“I think if you can get a kid reading for pleasure, not because it’s work, but actually reading for pleasure, it’s a great step forward. It can start with me, you know, start with Dicks and work its way up to Dickens – as long as you get them reading.”Terrance Dicks
I’ve always loved this quote from Terrance Dicks – which adorns the back cover of Volume 2 of this collection. While he may not have quite the pedigree of Charles Dickens among most literary circles, for generations of Doctor Who fans, Dicks was better than Dickens, and a gateway not just to the adventures of everyone’s favourite time traveller but also the infinite universe of books. When Terrance Dicks passed away in August 2019, it was met with much sadness from Who fans around the world. He had contributed to Doctor Who since the 1968, and his last story was published posthumously in 2019’s The Target Storybook. As a tribute to the great man, BBC Books have published two volumes of The Essential Terrance Dicks – a collection of ten of his Target novelisations, voted for by fans, and contained within two hardback books.
Out of the first volume, the one that instantly sticks out to me is Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion – the first novelisation that Dicks wrote for the series in 1973, and the first I ever read. It’s a cracking read, and a great way of revisiting Jon Pertwee‘s debut story Spearhead From Space. Of course, when …the Auton Invasion was written, there was no way of revisiting an old Doctor Who serial unless the BBC decided to repeat it, and thus the Target novels became simultaneously the best way of revisiting an old story, as well as the best way of discovering it for the first time. Dicks’ prose was simple, and easy to read for children, without coming across as patronising at all, and he often re-worked what was written in the scripts in true script editor fashion. The great thing about books is that they rely on the reader’s imagination to visualise the story. The Nestene Consciousness is much more impressive and threatening in Terrance Dicks‘ novelisation than in the actual TV story. Quite how the man was able to oversee Doctor Who on television and on the page I have no idea, but his dedication to the series was incredible. Yet, in spite of this, he never forgot his target (hmmm…) audience of children.
His adaptation of Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen is another great read, and a lovely way to experience the still mostly-missing six part serial (only Episode 2 survives). If the story is ever found, I doubt the Himalayas will feel quite as cold and snowy as they do in the novel, which even features an original prologue added in by Terrance Dicks, in one of his many small but excellent changes. Similarly, Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks features a new prologue exploring the post-apocalyptic future world taken over by the metal monsters from Skaro, and was the first time I ever experienced the story, before buying the DVD release. Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth is the third major iteration of the iconic William Hartnell serial alongside both the TV and movie versions, but I’m sure it’s many fans’ favourite. The Wheel in Space meanwhile is probably much better on the page than the surviving episodes suggest the TV version ever was. This first volume also includes a lovely introduction from Frank Cottrell-Boyce (writer of TV episodes In the Forest of the Night and Smile).
Volume 2 features the novelisation of Terrance Dicks‘ magnum opus; the creepy Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock, alongside the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors (infamously published before the TV story aired), as well as his adaptations of the iconic Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars and Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s a terrific line-up, even if it is very Fourth Doctor-centric, and there’s a foreword by comedian Robert Webb (who voiced a robot in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship).
Overall, The Essential Terrance Dicks is a wonderful tribute to the great man and legendary Doctor Who writer. If there is one nit-pick I have, it’s that Chris Achilleos‘ iconic illustrations aren’t included in any form in either collection, which is a bit of a shame. Nevertheless, these hardback editions look gorgeous on any bookshelf, the stories inside are great for fans young and old (and whether or not you’ve read all of these before…) and are more than ready to whisk you away for more adventures in space and time.
Pingback: Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen (1967) review and Blu-ray preview [BFI Event] | critical popcorn