Category Archives: Science Fiction

Go back to the beginning: Find out how the “Doctor Who” theme song was made

Remember that guy with the colorful turtleneck and scarves? Of course you do. It’s Doctor Who.

Who? yeah, that guy played the fourth installment of Doctor Who.

Who? yeah, that guy played the fourth installment of Doctor Who.

I remember Doctor Who while growing up in the 80s. It was either go play out in the sun or sit and watch PBS — that weird channel that talked about Easter Island and Amelia Earhart– Wait, that was the Leonard Nimoy-hosted “In Search Of….”, but I digress.

In_Search_of_Title_ScreenBack to the music. I mostly remembered the Doctor Who theme song– it made me feel uneasy, yet I wanted to hear it and find out more. By the time I heard it, the original was tweaked a bit, but still the same. Never a big fan of the show itself, but the music stayed with me.

Now, Factmag.com has uncovered an archived video on how the “Doctor Who” theme song was created.

Picture a time before Stereo sound — it’s that dark.

The song was created by Dick Mills and Delia Derbyshire of the Radiophonic Workshop at the BBC. Ron Grainer is the one who wrote the song but left it to the Workshop to actually put it together. The short video explain how the song was put together using tape loops, inspiration from the black and white graphics, and verbal cues.

doctorwho bwDerbyshire mentions words from Grainer like “filtered white noise,” “clouds,” and “winterbubble,” and thought the “swoops” in the graphic indicated sound waves. According to Derbyshire, it was done on quarter-inch mono tape.

The song begins with whooshing, machinery-like sounds, and that steady beating, undulating bassline that is so characteristically science-fiction, somehow. Then that weird high-pitched sound just swoops in — “oooweeeoooo.” You also hear bits of what sound like Tie fighters from Star Wars flying back and forth. (you might not hear that)

Ron Grainer Dr. Who sheet musicIt’s ultimately creepy but cool and gives an immediate otherworldly vibe, which of course is the point of the song and the show. Another genius thing about the song is that it’s memorable enough, yet contains enough space that you can insert your own imagination into it.

Listen to the original “Doctor Who” theme song on Youtube, and watch the clip at Factmag.com.

Also check out the 80s version of the theme song– it’s slightly changed, but more synthesized.

What do you think the theme song sounds like? “Whooshes”? “White noise?” “X-Files”?

Drop me a line and let me know.

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Filed under Documentary, How Music is Made, Science Fiction, TV theme songs