Doctor Who: The “Delaware” Theme
With the acquisition of the EMS VCS3s and the Synthi 100, also known as the Delaware, production time at the Workshop speeded up considerably. True, the Delaware was notoriously cranky, and like many analogue synths, could be instantly thrown out of tune simply when someone opened the door to the hot and stuffy Studio 10 where it lived. But the Workshop staff, with their typical make-it-work approach, got quite a lot of use out of it and the VCS3s. Cues for shows like Doctor Who could now be turned around in a fraction of the time. Unsurprisingly, there was also an attempt by Delia Derbyshire to arrange the Doctor Who theme on the Delaware, and the result was what is now known as the “Delaware version” of the Doctor Who theme.
It wasn’t a success. No one liked it and Delia disavowed it completely. Much of the organic softness of the original is thoroughly lost, the “clouds” and “bubbles” now replaced with peculiar synthesized flutterings and burblings, and the net effect is of something that sounds drier and less rich than the original; by comparison, it’s practically minimalist, with a lot of empty sonic space around the melody. The theme was never used, although apparently it did slip by accident onto some copies of Pertwee-era Who sent off for Australian release.
The acquisition of the synthesizers radically changed the process of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. At the same time, the politics within the BBC were going through one of their (many) unpleasant periods, and by 1974, the great tape-loop composers Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson, and John Baker had all left. Baker was sacked by the BBC due to his increasing alcohol problems, and according to his brother, he did not compose another note of music for the rest of his life. Hodgson founded the Electrophon Studio, and Delia Derbyshire went to work with him briefly before retiring altogether from music in 1974. (At least one source suggests that she simply didn’t like synthesizers and the direction in which they were taking electronic music.) Hodgson would later return to the Workshop in 1977, taking over the administration of the Workshop from Desmond Briscoe in 1983, and resigning in 1995.
The golden age of oscillators and tape-loops was, for all intents and purposes, over, but it would be a mistake to think that the arrival of synthesizers spelled the ruination of the Workshop. New talents such as Malcolm Clarke, Paddy Kingsland, and Peter Howell would take the Workshop through the 1970s and into the 1980s.
- Special Sound by Louis Niebur. Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire. Hosted by Matthew Sweet. BBC, 2010.