back to article Delia and the Doctor: How to cook up a tune for a Time Lord

As a theme tune, Ron Grainer’s music for Doctor Who needs no introduction. But to describe this unique piece of electronic music as solely Ron Grainer’s composition would be a disservice to the considerable musical contribution made by Delia Derbyshire, who in 1963 set about realising the original score at the BBC’s Radiophonic …


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  1. The_Idiot

    With apologies to Hoyt Axton...


    'Twas a Doctor and a Delia and,er, Grain named Ron

    And some help from the Hall effect too...


    Yes. I know. Coat, please! (blush)

  2. stucs201

    Oh, that Delia

    I was thinking this would be Delia Smith's version of Oswin's souffle recipe. Or maybe something involving fish fingers and custard.

    (The one with the pockets that are smaller on the outside)

  3. BoldMan

    Much love to Delia, excellent article - that original theme music still gives me the shivers!

    1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      I can whistle that. How do I make money doing so?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No doubt the precise definition of ‘electronic music’ will be the subject of debate long after the lights go out and the amps are silenced

    For me, the workshop were definitely making electronic music. They essentially had all the components of a synthesiser, but in the most modular form imaginable! Tape echoes are making a bit of a comeback as well, both refurbed old ones and new ones. I own a Melos tape echo, which is about as primitive as they get, and I absolutely love it. It alters the input sound in a marvellously musical way, giving it a dense fuzziness - the complete antithesis of digital delays. Solid state echoes based on BBD chips are also great, as are spring reverbs which are a lot more affordable and available than plate reverbs.

  5. John Gamble

    Derbyshire Was Astonishing

    Of all the anniversary articles The Reg has presented so far, this is by far the best. BBC special effects manged to do a lot with very little, and one of the reasons for that is the sound that accompanied them.

    The theme song itself is still a marvel and the admiration I have for Derbyshire for creating the "orchestra" that played it is limitless.

  6. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Excellent article.

    Thank you.

    1. Simon Ward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Excellent article.


      As someone who creates electronic music for a hobby, Delia Derbyshire is one of my musical heroes (heroines, whatever) - for its time, the Dr Who theme was a work of absolute genius and it's a crying shame that she never got the recognition she truly deserved whilst she was at the BBC - a travesty right up there with them shuttering the Radiophonics Workshop.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: crying shame that she never got the recognition...

        Sadly, I think she has a great deal of company with respect to so much early Dr. Who.

  7. graeme leggett

    On a tangent

    As the ring modulator was mentioned, and everyone has echoed my thoughts on the effort and results of Delia I thought I might throw in 2p.

    Ring modulator for Dalek good; Ring mod for Cybermen bad.

    My two favourite Cyber voices are:

    the Tomb of the Cybermen made with an electrolarynx for an interesting and alien buzz (" You belong to uzzz. You shall be like uzzzz")

    and the Earthshock type where the voice has a couple of pitched down copies mixed in ("Excellent")

    But in both cases, as with the theme, the technology is but part of it, the remainder is the actor's intonation and delivery.

    example of recreating the Excellent type by Luke (TMDWP)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Dick Mills

      Here's a nice (if dated) piece on the Radiophonic Workshop and how Peter Howell created the 1980 version of the theme.

  8. arrbee

    Thanks for this - what a dramatic contrast to the Doctor Who "specials" on BBC 3 which have been clear evidence that there are still plenty of people at the BBC that hate the program.

    1. ThomH

      I wouldn't read too much into it — BBC 3 is evidence that plenty of people at the BBC hate the public in general.

  9. Bsquared

    Excellent article, thank you. Would love to hear of something similar on how the Forbidden Planet soundtrack was made, back in 1956.

    The subject may demand it, but please don't be tempted to write another whole article on the various theme tunes through the years. Note to BBC - STOP PISSING ABOUT WITH IT. Revert to a classic earlier version (my vote would be Pertwee years), then leave it alone, and stop trying to make it more exciting and "with it", daddio.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Would love to hear of something similar on how the Forbidden Planet soundtrack was made, back in 1956.

      I think they made extensive use of the Hammond Novachord (as well as a Theremin). The Novachord is an incredible instrument, made in very small numbers in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is essentially a sophisticated synthesiser, capable of majestic and haunting sounds. There's a website devoted to the restoration of one, including sound clips, here:

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Don't think there's a Novachord on Forbidden Planet

        Louis and Bebe Barron used mostly hand-made valve-based circuits that they over-drove with very high voltages. They then tape-recorded the sounds of instability from the circuits' self-destruction.

  10. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    Excellent article

    I've read bits and pieces about Delia Derbyshire's amazing work in the BBC and on the Who theme around the place, and it's nice to see her front and centre in this article, and getting some well-deserved recognition.

    I've been listening to various versions of the theme as I read the article, from the original to Orbital, to Coldcut to Bill Bailey. It probably sounds a bit sacrilegious to mention the Bill Bailey "version", but it always makes me smile :) I also thought of him when I was reading the "Tape your time" section, as he explains what U2 would sound like without the delay effect on the guitars.

  11. Lottie

    Great article

    The original tune is a triumph of lateral thought, electronic "what if"-ery and passion.

    Sometimes, in the world of VSTs and modeling hardware, we forget how difficult it must have been and how much work went in to making the basics that made the instruments that made the music.

    As an aside -although slightly linked as they both brought electronic music to the masses, any chance of an article on Wendy Carlos' work/ wizardry?

  12. unitron

    Excellent article, but...

    ...the author seems to go to a lot of trouble to keep the word "heterodyne" out of his explanation of how the wobulator works.

  13. unitron

    Sounds like Delia...

    ...would have made quite an interesting Companion.

    Even had a name that would have worked well for it.

  14. unitron

    "Blue Veils and Golden Sand"...

    ...makes me wonder how much influence she may have had on the sound for the U.S. TV series "The Twilight Zone".

  15. David Given

    Check out _White Noise_

    ...which is a fantastic album, and most of it's on Youtube. My favourite track is _Firebird_, which is a brilliant mixture of dated and undateable:

    (Music video not original.)

  16. Frankee Llonnygog

    Great article

    Many thanks, Mr Dormon

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