Saturday, 23 November 2013

An Unsung Hero: Terrance Dicks (Dr Who 50th Anniversary Post)

I've been thinking a lot over the last week how best to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of science-fiction phenomenon Doctor Who.

It's hard to believe that fifty years ago this weekend William Hartnell first appeared on screen in the TARDIS, the programme delayed in transmission by the incoming news of John F Kennedy's assasination and I doubt that anyone involved in that first story could have had any idea that it would still be going half a century later.

I only really started watching in the late seventies when the great almighty Tom Baker was Doctor - and in his portrayal I found a character that would be my hero for all the years to come: strong, corageous, vulnerable, always a pacifist and with a great sense of wonder at the world.  Tom would always enter a room as if it were the most fantastic place he had ever been to and his childish joy was infectious.

But every bit as much as I loved the TV series I was even more hooked on the novelisations.  Back in the days before home video recorders (or when they were too expensive for most people to own) reading the adaptations of the old stories whether borrowed from the library (I think my first novelisation was Meglos, with a picture of Tom Baker covered in cactus thorns on the front), found at a seaside shop, in WH Smiths or, later on, at a second-hand book shop where I spent all of my meagre weekly income they were a window to a world of imagination where anything was possible.

So on the anniversary of the first broadcast of what is now a TV icon I would like to celebrate Terrance Dicks.  Dicks was script editor from Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor), Jon Pertwee (3rd) and into the early 4th (Tom Baker) and would continue to write occasional scripts into the Peter Davison era (5th)

However it was in the 70s that Target Books first acquired the rights to novelize old stories and it was to Dicks that they first turned when individual writers were not interested in amending their scripts for the meagre salary on offer.  This meant that Dicks would eventually write about 70% of the books published during that period.

The books had a strict remit: no more than 120 pages per book: meaning that Dicks was forced to take stories that had been padded out into ten episodes and strip them down to the bone, so that you got all of the story, all of the action and none of the boring bits.  This made the books tremendously exciting to read for a young boy and lead to a lifelong love of reading, as well as influencing my own writing style.

So whilst there are many names that contributed to the longevity of the show it is to Terrance Dicks that I give thanks.  Long may his contribution be remembered and celebrated: and long may young people across the world be encouraged to read and to find doing so as genuinely exciting as I did. 

Monday, 11 November 2013


We weren't initially sure about adopting Willow.  Not that we didn't want her: I think we both fell for her charms the first time she wandered into the house and ran past us, we just weren't sure that she would settle somewhere new.

She was so nervous around people, running for cover if you approached, complaining loudly if you picked her up: so when we first agreed to adopt both her and Charlie we took him in first and waited for him to settle in...and waited...and waited.  

The truth was, however, that he just wasn't happy without her and so we opened the door and let her in.  For about the first half hour she stood and miowed at the door asking to go out and then, without any further complaint, came and sat next to me on the chair, asking to have her belly rubbed.

From then on she became famous for her loud demands for fuss and attention, poking her nose into my food, even starring on many of my conference calls for work where the inevitable question "Have you got a baby there?" would be met with my, "No, that's just Willow"
Willowpuss had a very distinctive method of going down stairs, two paws at a time in a bunny like lollop which always  caused her bell to jingle as she went.  On a hard surface her constant tap-tap-tap was like a woman walking in stilettoes and she had to fight Charlie for food: choosing to pick and return later.

When Charlie died in 2010 she took it as a signal to take over the rest of the house and would come and join us on the bed, or sometimes be found hiding under the covers looking for warmth.  She was much more of an indoors cat, being somewhat elderly, but on a good summer's day she would venture out into the back garden and sit in the sun by the shed or, in the winter, she would be found in her bed by the radiator.

When Giles first arrived she was not overly impressed, and objected several times by weeing on the bed until we were left with no laundry other than a sleeping bag to huddle under and she finally realized that he was staying.  On the whole they got along after that, although Giles would sometimes chase her around the house and she rarely came onto the bed again after he made it one of his places.

Miss Willow had been having kidney problems for about three years: had been on special food, when we could keep it away from Mr Giles and, more recently, on nightly pills for her blood pressure and kidneys: but other than that her health had mostly been good until this last five or six days when it became obvious that she was not eating properly.  She even turned her nose up at cheese, when she had previously been famous for hearing a slice of cheese being cut from forty paces.  Also she was spending a lot more time sitting on laps, something which had always been a rarity.  She even sat on Herself's lap, which was almost unheard of.

Finally it became obvious that she was losing weight and having some trouble climbing onto the sofa.  Then on Sunday, yesterday, she was struggling to walk in a straight line and this morning it was clear that she had been distressed and over-preening herself.

We took her to the vets first thing, realizing it would be cruel to make her suffer any longer, holding her and stroking her until it was over.  Herself and I stood in the car park afterwards, holding each other in the rain.

Goodbye sweet Willow puss, we love you x