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Terry Nation, 1930-1997


Terry Nation speaking on KTEH, San Jose, California, in 1987.

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.



Doctor Who XXXIV(8).9: Flatline

This week's Radio Times online poster, by Stuart Manning

This week’s Radio Times online poster, by Stuart Manning

An accomplished piece of television, which managed to be genuinely disturbing, pick up on the idea of two-dimensional beings which I think was discussed back in the planning stages in 1963, and advance the character arcs. In the latter case, we are being asked to infer a lot about the relationship between Clara and Danny, which seems more and more superficial. I was watching with my sister who found the two characters incompatible, and perhaps that’s what we are meant to think, after all. Clara plays at normality, but after one has had the experiences she has had, the Doctor’s life is her normality. Her ability to ‘be’ the Doctor is an obvious indicator and emphasises the ‘alienness’ which first Danny and now Rigsy recognise.  This is an old theme of twenty-first century Who, reminiscent of Jackie’s ‘You won’t be you any more’ speech to Rose in Army of Ghosts. The Doctor didn’t seem to think the acclimatisation of a companion was good then, manipulating the situation so Rose would have a family and home to go back to (albeit in a parallel universe) at the cost of her company and undervaluing his own love for her (or underappreciating his obsession). This Doctor can simply say that being him is nothing to do with being good. What sort of person sets himself up as the defender of a planet or (now) a plane?

The two-dimensional creatures were subtly conceptualised in such a way as to emphasise the Doctor as both rational and intuitive investigator and (after a run of episodes earlier in the series which encouraged interpretations of the Doctor’s behaviour as wilfully cruel) as generous, well-intentioned and hoping for the best in others. The monsters are only treated as monsters once they have exhausted all other possibilities. Their dispatch was perhaps a little too convenient; I’d not considered that the two-dimensional entity’s entire strength was concentrated in the tunnel, and I presume they had been weakened by pouring their energy into the TARDIS; but a magisterial performance from Peter Capaldi’s time wizard, paradoxically invigorated by universe-weariness, was perhaps enough to banish them from this universe. There’s an irony in that as far as viewers are concerned, the monsters of Doctor Who are always experienced in two dimensions, with the exception of The Day of the Doctor; Flatline therefore fictionalises and actualises the experience of the engaged viewer, two-dimensional strangeness made to seem like real threats in a three-dimensional world.

This was a remarkably strong episode, though; presenting Peter Capaldi’s Doctor as an object of faith, perhaps, for the first time. After painstakingly undermining viewer confidence in him in the earlier part of the series, the Doctor in effect becomes a relic of himself, to manifest himself through the faith of his devotee in the final act. The devotee, though, doesn’t get the affirmation she seeks, because she has not fully integrated the experience into her engagement with the world. Is Christopher Fairbank’s Fenton, an anti-imaginative denier who advances the cause of Survival‘s Sergeant Paterson into further depths of brutal ignorance, better off for wilful stupidity? As Dark Water/Death in Heaven approaches, Clara’s role in Missy’s plan gains an extra pencil line of detail, and presumably depends on how and what Clara has and has not learned. I wonder if this series will end with an Orpheus and Eurydice story, but will Clara or Danny or the Doctor have to be rescued from Missy’s Nethersphere, who will look behind them, and what will be the consequences?

Jamie Mathieson and Douglas Mackinnon can both come back, though; tonight the dark of the world is wandered by shifting, shambling revenants reassembled by beings unfamiliar with human anatomy, and until the magician can be freed to shine his supernatural light upon them, they will not stop.

Why Who? The Influence of Doctor Who in Fiction, 16 July 2014

Apologies to Neil Perryman, whose book is not depicted here as my copy is elsewhere.

The post-event off-centre picture-of-boosk-on-bag on table on pink carpet domestic illustration. Apologies to Neil Perryman, whose book is not depicted here as my copy is elsewhere.

Work has led this blog to be neglected; but I spent the evening just past at an event which I thought I’d flag up here. It was the last book talk and signing to be hosted by Blackwells Charing Cross Road, as the Oxford-based bookshop chain prepared to migrate from London’s historic street of books; but as at least one attendee said, it felt like the beginning of something rather than the end. Why Who? The Influence of Doctor Who in Fiction placed Andy Miller, author of among other things The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Books Saved My Life, alongside multigeneric scribe Jenny (T.) Colgan, armed by Blackwells with copies of Doctor Who Dark Horizons and bringing along an extract from her Doctor Who e-novella Into the Nowhere. and Neil Perryman, one half of the legendary and beloved Neil and Sue of Adventures with the Wife in Space, the book of which has just been re-released in a new slightly more populist paperback edition. A combination of popularity and the fact that Blackwells close their Charing Cross Road branch on the date of this post – ‘tomorrow’, as I haven’t been to bed yet – led the event to be hosted in the Phoenix Artists Club at the corner of Phoenix Street and Charing Cross Road. I’d not been to the Phoenix before, and its black-walled cave-library-bar of an interior was highly appropriate for an event which had gathered together so many people involved in the book side of Doctor Who and their friends and admirers and critics.

There were issues raised by the material concerning audience: Andy Miller’s excised extract revived memories of Tom Baker’s presentership of Yorkshire Television’s ITV book series for children, The Book Tower.  In children’s television in 1979, four deliberately placed sugars in one’s tea was the most determined statement of opposition to the establishment. Comparisons of Baker’s eventual successor, Timmy Mallet, to the last incumbent of 1963-1989 Doctor Who were not well received in one corner at least, but raised thoughts about what is acceptable to different audiences and how specialist readerships with privileged information will interpret material very differently to less committed audiences primed by exchanges of news and opinion which I’ll label mainstream for want of a more appropriate term.

Jenny Colgan, meanwhile emphasised that even in these days of tight deadlines and regulations in licensed Doctor Who fiction, there is still room for experimentation with the regular characters. The Clara of Into the Nowhere is a person who bears the scars of her experience of being scattered along the Doctor’s timeline much closer to the surface than the Clara we have seen on television after The Name of the Doctor so far, and on the strength of the extract read founds a wariness of her time with the Doctor upon it; someone who has died tens of times for the Doctor can’t be the Doctor’s innocent surrogate through whom he views the universe afresh, or so this Clara feels. Neil Perryman’s moment was autobiographical, the story of how he and Sue met, but given how his book is about how the fiction of Doctor Who is part of the framing material of their relationship, then this was relevant.

My abiding memory of the questions and semi-formal discussion afterwards is that they were dominated by discussion not of Doctor Who‘s influence on non-Doctor Who fiction, but of Target Books and the New Adventures. Andy Miller praised David Howe and Tim Neal’s The Target Book for exploring how the Doctor Who range survived at Target through a series of takeovers and amalgamations. There was much praise for the influence of Terrance Dicks, whose books Jenny Colgan always sought out first when growing up as a Target reader, and there was a lot of appreciation for the elegant economy and of his prose coupled with compressed characterisation. There were suggestions for ‘literary’ writers of the late twentieth century attendees and panellists would have liked to have seen write for Doctor Who, though none seemed to strike the right note with me.

Afterwards there was much lingering, book purchasing (with attendee Steve Berry’s Behind the Sofa a late addition to the Blackwells table) and chat and an impression that there were lots of people who had only communicated through the internet or had not seen each other since they stopped going to the Fitzroy Tavern (and there was much love expressed for Jenny Colgan’s Guardian piece on the Tavern for its alignment of the Doctor Who fan gatherings there with the pub’s literary London heritage). There was an appetite for more events in a similar vein, perhaps also extending to the legacy of Doctor Who Magazine; there are successful literary careers now where authors’ subjects and treatments owe as much to their experience and knowledge of Doctor Who on screen and in print as anything. Blackwells helped start digging the sub-surface tunnel, but a lot of Doctor Who‘s influence is still underground.

This is a late-night blog on an office day, which will close with the expression that the event provided a thoroughly enjoyable series of meetings with everyone I was introduced to or renewed acquaintance with there. My only regret is that I was quieter than I would have liked, dumbfounded perhaps by possibilities – though what does one say when one is introduced a few times as the man who guilelessly unearthed Peter Capaldi’s 1976 fanzine contributions? (‘I bet he really likes you’, someone said…)