Terry Nation (August 8, 1930 – March 9, 1997) was a British television screenwriter and is probably best known for creating the Daleks for the long-running science fiction television series Doctor Who. He also created his own science-fiction shows, Survivors and Blake’s 7.
Born in Cardiff, Wales, UK, 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. His big break came in the early 1960s when he was commissioned to write material for the hugely popular stand-up comic Tony Hancock, initially for Hancock’s new television series and then later for his stage show.
Nation accompanied Hancock as his chief scriptwriter on tour in 1963, but Hancock continually fell back onto his old material and didn’t use Nation’s scripts. The two rowed and Nation was fired. Before this he 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 sci-fi 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 Doctor Who serial The Daleks (aka The Mutants). The serial 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.
Such is the popularity of the Daleks that Nation is to this day frequently credited as the creator of Doctor Who, including a famous mistake in an edition of Trivial Pursuit. The series was actually created by committee, but BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman is regarded as being the nearest to a creator.
Nation suddenly found himself a telefantasy writer at the centre of a media frenzy, and went on to contribute several further scripts to Doctor Who. He also worked for the more financially rewarding commercial television companies, contributing episodes to such shows as The Avengers, The Baron, The Persuaders!, The Champions, and The Saint.
In the early 1970s, after a long absence, Nation returned to writing Dalek serials for Doctor Who, and this renewed contact led to a BBC commission for him to create a new sci-fi drama series. 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 Terrance Dudley and the other two seasons were produced without his involvement.
His next BBC sci-fi creation, Blake’s 7, was even more successful. The show told the story of a rag-tag group of criminals on the run from the sinister Terran Federation in a stolen alien space ship of unknown origins. It ran for four seasons from 1978 to 1981, earning a huge following in the United Kingdom. Nation wrote the entire first season of the show. His input decreased as time went on, the overall direction eventually being controlled by the Script Editor, Chris Boucher, with Nation not writing at all for the fourth and final season. After its conclusion, however, he did attempt to find funding for a fifth season later in the 1980s, to no avail, and planned with star Paul Darrow how the series might still be revived, shortly before his death.
In the late 1960s Nation had attempted to launch the Daleks as a series in their own right in the United States, and although his attempts were unsuccessful, he did find himself increasingly working in that country and eventually moved there. Probably his most remembered work for American television was as a contributor to the series MacGyver. He was still living in Los Angeles, California, United States when he died from emphysema in 1997.
Nation did little work outside of television, although in 1976 he did pen a children’s novel for his daughter Rebecca: Rebecca’s World: Journey to the Forbidden Planet. He did like to poke fun at his own success on occasion, once describing himself to an interviewer as “a hack”.