Doctor Who’s Forgotten Genius: Delia Derbyshire 1937 – 2001

derbyshireDelia Derbyshire is most well-known, if she’s known at all, as the musician who transcribed Ron Grainer’s theme tune for the first Doctor Who into the electronic form we all remember. But she was also a pioneer in electronic music, producing effects on tape that weren’t replicated until synthesizers were invented.

Over the weekend, I’ve been blissfully wallowing in the 50th Anniversary programs, centred around The Day of the Doctor. It’s available on the BBC iPlayer for another 6 days. Just as interesting were a drama about the inception of Doctor Who in 1963, An Adventure in Space and Time, and a documentary about the Doctor Who phenomenon, Me, You and Doctor Who.

From the latter two I learned more about Delia Derbyshire, which prompted me to search out her other work. Here is her version of the theme tune. She was apparently much irked by later producers wanting to tweak it – she couldn’t understand why it should be changed on a whim.

Derbyshire should have had equal credit with Ron Grainer, who wanted it as well, but the BBC Radiophonic Workshop refused to credit the work of individual employees. This frustration was one of the reasons she left in 1973 after 11 years.

The soundtrack for a BBC documentary about the Tuareg people of N. Africa, Blue Veils & Golden Sands, is another example of her innovative genius. She used a bog-standard metal BBC lampshade to get the vibration effects, giving it a whack, then cutting off the first bit of the sound.

There was also some theatre work and a collaboration with David Vorhaus in a band called White Noise. In this 1969 track, Love Without Sounds, you can hear what an interesting singer she is.

Derbyshire left London in the early Seventies and gave up music, apart from a brief period in the Nineties. This is a BBC radio play about her life.

And here’s a Radio Scotland interview, in three parts, from 1997. She sounds so young.

Finally, here’s a clip from Me, You and Doctor Who, as well as some of her other music.

I’m very pleased that her work on the theme tune is at last recognized in the credits for The Day of The Doctor. Earlier recognition might have laid the foundation for a long and productive career.