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Feature: Doctor Who

Relaunching a Legend

Thoughts from Terrance Dicks

Thirty-four years ago, Doctor Who returned from its longest break ever with a new Doctor and a new style of production… Sound familiar? Script editor Terrance Dicks tells us about relaunching a legend for a new age…

It’ll be an anxious moment for many when Doctor Who returns to the air after its longest ever break. Onscreen, developments in television technology combined with a new Doctor and a new assistant will have conspired to produce a series that marks a break with a past, but hopefully revitalizes the format. But then we’ve been here before; in 1970 Doctor Who returned after an unprecedented six month break, shot on film and in colour for the first time, with only Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier providing a link to the past. Along with producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks was at the helm of a revamp that gave the series a momentum that kept it going without flagging for another 15 years. And with almost 40 years of experience of Who as script editor author, he’s definitely in a position to look at the task and say ‘Been there, done that’.

From his perspective, he can point to a clear example of what not to do – the 1996 TV movie, starring Paul McGann. “Yes, unfortunately,” he says. “The one thing they got right was casting Paul McGann, who was very good and would have made an excellent Doctor. I would have been happy if it had gone to series as they could maybe have sorted things out. But it lacked that proper Doctor Who feel, I think. It’s very mid-Atlantic and it fell between two stools. They tried to make it for the American market as well as the English market, and it ended up like a cross between NYPD Blue and ER. Shoot-outs and scenes in hospital and all that kind of thing, you know. The plot doesn’t make sense. I mean, there are all kinds of things in the plot that don’t make sense.

“Actually, I went to a convention over the weekend in Liverpool, and somebody reminded me about the opening of The Eight Doctors, in which I make it very clear what I think…” In his 1997 novel, Dicks comments ‘it had been a weird adventure’, “‘with all sort of strange things happening,’” he concludes. “I made my feelings about it very clear in that.”

At least there’s no danger of the new series becoming mid-Atlantic, as the only body of water the BBC Wales production has to cross is the river Severn. “Well, I hope the Welsh element won’t become too obvious,” Terrance laughs. “But I don’t think that’s important. It’s being made in England, by an English company with English writers, and the shows that have succeeded have always been things like The Avengers and Doctor Who, which were made for the home market. Then people abroad liked them, in America particularly, because they were odd and quirky and British, and not like the sort of thing they were getting at home.”

Get the full interview on the essentials of Doctor Who in
TV Zone Special #56

Image © Visual Imagination Ltd
Feature © Visual Imagination 2004. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone Special #56, see below for ordering options
TV Zone Special #56
Doctor Who 2004
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