Delia Derbyshire - Dr Who Theme

Duration: 2'21

This piece hardly needs any introduction. Composed by Ron Grainer, it was realised by Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, using basic tone and noise generators. The piece was assembled using analogue tape cutting techniques—cutting up segments of tape for each note and sticking them together using white adhesive splicing tape. In this case three monophonic magnetic tape machines were used: one for the bass line, one for the melody, and one for the sweeping, hissing, white-noise sounds. The three tape machines operated independently of each other, with no synchronisation: in order to play back the track, it was necessary to manually start all three tape machines at exactly the same time, hoping for the best that the three tracks would stay in sync. During the process of putting the tapes together, according to Dick Mills, one note was found to be out of time. In order to identify this so that it could be corrected, it was necessary to unwind the three reels of tape along the lengthy corridors of the Radiophonic Workshop’s Maida Vale studio (formerly an ice rink) and search for the one tell-tale piece of white splicing tape that was out of alignment with the others. This particular version of the Dr Who theme was released as a single, and a slightly adapted version of it was used on air from November 1963—the very first episode—up to 1967.


James Mooney