ATV Icons: Terry Nation
The Daleks are still regularly menacing the Doctor, Survivors is about to return to screens in an updated 21st century form and Sky are currently developing a new series of Blakes 7. What do all these have in common? They were created by one man – Terry Nation.
In just two weeks time a new version of Survivors will launch on the BBC starring an array of famous faces. The new version is based on the novelisation of the 70’s television series created by Terry Nation, who also wrote the novelisation of the first season. On Doctor Who the Daleks, and now Davros, reappear frequently to do battle with The Doctor and continue to enjoy popularity amongst the children watching. And Sky One are currently working on reviving, and probably reimaging, Blakes 7. Three of Terry Nation’s most popular creations enjoying life once more and in this TV Icon we take a look at the man who created some television legends.
Terry Nation first started script work in the 1950s when he wrote a script for legendary comedian Spike Milligan. Following this he wrote scripts for various radio shows and comedians, such as Terry Scott, Frankie Howard and Eric Sykes. Following his early work in radio he made the move over to television in the early 1960’s when he was commissioned to write material for Tony Hancock’s new television series, later his stage show.
However, in 1963 Hancock and Nation fell out and Nation was sacked. While on tour in 1963 Hancock didn’t use much of the material that Nation was providing him with and the two argued over this resulting in Hancock firing Nation. This led Nation to approaching his friend David Whitaker who was the script editor for Doctor Who. Whitaker had previously asked Nation to write a script for the series after working with Nation on Out of this World, an ABC SF series. Nation had initially declined but now relented and took up Whitaker’s offer.
The story that Nation wrote was to be Doctor Who’s second serial and would launch it into the public’s imagination. Nation sat down and wrote the very first Dalek story, a creation that would become a pop icon of the 1960s and leads to various merchandise. Unusually Nation jointly owned the copyright to the Daleks thanks to his contract with the BBC which was negotiated by Beryl Vertue of Associated London Scripts, for whom Nation had, wrote his early radio scripts for.
Due to the popularity of the Daleks Nation, was asked to write another serial for Doctor Who in the hope of further success with another foe. Nation wrote the six part serial Keys of Marinus in 1964 and the production team hoped the serial’s foe, The Voord, would prove popular with audiences. However, the Voord failed to capture the audience’s imagination in the same way as the Daleks and so the foes were limited to this one appearance.
The public demand for more Daleks lead to Verity Lambert, Who’s producer, to commission a sequel to the original Dalek story and Nation wrote it. The sequel would be the first time in the show’s short history that a foe had returned to combat the Doctor once more and so it was decided the sequel should be bold and ambitious. It was decided the sequel would be set on Earth, London, during a Dalek invasion in the future and would also mark the departure of Carol Ann Ford from the series, the first big cast change for the series. Daleks Invasion of Earth was hugely popular with fans and would become a staple, in some ways, of future Who stories – Earth under threat of invasion.
The popularity of the Daleks lead Nation to write scripts for other popular shows of the 1960s such as The Avengers, The Baron, The Persuaders, The Champions, The Baron, The Saint and Department S. In 1965 and 1966 two Dalek movies were produced based on the first two Dalek serials and starred Peter Cushing in the title role.
Because of the continuing popularity of the Daleks and their return to Doctor Who on various occasions Nation decided to try a spin-off for the his creations. Nation and Dennis Spooner co-wrote the 12-part Dalek story The Daleks Masterplan that introduced many concepts which Nation indeed to continue in his proposed Dalek spin-off. The character of Sara Kingdom, played by Jean Marsh, was introduced in the serial and it was intended the character would also appear in the spin-off. A security force that would battle the Daleks in the spin-off was also introduced in the story. Nation took his plans for the spin-off to America in order to secure funding but no such spin-off ever appeared.
Following his trip to America to try and launch a Dalek series Nation returned to the UK and returned to writing Dalek stories for Doctor Who in the 1970s. Nation secured an agreement with the show that he would have first refusal on writing future Dalek stories. In 1974 Nation wrote perhaps the most popular Who story in fans minds and certainly one of the most popular Dalek stories. Genesis of the Daleks told the story of how the Daleks came into being, the products of a dirty thousand year war on their home planet, Skaro. The story introduced the Daleks creator, Davros and this proved so popular that Davros would reappear in all future Dalek stories of the original series. After contributing further Dalek scripts Nation won a commission from the BBC to create a new SF series.
The series that Nation created was Survivors, a drama that saw the world’s population virtually destroyed by a deadly plague. The early episodes dealt with this plague and collapse of society while later episodes dealt with a band of survivors trying to battle on in a very different world. Survivors premiered in 1975 and proved popular with audiences but Nation and producer Terence Dudley differed over how the show should progress. Dudley produced all three seasons of Survivors while Nation moved on after the first season. However, he did write the novelisation of the first season from which the new version will based on. Also in 1975 Nation wrote another story for Doctor Who and this would be his second and final non-Dalek related story for the series, The Android Invasion.
In 1976 Nation wrote a novel Rebecca’s World: Journey to the Forbidden Planet, which was for his daughter, Rebecca, and she was the main character in the novel. Nation contributed his last script for Doctor Who in 1979 for the story, Destiny of the Daleks. After this Nation did not write for the series again although had some involvement in future Dalek stories, having some say over how the Daleks were used and in what stories.
In 1978 Nation created another hugely successful series for the BBC, Blakes 7. The futuristic SF series told the story of a group of rebels/terrorists who were leading the fight against a totalitarian, oppressive regime called the Terran Federation. The series was dark in tone, although now is often seen as camp, and noted for its morally ambiguous characters and the fact it wasn’t afraid to kill of regular characters. The series also had story arcs, which was unusual at the time, and the good guys didn’t always win.
Blakes 7 regularly attracted audiences of ten million and Nation wrote the entire first season of the show, something never done before by a writer, and contributed further episodes for the show as well. While Blakes 7 is often seen as camp now, with rather dodgy special effects, the series has had a lasting impact and its writing, on the better episodes, is still considered top notch. In 1981 when the series ended Nation attempted to find funding for a fifth series but was unable to do so.
In the 1980s Nation moved to America, Los Angeles, and continued to pitch ideas for different shows and write scripts for American drama’s. During this time he wrote episodes for MacGyver, A Masterpiece of Murder and A Fine Romance. In the 90’s he worked on reviving Blakes 7 with cast member Paul Darrow but was unsuccessful.
The Daleks continue to enjoy popularity thanks to their recent appearances on Doctor Who and the reintroduction of Davros, their creator, has only served to fuel interest in them amongst younger fans. The Daleks will always be a part of Doctor Who thanks to their longevity and the fact that in 1963 the Daleks were the creations that put the show on the map and secured its long-term success.
Blakes 7 has influenced writers of popular shows today thanks to its use of story arcs and morally ambiguous characters. Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has cited Blakes 7 as an influence on his creation stating the use of story arcs, merky characters and one or two other concepts that worked their way onto Buffy. One example of this would be a limitator placed in the brain of Spike, on Buffy, that prevented him from killing. In Blakes 7 the character of Gan had a limitator to stop him from killing.
Another writer to cite the series as an influence on him is J.Michael Straczynski who once again made use of story-arcs on Babylon 5. When Straczynski wrote an entire season of Blakes 7 by himself he referenced the fact that few writers had done this before and the only one he could think of was Terry Nation.
The fact that Sky One is developing a potential new series of Blakes 7 is hardly surprising given how relevant the series still is and how much potential there is in terms of storylines for a new series based on the current political climate. The morally ambiguous characters and the question of whether they are really right in their quest, and the fact they are criminals, are so ripe for today and thanks to the successful reimaging of Battlestar Galactica it’s possible to turn a once camp show into a dark, gritty and hard hitting modern show.
And Survivors is now heading back to television thanks to its central theme of a deadly plague wiping out millions. Plague has been a constant thorn in humanity’s side, wiping out millions time and time again and bringing various civilizations to its knees. Plague has such a deep race memory for us that the prospect of a new one is such a vivid idea in our minds that it commands so many dramatic possibilities.