It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Terrance Dicks, fondly known to many Doctor Who fans as ‘Uncle Terry’. A prolific writer, who wrote hundreds of books and worked extensively in television both genre and mainstream, he was best known and loved for his work on Doctor Who, first as a script editor between 1968 and 1974, then as a script writer and author. He will be particularly remembered as the author of dozens of novelisations released under the Target imprint.
He ended up on Doctor Who quite by chance, when a former colleague from his days on the soap opera Crossroads, Derrick Sherwin, had had enough of his script editor role and sought a replacement. “I always feel a bit guilty about this because fans seem to think ‘what a terrific job, how you must have fought and struggled!'” Dicks told SciFiNow in 2013. “Derrick got a job that he wanted on a play series, but he couldn’t leave until he found his own replacement. He tried several people, all of whom apparently failed disastrously, and then – I think in some desperation – turned to me. I was a bit cautious about it and I said, ‘well, for how long?’ and he said, ‘we’ll give you a three month trial contract, then we’ll see.’ I thought they’d probably fire me at the end of three months but it was three months regular money, so I said I’d give it a go and, as I always say, there was the rest of my life!”
Although starting with Patrick Troughton, it was with work for Jon Pertwee that Dicks really made his mark. Together with producer Barry Letts, who would become a dear friend, they ushered in a new era of gritty realism, quickly followed by colourful cartoonism spearheaded by the creation of Time Lord supervillain The Master. Dicks and Letts were also responsible for the rise of the ‘UNIT family’, the military regulars who accompanied the Doctor on his earthbound adventures, who turned from a hard-bitten military team into a rather cuddly bunch as the series progressed. Dicks was very fond of this team, though admitted to desperately trying to get rid of them in order to return the Doctor to more space-set adventures.
Dicks contributed memorable scripts to the show after his tenure as script editor came to an end. He brilliantly kicked off Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor in Robot and his scripts for The Brain Of Morbius, Horror Of Fang Rock and State Of Decay (all with Baker) show the programme at its gothic best, while his 1983 anniversary story The Five Doctors is a riotous gem chock-full of fan-pleasing moments.
Dicks’s association would continue through his penning of novelisations, as well as tie-in books and later original novels for Virgin’s New Adventures range. Once the publishing licence returned to the BBC, it was to Dicks that they turned to launch their Eighth Doctor range with The Eight Doctors. More novels would follow, both for the Eighth Doctor and several of his past selves.
After the series returned to television in 2005, Dicks enjoyed his place as an elder statesman, describing himself jokingly as ‘the George Bernard Shaw of Doctor Who’. He wrote a couple of novels for young readers featuring the Tenth Doctor, and the novelisation of the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Terrance’s death elicited a wave of emotional responses, many from creatives who were inspired by his writing. In 2013, he discussed his pride at being an inspiration to several generations of people: “lots and lots of people say ‘you taught me to read – if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have learned to read properly’ or ‘I wouldn’t have worked in science fiction’, and that’s always immensely gratifying to hear!” In the hearts and minds of the millions he inspired and will go on to inspire with his writing, Uncle Terry will live on forever.