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How does one sum up Terrance Dicks’ immense contribution to Doctor Who? Masterful writer, genius script editor, prolific novelist, and creator of the Time Lords. One of the show’s guiding lights. We fans think of him as ‘Uncle Terrance’. Put simply, he is one of Doctor Who’s greatest ever contributors…


‘In the High Court of the Time Lords, a trial was coming to its end. The accused, a renegade Time Lord known as the Doctor, had already been found guilty. Now it was time for the sentence.

So goes Terrance Dicks’ opening to Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, his 1974 Target novelisation of Spearhead from Space, the serial that kicked off the TV show’s most prolific decade. More Doctor Who episodes were broadcast in the 1970s than any decade before or since: 270 in all. Of those, Terrance wrote or script-edited over half. His name is synonymous with 70s Who. For many of us, he defines the decade (and chunks of the 60s and 80s to boot). Put simply, Terrance Dicks is one of Doctor Who’s greatest contributors. He narrated our childhoods. Not just the TV show; the books, too. Uncle Terrance. Paperback writer. King of the killer opener. Friend of the Doctor. A cosmos without Terrance Dicks scarcely bears thinking about.

It moved through the silent blackness of deep space like a giant jellyfish through the depths of the sea. Its shape was constantly changing, pulsating with energy and life…’

If you’re watching a Doctor Who story from the show’s 1963-89 run, there’s nearly a one in four chance that Terrance, now 81, worked on it. If you’re reading a Target Books adaptation of a TV serial – before VHS tapes, those novels were pretty much the first things to make it possible to revisit classic adventures – there’s more than a two in five chance that Terrance wrote it. And if you’re sat in the Goldfish restaurant on Hampstead High Street at lunchtime on Wednesday, 30 November 2016, there’s a one in, er, one chance that you’ll overhear the following conversation…

“Having a free lunch and chatting about Doctor Who,” declares Terrance, “is not hard work.”

“Still, it’s very kind of you,” I say, “to make the time to do this.”

“It’s no great trouble,” he insists. “What I won’t do is answer questionnaires on email, because, you know, if somebody’s got six questions, that’s a day’s work – and I don’t do a day’s work unless somebody pays me.”

The Goldfish is Terrance’s local. “It’s about the most handy place to meet,” he tells me. “It’s all good Chinese food. Get the dim sum basket, then choose any one of these,” he says, tapping at the lunch menu. So we order enough grub to feed a small Sontaran army. Coming up, chicken-and-sweetcorn soup for starters.

For an adventure that was to be one of the most astonishing of the Doctor’s very long life, it all began very quietly.

How long are we chatting for?

“I’m quite happy up till closing time,” he replies with a chuckle. That’s 3pm. It’s quarter-past-twelve now. Our soup has just arrived. Let’s do this.

With a strange groaning sound, the blue police box appeared from nowhere. A very small, very pretty, fair-haired girl came out, and looked cautiously around. She was in a dimly-lit, metal-walled enclosure, and the air was full of strange smells…

You’re affectionately known to Doctor Who fans as ‘Uncle Terrance’. Do you mind?

“Well, it’s very benign, so no. It’s really just because I’ve been around for so long on the show. If you stick around long enough, you become a legend.”

What does it feel like to be a legend?

“I’m pleased and immensely flattered, because I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘You taught me to read.’ Or, ‘Because of you, I got into science –’ or ‘– into science-fiction.’ And I’m highly delighted at that. But it’s not what I set out to do. I never set out to become a legend. (Laughs) I was doing my job and earning my living.”

For anyone who hasn’t ever seen Doctor Who, what’s so good about it – and would you recommend it?

“Of course! (Laughs) But it was simpler in my day. It was about someone with the power to travel though time and space, who goes to various planets and periods and has various adventures. Wherever he lands, he always gets into trouble. The Doctor says to his companions, ‘Let’s go to –’ well, he used to say – ‘Metebelis III. It’s a lovely planet. You’ll enjoy it there.’ They arrive and he says, ‘Let’s go outside and have a look around,’ then something jumps on them – and we’re off! That’s the sort of utterly basic Who. But it’s evolved very much, because of the people who do it. One of the nice things is that all the people working on it now grew up reading my books. Like Moffat, Steven Moffat [showrunner, 2010-17], who is a brilliant writer, I think, but he’s absolutely not my kind of writer.”

Why not?

“Well, he goes for the fantastical, and the ornate, and the elaborate, and I’m very much for plain, straightforward, simple storytelling. Ian Fleming [best known for his series of James Bond spy novels – Ed], I think, said that the reader should always know where he is, what’s going on, who’s talking, what the action is – and I’m a believer in that, but that’s not Moffat. But it’s right that the show should evolve and change. It shouldn’t be the same as it was when I was doing it, and you have to accept that. It’s a good show. It’s a brilliant show. It’s just not the show I did back in the 70s.”

Notably, your most famous Doctor Who line isn’t actually from the show itself. It’s your definition of the Doctor – ‘He is never cruel or cowardly’ – from The Making of Doctor Who book that you wrote with Malcolm Hulke. Was it definitely your line, rather than Malcolm’s? [1]

“It was certainly me. I remember, because it’s so oft-quoted. Certain little bits sort of become legendary; certain lines and things pass into the mythology.”

The line finally made it into a TV episode when Steven used it in The Day of the Doctor [2013]. [2]

“I take it as a great compliment. There’s a lot of our stuff [from the 70s] that’s survived. I mean, look at the number of our monsters. Didn’t they start off with the Autons, when it came back?” [3]

Three Doctors together – but none of them are cruel… or cowardly.

If I were playing devil’s advocate, I’d suggest that ‘never cruel or cowardly’ actually reduces the character of the Doctor. It fails to imagine him as a complex being.

“Mm, mm. But I never wanted to, you see.”


[1] Why do we attribute one of Doctor Who’s most famous lines – ‘never cruel or cowardly’ – to Terrance alone? Are we doing his friend and collaborator Malcolm Hulke an injustice?

The line first appeared in the heavily-rewritten second edition of The Making of Doctor Who, published by Target in December 1976, in this passage: ‘Much has changed about the Doctor over the years, but… he is still impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He still hates tyranny and oppression, and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in, and he never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him. The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly. In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero. These days there aren’t so many of them around…’ Although Dicks and Hulke are both credited as authors of this edition, the substantial rewrites and updates were, reportedly, carried out solely by Terrance.

In contrast, the first edition (published by Piccolo in April 1972) was penned predominantly by Hulke. Terrance, as the show’s script editor at the time, provided him with information for the book, hence the shared credit (and why, unlike on the 1976 edition, Hulke’s name is listed before Dicks’). This original, 1972 edition doesn’t include the ‘never cruel or cowardly’ passage. The closest it gets is this note from the author(s): ‘Put in simpler terms, he is never cruel, and he never carries a gun or other weapon. He is often in battles, but he hates war.’

Is it more precise, then, to suppose that the ‘never cruel’ is Malcolm’s, and the addition of ‘or cowardly’ is Terrance?

“I’d believe that,” says writer and TARDIS Eruditorum blogger Philip Sandifer. “Note the shift from a purely political statement to a values one. Though, sans ‘or cowardly’ is in fact very Hulke. I’m wary of reading too much Marx into Hulke, but its pragmatic materialism is striking. ‘Never cruel, no weapons’ is very much the writer of Colony in Space [1971] or Doctor Who and the Silurians [1970], whereas the music of ‘or cowardly’ and the focus on moral character is pure Dicks.” Besides, says Philip, “Fairly sure it’s Dicks just because the alliteration is more him than Hulke. Hulke’s great, but clever turns of phrase are Dicks’ game.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

1970s special! Contents include: an extensive interview with writer Terrance Dicks; actor and writer Mark Gatiss and Katy Manning (Jo Grant) remember the 70s; Gary Gillatt takes a nostalgic look at everything that was happening in the world of Doctor Who in November 1977; a feature by Jonathan Morris asks whether the 1970s really were the 'golden years' for Doctor Who; a new comic strip adventure for the Twelfth Doctor and Jess – Doorway to Hell part one, by Mark Wright, with art by Staz Johnson; the Fact of Fiction examines 1976's The Brain of Morbius; previews; TV and audio reviews; news; the Watcher's column; prize-winning competitions; PLUS 20 bonus pages, paying homage to the 1970s comic Countdown, and reprinting the Third Doctor adventure *Sub Zero;