It’s the twentieth anniversary of Terry Nation’s death today. I remember reading about it in my college computer room, where I think the news was broken over rec.arts.drwho (by veteran Doctor Who fan and writer John Peel) before I heard or read it on any more conventional source.
A few years later I was a research editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, primarily commissioning, editing and writing articles in the eighteenth-century area, and I persuaded my colleagues in the general literature area to give me the article on Terry Nation to write. It was published in 2004 (content available for subscribers and members of most United Kingdom public libraries) and has survived online with only minor changes ever since. It was edited down heavily for publication, so there’s no mention of his Associated-Rediffusion play Uncle Selwyn which I’d wanted to include. It’s difficult in a small space to give a rounded picture of a career particularly when the Daleks threaten to overwhelm their historical context. A peer reviewer had said (if I recall correctly) ‘It’s not as if there is going to be a monograph on him, is there?’ To which I want now to point to the work of Jonathan Bignell and Andrew O’Day, and Alwyn W. Turner. There’s definitely room to revise the entry and I hope to make time for that shortly.
I threw this picture last night into a Twitter conversation between two retired veterans of Doctor Who fanzine editing, Andrew-Mark Thompson and Peter Anghelides. This – Frontier Worlds 13&14 – was the first Doctor Who fanzine I ever bought, in the old Forbidden Planet 2 at 58 St Giles High Street in London in August 1982, a few months after it was published. It’s difficult to capture what a revelation this was now to my eleven-year-old self. Jeremy Bentham’s fan-informed articles in Doctor Who Monthly gained the context I’d always inferred. I knew they were a projection of a parallel universe of fan commentary into the mainstream, but now I managed to see part of that normally hidden world for the first time. I learned that there were lots of people who thought about Doctor Who in similar ways to me, and about Blake’s 7 too as Frontier Worlds covered both series. Indeed, Steve Bowkett’s post-‘Blake’ story ‘Choice’, the first of Frontier Worlds‘s Blake’s 7 ‘Series E’ series, revealed to me a more cynical interpretation of Blake’s 7 distinct from the idealistic action-adventure reading I’d given it since I was seven. Martin Wiggins’s review of K9 and Company conveyed to me just how hostile an older generation of fans than mine was to its robot dog protagonist, of which I’d always been (and remain) rather fond. The most memorable article was probably the piece by editors Peter Anghelides (aforementioned) and Peter Lovelady and former editor Anthony Murray about their set visit to ‘Blake’, unaware that they were watching studio sessions for the last episode of Blake’s 7 until they saw the regulars perform their death scenes. The article has an entertaining B-plot about the writers’ attempts to break into writing for Blake’s 7 Monthly – Marvel UK’s not-quite-sister title to Doctor Who Monthly. As with all fan productions, there’s a social history in the lithography and the Letraset, with hints of the world beyond, of ‘University work’ and personalities in the then small world of active Doctor Who fandom, and a seriousness even in the humorous articles which roots Frontier Worlds in a particular phase of post-war British self-expression and which predates both the visceral panic of the cancellation-wary late 1980s and successfully avoids, moderates or sublimates the self-criticism or worse which seemed to pervade a lot of Doctor Who fan writing later in the decade.