Terry Nation was one of Doctor Who‘s most popular writers, creating the iconic Daleks and penning some of the series’ most memorable stories. These are (perhaps) his top five adventures…
5) The Keys of Marinus
‘The Keys of Marinus’ is a much-overlooked tale from Doctor Who‘s first season. Unusually for a Terry Nation script, it doesn’t feature the dreaded Daleks, but rather the rubber-clad Voord, who only appear in a handful of episodes. Instead, ‘The Keys of Marinus’ is an epic journey across a vast alien planet, taking the Time Lord and his friends from frozen wastes to possessed jungles. It’s a six part adventure that is bursting with creative ideas as the Doctor and his companions attempt to recover six keys for the all-important Conscience machine, which will restore peace to the troubled world.
Sadly, ‘The Keys of Marinus’ rarely makes it onto many fans’ top 10 lists, but if you’ve never paid this Terry Nation tale much attention, now would be the perfect time for a re-watch. Episode two is a particular highlight, with the Doctor and his friends being seduced by the city of Morphoton and its mesmerising wares. We’ll say no more…
4) The Dalek Invasion of Earth
Ever since the Daleks burst onto our TV screens in 1963, fans were clamouring for the metal mutants to make a return. And yet they had to wait some time before the iconic baddies finally got a TV sequel – almost a year, in fact. But it was worth the wait.
As the title suggests, in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ the dreaded Daleks have taken over the planet in the year 2164, and have enslaved the human race. Some people have been converted into brain-dead grunts known as Robomen, whilst others have been put to work in the Bedfordshire mines for purposes unknown. And over the course of six episodes, the Doctor and his friends pit their wits against them and defeat them – the poor, pathetic creatures that they are.
In fact, this Terry Nation serial was so successful that in 1966 it was adapted into a big budget movie titled Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. starring Peter Cushing as an alternate version of the Time Lord. Quite what this means for the Doctor Who canon, however, is up for debate.
3) The Daleks
Of course, no Terry Nation top five list could omit the adventure which started it all. This was only the second Doctor Who story in the series’ history, and the very first to be penned by Terry Nation, who took the job at the last minute after being fired by the popular comedian Tony Hancock.
And surprisingly, this adventure was very nearly canned as it broke the BBC’s remit for Doctor Who. The Corporation had originally stated that it didn’t want any “bug-eyed” monsters in the show, and they felt the Daleks were the epitome of such monsters. Indeed, the producer Verity Lambert later admitted that if any other scripts had been ready to go before the cameras, ‘The Daleks’ would never have been made.
But as we said earlier, this Terry Nation serial is perhaps the cornerstone of Doctor Who history, and propelled the series to dizzying heights of fame. Even today, the Daleks remain the show’s most beloved baddies, and continue to terrorise the Time Lord throughout time and space. Plus, like the previous entry on this list, ‘The Daleks’ was later adapted into a big screen adventure starring Peter Cushing.
2) The Daleks’ Master Plan
‘The Daleks’ Master Plan‘ is often cited as many fans’ favourite William Hartnell story. It is also the longest single story in Doctor Who history at an epic 12 episodes, and was broadcast between 1965 and 1966, and we include it on this list as it was Terry Nation’s brainchild, even if he only penned half the episodes. The other half were tackled by writer Dennis Spooner.
‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ has an important place in Doctor Who history for many reasons. First, it was the very first Doctor Who story to feature Nicholas Courtney, who would later go on to star as the long-time series regular Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Second, it was the first adventure to show the on-screen death of a companion, with the Doctor’s friend Katarina sacrificing herself in episode four to save her friends. (Although it could also be argued that two Doctor Who companions die in this story, as the Time Lord’s friend Sara Kingdom also perishes in episode 12, although her official companion status is up for debate.)
Finally, this Terry Nation story is also important for including the very first Doctor Who Christmas special ‘The Feast of Steven,’ which was broadcast on the 25th December 1965. Sadly, this instalment (along with the majority of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’) was destroyed shortly after transmission, although we do have three complete episodes to enjoy, plus the surviving soundtracks which were captured by fans during the original broadcast. They’re well worth a listen.
1) Genesis of the Daleks
Finally, the top Terry Nation story must surely be ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘ from 1975, partly because this adventure is often voted as one of the most popular Doctor Who stories of all time. It comes from Tom Baker’s very first season, and sees the Doctor and his friends embarking on a secret mission to avert the Daleks’ creation. Told over six episodes, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is bleak, gritty, adult… and thoroughly exhilarating.
The story is also significant for introducing another iconic character – Davros, creator of the Daleks, and portrayed in this adventure by Michael Wisher. He would go on to become almost as popular as his own creations, although in later years fans would lament the fact that he sometimes overshadowed the metal mutants. In the new era of Who, Davros appeared less frequently, and in fact has only reared his head twice since 2005.
In many ways, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ is the quintessential Terry Nation story, featuring many of the tropes that fans would come expect from his scripts: oppression, Nazi parallels, disfigured, maniacal dictators, war-torn worlds, radiation… although (surprisingly) there isn’t a Tarrant in sight! Moreover, this Doctor Who story stands out for being one of the few that doesn’t feature the TARDIS, as the Doctor and his friends are sent directly to the Daleks’ home world by the Time Lords.
But over to you, reader. Which Terry Nation story is your favourite? And is ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ really the greatest Doctor Who story of all time? Let me know in the comments below.
Click here to find out more about the history of the dreaded Daleks.