DOCTOR WHO - Variations On A Theme

.
Christopher Morley takes a musical journey through 52 years of the Doctor Who theme tune.


With just weeks to go until Doctor Who Series 9 arrives on our screen, one of the things to ponder alongside potential story-arcs and recurring villains is whether or not the theme tune will receive yet another revamp. After all, series 8 saw both a new title sequence & theme tune arrangement cropping up alongside Peter Capaldi for his maiden series as the Twelfth Doctor, and whilst the sequence itself was largely praised the arrangement? Not so much!

Over the years we've all most likely sat there humming/whistling it as it plays out in its full glory before the action gets under way, in any of its many permutations! So let's take a musical journey through the variations of the theme, and look at the many of the great composers who've worked their musical magic on Doctor Who down the years.

For these purposes, though, we'll need to take ourselves back to before even November 23rd, 1963. Before William Hartnell steps from the TARDIS for the first time (the de/rematerialisation sound effect for which was incidentally created by rubbing a house key down a piano string & electronically treating the resulting scrape) as the First Doctor in An Unearthly Child, we hear this, the first-ever arrangement of what will become one of the best known & indeed well loved themes in British television.


Delia Derbyshire can take the credit for the electronic embellishments added to Ron Grainer's initial ideas for the piece. Born in Coventry on May 5,1937, she joined the BBC in 1960 initially as a trainee studio manager before requesting a transfer to the Radiophonic Workshop- the mysterious Room 13 at Television Centre where sound effects & music had been knocked up for radio before also moving into television, having been founded in 1958. She got her wish to enter the inner sanctum of the forward-thinking musos in 1962- just a year later Ms Derbyshire would be producing perhaps her best-known piece of work.


What of the man who made the initial notes for it? Ron Grainer, an Australian who had made a career from such tunes since making the move to London in 1952 ( perhaps the best known from his pre-Who period being Maigret. You might also note that the theme he penned for the French detective sounds remarkably similar to what he'd later come up with for the Doctor) envisaged a musical scope every bit as imaginative as what the writers were churning out for the First Doctor on screen. Little wonder then that his jottings include what would later be realised as the likes of ' time winds'! Those of you with a degree of musical tuition might know just how those were actualised by dear Delia, all in the key of E........

If not, though, read on! Taking a leaf out of the musique concrete book (that is to say 'music made from found/recorded sounds') she was able to create her master-work by cutting & splicing segments of tape, speeding up/slowing down each individual note as required. All she needed to make it happen were some test-tone oscillators (simple electronic signal generators), a keyboard & some tapes containing a recording of a string being plucked & general white noise. Have a listen to the theme itself and see if you can work out where each constituent part is in the piece - to get you started, the plucked string, having been manipulated and inserted at varying pitches & speeds, forms the bass line!


Once each sound fragment had been created or manipulated into place it was then all stuck together onto one fresh tape, having been cut from the original source. Which, when you consider that the process had to be repeated for the main melody, bass line etc, must have taken quite some time given the still primitive state of electronic music & indeed the equipment used to make it in the early Sixties! Grainer was quite rightly astounded by the finished piece. He's said to have asked 'Did I write that?', to which the rather understated reply was 'Most of it'.

Some years later, in 1980, on his album "The Exciting Television Music of Ron Grainer", we finally got to hear what Grainer would have done with the theme if it had been left to him alone...



Substantially different, no?

Try as he might to get Delia a credit as co-composer as well as a slice of the royalties, Ron was told by the BBC that members of the Workshop were to remain anonymous - and so Derbyshire got nothing for her trouble.

The tune remained the same until being slightly revised for the beginning of Jon Pertwee's era as the Third Doctor in 1970. Take a listen...



A second, experimental arrangement was created and used only once, for Carnival Of Monsters...



This one is known as the 'Delaware Theme', named after the brand of synthesiser upon which it was created. Ultimately it was rejected in favour of a return to the 'conventional' Third Doctor theme. Another overhaul came in time for Tom Baker's final bow as the Fourth Doctor in Season 18 of the 'classic' series (The Leisure Hive- Logopolis).

To give the music a fresh coat of paint so to speak, composer Peter Howell used a bank of synthesisers including an ARP Odyssey Mark II, EMS Vocoder 5000 & Roland Jupiter-4- the key changed to F-sharp minor...



This stayed in place until Trial Of A Time Lord, when Dominic Glynn's take on it took over...



You might notice a difference in synthesised tone - this one's played on a combination of Roland Juno-6, Korg 770 & Yamaha DX21. There's even an 8-bit video game style version...


'New Doctor, new theme' was again the rule when Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor was succeeded by Sylvester McCoy's Seventh, Keff McCulloch taking on the task of composing. Switching key once more, to A minor, he used a Prophet-5 synth to create this...



See also...!



The Eighth Doctor got a new fully orchestrated version for the 1996 TV film thanks to John Debney...



And of course, to finish, the modern-day series has had Murray Gold to make it tick musically from the Ninth to the Twelfth Doctors... & maybe beyond?





What will Series 9 bring? All will be revealed on September 19th.

If music be the food of Who, then play on!
Warped Factor
Daily features, news and reviews from the world of geek!