When you consider the longevity of classic Who there are many people that helped to cement its popularity in the common consciousness and for this article I want to put the case that Terrance Dicks is one of those people deserving of fans appreciation and respect. His name is synonymous with Who as a scriptwriter and writer extraordinaire and who knows where the show would have been without him.
A couple of years ago I finished watching all the Pertwee stories in order and I remember on one of the extra features (I think it might have been the Daemons DVD ) seeing a very moving tribute by Terrance Dicks to his close friend Barry Letts who had passed away a few years before. It really touched me because although Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts were very different they became great friends and together took the show to fresh directions with the departure of Patrick Troughton. I think the 3rd Doctor era when Barry become producer and Terrance was the script editor is a real highlight for me, one of my favourite times of the show. The feature also reminded me how much Terrance Dicks was a part of my Doctor Who childhood as well as an integral part of the success of Doctor Who.
His early script-writing career
That Terrance Dicks ended up as a screenwriter was mainly by a good chance. When he left university a friend told him about how he could earn a living copywriting for advertising. Terrance Dicks has been interviewed a few times and he says his mantra in his younger early days, where he was quite cynical, seemed to be to keep doing it as long as he was ‘having a good time and making good money’. He did that for four or five years but really he wanted to break into screenwriting. Through a happy accidental meeting with Malcolm Hulke, who was his landlord, he was invited by Hulke to write together for The Avengers who then split the fee equally between them. They went on to collaborate on four episodes over seven years The Mauritius Penny” (1962) https://dai.ly/x2x6pbb “Intercrime” ( 1963) https://youtu.be/0ARfX9KpmD4 “Concerto” (1964) and “Homicide and Old Lace” (1969)
Through Hulke he was then introduced to an executive producer on Crossroads, which was ITV’s early evening television soap opera running from 1964- 1988 set in a fictional motel. It regularly attracted huge audiences with ratings as high as 15 million viewers. I remember in the late 1970’s/ early 1980’s as a child, coming home from school, and having dinner in our kitchen during Crossroads watching the hotel matriarch played by Noele Gordon and the unfolding dramas in the hotel. Our family bonded over dinner discussing Crossroads.
Terrance Dicks worked on ‘ Crossroads’ for some time within a team including Derrick Sherwin who later left for Doctor Who. When Derrick Sherwin wanted to move on from Doctor Who he contacted Terrance to ask if he wanted to be script editor on the programme. Terrance accepted and when Derek didn’t leave straightaway Terrance undertook an apprenticeship under Derek which helped him transition when Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant eventually left in late 1969.
Script writer for Doctor Who
As a script editor from 1968 to 1974, Terrance Dicks understood the ability to be able to write or change scripts quickly as required. The Seeds of Death, which introduces the Ice Warriors in 1969 was partly written by Terrance Dicks. Although Brian Hayles is credited as the author Terrance Dicks rewrote episodes 3-6 not considering the original ending by Hayles as strong enough. I rather enjoy the changes in pace in this story as we travel from Earth to the Moon and then the threat comes back to Earth. It is clearly a story of three parts- the attempt to get to the moon, what happens at the moon and coming back to earth which does keep it moving really nicely. I love all the characters, Radnor, Eldred ( the glimpses into their past relationship) , The formula of a commander onside with the Doctor is common but works ) Miss Kelly ( yes the very beautiful Gia Kelly ) Fewsham, ( his cowardice and redemption) Phipps ( helping the doctor) I enjoy the sheer fun of seeing Pat Troughton immersed in foam. This story being six parts does what Nu Who cant unfortunately and which I miss sometimes, It establishes the supporting characters beautifully and I love that.
The epic length story‘ The War Games’ was required at short notice and given all the junking of Doctor Who serials, it really is a bit of a miracle that it exists in its entirety. But it does and I’m glad. The script written by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke has lots of strong characterisation which is the distinctive feature of both their writing. What I love is most of the supporting characters in ‘The War Games’ get their moment; Lt Carstairs being brainwashed causing him to want to kill Zoe ‘ She is a spy. She has to die’ Colonel Smythe, those glasses, the whitewash of the army trial, his comeuppance and death. https://youtu.be/gksakJ89qBs
Of course, this story also introduces the Timelords and adds to the history of the show with the second doctor regenerating There is a moment I love the moment when the Doctor and the War Chief recognise each other. It’s a subtle moment as one-time lord knows another. There are other moments as we are introduced to SIDRAT’s (Tardis backwards! ) knowing how to remote control them, lovely little things building to finally finding out who the Doctor is and seeing his people.
The Second Doctor “baggy check trousers and a mop of untidy black hair “
I have to also mention Philip Madoc as the War Lord who is superb in his role. My absolute favourite scene is when he confronts the War Chief. There is a quiet chilliness in his conversation compared to the War Chiefs bravado and you know the War Chief won’t escape from him. He literally turns his back on him.The last two episodes are such good drama and really well written by ‘Uncle’ Terrance and Malcolm Hulke.There is an interesting scenario given that the Time Lords are all powerful, creating force fields, telepathic boxes, burning light from their eyes which I don’t remember ever seeing again which is a shame. What I love about ‘ The War Games’ is its scope get gradually bigger and bigger until you get this really satisfying conclusion.
The action Doctor and the UNIT ‘family‘
The seventh season brought many changes which I personally love. The move to colour and the regular inclusion of UNIT in a familiar setting made something more sophisticated, grown-up about the stories for most of this time. It made sense for the organisation to exist as the threats came down to Earth and to have the Doctor assisting as a scientific advisor for UNIT.Being exiled to Earth by the timelords meant that the doctor needed to have some roots which UNIT gave to him.Terrance Dicks wasn’t the original creator of UNIT but the organisation gave the doctor a substitute family and his assistants became natural companions. Jon Pertwee’s ‘ action man’ 3rd doctor confronting authority certainly added to the aura of the show.It felt slicker somehow.
What I didn’t realise is that the earthbound setting characterised by the Pertwee era wasn’t a Letts/ Dicks idea. They were ideas by Derrick Sherwin and Peter Bryant who had also set up the seven-part stories format of Pertwee’s first season. Both of these ideas were cost saving ideas which had been developed to save money by creating alien planets every week. Terrance Dicks as incoming script editor and Barry Letts worked on the practicalities to eventually move away from these restraints and the third Doctor did get back into space.
The doctor’s Moriarty and influencing the modern series
One of the greatest legacies from Terrance Dicks that has been seen is all the different characters and concepts he has introduced, He has had the knack of creating concepts that have become woven into the history of the classic series such as the War Lords, the Game of Rassilon and the Death Zone (with the marvellous Raston Warrior Robot ) expanding the background of the Doctor, time-lords and his homeworld.
Terrance Dicks has looked to literature for inspiration and the Conan Doyle stories provided for one of the greatest concepts, an arch-nemesis, the Master to be as a recurring villain for the Doctor. He was created as an equally matched adversary, with sociopathic tendencies always in a battle of wits with the 3rd Doctor.The Master’s title was chosen by producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks because, like the Doctor, it was a title given to an academic degree.
The character first appeared in Terror of the Autons in 1971 until 1973 played by Roger Delgado, who was a good friend of Jon Pertwee and had worked previously with Barry Letts. Terrance Dicks recognises that the Master was over-used in Season 8, being the main villain in every story. However, the Roger Delgado version is often acknowledged as the definitive version of the character. The popularity of the character speaks volumes when we see how two showrunners in the modern series have utilised the Master as the returning big villain. Series three has possibly one of the greatest cliffhangers ever in ‘ Utopia’ when Professor Yana is ‘revealed’ as being the Master and regenerates and goes on to rule over the Earth for a year. Whilst I wasn’t keen at all on the Missy Master in ‘Death in Heaven’ penned by Steven Moffat kissing the Doctor the examination of friendship and rehabilitation of Missy in series 10 playing on the former friends aspect of the character made the series much stronger for that exploration so it really is all about the writing.
Adding to the mythos
Other concepts such as the Sisterhood of Karn penned in part by Terrance Dicks but unaccredited in ‘ The Brain of Morbius’, have also reappeared in the new series at quite important points in the doctor’s personal history: We see them assisting the mortally injured Doctor in the mini episode ‘ The Night of the Doctor’ with a special potion to trigger his regeneration to become a warrior and appearing later appear in the prologue to ‘ The Magician’s Apprentice ‘ as messengers of the Doctor’s’confession dial’ his last will and testament. This bridging of characters by new show-runners nicely cements the links between the classic and new series
What I love as well is that the themes of everyday things being terrifying started properly with the third doctor era and it’s a something that has been also actively mined in the modern series. Both Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts were part of making the threats come nearer to home. It became a very popular formula and secured the show’s future. Jon Pertwee is often quoted as saying ‘ There’s nothing scarier than coming home and finding a yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec’ In the seventh season most of the invasions were either inside the Earth, coming from the seas or coming from the skies above the Earth. There were Sea Devils, Silurians, meteorites. In the ‘ Terror of the Autons’, the Master teamed up with the Nestene to create living plastic dolls and killer inflatable plastic chairs. ‘Spearhead In Space’ saw terrifying policemen, plastic shop dummies and these images were imprinted in the public consciousness. Russell T Davies lovingly crafted his first episode of the new series ‘ Rose’ using the same iconic imagery that was there originally in ‘Spearhead in Space ‘. and would they, either Russell T Davies have taken inspiration for deadly Christmas trees or Steven Moffat for quantum locked statues to such scary effect without these classic series influences?
A writer for the series
When Terrance Dicks stepped down from being a script editor I think his contribution to the TV series as a writer continued to be strong as ever. I love ‘Robot’, ‘State of Decay’ and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. ‘Robot’ is based on King Kong and I really enjoy the Who stories where we look behind shady organisations with the robot programmed to struggle against its prime directive. It’s also a regeneration story and Tom Baker plays it straight and authoritative with that little bit of eccentricity that makes him quite mesmerising immediately. It’s a really well-written introduction that suits Tom Baker’s character completely.
Terrance has always been a writer good in a crisis. Horror of Fang Rock was a last-minute replacement from him as the vampire story he had originally planned had to be put on hold due to the lavish BBC series ‘Count Dracula’ already in production and due to transmit close to when the serial would have originally aired.He always seems to have a clear idea of the moral compass of the doctor but also knows how to write a good yarn with a twist. He obviously has a love for Gothic horror and using recognisable sources of literature and Tom Baker is so suited to playing a darker less sympathetic character in Horror of Fang Rock. The doctor is unapproachable and alien at times, offers little support to anyone despite the death happening around him yet still feels utterly compelling to watch.
DOCTOR: Still, must be patient. A new body’s like a new house. It takes a little bit of time to settle in.
(The Doctor sees himself in a mirror.) Oh. As for the physiognomy. Well, nothing’s perfect.
His vampire story did eventually get made as the atmospheric ‘State of Decay’ which uses the locations to create a melancholy dark atmosphere. I really enjoy it as it harks back to the Philip Hinchcliffe era in a lot of ways. “There is only the village and the tower, nowhere else ” which sets the feeling of a community with a dark secret that seems cut off from the rest of the world. Terrance Dicks sets up that the three who rule do so through fear, reputation and whispers, controlling the local population like sheep. The direction also helps create a tense brooding tone.
When the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who was coming up Terrance Dicks was persuaded by Eric Saward at short notice to write ‘The Five Doctors’ after Robert Holmes withdrew from the project bemoaning the “shopping list” of companions and monsters handed to him. One thing that I really like about Terrance Dicks is he knows his characters but then he always has a great irreverent sense of humour when talking about the programme. If you listen to the commentaries on the DVD’s he is great fun to listen to. On the ‘ The Five Doctors ‘ DVD commentary ‘ he describes the result as a ‘good pantomime’ and it’s clear to see how he had to be inventive to create a good story with the number of actors to consider and a changing guest list. Due to his long history with the programme, Terrance Dicks managed to create an engaging narrative despite having four doctors and numerous companions to write for. When Tom Baker declined to appear at the last minute he was able to use this into the narrative as the 4th doctor was stuck unable to be retrieved which impacted the 5th Doctor as he was drawn into the time vortex piece by piece. I have always rather enjoyed his writing a more restrained Master trying for once to help the Doctor who is rebuffed at every turn. He also fought to have K9 and the Daleks included in the anniversary special which was not originally planned by the production team but is required viewing.
Target books writer and editor
Terrance Dicks is probably the most prolific contributor to Doctor Who with over 60 Target novelisations to his name. I worked through all his novelisations and the other authors in my local library growing up before I got any pocket money to be able to afford to buy any books so Target books have a special place in my memories. Terrance Dicks has also been the editor for the Doctor Who Target books, where possible persuading the original writers of the television broadcast to write the novel. Terrance Dicks has shown great versatility having to step in at times where this hasn’t been possible or where writers have difficulty translating for the medium.He is well known for his descriptions of the various doctors: the crotchety old man in a frock coat” (first Doctor), the “baggy check trousers and a mop of untidy black hair” (second Doctor) and the “slight, fair-haired figure with a pleasant, open face” (the fifth Doctor). There’s also the description of the TARDIS materialising with a “wheezing groaning” sound which has become legendary..
The Fifth doctor “slight, fair-haired figure with a pleasant, open face”
I have quite a few of the Target novelisations now from when I could afford them when I started working and it really isn’t an understatement to say I absolutely loved reading those books.This was at a time in the early 1980’s when the books were a substitute for watching the TV series as not much of the classic series was available on VHS or ever repeated.It was the only way to experience the old episodes or the missing stories so those Target books really were important in allowing your imagination to fly. Reading the books took me away to different places and I was there in those adventures. I hope anyone who hasn’t read a Target Book at some point gives them a try.
There are many people who have contributed to the legacy of Doctor Who. Terrance Dicks is just one of my classic era heroes. This great man deserves so much praise from both classic fans and in the modern series and also loads of respect for how much of a contribution he has made to the TV series itself and other associated mediums. Thank you so so much ‘Uncle’ Terrance you are absolutely one of the best.
Do you agree with me? What are your favourite Terrance Dicks moments in novels, TV stories, other media contributions?
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