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We all know the theme music for Doctor Who has had the same tune and general sound since the show first aired in 1963, and has been rerecorded several times over that period -- most recently, when Jodie Whittaker took over the TARDIS. I've seen video of someone performing (a version of) the theme on a synthesizer, but synthesizers as we know them (even the Moog and Korg) didn't yet exist when the theme was first recorded.

There's an obvious theremin line for the primary melody, of course, but the rest of the sound doesn't seem to be conventional instruments (strings, woodwinds, percussion, etc.) to my ear.

What instruments were used in recording the original theme music for the show when it first aired in 1963?

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    Crucially, was a screwdriver involved? Because if so, there's you first sonic screwdriver right there. Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 16:46
  • Very nice piece explaining the process on wikipedia: Doctor Who theme music
    – mcalex
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 6:56

1 Answer 1

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The theme "Doctor Who" (nee "Dr. Who") was originally composed using electronic components like test tone generators, some filtering circuits, and a low frequency oscillator—in effect using a cobbled-together analog proto-synthesizer. Sounds were created and recorded to tape, which was then spliced by hand and constructed manually into the song. This version was not the first broadcast, though. The first broadcast version used more or less the same techniques as the first recording.

"A History of the Doctor Who Theme"

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    Nice, so synthetic sounds spliced together -- like The In Sound From Way Out, an album of tape-splice music from around 1970. That explains why even the old episodes sound so modern -- they essentially stole tech from the future to record the theme!
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 17:19
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    Which is, @ZeissIkon, the only appropriate way to do it for a show about time traveling.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 19:17
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    Completely agree, @FreeMan.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 19:18
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    Honestly, I always thought it was made with a theremin. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 21:37
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    @Lexible What I was saying is that some of the sounds almost certainly can't be created on a theremin. Specifically the sharp-attack, quick-decay bass line. The theremin sound was fairly easy to imitate, the earliest synthesizers were effectively a theremin with keys producing defined steps in frequency instead of "slides" from continuously variable body capacitance; just needed that sawtooth waveform in the oscillator to have the sound.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 17:46

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