One of Doctor Who’s classic trademarks is its theme song. The short song is classic to the television show and can be recognized by almost anyone who has seen it. The program had been using the same general tune for decades, although it has been modified over time.
The song was written in 1963 by Ron Grainer. Grainer is an Australian composer, and his composition was one of the first television them songs to use electronic music. Grainer’s piece, which is entitled “Doctor Who Theme Music,” was arranged by Delia Derbyshire. This means she took excerpts from the music and compiled it into the theme song we recognize today.
In 1963 when the piece was written, the creation of music was much different than what it is today. Each note of the piece was recorded on analog tape and then cut and pasted together. The notes were created by oscillators to create the “bendy” sound we hear. That means each note of the piece was played by a different oscillator, then trimmed to the right length, and then glued in the right order. Other aspects of the theme are the waking bass line created by a keyboard and clips of white noise, which creates a bubbly or cloudy sound. The piece is written in E minor, which gives it an eerie, extraterrestrial feeling. To add to this tone, the bass line was written in the Phrygian Mode (a scale based on E with out any accidentals) rather than the E natural minor scale. The use of the Phrygian Mode in the bass line creates tension with the melody to further add to the science fiction feel of the theme song.
The reason that the Doctor Who theme song is so important to the television show is that it sets the tone for what viewers should expect to view. The theme song also markets the Doctor Who brand by creating yet another recognizable characteristic that viewers can latch onto.