Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who
The Essential Terrance Dicks Volume 1

(2021) Terrance Dicks, Target – BBC Books, £25 / Can$53.95, hrdbk, xi +551pp, ISBN 1-785-94664-6


Many of you older Doctor Who fans, like myself, will recognise the name of the author above. For many years Terrance was a writer and then the script-writer for what is now called “classic Doctor Who”. He began as a script editor with Patrick Troughton’s Cyberman story 'The Invasion' in 1968 and then co-wrote Patrick Troughton’s last story, 'The War Games', but really came to prominence during the next two doctors’ reigns – Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker from 1970 – 1975. He introduced through his scripts many aspects of the series that would become lore, including details of the TARDIS, the Master (gloriously played initially by Roger Delgado), the background to the Time Lords, and Gallifrey. When he stepped down as script-writer, from 1973 he then went on to write many of the earlier stories as paperback books published by Target, thus allowing young readers to revisit episodes already seen on television, although rarely repeated.

He was clearly well-suited to the task. The books were very popular and 67 of the Target books were written by him.

Although he passed away in 2019, BBC Books have seen it fit to publish on the second anniversary of his death two volumes in hardback of some of Dicks’ favourite Target novels. There are five in each book, of which this is the first.

In this first volume we have the stories Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowman, Doctor Who and the Wheel in Space, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion and Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks. These cover stories from the William Hartnell era to Jon Pertwee’s stint as the Doctor, from 1964-1972.

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth: The second story with the Daleks, from the William Hartnell era. It was also made into a colour film for children in 1965, with Peter Cushing as the Doctor. This is the story where the Doctor’s granddaughter leaves at the end.

Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowman: A story from the Patrick Troughton era. Now with companions Jamie and Victoria, the Doctor encounters the Yeti for the first time.

Doctor Who and the Wheel in Space: A story not based on Earth for a change. This is where Patrick Troughton, Jamie and Victoria meet the Cybermen again, and are introduced to a new companion, Zoe Heriot.

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion: Although this one has a different title, it is the novelisation of the first Jon Pertwee story, 'Spearhead from Space'. The Doctor, now played by Jon Pertwee, is now stranded on Earth by the Time Lords, encounters UNIT again and discovers alien plastic determined to take over the world (of course!)

Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks: Jon Pertwee’s first encounter with the Daleks. The Doctor and his assistant Jo Grant attend a world peace conference to find that the Daleks and their servants the Ogrons are there and are determined to stop the talks.

It would be fair to point out that like the original television series they are “of a time” in that we have female companions with little else to do but scream (they do get better as we go along), characters with the thinnest of outlines and plot contrivances that may make you wince, but that is no different to the television series.

Generally they are all short (usually about 100 pages each), which doesn’t leave much room for in-depth analysis. To make up for this they are fast paced and thoroughly entertaining. Terrance’s writing is straight-forward and direct, though there are moments of absolute brilliance. If you can cope with lines like “Through the ruins of a city stalked the ruin of a man”, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

I know that most of the remaining stories are available on streaming platforms and various types of disc, but reading the stories as a literary experience, without reference to the television series, is great. They bring back all of the careering excitement and the paradoxical improbabilities of the original plots. I’m pleased to read that they are not just screenplays, which they so easily could have just been, but Terrance has added to them an atmosphere and a presence that makes them quite readable. Of course, the special effects are much better in my head!

These stories in their new livery will delight older fans looking to revisit past glories, but might also entice younger readers, for whom Doctor Who only started in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston, to give them a try. They’re never going to be examples of the best science fiction ever, but as Terrance’s prose shows, as reminders of how good the television series could be in its early days, they are first class.

Mark Yon


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