Terry Nation (1930-1997)

Writer Terry Nation was born in South Wales in August 1930 and educated in Cardiff. He began his career in 1955 when he arrived in London and made a name for himself as a radio comedy writer for leading performers such as Frankie Howerd and Tony Hancock. In 1962, he broke into television with a trio of scripts for British television’s first series of science fiction plays, ITV’s anthology series Out Of This World for which he adapted Philip K. Dick’s Imposter and Clifford Simak’s Immigrant as well as contributing a story of his own, Botany Bay.

The following year, Nation was invited by David Whitaker to submit storylines for a new children’s series, Doctor Who, but turned the offer down on the advice of Tony Hancock who felt that it was beneath Nation to write for children. Fortunately for Nation, a bitter dispute with the comedy actor (to whom he was contracted at the time) left Nation unemployed with no foreseeable income, so he submitted an outline to Whitaker entitled The Survivors. Telling the story of the survivors of a nuclear war fought some 500 years previously on a distant planet, Nation’s outline introduced the Doctor and his companions, lan, Barbara and Susan, to the planet’s two indigenous races – one comprising physically humanoids, the other a race of hideously deformed mutants living inside mechanised travel machines. Recognising the exciting potential of the storyline, Whitaker commissioned full scripts from Nation at the end of July 1963. Filmed and transmitted as The Mutants the following December, the seven-part story established Nation as the creator of television’s most famous monsters, the Daleks, and turned Doctor Who from a reasonably popular series into a phenomenal success.

Nation was subsequently asked by Whitaker to contribute a seven-part historical story, The Red Fort, set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, but this was abandoned in favour of a second futuristic story, The Keys Of Marinus. However, it was the Daleks with which Nation became closely associated and between 1963 and 1979, Nation scripted no fewer than 56 episodes of Doctor Who across 11 separate stories, all but two of which (the aforementioned The Keys Of Marinusand 1975’s The Android Invasion) featured the Daleks.

The Daleks changed Nation’s life. Although he was only responsible for the concept of the creatures (their distinctive design was executed by BBC designer Raymond P. Cusick after the serial’s original designer, Ridley Scott, proved unavailable for filming), he negotiated a 50-50 royalty deal with the BBC and profited from the host of commercial spin-offs that went hand-in- hand with ‘Dalekmania’ – toys, books, records and two British- made feature films, Dr. Who And The Daleks and Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. In the mid-1960s, the Daleks were licensed by Gerry Anderson’s Century 21 Merchandising and appeared in a serialised comic strip in the company’s TV Century 21 comics magazine.

However, Nation’s work in television extended beyond Doctor Who and the Daleks, and during the 1960s he went on to make contributions to many of the ITC action series, including The Saint (for which he scripted 10 episodes). The Champions (The Bodyguards) and Department S (the series’ very first episode The Man In The Elegant Room plus A Cellar Full Of Silence). In 1965/66, he was kept fully occupied as script editor of Monty Berman’s The Baron, based on the books of John Creasey (writing as Anthony Morton) and starring Steve Forrest as antiques trouble-shooter John Mannering.

Nation wrote 17 of The Baron‘s 30 episodes himself, but also found time to adapt Ray Bradbury’s The Fox And The Forest for the BBC’s Out Of The Unknown series. This commission came about as a result of Nation’s former work for the series’ creator and story editor Irene Shubik on Out Of This World. In 1964, Nation had also turned in an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s The Caves Of Steel for Shubik’s BBC2 production with Peter Cushing as the robophobic police officer Elijah Bailey and John Carson as his robot detective partner R. Daneel Olivaw.

After such extensive work on the ITC action series, it was, perhaps, inevitable that Nation would, sooner or later, also find himself scripting episodes of The Avengers, the cult ITV series made by ABC alongside the ITC shows at the Associated British Elstree Studios in Borehamwood. So it was that, in 1968, Nation was commissioned to write for The Avengers‘ final series (with Linda Thorson as Tara King partnering Patrick Macnee’s John Steed), turning in some of that season’s most memorable episodes: Invasion Of The Earthmen, Noon Doomsday, Legacy Of Death, Take Me To Your Leader, Thingumajig and Take-Over.

In 1970, Nation was hired by former The Saint producer Robert S, Baker as associate producer and story consultant on The Persuaders!, a vehicle created by Baker for Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. As well as overseeing all the scripts on the show, Nation penned seven of his own and was looking forward to a lucrative five year run of the series when it was prematurely cancelled, having failed to perform in the US opposite Mission: Impossible. Shortly afterwards, Nation was contacted by Anthony Coburn, one of his former Doctor Who colleagues and now a BBC producer, who was developing a new series that was seen as a possible replacement for Doctor Who, The Incredible Robert Baldrick. The series was to feature Robert Hardy as a Victorian adventurer, travelling the country in his private train, investigating the paranormal and the supernatural – a sort of 19th Century Fox Mulder. Nation scripted the pilot episode Never Come The Night which aired as part of BBC1’s Drama Playhouse in October 1972, but the hoped-for series never materialised.

Freelance once again, Nation was available to contribute scripts to Gerry Anderson’s live-action thriller series The Protectors, then in production on its second season. Nation was commissioned to write three episodes that could be shot back-to-back on location in Copenhagen – the exercise proved successful and the three episodes that resulted were Bagman, Baubles Bangles And Beads and Route 27. He later scripted a fourth episode, A Pocketful Of Posies, for guest star Shirley Bassey, but the world-reknowned singer dropped out of the project at the eleventh hour and was replaced at short notice by Eartha Kitt.

Nation took to working on his own projects which included the children’s best-seller Rebecca’s World and the apocalyptic Survivors series for the BBC, which debuted in April 1975 and ran for three seasons, although Nation only wrote seven of the 38 episodes, all of them in the series’ first year. He went on to devise the cult SF series Blakes 7 in 1977, writing all 13 episodes of the series’ first season plus six of the remaining 39 episodes over the next three years. The series was prematurely cancelled in 1981.

In September 1980, Nation left Britain with his wife Kate and moved to Los Angeles where he continued to plan and develop new projects for a number of studios, including Columbia, 20th Century Fox and MGM. Success in the US, however, eluded him and Blakes 7 proved to be his last significant contribution to television history. His last years were clouded by ill-health, but he continued to attend science-fiction conventions and acted as a consultant on Steven Spielberg’s aborted US Doctor Who series. Following a respiratory illness, he died on 9th March, aged 66.

Originally published in FAB 28.