Home : Archive : TSV 21-30 : TSV 26 : Feature

Terrance Dicks: A Re-evaluation

By Phillip J. Gray

I have written this article because I get annoyed at the constant abuse of Terrance Dicks by so-called fans of Doctor Who, many of whom seem unable to recognise the enormous amount of time and effort this man has given to the programme.

Terrance Dicks not only wrote the majority of the Target novelisations; he also was the script editor for the programme from 1968-74, from the Sixth to the Eleventh Seasons. He co-created the UNIT organisation, as well as the character of the Master, and was responsible for the entire scripting of the later Troughton and whole Pertwee era stories that so many fans seem to be almost deifying as the 'golden age' of Doctor Who.

Terrance Dicks has also made a substantial and largely unrecognised contribution to the programme as a story writer. He wrote such stories as The War Games (1969), Patrick Troughton's last story; Robot (1974), which introduced Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor; and the excellent stories Horror of Fang Rock and State of Decay. Even in more recent years, he has provided the story that many cite as their favourite, The Five Doctors (1983).

Terrance was contracted in 1973 to continue a series of story novelisations that had begun during the mid-1960's with The Daleks, The Crusaders and The Web Planet. His first novels, The Auton Invasion and Day of the Daleks, are very good. For most of the next nine years Terrance wrote a book a month; a phenomenal number considering the pressure obviously evident in such a short time.

Several factors must be taken into account in a consideration of the writing of these novels. Terrance was contracted to write novelisations, namely books directly based on the exact telecast of the programme. The novels had a very short length, mostly either 110 or 126 pages. This is very short compared to the length allowed to Doctor Who authors in the 1980's, when it was expanded to 144 pages, or to the current novels of 160-180 pages.

The novels written during the last two or three years also have the benefit of Target recognition of the much older audience that generally read the books. The recent novels have also become works with elements based around the programme rather than direct novelisations of the scripts: witness Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield. I am not denigrating these efforts, in fact they are outstanding, but when Terrance Dicks was writing his novelisations ten to fifteen years ago the programme was still treated as being mostly for children, especially during the Tom Baker years. (Imagine comparing Ghost Light with The Invisible Enemy.) Terrance was directed to write in a more simple style than is found currently, and so he did.

The Doctor Who fan has much more to thank Terrance Dicks for. If he had not committed himself to the incredible pace of a novel a month, it is very unlikely that we would have the range and amount of story novelisations that we have. Robert Holmes, for example, a prolific writer for the series, would not novelise any of his stories until he was persuaded to do so by John Nathan-Turner for The Two Doctors in 1985. Without Terrance Dicks, the shelves of many fans would have been considerably lighter. It is doubtful if anyone other than him would have taken on such a task.

Terrance has written many less than satisfactory novels, of course; among them Kinda, Image of the Fendahl and The Invisible Enemy. But he has also written many novels that are the equal of anything being done at the moment. I wonder sometimes if the critics who put down anything with the by-line 'Terrance Dicks' on it as being dreadful have actually read Inferno, Day of the Daleks, The Auton Invasion or The Seeds of Death. These are examples of Terrance Dicks at his best, proving that he can be a good writer when given the appropriate conditions.

This is of course reiterated by the excellent novel Terrance Dicks has recently written for the New Adventures series, Timewyrm: Exodus. He has handled the relationship between Ace and the Doctor magnificently, something the much-lauded Dalek story noveliser John Peel does rather less well in his novel Timewyrm: Genesys. Terrance has written a thorough, enjoyable novel that both effectively furthers the Doctor Who mythos and provides a good read in its own right.

With Exodus, Terrance Dicks has redeemed himself to many fans of the series in that his attempt to make the series much more adult has resulted in a more mature, and a genuinely readable extension of the Doctor Who genre.

This item appeared in TSV 26 (December 1991).