Monday, September 02, 2019

Terrance Dicks

Less than a week ago, this blogger grandly announced that, due to him recently gaining a spot of temping, From The North would be taking a (shortish) hiatus 'unless something Earth-shattering happens.' On Monday of this week, dear blog reader, something properly Earth-shattering did.
Terrance Dicks, best known - and truly beloved - by fans for his long association with Doctor Who, has died at the age of eighty four. Terrance worked as script editor on more than one hundred and fifty episodes of the BBC's popular long-running family SF drama between 1968 and 1974. He also wrote numerous episodes for the series both during that period and in the decade afterwards. Yet, he is arguably as well, if not better, known for the many Doctor Who novelisations he wrote for the Target imprint during the 1970s and 1980s; in the days before DVD's and videos, these were the only way for Doctor Who's growing fandom to relive old episodes of the series. Indeed, there is an entire generation or three of authors who ended up writing Doctor Who novels (and, other media) for a living - or fan-fiction as a hobby - who would probably never have picked up a pen or a typewriter or a laptop in anger if it hadn't been for Terrance Dicks. This blogger very much included. The author Jenny Colgan said that Terrance had 'helped more children (especially boys) develop a lifelong love of reading than almost anyone else who's ever lived.' This blogger's fellow Virgin Books and BBC author Daniel Blythe added: 'I probably would not be a fan or a reader without Terrance Dicks, who may well be the author whose books I have read more of than any other ... I would seek out one of his books every week at Tenterden or Maidstone library and they were my gateway to other worlds and stories I could not possibly have seen in the pre-video age. In 1993 I was lucky enough to do a Waterstones event with him and I met him a few times after that - one of Doctor Who's legends and gentlemen. He will be much missed.' Neil Gaiman also paid tribute, saying that he would have never written for Doctor Who had Dicks not shown him 'how to do it.' Mark Gatiss, another member of the Doctor Who writing family, remembered Terrance as 'a brilliant TV professional [and] a funny and generous soul.' He was also, Mark continued, 'an inspirational writer who took so many of us on unforgettable journeys into space and time.' Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who's current show runner, said Terrance had been 'responsible for some of the show's greatest moments and iconic creations. The lights of Doctor Who are dimmer tonight,' he said in a statement. 'He was one of the greatest contributors to Doctor Who's history, on screen and off.'
This blogger knew Terrance over a period of almost two decades, corresponded with him during a time when we were writing simultaneous novels for the BBC's Eighth and Past Doctor Adventures ranges and enjoyed a couple of memorable dinners with Terrance at conventions in Los Angeles. He was, always, a sweet, brilliant, influential, inspiring and delightful man, happy to give advice if asked and to offer nuggets from his vast experience in both the TV and the publishing industries. When, for example, this blogger told Terrance that it was reading his novelisation of The Day Of The Daleks during a family holiday on the Isle of Wight in the wet, cold summer of 1974 that had made me want to be a writer in the first place, he reacted with characteristic modesty and surprise. 'You would have got there eventually, with or without me,' he said.
'The Doctor believes in good and fights evil,' Terrance once wrote in what many fans refers to as 'The Mission Statement' - a term coined by one of Terrance's great protégé's, Paul Cornell. 'Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly. In fact, to put it simply, The Doctor is a hero. That, at least, hasn't changed - and it never will.' This distillation of the character was one that showrunner Steven Moffat (a fan of Terrance since childhood) included in the series' fiftieth anniversary episode, The Day Of The Doctor (2013) and, again, in Peter Capaldi's finale, 2017's Twice Upon A Time.
Born in East Ham, in 1935 the only son of William and Nellie Dicks, Terrance studied English at Downing College, Cambridge and, later, did two years National Service in the Royal Fusiliers. Following the army, he worked for five years as an advertising copywriter and wrote radio scripts for the BBC in his spare time. His breakthrough in television came when his then landlord, Malcolm Hulke, asked for Terrance's help in scripting The Mauritius Penny, an episode of the second series of the ABC action-adventure The Avengers, for which Terrance received a co-writer's credit (he had, he claimed, expected to receive nothing more than, perhaps, Hulke paying his rent for a week). His work on radio included the 1966 comedy series Joey, featuring Alfie Bass and Harry Flowers. In 1968, Terrance was hired as an assistant story editor on Doctor Who and was promoted to script editor the following year, towards the end of Patrick Troughton's tenure as The Doctor. One of his best-loved episodes was 1983's The Five Doctors, the BBC show's twentieth anniversary special but he also wrote such well-remembered stories as The War Games (Troughton's finale co-written with his friend of frequent collaborator Hulke), The Brain Of Morbius (under the pseudonym Robin Bland), Horror Of Fang Rock and State Of Decay. Terrance also worked on such shows as The Avengers (four episodes, all co-written with Hulke), the popular ATV soap Crossroads, Moonbase 3, Space: 1999 and numerous examples of the BBC's Sunday Classics Serial including The Diary Of Anne Frank, Beau Geste, The Hound Of The Baskervilles (with Tom Baker in the role of Sherlock Holmes) and a 1983 version of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton. He and producer Barry Letts were nominated for a BAFTA in 1987 for their adaptation of David Copperfield to go alongside the Writers' Guild of Great Britain award for Best Children's Drama series that the pair won in 1974 for the final Jon Pertwee series of Doctor Who.
Terrance Dicks was, ultimately, more than 'just another Doctor Who writer.' His stories were some of the most influential of the series. His first credited script was The War Games - although he had already contributed uncredited material to earlier episodes (most notably 1969's The Seeds Of Death featuring The Ice Warriors). Then-producer Derrick Sherwin had suggested the concept that The Doctor came from a race called The Time Lords. The War Games - at ten episodes, Doctor Who's second-longest serial - took that idea and successfully introduced audiences to one of the series' most longest-running elements. As script editor, Terrance - together with producer Barry Letts - was one of the creators of The Doctor's arch-nemesis The Master, introduced in the Jon Pertwee story Terror Of The Autons. Dicks formed a highly productive working relationship with Letts, serving as script editor on all of Letts's five series as producer from 1970 to 1974. Both left the series at the same time as Pertwee but, not before casting the then virtually unknown Tom Baker as his replacement. Terrance persuaded his replacement, Bob Holmes, that a tradition existed in the BBC drama department that an outgoing script editor always got to write the opening episode of his successor's reign (no such tradition, in fact, existed!) and subsequently wrote Baker's debut four-parter, Robot. His other work for Doctor Who included two stage plays, Doctor Who & The Daleks In The Seven Keys To Doomsday (1974) and Doctor Who - The Ultimate Adventure (1989). Just as importantly, the huge number of Doctor Who novelisations he wrote were instrumental in awakening a love of reading and an enduring passion for books in a generation of children in Britain and beyond.
Terrance contributed heavily to Target Books' series, writing more than sixty titles. As he explained in an interview in the documentary Built For War, he served as the unofficial editor of the Target range. In this role, he would attempt to enlist the author of the original scripts to write the novelisation whenever possible, but if they refused or had other commitments, Terrance would usually undertake the work himself. During the 1990s, Terrance contributed to Virgin Publishing's line of officially licensed Doctor Who novels, The New Adventures, which continued the series' storyline following the TV cancellation in 1989 and he continued to write, occasionally, for the franchise after BBC Books assumed the licence in 1997.
It was through his work on Doctor Who books that Terrance became a writer of children's fiction, authoring many successful titles during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, he wrote a trilogy for Target, The Mounties, concerning a Royal Canadian Mounted Police recruit. They were followed from 1979 to 1983 by another trilogy, Star Quest. He also wrote The Baker Street Irregulars inspired by the Arthur Conan Doyle characters; the series eventually ran to ten books, the last published in 1987. In 1981, he commenced work on a series of six children's horror novels with Cry Vampire. As well as his numerous fictional works, Terrance also wrote several non-fiction books for children, including Europe United, A Riot Of Writers, Uproar In The House, A Right Royal History and The Good, The Bad & The Ghastly.
       Terrance, who lived in Hampstead, is survived by his wife of fifty five years, Elsa, their three sons, Stephen, Jonathan and Oliver and two grandchildren.
Edited to add: A fuller - and much better-written - obituary of Terrance, by Toby Hadoke for the Guardian, can be read here. And Jon Arnold's generous tribute at the We Are Cult website can be read here. And Rob Shearman's outstanding tribute on Facebook, picked up by the New Statesman which you can access here