The Red Lines Page

September 2, 2019

Terrance Dicks, 1935 – 2019

Filed under: drwho,writing — Peter A @ 10:04 pm
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To several generations of Doctor Who fans, Terrance Dicks was a huge part of the reason for their enthusiasm. As a story writer, but especially as a script editor, he cemented the popularity of the TV series during the time of Jon Pertwee.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.50.57.pngThen he started writing novelisations from the many eras of the TV series for Target Books — literally dozens of them. For a generation of eager readers like me, before the days of video recording or DVD releases, this was the only way to revisit the TV shows.

He once described his writing style as striving for a Simenon style sparsity, and there is an admirable clarity and conciseness in all his books. One of my pals can quote whole chunks of one Doctor Who novelisation verbatim because he used to read it aloud for speech therapy.

The common language of Doctor Who fans is sprinkled with Terrance’s word choices and choice phrases. It’s not just that he coined “never cruel or cowardly” as a succinct description of the Doctor. If someone describes pockets as “capacious” or refers to a “sprightly yellow roadster” or suggests someone has “bohemian elegance” or just uses the words “wheezing” and “groaning” together in a sentence, that’s usually a clue – a secret sign of your fannish credentials when you’re in polite company.

One of my publishing pals asked Terrance about writing a story featuring the Fifth Doctor. “Which one’s he?” inquired Terrance naughtily. “You remember, Terrance,” my friend replied, “he’s the one with the pleasant open face.”

If you think this sounds a bit childish, then I’d remind you that there’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.51.44.pngTerrance’s book with Malcolm Hulke, The Making of Doctor Who (1972) first intrigued me about how television is produced, and led into my academic work and subsequently the part work magazine In-Vision, to which Terrance graciously contributed.

His novelisations inspired me to write stories of my own, including Doctor Who fiction of course, and I returned to his books for stylistic inspiration when I began.

On the occasions I met him, he was charming and modest company. To my wife, he was the engaging conversationalist who poured her a glass of champagne at the wedding of mutual friends. To me, he was a gracious presence at conventions.

Terrance was a guest at the GallifreyOne convention in California, at the turn of the century when the absence of the show on telly meant that the only new “official” Doctor Who was in the magazine comic strip alongside the Virgin Publishing and BBC Books novels. The convention attendees lauded Terrance, and none more so than a crowd of the novelists who were also guests at the event. We cheered his every appearance, and told him how he’d inspired us to read, write, edit, and publish.

I don’t think Terrance couldn’t quite believe this at first, perhaps understandably wary that the ebullient enthusiasm of we young whippersnappers might not be entirely genuine. By the end of the convention, he realised it was heartfelt, though he was still modestly surprised. I like to think of him being pleasantly open-mouthed about the whole thing.

Screenshot 2019-09-02 at 22.51.15.pngA particular memory of one convention was sharing an autograph table with him. Inevitably, Terrance had a lot of things to sign. And never more so than when one convention-goer struggled up to the desk dragging his suitcase full of books. It looked like it might contain every one of the dozens of Target novelisations that Terrance had written.

Terrance politely signed a dozen of them, and then equally politely said to the young man: “Shall I sign the rest a bit later? Only I think it would be nice if I signed some for the other people in the queue.” Once the line had subsided, Terrance brought the young man back, and proceeded to sign the rest of the suitcase’s contents.

I try to remember that on the occasions I am at conventions or signings.

When they heard today that Terrance had died at the age of 84, some fans said something about Doctor Who died for them, too.  Whereas I remember what he meant to me as a child; I acknowledge the effect he had on my career as an adult; and I see his novelisations on my bookshelf as a record of both.

There are fans yet to come who will pick up a novel or watch a TV show, and discover Terrance for the first time.

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