NATION, TERRY

British Writer

Terry Nation is one of the most consistent writers of British genre television, having had a lasting impact on the development of science fiction and action-adventure programs. Nation's contributions to such series as The Saint, Doctor Who, Blake's Seven, The Avengers and MacGyver, have built him an international fan following. Ironically, given that most of his television credits were for hour-long dramas, Nation got his start in comedy. At 25, he made his debut as a stage comedian, receiving poor response. If his performance skills were found lacking, his original material won an admirer in comedian Spike Milligan, who commissioned him to write scripts for the zany British comedy series, The Goon Show. Nation soon was developing material for Peter Sellers, Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, and an array of other comic stars. In all, he wrote more than 200 radio comedy scripts, before trying his hand on television in the early 1960s.

Some of his first work was for ITV's Out of This World, a science-fiction anthology series in 1962. The following year, Nation was asked to write one of the first story-lines for Doctor Who, then making its debut at the BBC. Nation's most important contribution to Doctor Who were the Daleks, the most popular (and heavily merchandised) villains in the series's history. Citing a childhood spent in Wales during World War II, Nation has said that he modeled the impersonal and unstoppable Daleks after the Nazis, seeing them as embodying "the unhearing, unthinking, blanked-out face of authority that will destroy you because it wants to destroy you." Nation continued to influence the development of the Daleks across a succession of story-lines and through two feature film spin-offs of the series, writing many of the Dalek scripts himself while serving as technical advisor on the others. He was subsequently responsible for the introduction of Davros, the wheel-chair bound mad scientist who created the Daleks to serve his schemes for intergalactic domination.

Building on his success at Doctor Who, Terry Nation created two original science-fiction series: The Survivors, a post-nuclear apocalypse story, and Blake's Seven, a popular series about a group of freedom fighters struggling against a totalitarian multi-planetary regime. Blake's Seven, which he initially proposed as a science fiction version of The Dirty Dozen, remains a cult favorite to the present day, popular for its focus on character conflicts within the Liberator crew, its bleak vision of the future and of the prospects of overcoming political repression, its strongly-defined female characters, and the intelligence of its dialogue. The series sought an adult following that contrasted sharply with the Doctor Who audience which the BBC persisted in seeing as primarily composed of children. Nation wrote all 13 of the first season episodes of Blake's Seven and continued to contribute regularly throughout its second season, before being displaced as story editor by Chris Boucher, who pushed the series in an even darker and more pessimistic direction.

Nation's contributions to the detective genre are almost as significant as his influence on British science fiction. For a while, it seemed that Nation wrote for or was responsible for many of ITV's most popular adventure series. Terry Nation wrote more than a dozen episodes of The Saint, the series starring Roger Moore as globe-trotting master thief/detective Simon Templar. The Saint enjoyed international success and was one of the few British imports to snag a prime-time slot on American television. Nation served as Script Editor and writer for The Baron, another ITV series about a jewel thief which built on The Saint's success. He was Script Editor for the final season of The Avengers, shaping the controversial transition from popular Emma Peale (Diana Riggs) to the less-beloved Tara King (Linda Thorson). He was Script Editor and Associate Producer for The Persuaders, another successful action-adventure series about two daredevil playboys who become "instruments of justice" under duress. He also contributed regularly to ITV's superhero series, The Champions.

More recently, Terry Nation shifted his focus onto American television, where he was a producer and writer for the first two seasons of MacGyver, an original and imaginative series dealing with a former Special Forces agent who solves crimes and battles evil through the use of resourceful engineering and tinkering tricks. MacGyver seemed to fit comfortably within the tradition of British action-adventure protagonists whom Nation helped to shape and develop.

Most of the best known writers of British television are recognized for their original dramas and social realism, but Nation's reputation comes from his intelligent contributions to genre entertainment.

-Henry Jenkins

 

TERRY NATION. Born in the United Kingdom, 1930. Screenwriter for English and American television; creator of the Daleks which helped popularize Doctor Who, 1963; screenwriter for American and British television; created The Survivors, 1975; created Blake's Seven, 1978, writing the entire first season and six later episodes, 1978-81; author.

TELEVISION SERIES

1961-69 The Avengers
1962-69 The Saint
1963-89 Dr. Who
1964-65; 1968-69 The Saint
1969-71 The Champions
1971-72 The Persuaders
1975-77 The Survivors
1978-81 Blake's Seven
1985-92 MacGyver

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1974 Color Him Dead
1986 A Masterpiece of Murder

FILM

1973 The House in Nightmare Park (also producer)

RADIO

The Goon Show

PUBLICATIONS

The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book (with John Peel). New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Rebecca's World: Journey to the Forbidden Planet. London: G. Whizzard, 1975.

Survivors. London: Futura, 1976.

FURTHER READING

Haining, Peter. Doctor Who, The Key to Time: A Year-by-Year Record. London: W.H. Allen, 1984.

Tulloch, John, and Manuel Alvarado. Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. New York: St. Martin's, 1983.

 

See also Doctor Who