Doctor Who: The Theme

The Definitive Guide to the Doctor Who Theme Music

Welcome to what aims to be the definitive guide to the theme music for long-running BBC science fiction series Doctor Who. This site covers the legacy of the original Doctor Who theme, composed in 1963 by Ron Grainer, realised by Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, re-imagined 17 years later by the Workshop's Peter Howell, and further re-interpreted during the series' run by freelance composers Dominic Glynn and Keff McCulloch.

The material explained below is based on the original Derbyshire theme. Subsequent versions of the theme will be covered in the future, and the ways in which they differ will be covered in their individual sections.


Main Bassline

The Doctor Who theme's bass part can be thought of as a series of discrete "blocks." An individual block of the bassline is a short (½-bar) section. There are three basic types of block, which are named onomatopoeically: the dum-de-dum, the diddly-dum, and the dum-dum-diddy.

Dum-de-dum

A dum-de-dum is a ½-bar-long section of the bassline where the rhythm consists of a note two triplets long, a note one triplet long, and a note one quarter note long, as shown above. 

Diddly-dum

A diddly-dum is a ½-bar-long section of the bassline where the rhythm is three notes, each one triplet in length, followed by a note one quarter note long.

Dum-dum-diddy

A dum-dum-diddy is a ½-bar-long section of the bassline where the rhythm is two notes two triplets in length, followed by two notes one triplet in length.

There are two types of dum-dum-diddy: 

  • High-low dum-dum-diddy (in the form G, G, F, D or D, D, C, A)
  • Low-high dum-dum-diddy (in the form B, B, C, D)

Note that dum-dum-diddies only go in one direction, meaning either descending ("high-to-low") or ascending ("low-to-high"). They do not change direction partway through (such as D, D, C, D).


Grace Notes

In addition to the main bass layer (the first layer) outlined above, there is an important and oft-overlooked second layer to the bassline: the grace notes.

The bassline's second layer crucially serves as a lead-in to each bassline block. The second layer begins on the note that is one note lower in the scale than the first note of each block. (Usually this is two semitones down, but in a few instances it is only one.) That note then leads directly into the first note of each block. Some themes glide between these notes, while others do not.


Demonstration

Provided below are three clips demonstrating the component parts of the bassline. The first clip demonstrates the first layer on its own, the second demonstrates the second layer on its own, and the final clip illustrates the two bassline layers combined (as they are normally heard in the theme).

First Layer

Second Layer

Both Layers Together

Site content © 2009-2017 Danny Stewart, Ian Stewart, and Josef KennyDoctor Who and its theme © BBC and Warner Chappell. This site is unofficial and not associated with the BBC or Doctor Who. No infringement intended.