Author Talk: Terrance Dicks - the original novels

Continuing the discussion from Book Club: Timewyrm: Exodus:

It seems only right that we have a thread to discuss the writing of Terrance Dicks but, for this thread, I thought we’d focus on his ‘original’ novels rather than his many, many, many novelisations.

After an early contribution to the Virgin New Adventures with Exodus, he would not return until three years later with one of my favourite NAs, Blood Harvest and then again in 1995 with an expanded version of his spin-off video, Shakedown (which served to add the Doctor and his companions either side of the originally Sontaran-full but Doctor-less story).

When the BBC brought the novels back in-house in the wake of the TV Movie, it was Dicks who was chosen, this time, the launch the range with the continuity-fest that is The Eight Doctors. The only other entry into the Eighth Doctor Adventures would be part of the ‘stuck on Earth’ arc - Endgame.

Dicks, though, provided 5 books for the Past Doctors range with Catastrophea, Players, the notorious Warmonger, Deadly Reunion (co-authored with Barry Letts) and the Season 6b-set World Game.

BBC Quick Reads featured 2 books by Dicks, Made of Steel (which saw the first appearance of Martha Jones before she actually appeared on TV in her debut, Smith and Jones) and a return of the Judoon in Revenge of the Judoon.

Dicks also wrote for the Bernice Summerfield New Adventures, with the story Mean Streets.

So, who’s read Warmonger and is it as bad as it’s reputation?


I’m afraid I can’t answer the question as to whether or not Warmonger’s reputation is deserved as I’ve only read Timewyrm: Exodus and The Eight Doctors which are pretty much polar opposites in terms of quality, the former being better than the latter by leaps and bounds. However, based on these two alone, I think I can probably say his prose work is similar to his TV catalogue. Most of it ranges from middling to pretty good. I can’t say I’ve ever consumed a story from him in any form that I’ve absolutely hated. Even the weaker of the two original books I’ve read from him isn’t necessarily dreadful, though it could have done with a bit more of an edit, especially around the introductory and Third Doctor sections of the story. I think if anything, his downfall as a prose writer might be (and this is pure, pure speculation, I have no facts to back this idea up) that the editors of the 90s book ranges put too much trust in him to know what made good Doctor Who and what didn’t.


I don’t like him, as a person or as a writer. His books are entertaining enough but they have so little depth that they might as well just be TV scripts—there’s no taking advantage of the novel medium in the way he writes, which almost every other writer in the Wilderness Years books I’ve read so far is able to do to some extent.

I find his climaxes also get messy and fall flat every time in his New Adventures. I always start out enjoying them but the other shoe always drops. He also tends to tie everything back to TV stories he wrote, in ways that feel gratuitous and indulgent, and imo just don’t work. (Especially the multiple times he returns to the setting of State of Decay, which is a generally well-regarded story but one I’ve always found really boring, especially the setting, and it doesn’t improve in book form.)

I also really don’t like the general threads of more or less subtle misogyny and British imperialism (which, along with his failures to write a good climax, are most openly present, unfortunately, in his book which I otherwise enjoyed the most, Blood Harvest).

His books are at least swift reads, which is my favorite thing about them.

I would probably feel less strongly about him if he weren’t so almost universally loved by the fandom, something which really baffles me (at least when it doesn’t come from people who grew up on his novelisations before the stories were found, which I kinda get).


Terrance always seemed like a good person on the countless documentaries he was part of. I’ll be looking out for the misogyny while reading Catastrophea but it’s not something I’ve ever seen raised about him before.

I think his work on the TV series goes some way to explaining why he is so beloved by fandom.

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I’ve not seen many interviews with him but I have seen a clip a couple times where he seems to be pretty openly assertive about his belief that the companion should be female and helpless, lol

When it comes to his TV work I’m just not a fan of most of his stories anyway. Fang Rock is probably the only one he wrote on his own that I think is actively good, but I’ve not particularly felt like rewatching it since the first time (although I’m sure at some point I will and enjoy it). And The War Games is brilliant, but it’s co-written with my absolute favorite TV Who writer, Malcolm Hulke, so it doesn’t really affect my opinion of Dicks lol.

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To be fair, Dicks’ contribution to the show as script editor during the 70s was significant and even if he did say the companion should be female and ‘helpless’ he was, I would think, talking from a story point of view where, for plot expediency, you needed a character to ‘get into trouble’.

It’s not as if Dicks created the ‘damsel in distress’ trope and even if, with modern sensibilities we hope for ‘better’ roles for female characters, there are still plenty of characters in fiction who fulfill that role - both male and female.

And under Dicks we had Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith, neither of whom I think we can label as ‘helpless’.

We also need to remember to context of when Dicks was writing and the generation he was from.

I always take Toby Hadoke’s approach to this sort of debate. It’s very easy to criticise and lambast the past but in 20 years time, the next generation will look at some of the attitudes we have and the things we allow and look askance at them.

I really don’t think Dicks’ comments are coming from a place of misogny necessarily and I think it may be a little unfair to label him as such.


i disagree with this take and it struck on some stuff i feel pretty strongly about lol.

in the first place, I don’t believe a ‘damsel in distress’ type character is necessary to have a plot to begin with. even within the fairly solid plot frameworks doctor who works within, there are many, many ways to introduce conflict into a story. you can write anything you can imagine, limiting yourself to needing one person who repeatedly has their agency taken away isn’t necessary. the Doctor gets into trouble/gets nabbed/etc. on their own plenty, you don’t need your character who gets into trouble to fall into the ‘helpless woman’ trope.

furthermore, the 1970s weren’t all that long ago in the grand scheme of things. misogyny was still a well-known concept then, and people still recognized that the ‘damsel in distress’ was a hacky, overdone trope. if were talking about his contributions as a script editor, that’s still well into the women’s liberation movement, if you want to use that for reference.

personally, i love media analysis. saying you have to judge someones words and actions based on the standards of their time means that you miss out on a lot of interesting contrasts between the past and now, you miss out on the impact of the historical context of the art youre looking at, and you limit your own perspective. sure, there were probably many fewer people at the time who would’ve frowned at certain things we now describe as misogynistic/racist/etc, but the people who did still exist. and even if nobody’s around to point at something and say it’s mean and sucks, that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

i love a lot of terrance dicks’ contributions to the series. doesn’t mean he’s above criticism. and being criticised doesn’t mean he needs to be excised from doctor who forever, either. he’s just a guy who wrote some cool stuff and some uncool stuff.


At no point did I say he was above criticism. I am just wary of labelling someone I don’t actually know beyond their body of work and some interviews as anything derogatory. People are complex beings and there is far too much inclination in modern society to look down on those that came before us because they weren’t as ‘enlightened’. The next generation will do the same to us.

Taking some soundbites from Dicks about the companion needing to be female and helpless as the be all and end all of his views on women in general is, in my opinion, unfair because he was speaknig in a specific context, not being asked about his views on women’s liberation or gender discrimination.

People are more complex than that. And we can also be contradictory and believe two separate things at the same time. He may have been, or felt he was, very sympathetic to the role of women in society whilst at the same time thinking that, for his writing, a character needed to fulfill that function.

That all said, I’m reading Catastrophea at the moment and only 7 chapters in and there is a nasty male character who has indicated they want to rape Jo Grant and called her a bitch and a slut. It’s a bit uncomfortable to read so I will be interested to see where this goes for the rest of the novel. I may adjust my view of him as a writer.

As I say, we’re all complex beings. Reducing people to being ‘less’ than us because we think we’re more enlightened is something I feel pretty strongly about.


I know this is a bit off-topic, but this made me instantly think of Wild Blue Yonder and the Doctor’s lecture there!

You raise some very good points overall on the complexities of human beings. We can never be 100% certain ablut people unless we personally know how they think, talk and act in various situations.


I read that last paragraph in Capaldi’s voice :slightly_smiling_face: Well said. Shifting stances in societal perceptions, morality, ethics, etc. over time are an integral part of humanity and will slowly shift from generation to generation.


im glad we agree that people are nuanced beings. that was, in fact, one of the points i was making.
my main issue was that i see the “judge people by the standards of their time” idea thrown around a lot, and while it is absolutely vital to be aware of historical context, i think there are times it gets in the way of about the piece of history youre looking at. when looking back at history we can be blinded by what seems normal to us in the modern day, but people in the past also acted on what seemed normal to them at the time. its all relative. and i dont think having criticism for a statement someone made is the same as looking down at them at all. it’s good for people to give and receive critique.

if we’re on the topic of Capaldi, we can look at Thin Ice. one of the Big Scenes of that episode is when the Doctor takes Bill to investigate Suttcliff. Lord Suttcliff makes some perfectly period-appropriate derogatory remarks about Bill and gets decked for his troubles. I think it would be difficult to argue that the Doctor’s in the wrong for responding with anger in that situation, even if Suttcliff is only acting on the cultural standards of his time and location. just because it’s typical doesn’t mean you have to or even SHOULD brush it off.
(which is not to say Terrance Dicks has anything in common with an ethically dubious Victorian tycoon, but i think the statement about when you should worry about historical context still stands lol)

future generations will always have critique for the past. it would be difficult to make progress if they didn’t. i fully expect decades down the line The Kids are going to be talking about what an old fogey i am every time i turn around, as is their right. such is human nature.

hope that was all clear and i didn’t end up writing pure gibberish. maybe all of this is getting too deep for the subject matter/forum, but it’s a well known fact that one of my favorite hobbies is taking something silly and talking about it like I’m a Shakespeare scholar. i have fun thinking about and discussing these things :] i <3 media analysis


So far, the only Terrance Dicks novel I’ve read is Players, and it was a pretty dull read. The Sixth Doctor and Peri may as well have been the Third Doctor and Jo in how blandly he writes them. Given his comments about how he views the Doctor as this perfect, infallible, moral paragon, early Six was probably the worst incarnation to pair him up with, which I think is epitomised in how Dicks refuses to let Six wear the rainbow coat (outside of two scenes in the TARDIS).

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Terrance Dicks is someone who has made major contributions to Doctor Who and his novelisations are beloved by many Doctor Who fans, and I think nostalgia paints a particular image of him in the fandom I’ve never quite shared. Of his original novels, I greatly enjoy Timewyrm: Exodus. Loads of fun, easily my favourite thing he’s written for either book or television. The Eight Doctors however was far less enjoyable. Some ideas I liked, but such a messy, meandering plot and not great characterisation for the Doctors, and needless returns to TV adventures. Revenge of the Judoon is okay for what it is, a very quick read for a young audience, but not much to comment on.
I have mixed thoughts on the novelisations having read a few of the many he did. The Five Doctors I found particularly awful, being such a straight adaption of the script, literally, the prose barely doing anything to really novelise it beyond giving the vaguest sentences possible. Others have been more enjoyable and of a better standard, but this one stuck out so much to me, especially as I’d heard people saying good things about it.
Being the first novel I’d read of his and based on fan love, Dicks has had expectations that have not been met and is unfortunately not a name that inspires confidence when I see it. If I had more nostalgia I’m sure I’d feel different, as I do for the first RTD era and uncertainty overlook flaws in that, same with the early Big Finish I listened to, Dark Eyes being a personal favourite that I’m blinded to issues in it. Still, I have loads more Dicks to read and hope to find more of his work I can speak more positively on.