Tape Cutting, Radios & Doctor Who

This site, by Mark Ayres, gives a description of the Doctor Who theme as it was created by Delia Derbyshire from the Ron Grainer score.

In conversation with Paul yesterday, I was recalling how I started music by recording short or medium wave radio tuning, heterodyning and interference sounds onto a cassette and then chopped and spliced the tape up in various ways to make “music”. This was basically atonal and without much rhythmic structure, but would have made good backing material. I also mentioned my use of ring modulation later with my Crawling Chaos work. If one reads this article then you’ll see that it is actually part of the (super) heterodyne principle but used at audio frequencies instead of generating an intermediate frequency prior to demodulation.

The Doctor Who theme was made in a similar way. Apparently they had loads of little bits of tape spliced together, one tape for an “instrumental” line. They didn’t have multi-track – what they had was lots of mono tape recorders that all had to be started at the same time! Synchronisation problems led to an empirical development of the tune with much re-editting to get things right! This is possibly the earliest sound-video there is; considerably longer than most modern show intros …
It took ages by all accounts and the BBC has still got most of the original bits of tape!

Brian Hodgson 1
Brian Hodgson 1
Brian Hodgson 2
Brian Hodgson 2

Still on Doctor Who. I remember vividly the incidental music and effects that appeared in the early Hartnell shows especially. Check out “Dalek City Corridor” say….


This is what contributed greatly to the shows initial success I think, as the whole feel of the show was influenced by these other-worldly sounds. This is another bit I’ve found on YouTube. There are some large libraries dotted around the net – I’ll have to look them up!

The incidental weird sounds kick in at about 2:40  Not too long after this series, the use of weird sounds disappeared to be replaced by more “conventional” orchestrations and sound effects designed to sound something like the visual.  Until then, sound effects were just plain weird and disconnected, which, as I’ve said, enhanced the other-worldliness of the shows.


By Strangely

Founding member of the gifted & talented band, "The Crawling Chaos" from the North-East of England.