Monday, September 2, 2019

Remembering Terrance Dicks

As of this writing, we at Altrix Books received the news of the passing of Terrance Dicks literally moments ago. It's hard to say good-bye to any member of the Doctor Who family, but even more so for someone who has been so influential for so long.

Rather than issue a "statement" from Altrix, we'd each like to take a moment to give our own thoughts individually:


It’s no exaggeration to say that Altrix books would not be here today if it wasn’t for Terrance Dicks, whose death today, for all of the many writers he has inspired, leaves a huge void in the Doctor Who universe. Together with Barry Letts, Dicks masterminded an incredible period of success for the show at a time when there had been talk of cancellation. This was the Doctor Who I grew up with in the seventies and Terrance Dicks was at the heart and soul of it.

My earliest memory of Doctor Who is being taken to see the stage show The Seven Keys to Doomsday, scripted by Dicks. I was enthralled by the spectacle of it all, mesmerised by the Daleks and the Clawrantulars, but above all gripped by an adventure story that I could understand and believe. I decided when we left the theatre that day to go home and make adventures of my own. I started drawing little comic books and making plasticine models, I fantasised about the off-limit areas in my town and beyond, such as the local dump or the boarded-up windmill, and I turned all kinds of household objects – from toothbrushes to an upturned rug – into props or even characters.

I wasn’t escaping, I was making sense of the world around me through story and imaginative play. I have Terrance Dicks to thank for that. His work on the show stood out more than most because it spoke my language. Robot is still to this day, one of my favourite episodes, complete with that immortal line “there’s no point being grown up, if you can’t be childish sometimes’.

But back then, I didn’t read the on-screen credits or theatre program. I only knew of Terrance’s name because of the Doctor Who section in my local library. There was an almost mystical quality about the early Targets, especially the ones with those strange old men on the cover, the Doctor with another face (something I was getting used to after Trevor Martin, on stage, and then Tom Baker, on screen, replaced my first Doctor, Jon Pertwee). I would flick through the lovely smelling books, trying to make of a story through the occasional illustrations and wishing I could read better.

Even before my first day at school, when I still couldn’t tie up my shoelaces and had no idea what a urinal was, I’d learnt to read. My Mother’s musty Enid Blyton and Richard Crompton books were among my first ‘by torchlight’ sleep (and nightmare) avoiding therapies, but it was those Doctor Who novels that I really wanted to bring home and read under the pillow. Thanks to the library card, I very quickly learnt that I would probably enjoy a Doctor Who book that little bit more if it was written by Terrance Dicks. It was also a bonus that I could get through his ones so much quicker. I looked forward to each new adaptation, but none more so than a Terrance Dicks. It didn’t matter whether or not I liked the adventure he was novelising. Dicks could bring to life the most dismal of stories.

My love of reading and of writing is in large part down to Terrance. His written voice was so distinctive, that even though I’d never heard him speak, it was almost as if he was part of the family – Uncle Terrance, as he became affectionately known. In my teenage years, I finally got to hear and see Terrance speak about Doctor Who and his work and I wasn’t disappointed. His unbounded enthusiasm, that childlike glint in his eye as he told all kinds of engaging tales, real and invented, and that absolute commitment to the Doctor as a hero for our times, all turned the legend maker into something of a legend himself.

One of the many characters Terrance had a hand in creating was the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, and I’m sure I echo all the authors involved in our next anthology, Master Pieces, in saying that I hope our book will be seen as a fitting tribute. Indeed, one of Terrance’s brilliant lines lies at the heart of the book: “the cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about (The Five Doctors).” The mortality of our real-world heroes, especially those we grew up with is, similarly, a hard thing to contemplate. Terrance Dicks will be sorely missed, but he will never be forgotten.



When I was younger, whether or not you could grow up with Doctor Who in America was solely a function of whether your local PBS station cared to run it. If you didn't discover it as a child, you discovered it as an adult from existing fans with episodes taped off PBS. If you wanted to learn more about the people who worked on the show, there was no Google or Wikipedia or DVD extras; you went to Myth Makers videos with soft-edged cases, or to your friends who brought you the taped episodes.

Terrance Dicks was always a name floating in the background of all the Doctor Who I encountered. The names of all of the writers and editors — Terry Nation, Pip and Jane Baker, even people as recent and accessible as Andrew Cartmel — were passed around among older fans at sci-fi conventions as I scrambled to discover who was who and why each got talked about as much as they did.

For others discovering Doctor Who stateside, he was a much more constant companion. At least one friend has noted that he discovered the series solely through the Target novelisations, as there was a time when it was easier to find those in the U.S. than a PBS station running episodes. I received a stack of those books myself when a friend was cleaning house, marking the first time I was hyper-aware of Terrance's name.

Not having had the opportunity to grow up with Doctor Who, a lot of Terrance's effect on my life, career, and fandom is in retrospect. He was responsible, in whole or in part, for concepts so deeply woven into the series as to become inextricable: Time Lords, the planet that would eventually become known as Gallifrey, the Sisterhood of Karn, and — of course — the Master. Hundreds of us are realizing today just how much of a hand he had in the series we love, even those of us who already knew him as a towering influence within it. As Paul mentioned, Altrix would not exist if it weren't for his creations... not only because he kept the show alive, but also because so much of what he injected into the series became the keystone for the show's 50th anniversary (and, by default, our flagship book).

It's very telling when, while outlining someone's work, it's quicker to say what they didn't contribute to than what they did. There's a reason Terrance's name has always floated in the background of Doctor Who: it's literally always been there. From his work on Patrick Troughton's season to his non-fiction and Big Finish contributions, he's one of a very few threads that extends almost entirely from one end of the Whoniverse tapestry to the current raw edge.

In my various lines of work, I've gotten to hear industry people talk openly about other industry people. Terrance was one of the golden few who never got a "Yeah, but" from anyone who spoke about him. Even jokes about him were knowing and affectionate. Everyone either knew him or knew of him, and mention of his name evolved into story time.

Today's social media is sad, but also enlightening. Fans are going through their bookshelves to find their favorite bits of writing from Terrance, be it a book in general or a specific line. I've seen more than one photo of a family warming up their copy of "The Five Doctors" for the evening. It's a beautiful things to see, and truly the best way to remember just how much of an impact he had on Doctor Who. It's a show that's an ever-growing network of contributions, but the stories he built will always be a strong through-line.

My thoughts tonight are with those who knew him. Thank you for sharing your stories and for helping the world remember him fondly.



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