A personal tribute to the author Terrance Dicks, who died recently.
When I was a boy growing up in Sunderland, I used to walk with my Mother to the public library, which was roughly half way between our house and my Grandmother’s. We’d walk past the corner which I now realise was the site of the very first Police Box (although I never knew it at the time) and towards the impressive single storey Victorian library on Kayll Road. Once there, while my Mother was looking through the biographies and romance novels, I would retire to the little offshoot that was the Children’s Library.
I can picture the little square room to this day, particularly the shelves to the right of the doorway, which was where I spent most of my time, as this was the section dedicated to ‘space fiction’. As I recall, they had quite a good selection; Nicholas Fisk, Patrick Moore’s Scott Saunders series and a generous helping of the classics. But what drew my attention more than anything were the Doctor Who novelisations; glorious hardback editions by W.H. Allen, usually wrapped in a protective plastic cover to fend off the jammy fingers of 1970s children.
Now, the first couple of non-picture books that I owned were Doctor Who books, but by a statistically unlikely fluke, they were written by Ian Marter (Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment) and Malcolm Hulke (Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion). It wasn’t until I scanned the shelves of my local library that I realised the vast majority of them were actually written by someone called Terrance Dicks. I was 5 when Jon Pertwee left Doctor Who, along with his Producer and Script Editor, so to me Terrance Dicks was the guy who wrote the books. It wasn’t until Doctor Who Weekly (or possibly Doctor Who Monthly) ran a feature on him that I realised he’d been involved with the TV show.
I loved Terrance’s books. My parents bought me Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster by Terrance Dicks for Christmas and my two random books became a collection. They were short, fast-paced and descriptive; perfect for a boy of my age. In the days before the affordable VCR changed the world, it was Terrance’s skill of a script writer that allowed his books to paint a picture in your mind. As he would use a script to describe the action to a director, so he used his novels to describe the action to the reader. I seem to remember particularly liking Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius and Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear, and checking those out of the library more than most. I was also very fond of the Star Quest series of books that he wrote for Target; timely cash-ins to the popularity of Star Wars, to be sure, but written with a style and panache that made them excellent reads.
As a teenager, I started collecting the Target Doctor Who books in earnest and buying the new ones as they came out. More of the original authors were electing to novelise their scripts by then, so Terrance’s output was reduced, but despite that – or possibly because of it – he also turned out some of his best work during this period, including the superb Inferno, The Seeds of Death and The Faceless Ones. Some of Terrance’s early 80s work, such as Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child and The Five Doctors felt like ‘event’ releases; special books from a very special author. I was 19 by the time the Target books came to an end, but I was still happy to read them, especially when something new from Terrance Dicks came along.
Terrance Dicks grew up with his audience. He was in on Doctor Who – The New Adventures from the very beginning, writing Timewyrm: Exodus, the second book in the range. The switch to writing for a more grown-up audience was not a difficult one for Terrance; let’s not forget that he’d been working as a scriptwriter on any number of adult series before the Doctor Who gig came along. His work for The New Adventures and the BBC’s Eighth Doctor and Past Doctor ranges were often tightly written and very gripping. I’ve a particular fondness for Mean Streets, the book he wrote for the New Adventures featuring Bernice Summerfield, after Virgin had lost their license to publish Doctor Who books. I don’t often revisit the old novels, but not too long ago, I read World Game, a Second Doctor adventure written for the BBC’s ‘Past Doctors’ range in 2005, which I had missed at the time, and it held up incredibly well as a self-contained adventure.
The Target books were a success partly because of Terrance Dicks’ superhuman work on the range. Without the Target books, there would have been no New Adventures, Missing Adventures, Eighth Doctor Adventures or Past Doctor Adventures. And it can be argued that without those to keep the brand alive, we wouldn’t have Doctor Who on TV today. Yes, Terrance Dicks was without compare as an influence on the writers and programme-makers of today, but we must never let that overshadow his talent as a writer. At his best, he wrote books of jewel-like perfection, flawlessly formed in their structure, effortlessly easy to follow. Some may have been brisker and written primarily for a pay packet, but they still followed the tireless Terrance Dicks formula.
Terrance Dicks was a writer almost to the last. His final story will be posthumously published in the forthcoming Target Storybook and that couldn’t be more fitting. Target Books without Terrance Dicks scarcely bears thinking about.
Rest in peace, Terrance; your stories will live forever.