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Terry Nation

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Terry Nation (8 August 1930 – 9 March 1997) was a Welsh novelist and screenwriter. He is probably best known for creating the villainous Daleks in the long-running science fiction television series Doctor Who. Nation also created two science-fiction shows - Survivors and Blake's 7.

1950s-1960s

Born in Cardiff, Wales, Nation initially worked in comedy, finding a way into the industry in 1955 after a - possibly apocryphal - incident when Spike Milligan bought a sketch he had written because he thought Nation looked hungry. During the 1950s, Nation worked for Associated London Scripts alongside Johnny Speight and John Junkin, where he worked on hundreds of radio scripts for British comedians including Terry Scott, Eric Sykes, Harry Worth and Frankie Howerd. His big break came in 1962 when he was commissioned to write material for the hugely popular comedian Tony Hancock, initially for Hancock's new ATV television series, and later for his stage show. Nation accompanied Hancock as his chief screenwriter on tour in 1963, but Hancock continually fell back onto his old material and failed to use Nation's scripts.

Following success at Doctor Who (see below), Nation also contributed episodes to such shows as The Avengers, The Baron, The Persuaders!, The Champions, Department S, and The Saint.

The Daleks

For more information, see: Dalek.

By 1963, Nation had turned down an approach from David Whitaker to contribute to a new science-fiction series that the BBC was setting up, Whitaker having been impressed with a script Nation had written for the science fiction anthology series Out of this World for ABC. Now jobless and with a young family to support, Nation contacted Whitaker and took up the offer, writing the second ever Doctor Who serial. The story introduced the eponymous creatures that would become the show's most popular monsters, and was responsible for the BBC's first merchandising boom. Today, the Nation estate jointly owns the copyright to the likeness and characters of the Daleks with the BBC (this is largely credited to Nation's then-agent, Beryl Vertue, who negotiated these terms while working at Associated London Scripts).

The creation of the Daleks, aliens inside a metallic shell whom Nation based on the Nazis, generated a series of popular myths regarding how he had come up with them. These included the fictitious claim that their name came from the spines of a series of dictionaries, and the idea that he had based their design on a pepperpot. In fact, Nation had provided a very general description of the creatures in his script, e.g. specifying that they should have no human features and appear to glide along the floor, but it was left to BBC designer Raymond Cusick to come up with the memorable final design, which was not based on pepperpots at all, but had started from the idea of a human operator sitting on a chair. Cusick received an ex gratia payment for his work, while Nation retained the rights and therefore received an income from their appearances.

By 1965, a Dalek craze nicknamed 'Dalekmania' was well under way in Britain, and Nation found himself a telefantasy writer at the centre of a media frenzy. He went on to contribute several further scripts to Doctor Who, most of which featured the Daleks. Various Dalek spin-off material appeared, including a comic strip in TV Century 21 and annuals. Often the material was credited to Nation, even if written by others. He and Dennis Spooner co-wrote the 12-part story "The Daleks' Master Plan", after which Nation attempted to market the Daleks in the USA as a series in their own right. This was unsuccessful, though they did appear in two cinematic adventures in the mid-1960s, each of which were big-screen remakes of Doctor Who stories.

1970s

In the early 1970s, after a long absence, Nation returned to writing Dalek serials for Doctor Who. The programme's production team had decided to bring back the Daleks after an absence of six years, but had inadvertently failed to clear their reappearance with their creator. Nation was, however, happy to see the Daleks return to the small screen, and asked to write future serials featuring them. This led to 1973's 'Planet of the Daleks', which reused plot elements from his very first Dalek story and others he had penned. He also wrote 'Genesis of the Daleks' for the series' 1975 season, rewriting the fictional origins of the Daleks as he had established them in 1963, and creating 'Davros', the Dalek's on-screen creator. Nation later also wrote a Dalek-less serial, 'The Android Invasion', for the following year - one of only two Doctor Who stories he contributed that did not feature his famous creations. Meanwhile, this renewed contact led to a BBC commission for him to create a new science-fiction drama series, Survivors.

Survivors (1975)

First broadcast in 1975, Survivors was a post-apocalyptic tale of the few remaining humans, the population having been devastated by a plague. The show was well received, but Nation's vision for it conflicted with that of producer Terence Dudley and the other two seasons were produced without his involvement. The programme also led to a British High Court of Justice case in the mid-1970s, which was abandoned due to escalating costs.[1]

Blake's 7

Nation's next BBC creation, Blake's 7, was more successful. The show told the story of a group of criminals and political prisoners on the run from the sinister Terran Federation in a stolen alien spaceship of unknown origins. It ran for four seasons from 1978 to 1981, gaining a following in the United Kingdom. Nation wrote the entire first season of the series. His input decreased over the run, the overall direction eventually being controlled by script editor Chris Boucher, with Nation not writing at all for the fourth and final season. After its conclusion, however, he attempted unsuccessfully to find funding for a fifth season later in the 1980s.

1980s and 1990s

In 1980 Nation moved to Los Angeles, California, where he developed programme ideas and worked for various studios. He contributed to the American TV series MacGyver, in addition to television series such as A Masterpiece of Murder and A Fine Romance.

Nation suffered ill health in his later years, and died from emphysema in Los Angeles on 9 March 1997. Shortly before his death he was working with star Paul Darrow on another revival attempt of Blake's 7.[2]

Other work

Nation did little work outside of television, although in 1976 he did write a children's novel for his daughter Rebecca: Rebecca's World: Journey to the Forbidden Planet, and a novel based on the show Survivors.

References

  1. Bignell, Jonathan & O'Day, Andrew (2004): Terry Nation (page 21). Manchester University Press. ISBN 071906547X, ISBN 9780719065477.
  2. For biographical sources, see: Tarrant, Graham 'Obituary: Terry Nation', The Independent, Thursday 13 March 1997 (page 18); Barker, Dennis, 'Obituary: Terry Nation - The man who invented the Daleks', The Guardian, Thursday 13 March 1997 (page 17); Oliver, John, 'Nation, Terry: 1930-1997', British Film Institute Screen Online.