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Nation, Terry (1930-97)

Writer, Producer

Main image of Nation, Terry (1930-97)

One of the most significant of contributors to British genre television, Terry Nation (born in Cardiff on 8 August 1930) will always be remembered as creator of those formidable despots of the Universe, the Daleks, the most popular adversary of the BBC's Doctor Who. His oft-quoted mantra was that "the function of people in television should be to take people away from all their daily toil", and in doing so Nation became one of Britain's most successful television writers in the 1960s and 1970s.

He got his foot in the show business door through his work in the field of comedy. Attempting to launch himself as a comedian in the early 1950s, he found his reception less than encouraging; his material showed promise, but his delivery did not. Taken under the wing of Spike Milligan, he became a writer in the comedian's Associated London Scripts, working alongside Galton and Simpson, Johnny Speight and John Junkin. During the 1950s, he worked on some 200 radio scripts for comedians like Terry Scott, Eric Sykes, Harry Worth, Frankie Howerd and Doris and Elsie Waters.

He first worked in television when he contributed sketches (with Junkin and Dave Freeman) to two attempts to transfer The Goon Show's radio humour to television, The Idiot Weekly Price 2d (ITV, 1956) and A Show Called Fred (ITV, 1956). He worked in partnership with Junkin on the Ted Ray shows Friday the 13th (BBC, tx. 13/12/1957) and The Ted Ray Show (BBC, 1958-59), and on The Jimmy Logan Show (BBC, 1959-60). Nation also worked solo, contributing additional material to Eric Sykes' variety special, Wish You Were Here (BBC, tx. 7/9/1963), and writing three episodes of Tony Hancock's first ITV series, Hancock (ITV, 1963).

It was writer Clive Exton who introduced Nation to television science fiction. ABC Television producers Sydney Newman and Irene Shubik were preparing a science fiction anthology series, and Exton suggested Nation as a contributor. For the resultant Out of this World (ITV, 1962), Nation wrote 'Impostor' (ITV, tx. 21/7/1962), from a Philip K. Dick story; his own story 'Botany Bay' (ITV tx 28/7/62); and 'Immigrant' (ITV, tx. 8/9/1962), from a Clifford Simak story. Also for Shubik, he adapted Ray Bradbury's 'The Fox and the Forest' (BBC, tx. 22/11/1965) for the anthology series Out of the Unknown (BBC, 1965-71). He also adapted Isaac Asimov's 'The Caves of Steel' (BBC, tx. 5/6/1964) for Story Parade (BBC, 1964-65) .

It was Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89), however, which made his name. Nation originally declined the offer to work on the series (it was classed as children's television, after all), but he needed the money. Producer Verity Lambert initially intended the series to have an educational remit, meaning no monsters. However, his creation of the Daleks for Doctor Who's second story, 'The Mutants' (21/12/1963-1/2/1964), hammered home the first and decisive nail in the coffin of that idea when the audience figures for the series increased dramatically.

The Daleks' success was such that they returned in Nation's 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' (1964). Nation wrote several of the subsequent Dalek stories, including 'The Chase' (1965), 'The Daleks' Master Plan' (with Dennis Spooner, 13/11/1965-29/1/1966) and the classic 'Genesis of the Daleks' (1975), which introduced their creator, Davros. He also wrote two non-Dalek stories: 'The Keys of Marinus' (1964) and 'The Android Invasion' (1979) .

Further science fiction work for the BBC included the pilot for a series that never happened, 'The Incredible Robert Baldick: Never Come Night' (tx. 2/10/1972), starring Robert Hardy as a Victorian adventurer, in the series Drama Playhouse (1970-72) .

Nation created two further series himself. Survivors (BBC, 1975-77) was an unremittingly grim portrait of a plague-decimated world. Nation only worked on the first of three series, having fallen out with producer Terence Dudley over the direction of the narrative. The lighter adventure series Blake's 7 (BBC, 1978-81), described by Nation as "Robin Hood in space", featured a band of escaped convicts taking on the might of galactic dictatorship the Federation. The series retains a cult following second only to Doctor Who.

Following his creation of the Daleks, he had also begun to work on the filmed adventure series of the period, invariably produced by or for Lew Grade's ITC, beginning with The Saint (ITV, 1962-69), for which he wrote eleven episodes between 1965 and 1969. He subsequently became script supervisor and writer on The Baron (ITV, 1966-67), and contributed episodes to The Champions (ITV, 1968-69), Department S (ITV, 1969-70), The Persuaders (ITV, 1971-72), on which he was associate producer and script associate in addition to being credited with seven scripts, and The Protectors (ITV, 1972-74) .

Between 1968 and 1969, Nation contributed to what he would later describe as one of his favourite series, The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69), writing six episodes and acting as script editor on the final series, featuring Linda Thorson. With Avengers writer and producer Brian Clemens, Nation also wrote an episode of the series Thriller (ITV, 1973-76) .

In 1980 he moved to Los Angeles to work (he had no involvement with the final series of Blake's 7), where he developed programme ideas and worked as a script doctor for various studios. This period of his career proved anticlimactic, as very little came to fruition. However, he did contribute to MacGyver; the television comedy/thriller A Masterpiece of Murder, the American/British/French comedy series A Fine Romance (UK title: Ticket to Ride, ITV, 1989) - unarguably the worst project with which he was ever involved - and was a consultant during the early stages of the American-shot Doctor Who starring Paul McGann (BBC, tx. 27/5/1996), when the Daleks were being considered for inclusion.

Nation suffered ill health in his later years, dying from emphysema in Los Angeles on 9 March 1997.

John Oliver

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

Feature film spin-off from the TV series, with Technicolor Daleks!

Thumbnail image of Avengers, The (1961-69)Avengers, The (1961-69)

Ultra-stylish '60s spy drama that all but invented cult TV

Thumbnail image of Blake's 7 (1978-81)Blake's 7 (1978-81)

BBC science fiction series about a band of rebels defying a ruthless regime

Thumbnail image of Department S (1969-70)Department S (1969-70)

Drama series about a trio of spies, one being crime writer Jason King

Thumbnail image of Persuaders!, The (1971-72)Persuaders!, The (1971-72)

Adventure series about a US millionaire and an English lord

Thumbnail image of Saint, The (1962-69)Saint, The (1962-69)

Roger Moore stars as the latter-day Robin Hood, Simon Templar

Thumbnail image of Survivors (1975-77)Survivors (1975-77)

Apocalyptic sci-fi series set in a plague-wracked Britain

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Thumbnail image of Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)

Recently regenerated time-travelling adventures

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