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Terrance Across the Stars: What Uncle Terry Means To Me

Growing up as a Doctor Who fan in America was quite a different animal in the Eighties than it is in modern times. Now I can walk into almost any comics shop or other multimedia retail space and find something Doctor Who related, be it Blu-ray box sets of the series itself, toys, books, or any other number of official merchandise.

Back then, you were lucky if a comic shop owner knew what Doctor Who was, but the one place you could always count on was the local book store. For whatever reason, the local stores always carried a small variety of the Target novelisations and for those reasons, as a boy the name Terrance Dicks was like that of a deity.

As with many from back then, even though I did live in a world where the home video recorder was more accessible and affordable, the Target book range was one way to step a little more firmly into the world of Doctor Who, a way to stay in that universe longer, being it bringing the Junior Doctor Who version of Doctor Who and the Giant Robot on your school trip or reading your copy of Terror of the Autons before bed.

All in all, Terrance Dicks wrote over 60 books for the Target range including the highly anticipated release of the novelised version of An Unearthly Child and a slew of other classics from the days of the First Doctor all the way into the end of the Sixth’s Doctor’s televised life.

In addition, Terrance Dicks also novelised the first of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Invasion of the Bane and wrote a good deal more for every iteration of ‘new’ Doctor Who fiction lines in print, up to the David Tennant era with Revenge of the Judoon in 2008.

It was roughly during the same time frame I was begging for a new Target book every week at the mall that Dicks cemented himself in the pantheon of Doctor Who gods. It was 1983: the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors was coming to PBS, even before it hit BBC One across the pond, an event owing more to then-current producer John-Nathan Turner pushing the US market for Who than any real need, but we would see it first for once rather then our usual year wait after the UK broadcast.

Still, the name of the writer that appeared after Peter Davison’s face had shimmered away to backdrop of stars made one thing clear: Terrance Dicks was The Man when it came to this series.

Today, I might find The Five Doctors a little dull, but I am not sure if that is due to the criticisms thrown at it like catering too much to the fans or if it is the fact that I watched the dubbed video tape with that fateful and very special broadcast in 1983 so many times, I am surprised the tape never cried out in mercy.

Dicks was, of course, the Script Editor of Doctor Who in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as being involved with two Doctor Who based stage-plays. Sadly, those were either before my time or out of my ‘local’ area, but I would see ‘Uncle Terrance’ again…

We can go on about books, comics, audio plays, and even video games, but at heart, Doctor Who is a television series, one with a long and storied connection to the medium for which it was created.

Terrance Dicks would come in and be part of that history in a big way, helping develop now commonplace knowledge like some of the functions of the TARDIS or the development of Time Lord society, to the creation of some of the most memorable companions to grace that era of the series such as Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.

So it was fitting that this same man, the one who had first awakened my curiosity for went on ‘behind the scenes’ on the TARDIS set with the book The Making of Doctor Who, would also be the man gracing the special features or ‘making of’ features on many a Doctor Who DVD release.

Where I once would have to rely on older resources like the aforementioned book by Dicks above from the Seventies to tomes of info like Peter Haining’s The Key to Time year-by-year look into Doctor Who‘s history, now we could get the information straight from those who were there, and no one seemed as good at it as Terrance.

Most people forget the small details – we all do – we recall the day we might have gotten in our first fight or had our first kiss, but we most likely forgot what we ate for breakfast on that special morning. Recently, I was chatting via a message app with a writer who not only wrote Doctor Who novels, but also had a script in the Doctor Who production offices during the aborted planning on the never commissioned Season 27 of the classic series.

I was certainly curious, as unmade media is sort of a curio interest for me, but he could remember very little of the process or even what the plot was really about, something that for him was like another day at the office in the life of a freelance writer while for us ‘fans,’ it is like unlocking the door to a forgotten Egyptian tomb ripe with treasure.

Although Terrance was also indeed another freelancer looking for work, he also had an uncanny memory for the times he had worked for the series and its spin off media and seemed to be a fount of stories and asides that may not have been heard otherwise.

But then again, if this piece is as it started out as, a recollection, an experience of awe, like the geek equivalent of your favorite sports hero, especially one you fostered as a child, being made with a person who was allowed inside a fictional world that you came to love as much as your own in ways that made them shine a bit more.

Now sadly, that star is out, but let it be known your light was not wasted, and some of us will carry that light with us until our own are gone.  

Thomas Spychalski

Terrance Across the Stars: What Uncle Terry Means To Me

by Thomas Spychalski time to read: 4 min
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