There’s a story every creative falls for. It’s the one where the off-beat genius, the colour-outside-the-lines character is finally given free rein with their crayons. Everything that comes before is hard, and grey. Everything that comes after never quite hits that high note again.

That story is at the centre of this reconstruction of the extraordinary career of Delia Derbyshire. Re-enacted by writer-director Caroline Catz, it’s also scored by samples of Derbyshire’s own rediscovered recordings, as interpreted by musician and performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti. Since Derbyshire is most famous for creating the eerie theme for Doctor Who, it’s not surprising that much of the film lingers on her years in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

It hastens past her early sexist encounters with music industry bosses who didn’t understand why a woman was on their doorstep, much less a highly educated mathematician. The dramatisation of her unconventional process is lit warmly, earthily; secure in her creative’s cave, it contrasts keenly with the brightly-lit snippets of interviews with friends and collaborators. Derbyshire’s own voice, blended with commentary from Cosey Fanni Tutti, forms the connective tissue between the two – fast, funny and full of unexpected laughter.

Once in the BBC’s basement, however, the film is reluctant to leave – and once it does, it’s not clear we get much more understanding of Derbyshire, other than reinforcing the message that she opens with herself: that she’s a free spirit, not like the others. But it’s in recreating the moments of convention – the moments of connection – that Catz revives a spirit we want more of.

Composing for Doctor Who, Delia’s briefed to show that the team clanging their pots and wire and lampshades can be “as capable of tunefulness as uncanniness”. There’s plenty of uncanny here; a little more tune would help carry more of us through it.



CAST: Caroline Catz, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Julian Rhind-Tutt

DIRECTOR: Caroline Catz

WRITER: Caroline Catz

SYNOPSIS: Using snippets of recordings from the composer herself and interviews with her peers, Caroline Catz builds and re-enacts a picture of Delia Derbyshire’s life and career.