Friday, July 18, 2008

Delia Derbyshire--revival for "Doctor Who"

Delia Derbyshire
May 5th, 1937 to July 3rd, 2001

The popular British science fiction/fantasy program, Doctor Who, has been around for over 40 years and seen a large cast of Doctors come and go: William Hartnell [1963–1966], Patrick Troughton [1966–1969)], Jon Pertwee [1970–1974], Tom Baker [1974–1981], Peter Davison [1981–1984], Colin Baker [1984–1986], Sylvester McCoy [1987–1989, 1996], Paul McGann [1996], Christopher Eccleston [2005], and the current David Tennant [2005--]. What remains steady is the introductory music--composed by Ron Grainer and set to an electronic score by Delia Derbyshire. Electronic music has been a force in the cinema since the 1950s [Forbidden Planet] and it is a craft dominated by women composers and technicians .

Doctor Who 1980-1985 Theme Music

"Delia Derbyshire, producer of Doctor Who theme music, has legacy restored"

Russell Jenkins

July 18th, 2008

The Timesonline

A long-lost collection of tapes representing the legacy of the musical genius who arranged the Doctor Who theme has been rescued from irreversible decay by a team of academic musicologists.

Delia Derbyshire, who battled with depression and died, aged only 64, a hopeless alcoholic in 2001, was the godmother of modern electronic dance music.

She carried out pioneering work for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the early 1960s, producing the familiar Doctor Who signature tune and collaborating with Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix among others.

Her experimental work fell out of fashion following the advent of the synthesizer but, in recent years, she has enjoyed a revival of interest especially among bands like The Chemical Brothers and Portishead to whom she is a legendary figure.

After her death the collection, which comprises 267 tapes, correspondence and scores, was entrusted Mark Ayres, the Radiophonic Workshop.

The material had languished unheard for 30 years until it was passed to Manchester University’s School of Art, Histories and Culture to catalogue and preserve. The material, in poor condition, had to be played on a 1960s Studer A80 tape machine lent by the BBC's Manchester studios before it could be digitised.

Among the tapes is one of the earliest electronic dance music compositions composed by Ms Derbyshire for radio more than two decades before it became a popular cultural phenomenon.

A recording features the actor Nicol Williamson's famous portrayal of Hamlet at the London Roundhouse complete with the composer’s special sound effects.

Others jewels include a recording of the way she electronically manipulated the sound of her own voice to create her celebrated composition 'Blue Veils and Golden Sands'.

Dr David Butler, in charge of the cataloguing, said: "Delia Derbyshire never really received the recognition she deserved as one of our most influential composers of the past 30 or so years."

"Though brilliant, the Doctor Who theme is just one small example of her genius which was held in high esteem by figures across music, television, theatre and film, including Paul McCartney and John Peel, the disc jockey".

She studied piano and mathematics at Girton College, Cambridge, and, in 1962, joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a department created in 1958 to supply the corporation with the latest technological sounds. The secondment set for three months lasted ten years.

She had not been there long when she was given the task of translating a melody for a new Saturday early evening series about a mysterious time traveller who lived in a police box. The resulting music was a revelation in 1963, and remains one of the most easily recognised themes of all time.

The composer, who always kept a book of logarithms in her back pocket, used a combination of musique concrete techniques including the tape manipulation and electronic gadgetry to create her sounds. Her favourite instrument was a green lampshade which she would strike and then manipulate the resulting sound to achieve the desired effect.

Pippa Murphy, who wrote the score for a play about Delia Derbyshire's life, once said: "It was a question of hitting a lampshade, getting a 'ding' sound, recording it, manipulating it, changing the pitch until you had a range of pitches. Then those sounds would be combined with more textured sounds, keys jingling, a cheese grater, a colander. You made a composition by cutting and sticking together bits of tape".

Ms Derbyshire was also a woman of her times, clad in Biba or Mary Quant, her hair in a Vidal Sassoon bob, a fixture at the parties of Swinging London where she was known for her chaotic but exuberant love life. She worked with Brian Jones, the late member of the Rolling Stones, Yoko Ono and Jimi Hendrix and met Paul McCartney to discuss an opportunity to work on "Yesterday".

She left the BBC a disillusioned woman. She and struggled with drink and a series of unsuitable jobs, including radio operator. At one time she married an out-of-work miner but eventually settled in the Midlands where she lived in relative obscurity and would rail, between drinks, against her lack of critical recognition.

The transferral of the tapes, all made between 1962 and 1973, into digital form was overseen by Louis Niebur, a visiting professor of musicology from Nevada University.

Dr Butler said: "Many of the tapes have no labels so it is a case of using detective work to find out what they are. We cannot even be certain Delia composed all the music."

"But it has proved to be an Aladdin's cave and we have just started to scratch the surface. The collection includes her freelance work and really does give us a better sense of her range as a composer."

"It is fitting that we are doing this almost exactly 50 years after the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was launched in 1958".

Dr Ricardo Climent, from the university's Novars Research Centre, said: "The tragedy is after leaving the BBC in 1973, she withdrew from composition until 1996. That can be attributed to her struggle for acceptance but also the rise of the synthesizer in electronic music."

"She was not comfortable with that as she felt the off-the-peg sounds removed the creativity of her compositional techniques but at long last her pioneering sounds can be heard again".

Wikapedia offers the following:


The original 1963 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune is widely regarded as a significant and innovative piece of electronic music. Recorded before the widespread introduction of synthesisers, Delia Derbyshire used musique concrète techniques. Each and every note was painstakingly handcrafted using pre-recorded individually struck piano strings as well as electronic equipment such as wave signal generators, noise generators, filters and square- and sine-wave oscillators (which were themselves rare at the time), with the results pitch-shifted if necessary. Each individual note in the Doctor Who theme was individually created using these instruments, and recorded onto magnetic tape. The swooping sounds were created by manually adjusting the pitch of the oscillator to a carefully-timed pattern. The rhythmic hissing sounds, "bubbles" and "clouds" were created by filtering white noise to "colour" it. Examination of the original makeup tapes suggests that one of the two bass lines alone is a "concrete" sound, a plucked string sample.

Once each sound had been created, it was modified. Some sounds were created at all the required pitches direct from the oscillators, others had to be repitched later by adjusting the tape playback speed and re-recording the sound onto another tape player. This process continued until every sound was available at all the required pitches. To create dynamics, the notes were re-recorded at slightly different levels.

Each individual note was then trimmed to length by cutting the tape, and stuck together in the right order. This was done for each "line" in the music - the main plucked bass, the bass slides (an organ-like tone emphasising the grace notes), the hisses, the swoops, the melody, a second melody line (a high organ-like tone used for emphasis), and the bubbles and clouds. Most of these individual bits of tape making up lines of music, complete with edits every inch, still survive.

This done, the music had to be "mixed". There were no multitrack tape machines, so rudimentary multitrack techniques were invented: each length of tape was placed on a separate tape machine and all the machines were started simultaneously and the outputs mixed together. If the machines didn't stay in sync, they started again, maybe cutting tapes slightly here and there to help. In fact, a number of "submixes" were made to ease the process - a combined bass track, combined melody track, bubble track, and hisses. Eventually, the piece was finished.

Grainer was amazed at the resulting piece of music and when he heard it, famously asked, "Did I write that?". Derbyshire modestly replied "Most of it". Unfortunately, the BBC — who wanted to keep members of the Workshop anonymous — prevented Grainer from getting Derbyshire a co-composer credit and a share of the royalties.

The theme can be divided into several distinctive parts. A rhythmic bassline opens and underlies the theme throughout, followed by a rising and falling set of notes that forms the main melody which is repeated several times. The bridge, also known as the "middle eight", is an uplifting interlude in the relative major that usually features in the closing credits or the full version of the theme. During the early years of the series, however, the middle eight was also often heard during the opening credits (most notably in the first episode, An Unearthly Child). The main section is in the Aeolian mode.

Derbyshire's realisation of the theme is in the key of E minor, as on Ron Grainer's original score.

The theme has been often cited as being both memorable as well as frightening, priming the viewer for what was to follow. During the 1970s, the Radio Times, the BBC's own listings magazine, announced that a child's mother said the theme music terrified her son. The Radio Times was apologetic, but the theme music remained.

Derbyshire created two arrangements in 1963: the first was released as a single, but was rejected by the producers. The second arrangement was used on the first episode of the programme. The two 1963 arrangements served, with only minor edits and additions requested by the producers, as the theme tune up to 1980 and the end of Season 17. The most notable of these edits were addition of 'electronic spangles', and tape echo to the bassline, from the Patrick Troughton serial The Faceless Ones onwards, and the addition of a "sting" at the start of the closing credits during Jon Pertwee's first season.

In 2002, Mark Ayres used Derbyshire's original masters to mix full stereo and surround sound versions of the theme.


During the Third Doctor's era beginning in 1970, the "sting", an electronic shriek, was added to punctuate the episode cliffhangers and serve as a lead-in to the closing theme. A few episodes such as Spearhead from Space also used a slight rearrangement of the Derbyshire theme for the closing credits; the "middle eight" section was not heard very often during the Third Doctor era; during the era of the Fourth Doctor, the "middle eight" was heard on only four episodes prior to the adoption of the Peter Howell arrangement in 1980. For unexplained reasons, the first three serials of Season 8 reverted to the 1967 arrangement before reinstating the Third Doctor's arrangement for the last two serials of that year.

In 1972, there was an attempt by Brian Hodgson and Paddy Kingsland, with Delia Derbyshire acting as producer, to modernise the theme tune using the Radiophonic Workshop's modular "Delaware" synthesiser (named after the Workshop's location at Delaware Road). The "Delaware" arrangement, which had a distinct Jew's harp sound, was not well received by BBC executives and was abandoned. The master tapes were given to a fan at the 1983 Longleat celebrations by Hodgson and were never returned. The episodes that used it were redubbed with the old Derbyshire arrangement, but lacking the repeated notes at the beginning of the music. However, the Delaware version was accidentally left on some episodes which were sold to Australia, and survives today in this form.


For Season 18, Radiophonic Workshop staffer Peter Howell provided a new arrangement performed on analogue synthesisers, giving a more dynamic and glossy, but less haunting feel. Its bassline was created on a Yamaha CS-80 synthesiser, with added echo. The main melody was played on an ARP Odyssey Mk III. The 1980 arrangement added the sting to the opening theme as well, while the "middle eight" was included in the closing theme arrangement of all episodes. Howell's theme is in the key of F# minor.

The Howell theme was eventually replaced by a new arrangement by Dominic Glynn for Season 23's The Trial of a Time Lord (1986). This synthesiser-driven version was arranged to sound more mysterious than previous renditions but was only used for this single season of the series. Glynn's theme reverts back to the traditional key of E minor, even though it is slightly detuned. The bassline was performed on a Roland Juno-6 synthesiser, while the melody and filtered noise effects were performed on a Yamaha DX21 and Korg 770 respectively.

The Glynn arrangement was itself replaced by a new arrangement by Keff McCulloch for the Seventh Doctor's era beginning with Season 24 (1987). McCulloch's arrangement was made using a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, with the initial 'sting' replaced by a crashing explosive sound. The melody itself seems to play at a much higher pitch than previous renditions, largely due to the harsher sound that was used. Producer John Nathan-Turner stated that the new music, logo and title sequence were to signal a fresh start to the programme. This was the first version of the theme since the little-used 1973 Delaware version to incorporate the "middle eight" into the opening credits. McCulloch's theme is in the key of A minor. Delia Derbyshire was reportedly very unhappy with McCulloch's version.


The 1996 Doctor Who television Movie used a fully orchestrated version, arranged by John Debney (although Debney later revealed that he had originally intended to replace the original theme with one of his own design). This contained a new introduction, being a quieter piece of music over which part of the Eighth Doctor's (Paul McGann) opening narration was read, building up to a crescendo as it began with the "middle eight", a departure from previous versions of the theme. Debney's version of the theme begins in A minor, but after the middle eight the main melody is transposed back to E minor, as in the original score. Less evident in this version of the score is the rhythmic bassline that opens and underscores all previous (and later) televised versions of the theme; a bassline is present, but it does not rise and fall in the same way. Debney is the only composer that receives screen credit during the movie, with the then-deceased Grainer not being credited on screen for composing the theme.

When Big Finish Productions began to produce Eighth Doctor audio plays in 2001 (beginning with Storm Warning), they approached composer David Arnold, who produced a new arrangement of the Doctor Who theme for the Eighth Doctor. The Arnold arrangement was used for every Eighth Doctor audio play until 2008's Dead London.

In 2005, the television series was revived. Murray Gold's arrangement of the theme for the 2005 series featured samples from the 1963 original with further elements added, including orchestral sounds (low horns, strings, percussion) and part of the Dalek ray-gun and TARDIS materialisation sound effects. Rapidly rising and falling strings, known by fans as "The Chase", is an element that was not present in any previous version of the theme.

The sting once again served as the lead-in to the theme, but Gold omitted the "middle eight" from both the opening and closing credits. Gold has said that his interpretation was driven by the title visual sequence he was given to work around. Gold created a variation on his arrangement for the closing credits of "The Christmas Invasion", which was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Unlike his arrangement for the 2005 series, this version restored the "middle eight"; it was also used for the closing credits of the 2006 and 2007 series.

A soundtrack of Gold's incidental music for the new series was released by Silva Screen Records on December 4, 2006. Included on the album are two versions of the theme: the 44-second opening version, as arranged by Gold, and a longer arrangement that includes the middle eight. Often erroneously cited as being the same as the end credits version, this second version is in fact a new arrangement and recording. Gold also created another new arrangement of the theme which was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales during a special televised concert, Doctor Who: A Celebration which was broadcast in November 2006 as part of the annual Children in Need appeal. A second soundtrack with music from the third series plus the 2007 Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned was released on November 5, 2007.

In November 2007, following the BBC's announcement that it was requiring all series to implement a shorter closing credits sequence, it was rumoured that Murray Gold was working on a third rework of his theme, making Murray Gold only the second person to have arranged two televised versions of the theme (the first being Delia Derbyshire back in 1966). The rumours were proven correct when a new version of the theme -- featuring additional drums, piano and bass guitar while retaining the original Derbyshire electronic sound to drive the melody line as was done with the 2005 arrangement, as well as a variation of "The Chase" counter-melody -- was introduced in the Christmas 2007 episode, "Voyage of the Damned" and is in use for the 2008 series. (Possibly due to a late decision to revise the theme, a recording of the new arrangement was not included on the Series 3 soundtrack CD, despite other music from the Christmas special being included.) A version of the theme is now on the SilvaScreen website, accessible with a special code in the Doctor Who Soundtrack Series 3. This theme continues to be used as the closing theme. However, a slightly different version is used for the opening credits, with the guitars lower in the mix.


Parting note:

Consensus has revealed that Tom Baker [1974-1981] was the most popular. I have seen two episodes of the current David Tennant series and I am not overwhelmed. Content is lacking with an over abundance of computer generated graphics. And it was sad to see that K9 appeared as a pile of rusted sheet metal--"affirmative".

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