While away on holiday I received the news that Terrance Dicks had died. Unless You are a Doctor Who fan then the name probably won’t mean a lot.
Terrance Dicks was script editor of the programme from the late 1960s, through to the mid 1970s, pilotting the show through one of its golden periods: The Jon Pertwee years. He also wrote a small number of scripts, including the 20th anniversary story ‘The Five Doctors.’
Equally as important were the novels Dicks wrote: primarily the many, many novelisations of Doctor Who stories he wrote over the years.
The short, economical novels were lifelines for Doctor Who fans in an age before DVD and endless repeats. For us, these were the only chance we had to relive stories we had seen or stories which were broadcast before we were born. For most of us these novels were as much Doctor Who as the programmes broadcast on the television and their impact was clearly illustrated when these stories began to appear on video for the first time. Dick’s clear, sparce writing had always, cleverly, left space for the reader’s imagination – so when we viewed those early stories for the first time there was often a feeling of disappointment as we got used to the confines and conventions of television from a different age.
And what clever writing, taking us on exciting adventures. Take the opening from one of my favourite stories, ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’:
‘Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man. His clothes were tattered and grimy, his skin blotched and diseased over wasted flesh. On his head was a gleaming metal helmet. He walked with the stiff, jerky movements of a robot – which was exactly what he had become.
The robot man moved through the shattered rubble of a once-great city, a fitting inhabitant of a nightmare landscape.
In time he came to a river, a sluggish, debris-choked, polluted stream which had once carried great ships. He quickened his pace, sensing that the water would provide the thing he sought – a way to end an existence of misery and pain.
When he came to a gap in the embankment wall, he marched stiffly through it and plunged into the water below, He fell, like a log or a stone, making no attempt to save himself. Dragged down by the weight of the helmet, his head sank beneath the grimy waters. There was something inhuman about the manner of his death – but then he had not been truly human for a very long time.’
Who could fail to be grasped by it and taken along for the ride? And that it what Dicks did to a whole generation: he wrote about Doctor Who and in doing so coaxed them into reading, many of whom might not have gone there without him.