Terry Nation

“They talk of democracy, freedom, fairness. Those are the words of cowards. The ones who will listen to a thousand viewpoints and try to satisfy them all. Victory comes through absolute power and power through strength. They have lost!
Davros in The Genesis of the Daleks

Born on the 5th of November, 1930, Terrence Nation is still waiting for his ‘big break’ so to speak. Although he has achieved minor cult status in his native England, a reputation of any sort in America remains more or less invisible.

Belonging to a respectable but hard working East Sussex family, attendance in college (as well as high marks in A-level classes) was demanded of him by the parental units. As he was, to put it mildly, a school nerd, Terry was all too happy to oblige. At this point, he’d written many short stories in the science fiction genre, heavily influenced by the arrival of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, J.R.R. Tolkein and Edgar Rice Burroughs, his favorite. He mapped cleaverly drawn out, slow moving suspenseful tales in both novels and screenplays, emulating Burroughs’ Martian Chronicles and The Stories of Tarzan. Though he felt perfectly at home in a schooling environment, many have often speculated as to whether or not his ulterior motive was to find recognition through the walls of the university. In either case, it was not to be.

He did, however, acquaint himself with fellow student Angela Berring, a soon-to-be wife. They would marry years after graduation in 1957. Leaving his short stories by the wayside (many of them would not become available until after 1993) he began to formulate an idea for a novel. A story of radioactively altered creatures dwelling inside travel machines which are, in effect, their bodies. They administer a “Hitler-esque” way of dealing with enemies (in fact all creatures who aren’t part of their own species are the enemy) and have destroyed their own world through radioactive decay. The moral implications of their actions on the planet they live in, as well as the history of said planet, were (are) explored in a series of novels.

This career was not a lucrative one. Angela supported the couple as a common day secretary. This went on until one fateful morning at the tail end of 1963 when Terry was commissioned to write a script for the TV program Doctor Who. Rather then forcing him into their pre-ready material, a story built around “his own alien species” was broadcast.

Originally to be called The Mutants, the story was eventually renamed The Daleks. These creatures re-appeared on no less then 13 occasions in the program. Nation penned most of these Dalek episodes.

Terry had been writing adventurous tales of those in the clutch of merciless Daleks. Now he began to develop a mythology (Where the Daleks came from, where they were going, where he was going with the story and so on and so on). An idea involving the Daleks’ violent based take over of earth was conceived into an actual Doctor Who episode (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) in September, 1964.

These provided a meager pittance of cash yet Angela did not waver in her fiscal or emotional support and they remain close to this very day. Nation carried on, creating without appreciation. Two of his other scripts for Doctor Who were transmitted on the BBC in 1965 (Mission to the Unknown, The Chase). As Doctor Who slowly became a mainstay of English television, public demand for Nations stories had risen. Three tales of the Daleks were published in 1966 along with another commissioned script for Doctor Who, The Power of the Daleks. The novel paired to it was available in England by 1969. Doctor Who was practically a household name in England by now. Influence in America would come later. Exhausted with writing the Dalek tales, Terry finally moved on. New fictions began to take shape. Single minded yet very adaptable machines enslave the planet earth with rudimentary force, totalitarianism, and brain washing. They can also modify their shape, turning into any object. Like the Dalek scribblings, it was a lesson in morality but now the themes had developed a higher level of sophistication. The Androids, a finished book in 1971, received not a hint of interest from either a publishing company or Doctor Who.

Out of work, weaving menacing yarns of Dalek swashbuckling (while Angela paid the bills), Terry’s Planet of the Daleks aired on Doctor Who in 1973, earning him a modestly sized royalty check. The novelisation along with a condensed version of The Androids were both released in 1974. Terry earned fame in America with the help of Tom Baker’s reign as Doctor, popularizing the show in that country. Genesis of The Daleks, written by Terry, was broadcast in 1975. In the next season, The Androids morphed into The Android Invasion, first aired on the BBC in 1976. Two companion novels released in 1977 sold better then any had previously.

This would be Nation’s last effort in the Doctor Who format as a scriptwriter. Detaching himself from the program was not hard. Nation was ready to move on and create the television show Blake’s 7: The story of Roj Blake, a political dissident in a 22nd century earth. He is brainwashed and reconditioned as a model citizen. But memories of the stultified past haunt him endlessly. Going back to his deviant ways, he finds most of his fellow protesters have been “eliminated” by the powers holding earth in captivation. Recruiting another barrage of rag tag rebels, Blake is imprisoned and sent to a far off alien political prison on the other side of the galaxy with a trumped up charge of child molestation. Nation uses social criticism instead of inter-galactic adventure.

In the third episode, Blake frees himself and the other rebels, commandeering an abandoned ship of unknown origin. Christening it The Liberator (appropriate, don’t you think?), Blake and company devote the rest of the series to crushing the Federation. It was a tremendously profitable show, earning steady pay for Nation. Something Doctor Who never did for Terry. The program ran for four years and was cancelled in 1982.

Unlike Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 was Terry’s own masterpiece. He only created the Daleks, not their show. Omitting the Doctor from his Dalek novelizations (written during 1984, then ongoing several years henceforth) allowed him to create independently. First Published by Virgin Books in 1987, they sold moderately well both in America and England. Seven were written in all.

On the eve of Doctor Who’s thirtieth anniversary in 1993, Terry published The Doctors: Thirty Years of Time Travel and Beyond. It is Terry’s longest work, breaking the 300 page barrier (most of his stories are fairly condensed). Every single Doctor appears (it seems now he felt comfortable enough to include the beloved time lord in his stories!) and the book was made into a film. You’ll be hard pressed to find a copy in America. Many of Terry’s early short story efforts were published at this time.

Not long after, film adaptations of The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth were finally distributed after years on the shelf. Terry then began working on Blake 7 novelisations building the mythos of the original show’s canon and stark (often terrifying) commentary on modern society. “It was something I had been meaning to do for a long time”, Nation said.

Documenting Blake’s political activism before his re-conditioning, The tales of Roj is so far the only Blake novel. Terry is most likely still working on the other. It is, as with many writers, hard to say due to his introversion from publicity. By all accounts, he still lives with Angela somewhere in Debbenshire, creating tales of rebellion, adventure, mystery and horror. He’s been cited as inspirational by none other then Paul Andersen (Author of Event Horizon), and the late great Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Overcast, Perversions of Science, Logan’s Run, Minority Report etc.).

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