A Tribute to Terrance Dicks

It is with the deepest sadness that we report the passing of Doctor Who giant Terrance Dicks, who has died at the age of 84 after a short illness. His contribution writing over 60 novelisations in the Target range of books, as well as authoring other non-fiction works like the best-selling 1976 Doctor Who Dinosaur Book, encouraged the reading habits of children across the globe.

Dicks wrote such classic series stories as Second Doctor swansong The War Games (co-written with Malcolm Hulke), Fourth Doctor introduction Robot, the first Rutan story Horror of Fang Rock, vampire classic State of Decay and the epic 20th anniversary celebration tale The Five Doctors. He helped to cast both the Third and Fourth Doctors and worked as script editor for the show between 1969 and 1975, collaborating closely with Barry Letts.

His association with the series never ended as he continued to write original novels for the New Adventures range, the Bernice Summerfield spin-off books, the Eighth Doctor novels, Past Doctor novels and (post 2005) New Series Adventures in the Quick Reads series. He also wrote audio plays for Big Finish and original spin-off video releases in the 1990s featuring such aliens as Sontarans, Rutans and Draconians (in Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans, Mindgame and Mindgame Trilogy). Dicks even brought Doctor Who to the stage with Seven Keys to Doomsday in 1974 and The Ultimate Adventure in 1989.

Current showrunner Chris Chibnall made the following statement at the news of Terrance Dicks’ passing: “He was one of the greatest contributors to Doctor Who’s history, on screen and off. As the most prolific and brilliant adaptor of Doctor Who stories into Target novels, he was responsible for a range of books that taught a generation of children, myself included, how pleasurable and accessible and thrilling reading could be. Doctor Who was lucky to have his talents. He will always be a legend of the show.”

Australian Doctor Who fans were lucky enough to meet Dicks when he visited Down Under in December 2014, as part of Culture Shock Events’ Lords of Time 3 convention. As a tribute to him, we now present the interview that was conducted at that convention, republished from Issue 226 of Data Extract magazine – the issue as whole is also available from the DWCA Shop.

Hello Terrance. You were, of course, a driving force behind the Doctor Who TV series, but have recently done a lot more work in books, plays and audios. Is it fair to call Doctor Who a TV show anymore, or is it more a multimedia, cross-platform experience?

I think the TV show is the core of it. I mean, Big Finish is very good, and gives a lot of work to actors and writers. But it’s not really ‘Who’ Who. I have done a couple of things for them – I did my stage plays. It was hard enough working for the stage, when I’d never written for the stage before. When I wrote the first play, I suddenly had this terrible realisation that you can’t cut, and you can’t do a close-up. The audience just sits back and looks at it. Then Big Finish asked me to do them as audios, then not only can you not cut – you can’t see either! But yes – I think Who on television is the core, and everything else is spin-offs of one kind or another. But they’re all good and valuable and interesting.

Because it was born in the Wilderness Years, in many ways Big Finish has thrived on taking one-hit monsters, or ideas that were done in passing, and then giving them a bigger life on audio. Is that a good thing, do you think, or is there a monster that should stay as a one-hit wonder?

Bob Holmes, in his first story, came up with an idea which I liked, and I took it to Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin, who were the script editors I’d started working for. They said they didn’t need another show, but I suggested working on it myself, in case something went wrong with another story. And then one of the directors, David Maloney, found that the script that they had given him was absolute rubbish. There was this big crisis, and I said, “Well, I happen to have this four-part Doctor Who about my person.” So we did The Krotons, which was a good script. But the monsters called the Krotons were crystalline beings who lived in a blobby tank. And they are possibly the most inept monsters in the history of Doctor Who. All they could do was stand and loom in a menacing fashion. That was an example of a good script cocked up by a rotten monster. Later on we had Invasion of the Dinosaurs and did it all again.

One show I didn’t disrespect for ages was The War Games. Now The War Games came about, again, when Bryant and Sherwin sat around the BBC bar saying they didn’t have any scripts. Derrick Sherwin came into my office one day and said, “Terrance, we need a ten-part Doctor Who by next week”. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself, so I called in Mac Hulke, who was my friend and mentor. What we did was, we went round to Mac’s flat with a pile of scripts, I’d walk up and down, Mac’d sit at the typewriter, we’d discuss a line, and Mac’d type it out.

We wrote about two scripts a week – ten parts – which is ridiculous for Doctor Who. Four parts is good length for Doctor Who, six you can carry if you’ve got a strong story, but ten is nonsense. I used to go round to conventions, and if anyone brought that up, I’d say, “Well, it opens well, with the First World War, and the end scene, I think, is quite good – Time Lords and the Doctor and the exile to Earth – but in between is just running up and down corridors and captures and escapes.” And then, not that long ago, it was brought out on DVD, and Doctor Who Magazine reviewed it. The review started off, “Terrance has been talking rubbish about this show for years. It’s a good show all the way through, all ten parts!” And I was amazed and delighted to find that I’d been talking rubbish.

Do you always work well in a crisis?

I like a good crisis. I think some of the best things have come out of it. Another one was Horror of Fang Rock. I was going to do a story about vampires. The BBC at the time were doing a big prestigious Dracula for their annual classic, and it was so prestigious they got Sir Laurence Olivier playing Van Helsing. And they sent down an order saying, “No vampires on Doctor Who. People will think you’re making fun of us”. We had a sudden crisis meeting – I went to see Bob, who had succeeded me as script editor, and said, “What are we going to do?” Bob said, “I’ve always wanted to do a story set in a lighthouse”, and I said, “Bob, I know bugger all about lighthouses”. And so in a great rush, with half my writing time gone, I wrote Horror of Fang Rock. And it just sort of happened – I thought, “At least we got a show out of it”. People are now saying that’s one of the best things I ever did.

Horror of Fang Rock arguably ticks a lot of boxes relating to what a Doctor Who story should be. Is there a quintessential Doctor Who story?

Barry Letts and I used to talk about something called Whoish-ness. You’d get a story, perfectly good and perfectly logical, and say it’s not Whoish enough. There was a man who said he couldn’t define poetry, but he knew it when he saw it. And that’s it – you know it when you see it, or you have a feel for it. To give an obvious example – you could never do Doctor Who porn. Although, with that said, if you look on the Internet, I’m sure you can find it!

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.