Although Australian composer Ron Grainer wrote the theme tune to Dr Who, it owes its unique sound to Delia Derbyshire.
Working out of the BBC’s ‘Radiophonic Workshop’, originally devoted to creating radio sound effects, Derbyshire created what became a groundbreaking piece of electronic music before the age of the keyboard synthesizer.
She achieved it by crafting an intricate patchwork of sounds, including white noise, oscillations and a single plucked string, that were put on tape and sped up, slowed down or played backwards before being layered into a final mix. Despite her contribution, Derbyshire was not given a co-composing credit for the theme tune or any royalties, despite Ron Grainer’s belief that she should get at least half.
Since its inception in 1963 the theme tune to Doctor Who has become one of the most familiar pieces of screen music ever written. And it has followed The Doctor on adventures ever since…
- You can buy the original music from Dr Who Series 1 & 2 on Amazon
Derbyshire’s legendary arrangement was used to open and close the show right through to the 1980s, when it was given several overhauls using modern synthesisers. Composers Peter Howell, Dominic Glynn and Keff McCulloch all did their own versions during the decade, which saw the end of the series in 1989.
Keff McCulloch’s 1980s version
1996’s Doctor Who – The Movie featured music by Hollywood composer John Debney, and he recreated the theme for a new age. Debney’s take was a little grander in vision, emphasising a feeling of adventure over mystery; albeit seemingly on a low budget.
When Russell T. Davies re-launched Doctor Who for a new TV audience in 2005, it fell to composer Murray Gold to reimagine the theme tune. He stuck close to the spirit of the original, but added the sounds of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. After a few years on the show, Gold felt bold enough to make his own mark and re-imagined the main theme further still for the new series’ under show-runner Steven Moffat, in 2010 and 2014.
Murray Gold’s bold 2010 version
The eleventh series of the show launched in 2018 under the new leadership of Chris Chibnall. With him came a whole new creative team, including young composer Segun Akinola, who was tasked with yet another revamp of the theme. Akinola went back to basics, using samples of Delia Derbyshire’s original sounds, adding his own contemporary style for The Doctor’s latest adventures.
Segun Akinola’s 2018 version