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. 

2 comments:

The Bug said...

Would you believe those books are available at my library? In audio format! Woot! I'll download one & let you know what I think :)

Stephen Hayes said...

I've never checked out these books and perhaps I should give them a look.