The writer Terrance Dicks had a profound effect on the direction of Doctor Who, and left a legacy that continues to bear fruit to this day.
Terrance Dicks is one of the most prolific writers from the world of Classic Who. His association with the show is long and extensive, beginning as an assistant script editor in the late 60s before quickly being promoted to head script editor. He also wrote for the show itself, and authored some 67 novelisations of classic Doctor Who stories through the ever-popular Target range. Everyone who is a Doctor Who fan will have come into contact with Terrance Dicks’ work at some point, even if they don’t realise it.
This is because Terrance Dicks helped to create some of the series’ most popular elements which continue to be used to this day. One of these is the character of the Master, whom Terrance Dicks co-created alongside the 70s producer Barry Letts and script writer Robert Holmes, who penned the Master’s debut story ‘Terror of the Autons.’
The concept of the Master was simple – he was to be the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, an intellectual equal who had chosen the path of evil. In the Master’s case, he was a rival Time Lord with his own TARDIS who, rather than saving planets, had resolved to conquer and destroy them. And much like Moriarty, the Master was a gentlemanly villain – smartly-dressed, smooth-talking and invariably polite, but with a heart of pure stone.
The Master, of course, continues to play a key role in the Doctor Who of today, appearing most recently in the BBC’s centenary special ‘The Power of the Doctor’ in the form of Sacha Dhawan. Of course, Terrance Dicks’ original concept of the Master has evolved over the years; the character regenerated into a woman for the first time in 2014, and even this has its origins in the mind of Terrance Dicks. After all, he was the one who first coined the term ‘regeneration’ when he served as script editor on the Third Doctor’s final adventure ‘Planet of the Spiders.’
Moreover, the notion of the Time Lord race is one that began with Terrance Dicks. Although he wasn’t solely responsible for their inception, he was heavily involved in fleshing out the world that the Doctor came from, and its people.
Prior to 1969, viewers knew very little of the Doctor’s origins other than he was a mysterious wanderer in time and space and that he was, somehow, cut off from his own people. But in the 10 part adventure ‘The War Games’ (which Terrance Dicks co-wrote with Malcolm Hulke) it was revealed that the Doctor actually belonged to a grandiose race known as the Time Lords from whom the Doctor had stolen a TARDIS in order to explore the wider universe – an act that was strictly forbidden under the Time Lord code, as they swore only to observe from afar.
The Time Lords, of course, would go on to become a firm staple in the history of Doctor Who, and certainly played a large part in the revived series of 2005 – even if the storyline revolved around their complete annihilation! But one interesting detail that Terrance Dicks added was the name of the Doctor’s planet, which was first revealed in the 1974 story ‘The Time Warrior.’ Dicks settled on the name Gallifrey, which was adapted from Robert Holmes‘ earlier suggestion of Galfrey.
This name, of course, has been in constant use over the last 49 years, with the planet being at the centre of many an anniversary story, most notably ‘The Five Doctors’ in 1983, which Terrance Dicks wrote.
But Dicks did sometimes find his creative freedom restricted. As script editor in 1970, he had to devise Doctor Who stories within a strict set of guidelines which had been handed down by BBC. These stipulated that the show had to be entirely Earth-based (so that it could be produced more cheaply) and the serials had to be longer – ideally 7 episodes in length. Terrance Dicks wasn’t a fan of these proposals, and indeed his fellow writer Malcolm Hulke pointed out that Earth-bound stories only lent themselves to two basic ideas: Mad Scientist, and Alien Invasion.
Not to be deterred, Terrance Dicks used this weakness to his advantage and constantly strove to find ways to prove Hulke wrong. An early example of this can be seen in ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians,’ which subverts the idea of an alien invasion by having the aliens already living on the Earth. Then there is ‘Inferno’ whose monsters derive from zombie-like humans who have been affected by a primordial goo. (Although, in fairness, there is a mad scientist in that story too…)
But perhaps Terrance Dicks’ greatest legacy is his development of UNIT – the United Nations Intelligence Task Force (latterly the Unified Intelligence Task Force) whom the Doctor teamed-up with during his Earth exile in the 1970s. This military organisation became something of a family to the Third Doctor, comprising such popular characters as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton and the aforementioned Master (even if he was the villain!)
Indeed, UNIT became so popular that serious consideration was given to awarding the team their own series. Certainly, characters like the Brigadier, Sarah Jane and Jo found their way into the new iteration of Who, with Sarah Jane enjoying a five season spin-off on CBBC. And as an institution, UNIT continues to be used by the showrunners of today, with the organisation most recently appearing in 2022’s ‘The Power of the Doctor.’
Terrance Dicks’ legacy, therefore, is truly a vast one – in fact, whole books could be written about the impact he had on the world of Doctor Who. It is not an exaggeration to say that the show would not be the same today had it not been for his input, and one could even argue that Doctor Who might have been cancelled much earlier in its run had it not been for his creativity. After all, a Whoniverse without Time Lords, Gallifrey, the Master, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane and UNIT scarcely bears thinking about.
What do you think is Terrance Dicks’ greatest contribution to the world of Who? And which is your favourite Terrance Dicks story? Let us know in the comments below.