Oh Terry. :(



TV There's not a lot more that can be added to the tributes to Terrance Dicks, one the key architects on Doctor Who, whose death was announced today.

 I didn't meet him and only really understood who he was once I began reading Doctor Who Magazine on a regular basis in the early noughties and purchasing all of the DVDs.

 I was only ever really a casual viewer during the show's first heyday and certainly didn't read any of his TARGET novelisations growing up - Star Trek and Transformers were more my thing. 

But over time I began to appreciate what a presence he was and how much he'd shaped this franchise which I'd grown to love. 

So if you'll forgive me, in tribute I offer this reprint of a review of his seminal non-fiction work, The Making of Doctor Who, co-written with Malcolm Hulke.   

I like to think that he's just stepping in to a celestial production office were Hulke and Barry Letts are pleased to see him because another script's just fallen through and they need a replacement as quickly as possible.

Originally published Friday, February 18, 2011.

The first non-fiction book published about the series, Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s The Making of Doctor Who is mythologised by fans of a certain age as the moment when they properly realised the breadth of the history of the series, thanks to a thorough episode guide and biographies of the all the Doctors and companions who had appeared on the show prior to the then current incumbent Tom Baker. How they must have trembled, suddenly desperate to read the Target novelisation of The Ark with the horrific sounding Monoids and coming to terms with their newly acquired deep knowledge of Mike Yates and Anneke Wills.  All of which I missed because I was only two years old.  Time to catch up.

Reading the book, written by the outgoing producers at this late stage is a strange business, especially after twenty odd years of Doctor Who Magazine and another overlapping decade of dvd releases. Most of the anecdotes herein have been worked over dozens of times since by franchise archivist Andrew Pixley with increasing accuracy, yet it’s impossible not to be swept away by Dicks and Hulke’s interpretation of events which desperately strikes a balance between offering some insight into television production but without losing any of the magic of what’s on screen, a world were Tom isn’t difficult to work with, script editing is a relatively easy business and the technical unions don’t turn the lights off at inopportune moments.

Both authors are well chosen.  Hulke wrote many of the most popular Doctor Who stories, including The War Games, Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils.  Dicks was a producer on the show right through the Pertwee era and continued to be a writer not just of the scripts for television but also, as he notes within The Making of ... enough Target novelisations that he could give up the programme to concentrate on those.  Eventually Dicks would go on to write most of the Target books, the former covering most of the eras of the show in his trademark style.  "Teeth and curls" "Open face" that sort of thing.  It's a testament to their legacy that these novelisations are still being turned into audio books.

The first section traces the inception of the series, introduces all of the characters and the actors who played them and lists the monsters who’ve left an impression of the show in the previous decade (sorry Rills). Much of this still serves as the blue print for Doctor Who Magazine’s approach all of these years later, even taking time to debunk the myth of where the Dalek name came from (even though Trivial Pursuit were still using the encyclopedia explanation as a question years later). Each of the companion actors is gives a quote about their time working on the show, including Frazer Hines who informs us that he’d wear football shorts under his kilt so he could get a game directly afterwards.

This was for years the main the source of the collective fan knowledge about how the show started. It’s impossible not read the section about the meeting between Sydney Newman (initial creator) and Donald Wilson (head of series) without thinking of the notorious Doctor Who night sketch with all the swearing, isn’t it about time they finally grant its author Mark Gatiss his wish to bring this chapter properly to television in dramatic form? Certainly there’s enough here for a fiftieth anniversary special in which a brave female producer Verity Lambert battles with the resources available to her then watching as the limelight shines on Terry Nation for creating the Daleks, the moment when the show really took off?

The middle chunk is appropriated by the aforementioned episode guide, which was also the first time many of the stories were collected under single story names for the first time – for the first couple of years individual episodes had often wildly inaccurate titles all to themselves. Culled, I believe, from BBC documents, many of these collective nouns have stuck until the present day appearing on dvd spines but there are still some surprises. The Daleks is given the title of its first episode “The Dead Planet” and it’s “The French Revolution” instead of “The Reign of Terror”. The first story is listed as “An Unearthly Child” the ramifications of which would drag on for many years with fandom fracturing between the "100,000 BC" believers and The "Tribe of Gum".

Like the pagination of the Target novelisations, there’s little consistency as to the length of accompanying synopsii in relation to story length. The Moonbase (4 episodes) nearly fills a page while all twelve episodes of The Dalek Masterplan fill about seven lines which might well be a comment on the amount of padding which would appear in some of these stories. Galaxy Four (4 episodes) is gifted five lines and shockingly it doesn’t seem to miss anything out including the race relations subtext. Brilliantly, one of the previous owners of my copy has gone on to scrawl in pencil all of stories from after “The Hand of Fear” up to and including “Shada” which suggests it was before that story failed to be completed. They’ve also numbered them all, and added crosses, presumably next to the ones they’ve seen. We've all done it.

The final section covers the production of ROBOT, Tom Baker’s first story. This is a major rewrite from the first edition of the book which covered The Sea Devils (and had a constipated looking John Pertwee on the cover) forcing some fans to buy this twice because of new material, a technique which is still being employed on the dvd range even today. In this version, there’s much talk throughout of how this is a show in transition with a new production team, new lead actor and a shift towards telling stories in time and space away from Earth. Which is quite refreshing considering that now, David Tennant was barely off-screen before his incarnation was assigned to merchandising history (with the approach to Christopher Eccleston genuinely Stalinist).

After the subsequent DVD commentary revelations this is pretty tame stuff, it’s not The Writer’s Tale (or The Devil’s Candy for that matter), there are no stories of Dicks, who also wrote Robot, face pressed against a typewriter at 3 o'clock in the morning handwriting a telegram to fanzine editor Jan Vincent-Rudzki revealing his inspiration for turning the story into a King Kong homage or why he took his name off The Brain of Morbius.  The most we discover about the writing process is how it would be an interesting choice to make "the power-mad leader behind the whole scheme" a woman "in these days of women's lib" (which as you can see isn't to say these passages don't sound like Dicks speaking out loud).

Curiously most of the team are referred to by their job title not their name and there are precious few proper anecdotes about the production itself, other than the decision to shoot the whole thing on video though the authors do mention how a producer thought one actor was overplaying the comedy at the expense of the drama, something the director agreed to do something about. I’m assuming that was Tom and I’m assuming he didn’t take any notice.  Some of the episodes overran, some underran but generally the shoot appears to come off without a hitch.  My favourite part is the opening paragraph which prosaically sets about explaining production codes "no one had allowed for the show's amazingly long life".  You're not kidding.  Now we've reached proper numbers and no one can agree exactly how many stories there have been.

The book almost ends on a fairly downbeat note. Under the hopeful sounding chapter title “A New Life for the Doctor” we’re told that new producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes are “confident that in the dangerous and disturbing world of today there is a real need for a show like Doctor Who”. Then Dicks and Hulke stick the knife in by informing us that “many of the Doctor’s early adventures are lost forever. Enormous pressure on storage space forces the BBC to “wipe the tapes” "which means that many of the stories they’ve previously listed in the middle of the book, with the exception of those preserved for the Television Archives, “are gone for good”.  Notice the present tense in the word “forces”.  It was still going on.

I believe this was also the first inkling that even the clued up fans had that any of these stories had gone never mind that whoever was making the selection lacked the ability to discriminate between a stone cold classic like Marco Polo and The Sensor-bloody-rites. The authors try to cushion the blow by adding a sales pitch that suggests it’s ok because the adventures were being “preserved in more permanent form” as Target novelisations. As many would discover later when some of these stories were found and the secondary market opened up, the Target novelisations often wildly rewrote what had been on screen. 

The book ends on a three page glossary which has room for “ratings” but not “budget”.

So the history of Doctor Who was formed.

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