Terrance Dicks - Doctor Who writer and script editor
Interviewed by Paul West - 6 February 1985 .
Magic Time: Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Jon Pertwee.
Although there is a rumour that Patrick Wymark was considered briefly as a replacement for William Hartnell, there is no real connection with Doctor Who on this site, but when Paul West mentioned that he'd once interviewed the late Terrance Dicks, it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. Harry Dobermann
Paul West recalls: I interviewed Terrance Dicks over 34 years ago, on 6 February 1985 for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook. The Yearbook was eventually cancelled, so unfortunately, the interview has never been published until now. Terrance was very kind that day. We ended up going to a wine bar in Shepherds Bush for the interview and he insisted on paying for the wine and food. We met first in the office he was sharing with Barry Letts, during the period Barry was handing over to Terrance as Producer of the BBC Classic serials. I had to wait for an hour in their office as they chatted and waited until after 6 pm to make a call to the USA when the charges where cheaper ( those were the days!) It only seems like yesterday. It's a memory I will always treasure, just sitting listening to the two them talking and making me feel at home too at the same time. I had to pinch myself that here were these two men who had created the Pertwee years that formed such a big part of my childhood and I was there chatting away with them. A happy memory of a good man, who is sadly no longer with us.
Terrance, could you tell us how did you first become involved in Dr Who?
Because of Derrick Sherwin, who was then Script Editor. I knew him slightly, because we were working together on Crossroads. We were both members of the writing team and got to know each other by travelling up to Birmingham together for the script conference. Later, when Derrick was script editor of Dr Who, he was offered a job on another show, which he wanted to take. But they said he could only leave Dr Who if he could come up with his own replacement. After trying various people he finished up with me. He phoned me up literally out of the blue and said, "How would you like to be Script Editor of Dr Who?" It was as random as that really.
At first you weren't credited were you?
What happened was that Derrick didn't get the other job! He kept hoping he could get off the show and I had a very long handover which took about a year. This meant that Derrick was still technically Script Editor and I was a sort of assistant Script Editor, which was actually very useful as it gave me a chance to find my feet. Derrick used to get very embarrassed about it. He'd say, " I'll really have to get off this show and stop getting in your hair," but we got on very well indeed. It was never really a problem.
Did you imagine at the time you joined that you would stay so long?
No, not at all. At that time I was a freelance writer, which is a fairly precarious existence, in that you're only making money when you sell some work. When Derrick asked me if I'd like the Script Editor's job, I said, "Well, for how long?" He replied, very cautiously, "Well you get this contract for three months and then they either renew it or they don't." So I thought to myself, "Whatever happens I'll be getting three month's regular money. They'll probably fire me at the end of that but never mind, it's still three month's salary." In fact those three months turned into five years ... and on and off, into something like fifteen years with the BBC."
Did you immediately get into script problems with the penultimate Troughton season?
You lost about three stories didn't you?
I honestly cannot remember now in detail about what was what. It's not that I don't want to tell you, it's just that it's too long ago. But the general script position was pretty bad. Things broke down. Things weren't ready. Projects were not working out. The thing was generally fairly chaotic. Really, that lasted all through the hand over and for a time after Barry Letts joined. It was only about halfway through that season with Barry producing, that we got things sorted out. Scripts in advance, that sort of thing. Eventually things started working out in a regular and well-ordered way. It was never easy, but my feeling is that it was total chaos when I arrived and it was fairly organised chaos after I'd been there a year or two. It's always a bit chaotic on 'Who'.
The thing that people always wonder is if it was the projected third Yeti story that caused some of the panic?
I'm blowed if I know! I've got no recollection of that whatsoever. There was a comedy story by Dick Sharples which never worked out for various reasons. This story had them arrive on a planet dominated entirely by women and the Doctor and Jamie were to be sort of bullied. "Shut up, you're only men. Do as you're told," sort of thing. But Pete and Derrick, who had initiated that, were never quite happy with it. It's just that comedy is very hard to do, it's no disrespect to Dick. I don't think they really knew what they wanted, and whatever they got they didn't like. So, eventually that just faded away.
Wasn't Peter Ling going to do a story set on a planet where time ran backwards?
Could be. Derrick Sherwin would be more the person to ask about that, as I certainly don't remember working on that.
So it wasn't you who brought Peter Ling in?
Oh no, that was Derrick. Peter Ling had been on Crossroads.
I assumed it was because of the Crossroads connection.
No, Derrick was on Crossroads before I was. The connection was established between those too and out of that came 'The Mind Robber'.
Is that where Don Houghton came from?
I guess so, because Don was story editor on Crossroads at the same time. The trouble is, with this length of time you're not quite sure if you're remembering or inventing, but my picture of it is that there were two projects which collapsed and that was why we did 'The War Games' at such enormous length. In other words, I think I remember Derrick saying to me, "We've got to find not only one story but two stories very quickly, so let's at least merge the problem and make it one story." He said to me, "You have to write it." And I said, "I don't think I can in that time, but I can do it with Malcolm Hulke." He was not only an immensely experienced writer and a good friend and also a touch typist. So that, you know, Mac would put five carbons in the typewriter and go (makes vroom noise) and we were delivering reasonably good first-off's. That was the only way the whole thing managed to work.
So it was actually envisaged as ten episodes from the start?
Well, no. Before it was envisaged as a six and four parter, which didn't work out. Then Derek and Pete decided to have a ten-parter.
But when you sat down to write it you knew it was to be a ten parter?
Oh yes. We knew that instead of trying to find two stories we were only trying to find one and Mac and I came up with this idea of the War Games in which you could keep the thing going.
What about the Time Lords? Whose contribution was that?
Derrick Sherwin came up with the Time Lords. I don't know quite where from? He didn't sort of invent it, he mentioned it as something that was already known. He said, "Oh, he's a Time Lord isn't he? And he comes from this super race." That was about all we got, and Mac and I worked it out from that. You know, why was he a fugitive? Why was he on the run? None of that was known, because that was the first mention of the Time Lords. It had always been known that the Doctor was some kind of fugitive, and perhaps didn't have any right to the TARDIS. Derrick came up with the idea that at some stage he'd have to go back to his own people for help, even though he knew it would mean capture. And that was how we would do the exile. He went back for help to deal with the War Lords , he would be captured and put on trial; which meant he would be exiled to Earth and turned into Jon Pertwee. That all came together.
So you had already worked out this exile on Earth?
Oh yes. Again, I think it's true to say that by then we knew the show would go on. There is a sort of legend that we started writing, not knowing if the last episode might be the end of Dr Who. But I think by the time we got into writing, we knew that we were going to recast and that it would be set on Earth.
Did you know at this time that it was going to be Pertwee?
Somewhere towards the end of the writing we would have known, when Peter Bryant had made up his mind finally on casting. There was a stage where several names were discussed.
It's just that people have wondered why Pertwee was never shown at the end of The War Games.
It may be it wasn't decided by then. I'm not sure after how long? 15 years? The memories have blurred more than a little. I can remember separately, so to speak, being in on discussions and Peter saying he had a short list and that Jon Pertwee's agent had put him up for it. Pertwee thought he'd like to do it but wouldn't be considered because he wasn't really a straight actor. But he was also on Peter's short list of two or three people Peter would like to play the part, so the two things came together. So, I was around while all that was happening, but how it related to the writing of The War Games, I'm not really clear.
Is it true to say that, had Patrick not decided to go at that point, we might never have seen the Time Lords?
Maybe not. But what the Time Lords came out of was that the show was always in financial trouble, and that Peter and Derrick worked out that the only way the show could go on was done on Earth, rather like Quatermass. Cheaper sets, cheaper costumes. You could go out with just one effect, which was your monster. So that was a purely economic decision, and from that came the decision that, "Right the Doctor's got to stay on Earth, " and out of that came, "because he's been exiled by the Time Lords."
So it was economic rather than creative?
Absolutely! Creatively it was very bad decision because it gets you very limited stories. I remember when I told Mac Hulke this, Mac was very quick thinking and he said, "You've got two Doctor Who stories from now on. Mad Scientist's experiment goes wrong or invasion from space." We rang the changes in various ways but it got very difficult. He was absolutely right.
How soon did it become necessary to let him go wandering again?
While the first season was going on, Barry and I were thinking out the second season. It became obvious we couldn't do another four or five stories without repeating ourselves. So, we did it in stages. The Time Lords might transport him somewhere or he'd leave Earth by some other means. But out of every five stories we'd do one or two on an alien planet. After that you'd come back to Earth with the Brig and UNIT and there'd be a feeling of variety. Really though, it became more and more borne in on me that the decision was wrong. That the essence of the show was the TARDIS and, "off we go." That's what the show is about. So, it was alright for a season and a bit. It was OK to do it on Earth and quite interesting. But you couldn't get stuck with that. You had to get away again.
In Inferno you use the slipping into a parallel world.
That's right. We were constantly looking for ways to get around that problem. The parallel world was a way of getting that alien feel, not being stuck on everyday boring Earth.
So UNIT had been all worked out by then?
Oh yeah. UNIT was worked out in order to give the Doctor a home base, somewhere to live and you feel he can eat and sleep somewhere and have access to facilities. So we worked out the unpaid Scientific Advisor thing. A kind of loose attachment.
It's one of my pet theories that before The War Games the series didn't have any particular continuity, so the first script editor who brought any continuity to the show was yourself. Having created this home on Earth and bringing in the Time Lords, that was the first set of concrete rules the show had.
It was partly because I was the first one to survive so long, before that people tended to come and go, depart broken men, whimpering, asking for jobs on Jackanory.
Did it ever occur to any of the team that, with the Doctor stuck on Earth only 15 or so years after he first took off, he could have looked up Ian and Barbara or Polly and Ben, who must have been around somewhere?
No, it didn't. It just never came up because I think one tended to think psychologically that they were part of an earlier era. It could have been done, but I think it was kind of less sophisticated in those days. The kind of thing they did in 'Mawdryn Undead' where they went to see the Brigadier in retirement and you get two Brigadiers. We didn't get into that kind of thing in those days. We tended to avoid the complexities and anomalies of time travel.
Susan Rae interviews Terrance Dicks in 1987
I just wondered if you'd thought it up, but had difficulty getting the people to take part?
Never came up. It never occurred to anybody.
Unlike many script editors, you didn't write any stories at the time. Why was that?
Well, in those days you weren't allowed to. It was as simple as that. There is an argument that script editors shouldn't write their own shows. It isn't that I didn't want to.My understanding was that I wasn't allowed to. In fact I didn't stat writing 'Who' until after I left. I started as soon as I left with 'Robot'
It's interesting that every subsequent script editor has written, even if under a pseudonym.
You can understand both points. Outside writers feel a script editor is in an unfairly privileged position if he writes for the show. Equally though, as a script editor you do a tremendous amount of work on the show and you know it better than anybody and have a very clear idea of what kind of show you want. Of course you want to write yourself and "up" your contribution and in effect have your own show. I can understand that. I had that satisfaction because, in a sense in that five years I felt they were all by me anyway. Considerable amounts of them were from time to time.
In fact it was really you who consolidated the four parter.
Yes, and also to some extent, the then Head of Drama, Ronnie Marsh. It was really more Ronnie than me, as he loved four parters because you got more new shows in season. His attitude was, "Give 'em as many First Nights as possible." In other words, each new story is an occasion. And the more occasions you give people the better. Which is good thinking. My feeling is that the thing is a mixture of sixes and fours. Mostly fours with the occasional six , as there are some stories which are natural six parters. What I don't like is going above six. You see, by the time Barry and I took over, we were stuck with decisions made by Bryant and Sherwin, because it takes time to change things. You can't just say you're not going to do something because your production season is already underway. The UNIT decision was one that wasn't ours, but one we had to live with for a while, and then wriggled out of as soon as we could. The other was doing the seven parters. It's difficult to find a story that will sustain seven parts.
The first Pertwee season is very distinct from the rest. What made you step away from the adult themes?
I don't think we did. I don't accept that proposition (laughs). It may be the other way round, in that we were stuck with these seven parters. If you're doing a serial of that length, you must have a very complex story with a number of sub plots and elements in it or you are simply going to run out of story before the end. So it may be that what you call adult themes is that increased complexity, which was a function of the length.
Where did the Master come from?
Ah. The Master came from me and from Barry Letts. One of the things we wanted to do was give each season a gimmick, a surprise, an added attraction that people weren't expecting. We would sit around talking about this, keeping the series under constant review. At one point we were discussing the similarity between the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes, and one of us said, "What about a Moriarty?" That was the inspiration. The superhero needs a super villain, so we thought we'd have another character like that. Obviously, another Time Lord, to be the Doctor's equal in some senses, and a renegade. But a 'bad' renegade.We had to give him a title like 'The Doctor' so I said, , "let's call him the Master," as that has overtones of oppression and paranoia. Barry Letts said, "I know exactly the actor to play him,Roger Delgado," who was an old friend of Barry's and 'the best villain in the business.' So, the whole concept sort of burst into life one lunchtime in the BBC bar.
Was there ever any intention of him being the Doctor's evil step brother or something like that?
No, the only thing that we had laid down was that they were at the Academy together. I thought the Darth Vader thing on Star Wars, you know, "he's really your father," was a bit melodramatic. I don't think we would descend to that in Dr Who. It's just that as it said in one of the early scripts, there was a time when they were friends and the Master took the left hand path, the route of evil.One feels that they still have a sort of liking and admiration of each other, because they never quite go through with destroying each other!
Looking back, do you feel that he was used too much?
We found that with the Master, like the UNIT stories, if you do the same thing in every story it doesn't work. The essence of 'Who' is variety, and of course, if you've got a whole season of Master stories, then you've got no surprises because it's obvious who the villain is behind it all. It also raises the question if the Doctor and the Master are both so clever, how come the Doctor never catches the Master. And how come the Master never kills the Doctor? And it gets to be unconvincing. We decided to bring in the Master occasionally. Have him escape and then, if it's every two or three stories then it's worth having the Master appear. So when the Master puts in an appearance, if you haven't seen him for a while, you can not only , if you're clever enough, achieve a genuine surprise, but there's a kind of welcome
Have you got any amusing stories you could tell us from behind the scenes?
Well there's the Alpha Centauri one. I told that one at Chicago actually. They got onto the subject of phallic symbols in Dr Who, and there was some monster recently which John Nathan-Turner said was like a giant penis. So they divided into two and looked like two penises. That reminded me of The Curse of Peladon. This was directed by Lennie Mayne, who is Australian . He came into our office one day, and he was all embarrassed, and he said,"I've just seen one of the monsters that's going to be in the Peladon show. To be perfectly frank, it looks like a giant dick! It's tall, thin and tubular and it's got this domed bit on top and I'm rather worried about it! " So, we went down to see it, and Barry said, "You're quite right it does." We added tentacles and a cloak and various other things to it, and Lennie said, "Now it looks like a girant dick with a cloak." But we were stuck with it then.
Katy Manning, when she was cast as Jo Grant, was short sighted and wore these huge glasses, which she obviously didn't wear at the audition because she wanted to look her best. There was a time on her first show when she and the Doctor were dashing across the countryside being chased by Autons or something and the Doctor shouts, "Run!". And Katy dashed off and ran straight into a tree, knocking herself out! I went down to the filming on the first day, and Jon is striding up and down fuming, "Why have they cast a girl who can't see?" Eventually it was all sorted out and we used to hold her hand and lead her past any obstacles.
How involved were you in Jon's This Is Your Life?
Quite a bit. They got in touch with us saying they wanted to put Jon on it, so we had this rather mysterious thing of ITV people coming to the BBC for secret meetings. They had to be kept out of sight. Eventually, the way that we worked out the pick upwas that we told Jon we wanted to do a trailer for one of the new shows and that it had to be done in a hurry, so we'd shoot in the BBC car park. We said, "Don't worry, it'll all be shot close on the TARDIS." So, I wrote this little script, the door opens and the Doctor and Katy emerge from the TARDIS. Katy says, "Where are we Doctor?" and Jon says, "I don't know Jo, but be careful. You never know what you'll run into on these alien planets." We said after that we'll cut to the monster, so that's your trailer. He didn't suspect anything. Jon came out and said it, whereupon Eamonn Andrews drove up in a jeep with the book and said,"Jon Pertwee, This Is Your Life!" And Jon shouted, "Who's that?" because he had someone driving up to shot, booming at him, and that all worked. I think he was genuinely fooled!"
Whose idea was it that you should write the first Tom Baker story?
Mine! I was leaving to be a freelance again and so I invented this instant tradition that the retiring script editor write the first show after he leaves. Eventually it got up to Ronnie Marsh, who was Head of Department, and he asked who was writing the first show. Barry said, quite innocently, "Terrence.Because it's a tradition." and Ronnie said, "Rubbish! Never heard of it!" But it was very ice to do the link, to start Tom off!
Did you have much of a brief on that story? On how Tom should be written?
By the time I started writing it, I knew Tom had been cast because I'd been in on the discussion and had actually been with Barry to see Golden Voyage of Sinbad in the final stages of making our mind up and it just happened that he was in this movie at the Hammersmith Odeon or somewhere. Barry and I went to see it one afternoon and Tom was very good in it. It wasn't solely because of that, but that was perhaps the final thing that decided it. I knew it was going to be Tom and I'd met him. Tom off screen is very much the same as Tom on screen. A fairly striking looney character. I had a good picture of Tom in my mind. So, I just used what I'd seen and what I knew of the character, which really wasn't very much at that stage. I established the convention, which is actually very useful, very cunning, that after a regeneration the Doctor is a bit odd and a bit scatter brained. In other words, you don't have to fully define the character in the first story as he's shaken up like a man after an accident. That gave you a chance to evolve. As the show went on, the Tom Baker character became less scatter brained than I'd originally written him, but that made perfect sense as he settled down and stabilised. But I was able to have a lot of fun with him in his early days. Quite lunatic and idiosyncratic.
You had to come to the rescue again at the beginning of Graham Williams first season. Wasn't Horror of Fang Rock originally a two parter?
No, no. Bob Holmes asked me to write a story sometime after Robot and I'd always wanted to do a vampire story. I came up with basically what became State of Decay, which I always wanted to call the Vampire Mutation. They said, "It doesn't make sense because it's not a mutation," and I said, "I don't care it's a terrific title!" I still think The Vampire Mutation is a better title. Anyway, it was accepted and I started writing it for Tom and Leela. I actually got as far as writing the first script, but at that time the BBC was doing Bram Stoker's Dracula with Louis Jourdan. It was a big prestige production and all of a sudden we got this memo saying, "You may not have vampires on Dr Who because people will think you're making fun of our major production." There was no argument, it was a kind of iron decree. So we had to pull Vampire Mutation at the last minute. It was always going to be a four parter, so the two parter thing isn't true. We had a big panic meeting and Bob said "I've always wanted to do a story set on a lighthouse," and looked at me. I said, "I don't know anything about bloody lighthouses," to which he replied, "Well look it up!" So we did Fang Rock very much cobbled together at the last moment and, by god, doesn't it show a lot of the time!
Whose idea was it to bring in the Rutans?
That was me. I just thought that was bit of fun. It was going to be a monster crash-landing in the sea, and feeding on electricity. Why does it go to the lighthouse? Because of the power. And then you get lights flickering and crackling and stuff like that. Once you get the first concept things often follow through of their own accord.
Was it a case of the tables are turning? You lorded over Robert for five years, now he's getting his own back?
Well, perhaps! Bob really didn't want to do The Time Warrior. He didn't want to do a period story. I more or less insisted on a story set in mediaeval history with an alien enemy. Bob muttered and grumbled a lot on that. You could say that I dragged bob kicking and screaming into the 12th century and he dragged me kicking and screaming onto a lighthouse, so I suppose you could say he was getting his own back (laughs). Seriously, I think if you're both professional you just change seats. I've been working on and off for Barry for ten, fifteen years and now Barry's going back to directing and I'm taking over production (BBC Classic Serial 1985-1988). So Barry's first job will be working for me, making Alice in Wonderland. It's not a problem for either of us because I have my job and he'll have his. It was exactly the same with Bob. When I was the script editor I was going to have things my way, and when Bob held the post he was going to have things his way. You accept that, obviously.
Following on from that, did you like what he did to your Time Lords in the Deadly Assassin?
Yes, I do. I like that very much. I'm a great fan of Bob's. I think he's infinitely the best writer that there's ever been on Doctor Who. I never changed a word or a line in any of Bob's scripts because I didn't like it. Any changes I made were because of practical reasons or because it was so gruesome that we couldn't put it out at six o'clock. He does tend to go a bit over the top with the blood and thunder, but they were always a joy to work on. He underestimates himself. He's too modest.
Do you want to make any comment about Brain of Morbius?
There's no secret about Brain of Morbius now? What happened was that I made the cardinal mistake of delivering a script before I went away on holiday. The original concept in Brain of Morbius was that Morbius had a ROBOT companion . He crashed on this planet and got all mashed up. Except for his head and brain which survived. The robot wanted to get Morbius back together again like Humpty Dumpty, so he put together bits of any old body he could get his hands on. As far as he was concerned, one leg or body was as good as another. So you got this idea of a robot trying to create a man, and there was Morbius, who had been a vain and handsome, Greek god like character finding himself trapped in a monstrosity. That was all accepted and I wrote the story on those lines. Then, as I understand it, Phillip Hinchcliffe suddenly took against the robot and told Bob they couldn't make it work, so the character of Solon was invented. Now, I think that the Morbius that Bob wrote is perfectly all right except for the central piece of nonsense at the beginning. Why, if Solon is the greatest surgeon in the universe, can't he put together a decent body for Morbius? He's only got to find the body, after all, and put the brain in. That's why it makes sense when he says he'll have the Doctor. That'll do fine, Morbius can become the Doctor. But this odds and sods monster thing is total nonsense. Given that central flaw though, it all works very well, and also because Bob is a good writer, it's a good script. It just didn't happen to be my script by that stage.
So, when I came back from holiday and saw all this going on I was greatly enraged. It wasn't Bob's fault. He said, "Well, Philip decided against the robot and I couldn't get in touch with you," which was true as I'd been out of the country and hadn't left an address. I was very ratty about it and took my name off. Bob said, "What name shall we put on it?" and I said, "I don't care, you can put it under some bland pseudonym" and slammed the phone down. Then I read the Radio Times and it said, The Brain of Morbius by Robin Bland . So that's Bob's little joke.
Did your script have the Sisterhood?
The Sisterhood of Karn? yes. Various elements survived, but what didn't survive was the idea of the robot rather than Solon.
It does seem that whenever you come back you bring a little bit of the past with you.
Very likely. I like to have a kind of continuity to things. It's satisfying to weave the threads, and that's why when it came to The Five Doctors, I wanted to make it to some extent a Time Lord story and a Rassilon story. I wanted to use this character of Rassilon . There were sides to the Time Lord story using the Dead Zone as a kind of arena, which they were all very ashamed of, and hushed up, and there was this counter story that maybe Rassilon had been behind it all. Maybe even the whole benevolent image of Rassilon was a lie and the Time Lords had rewritten their history. Which we know theyre prone to do. It was great fun to use all these elements. Yes, I like to do that, connecting the threads and tying the ends up.
At the time the Who's Doctor Who documentary came out, nobody could work out what story you were working on in the production office.
That was a total fake. The chap directing the documentary said, "I can't just film you talking. Have an argument about something!" So Bob and I fudged an argument out of thin air.
So you're all ad libbing?
Yes, like mad. Very badly, actually (laughs).
Going back to Jon Pertwee's era. How did making the tenth anniversary with The Three Doctors come about? Was that a natural choice?
I always say that it was the only idea from fans that was the slightest use. Very unkind really. Over the years, people had written in saying, "Why don't you do a story with all three doctors together?" Barry and I would look at each other and say, "What a ridiculous idea." We put it in the category of the letters we got from schoolboys saying, "Why don't you have all the monsters gang up together against the Doctor?" With the tenth anniversary coming up we wanted something REALLY special and sat around racking our brains and eventually thought about the crazy idea of having all three Doctors together. We came to the conclusion it wasn't that ridiculous after all. So, we got in touch with Patrick and he said he'd love to do it. Barry got on to William Hartnell who said he'd be happy to do it. So it suddenly became practical. We got Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who were established on the show by then, to write it.
Why did you choose Bob and Dave?
I would say they were my favourite writers next to Bob Holmes. The only reason you had to change their script was because they were totally lunatic, writing scripts that would cost five million pounds to do. They write lovely dialogue and have marvellous ideas. When they first started they were just way over the top. I think they wrote about 17 versions of their first story, Claws of Axos, and it took me about two years to get a script out of them that we could actually do. I did like that one, they were very good, but they would always go crazy. Then there was the last minute thing about William Hartnell. It was originally written with all three Doctors playing a reasonable part. Incidentally, it's like The Five Doctors. It's history repeating itself. Suddenly when the scripts were in and everything was okay, Barry got a call from Mrs Hartnell, saying in tones of absolute horror, "I gather you think you're going to use my husband in the show." To which Barry replied, "Well, I hope we are, he's agreed to do it." She said, "Well, he can't. He's not as well as he thinks he is.There is no way he could go through the rigours of a whole production. You just got him on one of his good days when he was full of beans and thought he could do it." So it was again, great panic and crisis and eventually we came on the idea of having the Doctor appear on this vision screen only. So, I had to very hurriedly, with Bob and Dave's consent, rejig the scripts and apportion the action between the other two Doctors.
How they did the Hartnell thing, was that a car was sent to take him to Ealing Film Studios. They made him up and sat him in his chair against some black drapes and they had all his lines written up on cards. And he just said his lines and that was all done in one day. So he was then driven home again to his country cottage, so it didn't tire him out too much. We then had all the bits we needed to drop into the four episodes so we could really call it The Three Doctors. It was only the Two and a Half Doctors really.
So the only time they really met up was at the press call?
That's right.He never worked with them at all.He was just acting into a void, bless him."
And you had the same sort of thing with The Five Doctors?
Yes, it's curious. It seems as if there must be some significance in it. What happened was there was a misunderstanding between the BBC and Tom and Tom's agent. The belief was, at the beginning, that Tom would be in it, and I proceeded to write the first draft on the assumption that Tom was going to play a full role along with the other Doctors. The way it was originally, was that the Tom Baker Doctor stole the Masters transportation device and went back to the Capitol and got mixed up with Borusa. And I think there was going to be more of a suggestion that Borusa would corrupt him, or that the Baker Doctor would pretend to be corrupted and ally himself with Borusa. That couldn't work with Davison because Davison's Doctor is so transparently honest that you could never believe it. With Tom you might have doubts, "Perhaps he’s gone bad" what with the slightly weird side he had to him. That was basically how that was going to be, and the Peter Davison Doctor would go with the oldest Doctor and Tegan to the Dark Tower through the front door as it were.
What happened was that, having just finished that, Eric Saward phoned me up and asked how it was coming on, which I thought was the usual chase up call script editors have to do, and I said very proudly, "Oh it's fine, I've finished it today." And there was a long silence, followed by, "Oh, my God," from the other end, which was not the reaction I'd expected. He said, "I'm awfully sorry, but Tom is not going to be in it." The funny thing was, it d'dn't worry me in the least. Partly having worked on Who for such a long time and partly because on this show there had already been all kinds of crises, I just said, "Yes, OK, I'll fix it. Don't worry I'll sort it out."
Then we discussed it and he said, "We've got a bit on a punt out of SHADA," and the funny thing is that in this sort of crisis your mind goes into overdrive, and you can solve a difficult thing instantly, so I said, "Can you give me somewhere to have him kidnapped and somewhere to come back?" We talked it through and finally I said, "Right. We'll have him kidnapped from the punt and trapped in a time warp, which will keep him out of the way for the rest of the story." Then I was able to have the Davison Doctor go to Gallifrey and Tegan and the old Doctor went to the Tower together, and the interesting thing is that it was all better. It was actually a better script, and a better set of arrangements, which is very strange. Having five Doctors was getting rather cumbersome and difficult to handle and getting rid of Tom helped the script. It was a better idea having Davison go over to Gallifrey, because at the time he was THE Doctor and really should play the main role. Tegan and the old Doctor actually worked out to be a very good pairing because they were so different.
It sounds as if you wouldn't want to write The Seven Doctors or whatever?
Well, no. I enjoyed it. I'd be very pleased to do it, if they asked me.Whenever that might come around.
How do you find the present Master (Anthony Ainley) when compared to your Master?
It's difficult. I mean, he's different. It's very hard for Anthony, who's a lovely man and gives a very good performance. He is inevitably going to be different. I think it's like people playing Sherlock Holmes, as Tom Baker did. He was constantly being compared to Basil Rathbone, who had set the part in everybody's minds. I think, similarly, Roger had done that with the Master. So, it was hard for Anthony, it's a very difficult act to follow. I think he does very well. It is a slightly different character, he is lighter in some ways but at the same time more malicious but less evil. It works very well as a different characterisation. I think that's perfectly valid because all of the Doctors have been different. If you're going to have five Masters, then all the Masters should be slightly different. He's a lovely man, Anthony. He was very pleased with his part in the Five Doctors. He came up and said how happy he was with it, which endeared him to me. I liked the joke with all the Time Lords in council when they say, "We'll have to send for him," and you think it's perhaps the Doctor and it turns out to be the Master. I liked the Master being sent to save the Doctor. It's the Indians being sent to save the Cavalry.
How did you get involved with Target Books?
In the 60's they did three novelisations, The Crusader, The Daleks, and the Zarbi, two by David Whittaker, one by Bill Strutton. They were printed in hardback and made absolutely no impact on the world whatsoever. When I worked on Who I found one of these in the library at Shepherd's Bush. They were published by White Lion and I wrote them a letter saying, "Wouldn't it be a good idea if you did some more, as they seemed to be well used?" I didn't get an answer for about 18 months. When I did get an answer the chap said, “Yes, it would be, but I'm leaving the firm." And I thought, no wonder if you take 18 months to answer a letter. He said, “I'll pass the letter on to my successor," but I never heard any more.
What actually happened was, many years later , about the end of the Pertwee era, a firm called Tandem books decided to compile a children's list, to be called Target Books. The editor, Richard Henwood, went round looking for old books to buy cheap, as well as commissioning new books. He turned up at White Lion and they let him have the old Doctor Who books. He bought the rights, reprinted them, and put them out in nice paperback covers and they sold like hot cakes. He saw this was a good thing, went to the BBC and got the rights for Doctor Who novelisations for his firm, and then he got shunted onto the Doctor Who office. Barry and I were still there in our last year and he said, "We desperately need new Who stories, who is going to write them for us?|" So I said I would. I'd never written a book before, and I was quite keen. So, I wrote The Auton Invasion, which was the first of the new wave ones. If you read those 60s ones you see their style is quite different, more old fashioned. That sold well, so I did another and it all launched from there.
In those early days I acted as a sort of unpaid consultant editor for Target. They'd say they needed another six books and so I'd say I'd do three and then ring Mac or Barry or Brian Hayles and say, "Want to do a Dr Who book? There's not much money in it," and I'd just farm them out. When I left Who and went freelance, I had more time and the others gradually dropped out . For a long time I became almost the sole writer of the Dr Who books. I was writing nine or ten a year, which is how this enormous back-list of fifty-odd books came about.
did you find you liked writing, which is where the various other series came from?
Yes, I liked writing books and by that time I'd left television, as I thought, forever and gone back to freelance writing. There was always a big demand for Who books and I could do as many as I wanted. Richard Henwood was keen for me to do other things as well, which is how I did the series about the Mounties and Star Quest. That was above all for W.H. Allen because the Who books were so successful that they swallowed up the entire Target list. For a long time Target books were Dr Who and that was it. They were immensely successful and it was a kind of bonanza. They just could not get the books out fast enough in those early days.
What's happened now is that it's come round full circle, because since everybody knows that the books are so successful , more and more of the original scriptwriters are turning round and saying, "Hang on a minute, I'll novelise my own book, thank you very much." It's their copyright and exactly what I'd do. I would not have let anybody else do The Five Doctors for example! So, what happens now is that the person who writes the script will mostly want to novelise his own book. Even old Bob is now. I'd novelised every Bob Holmes script because Bob didn't like writing books. Now on this last one he's said, "I'll do it myself if you don't mind." His agent had told him he really ought to, because it's now worth it. The point being that if you do the book of your own script you get to own all the rights. Like the Five Doctors is all mine, whereas if I do one of Bob's it's a 50 50 split. Now I'm doing less, as I'm very involved in other things, in particular producing the BBC Classic Serial.
Does the fact that you've become a producer take up more of your time?
Oh yes, it's immensely more time consuming, but then it's all kind of worked out because just as the supply of things for me to novelise is beginning to trickle away, I wouldn't have had the time to do it anyway. I'm quite happy about it. Now what's happening is that I'm becoming a kind of archivist and doing the 'golden oldies'. I'm currently writing The Krotons, somewhat late because of all the work I'm doing here, and there's talk of me doing Seeds of Death and The Faceless Ones. So, I guess from now on when I get time I'll be doing the older ones that have never been done before. I'm wondering if I'll ever get to a Colin Baker one. I'd quite like to, just to keep the record up.
How did the two Making Of books come about?
That was because Mac had a friend who was a science fiction writer. He was President of the British Science Fiction Society. A man called George Hay. He had given Mac a copy of The Making of Star Trek and said why don't you do a Making of Dr Who? So Mac brought the idea to me. I said, why don't you do it, because it sounded like too much hard work. Eventually we decided to do it together and we sold it to Piccolo. That first one is nearly all Mac with some editing and contributions by me. Then years later, the Who books were doing so well, Target thought they really should have it as part of their range. They bought the rights from Piccolo and asked me if I'd do an updated version. So I did a new one based on the original and that second book is much more me. It's really me using Mac's original material and doing my own thing with it. It was always a kind of joint property though.
How did the stage play Seven Keys to Doomsday come into being?
Well, that was again because, at that time the show had been doing very well for some time at the end of the Pertwee era. There had been talk on and off for some time of a theatrical production. There had also been talk of a film but the money couldn't be raised for that. Anyway, these producers turned up saying they wanted to do a stage play and I suppose I was at that time the obvious person to write it. We wanted Daleks in it so we got onto Terry Nation and in the end I got permission to write the stage play, which was the first and only time I've ever done so. Because of Jon's commitments we couldn't get him to play it, so they got Trevor Martin. So we had to invent a fourth Doctor (as it was then!) It was very successful. It was on at the Adelphi for three or four weeks. It got marvellous reviews in the papers, but the only thing was that the producers, being relatively inexperienced, had spent so much money on it. There was no way they could get the money back again. I got paid for my work, but they didn't, as businessmen make much of a profit out of it. If indeed they made any. For instance, there was this machine that came on at the end. It was marvellous. A bloody great juggernaut of a thing. It must have cost thousands to build. There's talk of it being revived and Jon Pertwee was quite interested in touring in it. But there's some kind of complication over the rights. The BBC have given the rights to some chap in America, who has done a play reading or something. Well, there was going to be a production in Chicago and because he's got the rights, we can't get the world rights. Until that's cleared up, it doesn't seem possible for that to happen. My agent has made various representations to them, but in a very BBC way , it's never actually come to anything. I've been too busy to chase it up, which is shame as it would have been nice to do. Jon is now at the stage where he would be happy to do a little tour in a Dr Who play, but unless the bureaucrats get their fingers out it may never come to pass.
Would you like to write a script for the Colin Baker Doctor?
When there's eight days in a week! The thing is that I am just so busy at the moment. I mean the only thing that I've written for Who recently is where I've been asked to. I was highly delighted to write the Five Doctors . I thought that was an honour to be asked. But I don't really have the time to sit around and think up Who stories and obviously if I did want to write for it again, it would have to be on the same terms as everyone else. It's partly business and partly laziness. I suppose to be honest I need a bit of a push. If Eric were to come to me and say we need you to do a Doctor Who story I'd say "Yes, marvellous" and start thinking about it as happened on the special. But if that doesn't happen I'll just keep on with whatever I'm doing, whether that be script editing a classic Serial, producing it as I am now, or writing another Who book. Also I've got a whole line of other children's books. There seems to be a great demand for simple adventure stories for children of around 8 to 11 years old, who have got off Topsy and Tim, and want to read a book but maybe can't quite tackle a Dr Who book. It's a gap in the market and various publishers have come to me and said, "Will you write something to fill this gap?" So, I've written about a dozen very short children's adventure stories which are fun to do. Also I've got time to do them so they can be kind of squeezed in the cracks.
Thank you very much.
OK, my pleasure.
For more on Terrance Dicks' work as producer of the BBC Classic Serial go to Forgotten Television Drama
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