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as a TV series ever had a greater theme tune‘.’ Or one quite so
hard to whistle'.’ liveryone knows the wonderful swoops and
judders of the l)()('l()l' ll’lio theme. with its insidioust catchy melody and godlikc conflation of mcrriment and menace. But very few people can sing it without soundng like an absolute buffoon.
The doctor will rise again in 2005 when. after a lb-year hiatus. BB(‘ Wales’ new series. starring ('hristopher liccleston and Billie Piper and directed by Russell T Davies. will be screened. Yet perhaps the most shocking newsflash of recent months came not with the casting of a retired popstar or a director who is best known for an explicit gay drama. but a news story in The Sun that suggested that the theme might be re-recorded by Slipknot. That would be sacrilege.
The theme has been updated several times and covered by both ()rbital and the 'l‘imelords. lt‘s anything but timeless. Written in No}. it is an antique from the pre-synthesised world that echoes into the computer age: at once a pioneering cry and a last gasp. (‘omposed by
Ron (irainer. who also wrote the themes to The Prisoner and 'Iiili's of
the (lnitt'ln'i'ml. it was given life by Delia Derbyshire. of the BB("s Radiophonic Workshop. who took (irainer‘s basic score and vague instructions and made a legendary piece of music. It‘s a rather glorious irony that one of the seminal pieces of electronica was realised not by a pasty-faced young man in a raincoat. but by a woman with a name that breathes organic wholesomeness.
‘Delia orchestrated it.” explains lidinburgh- based composer Pippa Murphy. ‘She had a simple melody and harmonies. which is what Ron (‘irainer gave her. so she put the character in it. all the “whooo-hoo-oooo" and the swoops in the melody. l’sually on instruments you can't get between the notes. you just go from one note to another. With electronics you can actually draw in between the notes. so that‘s what she did along with all the guitary sound 7 the kind of "dud dud dud nyu nyu dud dud dud nyu nyu”. all those different things that gave the colour and essence to it.‘
Murphy actually sings the ‘I)oi'tor ll'lio Theme‘ better than most of
us »- a useful skill. considering her role as composer for a new play based on the life of Derbyshire. For Standing ll’uve. a co-production between the Tron Theatre (‘ompany and Glasgow theatre groupe Reeling & Writhing. Murphy had to write music to sit alongside Derbyshire‘s compositions. She used guitars and a clavichord as well as found sounds such as lampsbades. keys. string and flapping rulers. ()ne of her co-composers used a slinky. The message is clear: to recreate the work of an inventive analogue music maker. you don't just press a pad on your (‘asio or log onto Pro Tools.
Derbyshire joined the BBC in [960 as a trainee studio manager. and soon transferred to the Radiopbonic Workshop. scoring any situation where an orchestra would feel out of place. covering documentaries. plays and films. using wine bottles. lamp shades and animal sounds to supplement traditional implements. Yet Derbyshire herself soon began to feel out of place at the BBC. whose bureaucracy meant that she was refused a composers~ credit on the Doctor Who theme. and where she was stuck between the elitism of abstract music and the populism of her remit. which often involved children's output.
‘She had a few battles with the fact that she had to do popular television programmes] says Murphy. 'ln Germany at that time there were studios that had the same equipment and were run by radio stations. People like Stockhaiisen and the musique concrete movement were able to do art music and I think that it sometimes got her down. She felt that the BBC wasn‘t taking her seriously. not allowing her to use the equipment and write what she really. really wanted to write.‘
‘WHY NOT BE FIERCE WHEN YOU'VE GOT EVERYTHING IN YOUR HEAD AND IT'S ALL READY TO STICK DOWN?’
Derby shire had been taking on work outside of her BB(' contract and pushed the boundaries of her role with e\pcriments in w hite noise. liventually. frustrated. she left the corporation in l‘l72. The development of synthesisers. with their standardised pulses. was probably the last straw. She largely withdrew from music making. working in a bookshop. art gallery and museum. and struggled with alcoholism. She contracted breast cancer and died in ltltll.
Stunt/mg Wow is scripted by Nicola .\lc(‘artncy. and focuses on Derby shire‘s intense period of creativ ity in the ()(TS and early 70s. The impetus for the play came when artistic director Tim Nunn and director Katherine .‘vlorley read an obituary on Derbyshiies life in The Guardian. ‘lt became clear really quickly that there was this ama/ing story] explains Morley. 'Not jast about “odor Who and its cultural links. but about Delia herself. and the people that surroumlcd her.’
For Morley. Derbyshire was a complex and occasionally prickly character. ‘lix-colleagues described her as sometimes having a phenomenal temper or being fierce.‘ she says. ‘But why not be fierce when you‘ve got everything in your head and it‘s all ready to stick down'.’ It‘s not like you can describe the music that‘s on tape.‘
The technology at the time meant that tape recordings had to be physically stuck together. from a plan that could only exist in the head of the composer and that would only be realised when the end product was finally stitched into shape. If all goes to plan. this process will be realised in dynamic style on stage. with Derbyshire (played by Abigail Son Diego Davies) snipping. tapping and whirling Mt]!’plt_\‘\ compositions into existence as she travels back in time from the early 7l)s to the creation of the ‘Doctor Who Theme‘ in NM, Another Delia (played by l.uisa Prosser) will be making music throughout.
The connections do not stop at the theatre walls. Nunn notes the number of unrelated people who seem spookily well informed about Derbyshire. and the irony that she died as enthusiasm for her work was rising (Aphex Twin and Add N to X are fans). One night. Nunn and .‘ylorley were flicking from a DVD when a report on Derbyshire appeared on TV. The epoch— delining first ever episode of l)()('l()l' ll’lio. meanwhile. was delayed by a still more shattering event: the shooting of .ll'K.
Derbyshire‘s story and music echo with potent resonances. She works as a symbol. whether as an outsider in a fiercely male environment (when she approached Decca for work. she was informed that the company did not employ women). or as an innovator who withdrew from the front line when technology got in the way.
Appropriately. Slum/org ll'uvv is more than just a play: members of the public have been invited to contribute their own music to the project. which is available free on the productions website (deliaderbyshire.co.uk). with voluntary donations going to Breast Cancer (‘are. The site‘s mailing list has members as far afield as Thailand and Nevada. Alter each performance. music from commissioned composers and website contributors will be played.
lt’s neatly circular: the technology that made Derbyshire feel redundant has now reached the point at which it can connect inventors and eccentrics around the globe. each dabbling in their experiments in sound. Discussing Derbyshire‘s legacy. Nunn‘s voice is full of nostalgic wonder. “Now. every sound you hear. no matter how weird and wonderful it might be. there is a computer somewhere that can do that. But at the time. it was sound that came from the future. The irony was that when the future did start arriving. she just couldn‘t handle it.'
Standing Wave, Tron, Glasgow, Thu 7-Sat 23 Oct. :4", S‘tir " 'fJ’,i