To celebrate the release of The Essential Terrance Dicks, out today, several Doctor Who writers and actors told us about how Terrance Dicks’ novels and television stories inspired them.
Terrance Dicks was at the heart(s) of Doctor Who for over 50 years - from joining production of The Invasion in 1968 as a Script Editor to his final short story in 2019. Terrance wrote 64 Target novels from his first commission in 1973 to his last, published in 1990, helping introduce a generation of children to the pleasures of reading and writing.
Several authors and fans of his works told us how he inspired them with his stories.
When I was a boy the only way to experience television programmes you had loved again was through books. Terrance Dicks provided Doctor Who on demand. I could pick up one of his books and be there again, battling Daleks or Abominable Snowmen or just visiting history.
Terrance Dicks loved stories. He knew how they worked and what stopped them from working and what to do to make them work again. Even just chatting to him in a bar, he told beautifully crafted stories. He was a narrative engineer, checking the gauges, turning the taps, making sure the whole thing worked perfectly. He was to Doctor Who what Perkins was to the Orient Express... If Doctor Who had the Force instead of Star Wars, Terrance would be very much part of its essential fabric, appearing now and again, slightly translucent, glass of red in hand, just keeping an eye on things and making sure the story is being told in the best possible way.
When I was a kid, the biggest decision made going on holiday wasn't the destination, but which Terrance Dicks novels I could pack in my luggage. Because the adventure of being at a caravan site in Wolverhampton was nothing without the adventure of being taken to Gallifrey, or Skaro, or Peladon. My entire childhood seems filtered through reading Terrance's books over and over again - they made the boring world exciting, and the exciting world more exciting still.
All of us - who read stories, who tell stories of our own - owe so much to Terrance. A writer who flung generations of children through time and space, and excited us, and made us laugh, and made us happy. Terrance Dicks is forever not only the beating heart of Doctor Who, but the beating heart of page-turning reading-by-torch-under-the-covers storytelling.
Like Terrance Dicks, I did not grow up in a classically bookish home. It was TV which probably had the biggest influence on my burgeoning literary taste. I had the good fortune to do my growing up in Britain during the 1970s: 'Jackanory', regular classic serials, 'The Book Tower' and especially Doctor Who. Terrance's Target novelisations were incomparably, straightforwardly exciting. There was humour in them, and a bit of pathos, but mostly it was adventure in time and space all the way. I loved them. The style was pacy, economical and precise but he was unafraid to deploy a long word or pause briefly for an arresting image. They were, and still are, amongst the only books I have ever found to be authentically ‘unputdownable’. I must have read The Day of the Daleks, included here, more often and more regularly than almost any other novel. Thank you, Terrance; if I could travel back in time, I would change NOTHING.
This collection alone is like a TARDIS, warping me back to some of my most indelible adventures with the Doctor (or five of them), through the fog of Fang Rock or back to the war-torn Wastelands of Skaro. Terrance Dicks transported, thrilled and terrified me with his intimate understanding of the Doctor Who universe combined with utter clarity of language and mastery of craft – a rare mix that makes these stories wonderfully specific and universal, welcoming new and old readers alike along for the ride. I loved these stories as a child, treasure them as a (so-called) grown up and relish this chance to read them to my children, as a truly essential introduction to Terrance Dicks’ incredible imagination.
I first met Terrance Dicks in 1981 and we became, and remained friends, for the rest of his life. They say never meet your heroes, but Terrance proved that adage to be wrong and daft - the man was adorable, generous, witty, kind and utterly down-to-earth.
"And did I teach you to read?" he once joked, as this was something a lot of people, especially Doctor Who fans, had said to him. "No," I replied honestly, "but you did teach me to need and use a dictionary and to discover the meaning and the joy of words I'd never heard of before. Above all, what you really taught me was that I could be a writer, that I could use my dreams and imagination to make a living." "Yes, that'll do," he smiled."
And for that alone, I am eternally grateful.
Terrance Dicks didn't teach me to read, he taught me to read voraciously. There were seven Narnia books and they were the Everest of reading. Imagine discovering there were 70 Doctor Who books and most of them were written by Terrance Dicks. No one could read all of them, could they? But then again, they were so good. Terrance Dicks taught me that there was no such thing as 'enough' books. The Target Doctor Who range stretched into the middle distance, guided by his firm and steady prose.
He's a master of the concise, well-written epic. In 20,000 odd words he can conjure up a monastery besieged by robot yeti, a London invaded by Daleks, or a stately home haunted by Egyptian Gods. He achieved it all with pace and also with style. People praise his opening lines, his constant ability to describe the indescribable, but he was always writing beautifully, even when he thought no-one was looking. Take Underworld - not one of his classics but still, it contains the phrase 'She awoke to find herself sentenced to life' and wow.
His greatest achievement is not just that he got so many kids like me 'into' reading, but that he's kept us all there, and we can still, even though we're now as dog-eared as our old Target books, enjoy his novels with as much joy as the first dozen times we read them.