Want to know what the Doctor Who theme tune was originally going to sound like (sort of)?

As you probably all well know (those of you who are Doctor Who fans, that is), Ron Grainer composed the original theme tune to Doctor Who. It said so in the credits of the show for 50 years, just to emphasise the point. What fewer people know is how much debt that theme tune owed to the person at the BBC Radiophonics Workshop who ‘realised it’ – Delia Derbyshire.

I did the Doctor 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.

– Delia Derbyshire, in the Radiophonic Ladies interview

Indeed, it wasn’t until The Day of the Doctor that Derbyshire finally got an onscreen credit for her work:

Delia Derbyshire credit

Even in the BBC’s recent dramatisation of the creation of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Space and Time, Derbyshire’s contribution was downplayed considerably, giving her little more than a couple of lines about how the TARDIS dematerialisation sound was created using piano strings and a house key. I don’t even think they gave her name in the show.

Want to know how much of a difference she made? Well, here’s the version she composed, which is probably familiar to you.

But a little known fact is that Ron Grainer did arrange a version of the theme himself on the album “The Exciting Television Music of Ron Grainer”, which was released in 1980. Although it includes instruments that were unavailable to him in 1963, this is the closest version you’ll hear to what Grainer originally envisioned for the show and is similar to a lot of his work from the time.

What a difference Derbyshire made, hey?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.