundreds of measured tape edits to give it the rhythm."
   And what was the main tune played on? "It was just a load of oscillators -- signal generators -- that someone had connected to a little keyboard, one for each note."
   But what about that distinctive portamento? "Well, you just twiddled the frequency knob, of course -- how else?"
   Eventually, after some pre-mixing, the elements of the entire composition existed on three separate reels of tape, which had to be run somehow together in sync. "Crash-sync'ing the tape recorders was Delia's speciality," says Dick. "We had three big Phillips machines and she could get them all to run exactly together. She'd do: one, two, three, go! -- start all three machines, then tweak until they were exactly in sync, just like multitrack. But with Doctor Who we had a bum note somewhere and couldn't find it! It wasn't that a note was out of tune -- there was just one little piece of tape too many, and it made the whole thing go out of sync. Eventually, after trying for ages, we completely unwound the three rolls of tape and ran them all side by side for miles -- all the way down the big, long corridor in Maida Vale. We compared all three, matching the edits, and eventually found the point where one tape got a bit longer. When we took that splice out it was back in sync, so we could mix it all down."[9]

There was a certain robotic quality, a sterile quality, which, if you like, could only be found in outer space where there's no atmosphere, and no colouration... it's very easy to listen to musicians—they bring a piece of music to life by putting their own performance onto it. And although they are in thythm 99% of the time, it is the little 1% that makes it a human being playing it and not a machine... So when we did the Doctor Who music, we tried to creep in one or two, not wrong notes, but imperfections, like a little bit of tremolo in the tune. We may have shifted the beat slightly just to make it sound as though it was played by somebody with feeling, rather than a stitched together music job... The Doctor Who tune swoops up, it doesn't go in precise notes. It sort of slides from note to note, and it does give it a bit of a spacey feel.[10]

I did the Dr Who theme music mostly on the Jason valve oscillators. Ron Grainer brought me the score. He expected to hire a band to play it, but when he heard what I had done electronically, he'd never imagined it would be so good. He offered me half of the royalties, but the BBC wouldn't allow it. I was just on an assistant studio manager's salary and that was it... and we got a free Radio Times. The boss wouldn't let anybody have any sort of credit.[11]

By way of contrast, when Kara Blake wanted to include a sample of the Doctor Who theme in her Film Board of Canada-sponsored film The Delian Mode, the BBC quoted her $1000 per second.

I think every time a new producer came or a new director came they wanted to tart it up, the title music, and they wanted to put an extra two bars here, put some extra feedback on the high frequencies. They kept on tarting it up out of existence. I was really very shocked at what I had to do in the course of so-called duty.[12]

The book Special Sound dedicates pages 96-102 to the Doctor Who Theme.


The version that has Delia's "stamp of approval" is her original one, as broadcast during the Radio Scotland interview.

Doctor Who - Spectrogram.jpg

For a detailed history of its reworking see

The Theme Music Gallery lists the following versions of the Doctor Who theme:

1963: Pilot episode version

With Thundershot.


  • Never released on disk

1963: Broadcast version

With Hiss-Flare (2:19) used for both the Opening Titles and End Credits sequences throughout the First Doctor's Era.


1966: "Opening Titles" remix with Spangles

(0:51) Introduced during the Era of the Second Doctor


1970: "Opening Titles" remix with Stutter-Start and Repeater playout

(0:45) and "End Credits" remix with Scream Intro and Drone Playout, used throughout the Eras of the Third and Fourth Doctor.


1972: Re-issue with Stereo Expansion and Tardis Flyby Effect

This is not a reissue of the 1964 release, but a stereo mix prepared by Delia Derbyshire and Paddy Kingsland (also of the Radiophonic Workshop). This version incorporates the famous Doctor Who cliffhanger scream and Brian Hodgson's Tardis launch sound.[14]


1973: The Tenth Anniversary "Delaware" Version

So-called because it used Malcolm Clarke's EMS Synthi 100 modular analog synthesizer to add jarring, twangy noises to it. It was realised by Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson and Paddy Kingsland for use in the tenth season but was dropped after two episodes.

The Theme Gallery continues: "The Delaware "Opening Title" rendition was the first to feature Grainer's secondary 'chorus' verse as the opening title refrain, using its upbeat key-change to announce the on-screen appearance of the "Doctor Who" logo."

Dick Mills: She absolutely detested any alterations. The one she really detested was the awful one we did on the Delaware just to see if we could do it.
Brian Hodgson: It was my idea and, as I said, it's one of those sort of ideas that should have been strangled at birth because we were all embarrassed by how it ended up. Delia utterly disowned it just as she disapproved of the even later versions of the theme apart from Peter Howell's. It was, for her, an act of sacrilege to tinker with what she had so carefully created and Ron had so carefully written.[15]


"Original Titles Music"

There is also what appears to be a copy of a half-finished tape: "Original Titles Music" (2:10) which has a different initial hiss sound placed in the first bar instead of the second, what appears to be the infamous bum note throwing the melody out of sync with the bassline in the second half of the middle eight, and nothing but the bass line and whooshes cycle from 1:18 to 2:00.



“We made them on three separate reels of tape, the bass, the melody, and the twiddly bits.”[16]


The theme is defined by the pulsing “twanging” bass line. This was achieved by tightening a string across a 19-inch jack-bay panel, which is slightly flexible. Derbyshire plucked the string with her thumb, recorded the sound, re-pitched it, and edited the pieces into the distinctive, rhythmic bass line.[17]

“We had a piece of 22" BBC grey panel trunking cover, about that wide, along which we mounted a single steel wire - string if you like - which was 'doing, doing, doing'. We also had a guitar fret with some 4 or 6 strings on with magnetic pickups connected to jacks so we could record it directly rather than audibly.”[16]

“If you say to somebody, "Can you sort of, give us a clue as to the rhythm of the Doctor Who theme?" and they all go "Diddly-dum, diddly dum", which is fine. But, on the beginning of each of those "diddly dums" there is a little "nyeep" on the front of each note, which is a sort of hidden gem.”[16]

The bassline, which introduced the original version of the theme, was, according to Derbyshire, annotated by Grainer as a bass guitar and possibly bass bassoon. Derbyshire and Mills recorded the sound of a plucked string to use as the source material and underpinned it with a short, upwards swoop created with a square-wave oscillator – “nerp”. This additional grace note gave the bass notes a rich and undefinable depth that was neither acoustic nor completely electronic.[18]


The melody is punctuated by “swooping” sounds which was achieved by turning a dial to adjust the pitch on an oscillator.[17]

Derbyshire uses an overtone on the melody. This addition creates a sound similar to the glass harmonica. Interviewed for Record Collector Magazine in 1997, Derbyshire explained that this is indeed what gives it that glassy tone. Surprisingly though, she goes on to say that the addition was a matter of necessity, not design. A sine-wave, which was used for the root of the melody, becomes all but inaudible as the notes descend down an octave. As the sine has only a single harmonic component the richer square-wave, added an octave higher, simply keeps the note audible. Derbyshire laments the lack of a saw-tooth wave as this would have provided much richer source material for her to filter to her desired tone. In this interview, she goes as far as to say that she would have liked to re-do the whole thing.[18]


The hissing noise comes from a white noise generator.[17]

“clouds” and “wind bubble”. [...] In ‘Masters of Sound’ she casually says “clouds, obviously, one thinks of, as filtered white noise”.[18]


  • Reconstructed versions of the makeup tracks are played during Whooverville 5, recorded with room acoustics.
  • Mark Ayres plays the original versions of the Bass and Melody on Dick & Dom's Absolute Genius, recorded in a BBC studio.


Doctor Who theme

and there are some papers about effects for individual stories:

The Sea Devils

The Curse of Peladon


The Tape Library List lists the following tapes:

  • TRW 6002: "Doctor Who - Original Signature Tune"
  • TRW 6388: "Doctor Who Effects & Signature Tune for TV Enterprises"
  • TRW 6645: "Doctor Who Signature Tune Version 2"
  • TRW 7114: "Doctor Who (open/close music - new version"
  • TRW 7158: "Doctor Who (closing music/2nd titles - new version"
  • TRW 7602: "Doctor Who New Signature Tune ("Delaware" Version)"
  • TRW 7692: "Doctor Who New Signature Tune Record" (with Paddy Kingsland)
  • DD109: "Doctor Who closing theme: Delaware version", an early version


The Performing Right Society's list of works by Delia Ann Derbyshire has:

Title Writer(s) Publisher Work number Type Work status flags Creation date
Doctor Who Derbyshire Delia Ann BBC Worldwide Music T-010.545.927-5
10/10 5 July 1997
Doctor Who (Closing Music/2nd Titles-New Version) Derbyshire Delia Ann BBC Worldwide Music T-010.234.550-5
10/00 Film/TV 3 August 1999
Doctor Who (New Signature Tune Recorded) Derbyshire Delia Ann
Kingsland Paddy
BBC Worldwide Music 1470649X 10/00 Film/TV 3 August 1999
Doctor Who (Open/Close Music - New Version) Derbyshire Delia Ann BBC Worldwide Music T-010.234.550-5
10/00 Film/TV 3 August 1999
Doctor Who (Signature Tune Version 2) Derbyshire Delia Ann BBC Worldwide Music T-010.234.548-1
10/00 Film/TV 3 August 1999

See also


  1.'s article on Delia Derbyshire
  2. Lost tapes of the Dr Who composer on
  3. Adrian Utley of Portishead.
  4. Bob Stanley in an article published in The Times newspaper on 28th November 2003.
  5. Delia in 1993, according to The Millenium Effect.
  6. Delia in the Boazine interview
  7. Brian Hodgson in "Pebble Mill at One", 11 March 1979 (on YouTube)
  8. Brian Hodgson
  9. Dick Mills interviewed for Sound on Sound magazine, April 2008.
  10. Dick Mills, quoted in John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado's book Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, St Martin's, New York, 1983, cited in Special Sound, p.100.
  11. Delia, in the Radiophonic Ladies interview.
  12. Delia, in the Radio Scotland interview.
  13. 1994 BBC TV documentary Doctor Who - More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS at 03:15.
  15. Dick Mills and Brian Hodgson in Sculptress of Sound.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Dick Mills interviewed at Whooverville 5.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Breege Brennan's thesis
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 BBC Records Discography, section "Inch by Inch by Inch"