KS3: Delia Derbyshire – Doctor Who Theme (original theme by Ron Grainer)
- Born: 1937
- Died: 2001
- Nationality: English
Why is she a Trailblazer?
In November 1963 one woman changed the sound of orchestral music for ever.
Trailblazer Delia Derbyshire swapped traditional musical instruments for electronic sounds when she arranged the theme for one of the most famous TV shows ever: Doctor Who.
Born in Coventry, as a young girl Delia Derbyshire grew up hearing the eerie sound of air raid sirens. She became fascinated with music (especially composers like Bach and Beethoven) and mathematics, and studied both at Cambridge University.
In 1960 Derbyshire joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a special team who provided unusual sound effects and music for radio and TV programmes. The workshop created the sound of the TARDIS and the voice of the Daleks.
Ron Grainer, composer of the Doctor Who theme, always said Delia Derbyshire should receive a co-composer credit for her arrangement but in 1963 the BBC preferred to keep the Workshop assistants anonymous so Delia’s creativity wasn’t recognised.
Segun Akinola, who became the composer for Doctor Who in 2018, is a big fan of Derbyshire’s work and used aspects of her original arrangement in his new version of the show’s theme.
Doctor Who Theme
It’s one of the most famous theme tunes ever – but composer Ron Grainer had only written the very basic tune when he handed over the music to Delia Derbyshire.
Creating the unique sound of the music wasn’t easy. In an era before music could be made on computers and synthesizers, it was painstaking work.
Delia had to record hundreds of electrical beeps onto tape, adjust the pitch of each individual note and then splice them all together to create a bass line or a melody.
The end result was music with an otherworldly and mysterious quality – it’s a musical style we still associate with science fiction today.
Discover how recorded sound is manipulated in amazing ways in Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Orchestra and Turntables.
Or see how Wagner used more traditional orchestral music to transport audiences on a fantasy adventure in his Ride of the Valkyries.
Explore our other Figurenotes arrangements and discover more about Inclusive music-making with Ten Pieces
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