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Our Adorable Past

Doctor Who Docu-drama Special to Acknowledge Delia Derbyshire, Uncredited Composer of the Doctor Who Theme

If you think all this parallel news about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special about the folks who brought the first season of Doctor Who to television and the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special that is actually an episode of Doctor Who is annoying, just try being a person whose job it is to tell the difference between the two.

In any case, the BBC is producing a sort of docu-drama about the real-life genesis of Doctor Who, and according to the Independent, it’ll give some long awaited credit where credit is due.

For a very long time the credit for creating the theme song of Doctor Who fell solely to Ron Grainer, who composed the tune. However, this was only after Grainer fought a losing battle with BBC to share the credit with Delia Derbyshire of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, a pioneer of electronic music. If I’m reading the Independent right, while Grainer composed the theme, it was Derbyshire who “realised” it, giving it the distinct and unmistakable tones that it has retained to this day. In fact, while he clearly didn’t object to what she’d done with the song, he barely recognized the final product: “On hearing the piece, Grainer is said to have remarked, ‘Did I write that?’ Derbyshire replied, ‘Most of it.’”

The BBC refused to credit Grainer because she was an engineer, rather than a musician or composer. The Radiophonic Workshop was a brand new division of the BBC, created to provide electronic sound effects and music across their network. Perhaps it was not anticipated that someone from the devision might be in a position to share credit on an original composition, or perhaps electronic music was not seen as an actual creative artform with many of the same requirements of composing and performing non-electronic music. Either way, Grainer got his name in the credits of Doctor Who, and Derbyshire didn’t.

According to the Independent, she’ll definitely be appearing in An Adventure in Space and Time, played by Sarah Winter. It’ll be good to see this groundbreaking lady artist get her due, even if it’s just one scene.

(via tipster Curtis.)

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  • Becky

    In the first sentence of the third paragraph, I think you mean “The BBC refused to credit *Derbyshire* because she was an engineer…” not “Grainer”.

  • Orion Kidder

    I believe she’s also credited, although not officially, in ALCHEMISTS OF SOUND, a doc about the Radiophonic Workshop.

  • Rizz Rustbolt

    Also, she pretty much invented the electronic music genre.

  • Jill Ziegler

    Absolutely not true. Electronic music was going for a long time before 1963. Please see the article for electronic musical instrument on Wikipedia ( or a search on Amazon for “Pioneers of Electronic Music” for easy proof. Heck, look at Forbidden Planet (1956), the first movie with a completely electronic soundtrack. I do not disagree that Derbyshire should be credited as co-composer, but it is totally false to say that she invented the genre.

  • Anonymous

    She is not the composer of the theme; she was the original performer/recorder/executor of someone else’s composition.

  • Anonymous

    But the composition includes (~crucially) the instruments upon which it is played, a decision which was clearly hers. Hence she did more than just perform the piece, she deserves full co-credits as her interpretation has become the iconic theme we know to this day.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a huge Delia fan, don’t get me wrong. But if you wrote a song and gave it to someone to perform and they decided to perform it on bicycle horns and that version became a huge novelty hit, you still wrote that song and they didn’t.

  • Anonymous

    They do credit her on the various soundtracks they’ve released. At least.

  • Anonymous

    As the article clearly states (and this has been repeated in many other places), Grainer wanted her to be credited as co-composer. So if Grainer says it’s so, then it’s so, even if the BBC refused to do it.

  • Anonymous

    If the writer of the song, though, says you deserve to be credited, and it’s a piece of music that had never been previously performed by anyone on the planet (as was the case with the DW Theme), then that is different.