The BBC has unveiled a new version of the Doctor Who theme, but can it compete with the synth-fuelled ones that came before it?

Doctor Who Tardis
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To celebrate the show’s 60th anniversary, the BBC has unveiled a new version of the theme to their long-running sci-fi series, Doctor Who.

Recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall, we’d describe this new take on the iconic theme as ‘jaunty with plenty of bounce’, but you can listen for yourself and form your own opinion.

Inevitably, there will be questions (not least from us) about how favourably this ‘big production’ arrangement of the theme compares to the edgier, slightly more foreboding, synth-stuffed versions of the past, so let’s jump in our music technology Tardis and head back through time.

Delia Derbyshire, 1963

Written by Ron Grainer, the 1963 original version is notable for being produced by BBC Radiophonic Workshop and all-round electronic music legend Delia Derbyshire. This made use of some pretty funky sound design techniques, as you can see here.

Peter Howell, 1982

Although there were some minor tweaks made throughout the 1970s, the original version of the theme remained pretty much intact until 1982, when Peter Howell, another Radiophonic Workshopper, gave it a makeover with the help of a Yamaha CS-80, an ARP Odyssey, an EMS Vocoder 5000 and a Roland Jupiter-4. An analogue synth arsenal powerful enough to take on the Cybermen, in other words.

Dominic Glynn, 1986

In keeping with the times, later ‘80s versions of the theme - such as this one from Dominic Glynn - featured digital synths, too. Here, the lead melody is played on a Yamaha DX21.

Every theme in 11 minutes

More recent themes have leant heavily on orchestral arrangements, though that familiar opening sting has been a constant. You can take a whistle-stop tour of all of them here.

Presumably, the new theme will be used in the forthcoming Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials, which will see ‘14th Doctor’ David Tennant returning to the Tardis. He will then hand over to Ncuti Gatwa, the ‘15th Doctor’, who we’re guessing might get his own theme. 

Could this mark a return to a more synth-focused sound? Here’s hoping.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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