We recently reviewed ‘Doctor Who: The Essential Terrance Dicks Vol 1‘, a compendium of five titles from the old Target novelisations range, of which author Terrance Dicks was the undisputed king. Volume 2 brings together another five fan favourites, ‘Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks’, ‘Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars’, ‘Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang’, ‘Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock’ and ‘Doctor Who The Five Doctors’.
‘Doctor Who: The Essential Terrance Dicks Vol 2’ opens with a foreword by Robert Webb, another famous face who grew up on a diet of Terrance Dicks books that helped to educate him on his way to becoming a hugely successful comedy writer and performer. What’s moving is just how many big names in television not just read Terrance Dicks, but remember his work, and his influence, with enormous affection.
These five titles are Fourth Doctor-heavy, which is perhaps no surprise, as the stories, presented chronologically, are all undisputed Tom Baker classics, save for ‘The Five Doctors’ for which he famously declined to appear. There is a feeling that Dicks was most at home in the world of the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), when he was the show’s script editor, and Fourth Doctor, though he also wrote the script for ‘The Five Doctors’, the twentieth anniversary special which aired in 1983, so it was fitting that he novelised his own work.
The first title in this collection, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, immediately showcases everything that is great about Terrance Dicks’ writing. Within the space of a single paragraph, he neatly summarises the complex and difficult history between the Doctor and his own people, the Time Lords. Some of the lines of dialogue he changes for the benefit of readers who may be coming to each story fresh. “What about my two human companions?” the Doctor asks, rather than, “What about Sarah and Harry?” which we hear in the episode. The exposition is always subtle and neatly woven into the dialogue.
I have never previously noticed that both ‘Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ open with a prologue. ‘The Legend of the Osirians’ gives young readers the background to the Egyptian mythology that is an essential component of the ‘Pyramids’ story, while ‘The Legend of Fang Rock’ is a neat literary device to give the story the appearance of historical veracity. ‘Fang Rock’ was Dicks’ original idea, and it is amongst his most celebrated TV stories. For ‘Doctor Who’, it was remarkably bleak, and Dicks leaves his young readers with a killer closing line. The book terrified me as a child, reading it at nighttime by the fireside in my grandmother’s old terraced house. I remember how the gloomy cover art neatly encapsulated Dicks’ scary tale of a monster in the fog at large on a small island, with only a lighthouse for sanctuary. Dicks’ writing allows your imagination to take control, and the story is tense, tight and atmospheric. By the time I finally saw the television episodes I was disappointed on first viewing! They simply did not live up to my expectations having read Dicks’ novel. But it was educational too: I learnt more about early Twentieth Century lighthouses and Fresnel lenses from reading ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ than I ever picked up in school!
The power and economy of Dicks’ descriptions are rightly celebrated. It would be remiss, having had so much fun recapping the epithets of the Doctors for Vol 1, not to include his description for Peter Davison’s Doctor from ‘The Five Doctors’: “Now in his fifth incarnation, he was a slender fair-haired young man, with a pleasant open face. As usual, he wore the costume of an Edwardian cricketer…” These delightful short-hands were the route for young readers’ immediate and attention-grabbing entry into the world of the story. I was worried about re-reading too many of Dicks’ ‘Doctor Who’ titles, so many decades after I left my childhood behind, in case they did not live up to my memories. A few pages in and I was quickly disabused of my fears: Dicks was a talented writer and a masterful storyteller. In fact, looking back now, perhaps it was his books more than the TV series itself that made me fall in love with the original show.
Published to coincide with the second anniversary of his death, ‘Doctor Who: The Essential Terrance Dicks Vol 2’ is a loving tribute to a great author and much-cherished man who has left a rich legacy, not only in the superb range of children’s books he dedicatedly authored, but in his contribution to the nation’s literacy and cultural heritage. Terrance Dicks is often unsung, and virtually unknown outside of ‘Doctor Who’ fandom (in which he has legendary status), but these two welcome collections posthumously give Terrance Dicks the limelight that he deserves. With nods to the old Target range, these two hardback volumes, whose spines neatly line up, are essential editions to fans’ bookcases everywhere. Rest assured, every novel is a joy to revisit.
Publisher: BBC Books Publication date: August 27th 2021 Buy ‘Doctor Who: The Essential Terrance Dicks Vol 2‘