RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 19 13 November 2014

As always, spoilers abound. See Wikipedia for production details)

The Doctor - Peter Davison
Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
Nyssa - Sarah Sutton
Tegan Jovanka - Janet Fielding

The show was moved from its traditional Saturday slot to twice-weekly weekday evening broadcast (generally on Mondays and Tuesdays, though this varied by BBC region). This was done to see if viewing figures could be maintained with a more-than-weekly schedule, because the BBC was gearing up to start producing EastEnders and wanted to try the experiment on something else first. It apparently didn't work very well, reducing the impact of the odd-numbered episodes' cliffhangers and confusing audiences.

Since the number of episodes wasn't increased (in fact it fell from 28 to 26, since two were used to make K-9 and Company), this also meant that Who was now only on for about a quarter of the year rather than half. Being fair, the Saturday evening slot was fragmenting anyway as televisions became cheaper and the idea of the family sitting down for several hours of television in a row started to become obsolete.

Antony Root came in as script editor for Four to Doomsday and The Visitation, the first two stories produced, after which he was replaced by Eric Saward.

On a personal note, we're getting now out of the stories that I remember with some clarity and into the ones that didn't make much impression.

Castrovalva

This wasn't intended to be the first post-regeneration story. That was Project Zeta-Sigma (with various other working titles), a heavy-handed parable about nuclear disarmament by the authors of Meglos. With the Master forcibly inserted, and worries about the difficulty of mounting certain production elements, the story was cancelled, and Castrovalva reworked to take its place.

Even after the Five Faces series of repeats a month earlier, it was still apparently felt necessary to show the last scene of Logopolis as a first ever pre-credits teaser in order to remind the hard-of-thinking viewer that Tom Wasn't Here Any More.

So this is actually Davison's fourth outing in the part, which allows him to get a solid start in the minds of the audience. What a pity it's then undone by the character's indisposition. What seems as though it's going to be a rerun of Spearhead from Space with the Doctor in hospital rapidly turns into something rather odder, in some ways reminiscent of The Edge of Destruction. For much of this story, the Doctor is either babbling or absent, Adric's silent and yet again under the influence of the villain (goodness, he's trying to be the new Sarah Jane), and the story's carried by the remaining TARDIS Kiddies. Who aren't really up to it. Having a Doctor Who story that is about, but doesn't star, the Doctor seems, well, perverse.

The Master has a mute button for Adric and even he doesn't use it all the time. And what's the Master's motivation? Back in the day he was trying to rule Earth. Now he's trying to kill the Doctor, because… because… well he's a villain, isn't he?

It's a little ironic that a significant part of the early plot should deal with jettisoning excess baggage, as this series (if not this story) is the start of the time when harking back to the old days of the show was becoming a goal in itself. (Trying out the mannerisms of previous incarnations is a nice touch, though.) Even so, I find the material in the TARDIS the more powerful section of the story.

"There's a whole roomful of clothes if you want to change"… but no, it's now all about the Costume For That Person. Mind you, that just puts into the foreground something that's been true since Romana (and to some extent Leela, who only occasionally changed into something like a local outfit). All the costumes here feel deliberately designed, which is a shame. But what we also see here is de-powering: something as simple as moving a crate across country leads to soakings and loss of equipment. Nathan-Turner yet again found competent characters intimidating (the analysis really writes itself at this point) and apparently leaned on Bidmead (returning as a freelance writer) to reduce power levels, reduce competence, and generally make people more "relatable".

Direction, by Fiona Cumming, is workmanlike and sometimes fine. The old Paintbox isn't quite up to Escherian connections, but the job gets done; there's none of the incompetence we've seen in some recent stories. Except in the script. Nasty guy turns out to be the hero, nice guy turns out to be the villain, women are nameless and mostly voiceless: oh gosh how surprised I am.

To learn that everything, all the way through the story, has been a deliberate trap, is unfortunate; not only does it make many of the events turn out to have been pointless (especially Tegan's pride at having flown the TARDIS), it makes the Master look paradoxically incompetent. With all of this power at his command, with all this advance planning, he was still unable to do for the Doctor! This reaches its nadir when he's trying to break open the Zero Cabinet with a crowbar.

Four to Doomsday

So this is Davison's real first outing as the Doctor. And, well, he's a pro; he may not be immediately entrancing, but he's at least interesting. Stratford Johns is also a pro, but his part is increasingly thankless.

Adric's right back into petulant mode, with a side dose of chauvinism. And cooperating with the bad guys, in a story element stolen from an early draft of State of Decay. But Tegan wobbles around from complaining to blubbering wreck (even if she does actually fly the TARDIS this time, at least a bit), the antithesis of audience identification as she's painted once more as a reluctant companion, and Nyssa's sort of just there. It doesn't help that there isn't really enough for four principals to do.

It's a very pretty story, beautifully mounted, lit, and shot, even more so than Castrovalva… even if the effects are as naff as they've been tending to be lately. But again the script is lacking, the ideas only superficially interesting, and throwing more and more of them at us (alien invasion, a race recorded on digital media, sapient androids) doesn't help. It should be fascinating; instead it ends up feeling like lots of running around and wasting time. This comes over in the end as an attempt to do a "classic" Who story without really understanding what made such stories interesting. Like Full Circle and State of Decay last series, this feels like a story made by people who grew up on Who and find it appealing for itself rather than because of anything specific that it does. (Though actually Terence Dudley was an old BBC hand rather than a fan, which would put this more on the State of Decay side of things.)

Somehow I can't feel as threatened by the idea of Nyssa being given an immortal robot body as I did by the idea of Leela getting steamed. Lin Futu is played by Burt Kwouk, obviously slumming it. "However sophisticated their circuitry, they are still machines" is a bit of a biochauvinist attitude considering some of the machines we've met on this show. And even the heaviest cricket ball projected at top speed would still only bestow a momentum of around six and a half newton-seconds, with as much again on the rebound. That's enough to push a 70kg Time Lord at a whole seven inches per second.

Nyssa's collapse comes because she was due to be written out. Yes, the only companions were to be Adric and Tegan. She was only saved because Davison objected (he probably wanted someone to talk to on set).

Kinda

As things were, Christopher Bailey had already written this story without taking her into account, so she was left in the TARDIS for this one. Bailey got many of the names for this story from his interest in Buddhism; it's a shame he never worked under Barry Letts, as he might have got more than just the names.

As it was, three separate script editors had a hack at this before production: Bidmead in his final months, Root, and then Saward. It apparently needed quite a lot of work, and the end result feels rather choppy, always a risk when there's been heavy editing. One doesn't know what the original looked like; the result is a heavy-handed parody-fable of colonialism, of the sort that had been fashionable ten years earlier when Bob Baker and Dave Martin did it in The Mutants.

Because of the absence of Nyssa, it's just Adric and Tegan backing up the Doctor. The only time Tegan shows some sign of life is when she's possessed (it's reassuring to realise that Janet Fielding can register something other than "pissed off at the world"), and even she's out of it for a lot of the time. I didn't think I'd miss her, but for much of the time it's just the Doctor and Adric. Who collaborates with the enemy again. Come on Earthshock, you can't get here soon enough for me.

With a weak Doctor and the companions either absent or Adric, it's left to the guest cast to provide some interest. Surprisingly enough, the real star here is Nerys Hughes in an implausibly low-cut pseudo lab coat, giving a really effective and thoughtful performance. What a shame we couldn't have had her rather than Tegan! Simon Rouse comes over as a cut-rate Michael Palin, with the same mannerisms of a weak man showing anger, and Richard Todd has so little to work with that even an experienced actor can't do much.

The tank would be rather more convincing if it looked as if it could make progress across anything rougher than a studio floor. Why do the natives regard the Magic Box of Instant Mental Health (which works cross-species at that) as something that will drive men mad? The tribal politics (ignoring the invaders, versus killing them) would be more interesting if, as on previous occasions, they were actual human motivations; as it is, one side is Mara-ridden, so is obviously Bad, and it's all irrelevant.

When Tom Baker heard a companion say "X", and replied with "nonsense… I've had an idea, X" he could make it at least a little charming. Here the charm is absent and it's just annoying. (This did start its life as a script for Tom.)

If the two scenes with Tegan and Adric standing next to the bomb not doing anything feel forced, it's because they are: the episode under-ran, and because of the structure of the story they couldn't pull in material from episode three to pad it out.

And the "evil can't face itself" ending is one of the few times the show's turned itself into explicit fantasy. It's a tendency I've been deploring in the recent remake (when a solution to the plot turns out to be "everyone has to wish really hard"), but this is something that's generally been avoided before this point.

It's weird, because there's obviously some real research behind this - the natives' "guardian" in the style of a cargo cult object, various taboos and patterns of behaviour, have clearly come from actual anthropological reports. We've seen the colonists story pattern before (in Colony in Space and The Mutants and _The Power of Kroll)), and to me this doesn't ring enough changes to be interesting.

Here's an interesting story of which there are sharp fragments buried in the story we got: the Kinda advanced their technology to the point where all their wants were provided for (the forest that fruits all year round), and without any struggle to survive decayed into indolence and superstition. And then the colonists assume they're "primitives". That might be been more interesting.

Some people found the snake unconvincing, and it was re-CGI-ed for the DVD release. I don't think it's anything like as bad as the wobbly spaceship shots from Four to Doomsday. If we're going to CGI out objectionable elements, why can't we remove Adric?

This story is one that, like Warriors' Gate, is loved by fans who like complicated stories possibly as a counterweight to the cry of "why are you watching a children's programme". I'm afraid it doesn't do much for me. There are some good bits here, compared with the series so far, but that says more about the series so far…

The Visitation

This is one I remembered in a vaguely positive light. But now I've seen The Time Warrior and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, neither of which needed a glittery disco robot. (Actually this is also rather more similar to Four to Doomsday than one might really have liked.) But this is at least the first pseudo-historical story since Horror of Fang Rock.

There's something that doesn't really work, though, and it shows how long it's been since we had a reluctant-companion plot. If the primary objective is to get Tegan back to Heathrow, why waste subjective time exploring when she obviously wants to get on with it? At least it's Adric who falls over and twists his ankle rather than one of the women. But even with our heroes stumbling directly over the aliens' base it seems like a very slow start.

Curiously, after all the usual build-up, the alien is revealed only in a relatively non-threatening context: no growl clank argh, just casually stepping out from behind a cabinet to continue the interrogation that's already been going on. Similarly the name "Terileptils" is introduced casually as if it had already been mentioned. Editing error? The door to the escape pod is nicely done, though, reminiscent of The Claws of Axos.

Later on we get plenty of drawn-out shots of Nyssa rearranging furniture and dragging props through the TARDIS – and arguing with Adric, but that's understandable. Sure enough, every time he does his own thing, he's in the wrong. The story's not bad as an action piece, but it's a very simple plot and the action is mostly about captures and escapes in various combinations, with various crew members shifting back and forth between whatever the two major strands are at that moment. There's only one real guest character, Michael Robbins as Richard Mace (who was borrowed from Saward's earlier radio plays where he'd been an actor-detective in Victorian London); his performance is rather (deliberately) overblown, but he and Davison do at least get the chance to play off each other, which gives us a break from the flat interactions of and with the TARDIS Kiddies.

The sonic screwdriver thing? Just another example of John Nathan-Turner's fear of power and competence. Sure, it can be overused; that's what you have an editor for. But it's also a handy way of explaining why the TARDIS crew go into the locked room and find the body before anyone else does, or indeed why they can't be kept locked up (as they are here at great length).

If you are the Terileptils, shipwrecked on Earth, why do you bother to continue with the terribly complex plan to kill everyone with plague (which gets you an empty world and no spaceship) when you have a perfectly good bunch of captured time travellers to get you off the world and put you on an empty world with no spaceship? Especially since you could attack them once you were aboard the TARDIS?

The other two Terileptil costumes are more interesting and variously-coloured than the one we see most of the time. On the other hand, the bubbling melty-faced horror as the Terileptils die in the fire is a surprisingly gruesome shot for this era of the show.

Davison shoves Waterhouse out of the door of the burning bakery with an enthusiasm and forcefulness that suggests he'd really much rather have been shoving him in.

But yes, all right, the closing shot is nicely done.

Black Orchid

The two "missing" episodes that went to make K-9 and Company meant either a two-parter or a six-parter in the main series, and Nathan-Turner didn't think six-parters would work any more (he may indeed have been right). This script commission was a reward to Terence Dudley for getting Four to Doomsday in on a very tight schedule; it had been submitted to Bidmead the previous year, but at that point Bidmead and Nathan-Turner were still after strong science-based story-lines and rejected it.

Almost as soon as it had been broadcast, this story came to occupy a special place in fannish lore as "the only true historical since The Highlanders" (and indeed it still is now). It's a pity that it's impossible to view it now, as I did then, without knowing in advance that there is no alien monster at the back of everything, even if the mysterious Indian does his best to persuade us otherwise, because that's this story's Big Point: that sometimes there isn't anything alien or achronic or even just plain unnatural going on. Unlike most of the previous historicals, it doesn't visit a major historical event or period from school history (like the Crusades, the end of the siege of Troy, or the burning of Rome); it's a historical novel rather than a history-book.

In fact it's a very old-fashioned sort of story, with a random twin to a companion in much the way that the first two Doctors found random twins to themselves. It's odd that more isn't done with this: it's Ann who gets kidnapped first by monster-George, which is exactly whom monster-George would kidnap if he had the choice. It's only right at the end that the resemblance is played up.

It's odd in this 1960s frame that to solve the problem presented to the TARDIS crew, a murder mystery to which the audience is immediately handed the answer even if we don't know why the heavy-breathing guy is tied up, takes not just conventional deductive and adventurous skills but the Doctor's true nature as a time-traveller, as he shows the inside of the TARDIS to outsiders.

This was supposed to be Nyssa's spotlight story for this series. Tegan gets some good moments (she's so much nicer when she's not constantly whining), Adric is… Adric, and the Doctor doesn't actually get to do much… but sadly they all leave a bit of a gap which Nyssa can't really fill. I've complained about the scripts not giving Sarah Sutton much to do, but it seems that she can't actually do very much other than looking pretty. Playing as Ann, her ventures into melodrama are not of the best. Still, I'm going to carry on blaming the scripts: Nyssa could have had a lovely scene talking George down in the finale, but instead she just gets to flail about.

As Peter Davison points out on the DVD commentary, the BBC was already churning out this sort of drama anyway… with more experienced cast and crew who could do it rather better… so why bother?

All in all it's not actively offensive, but it never shines; it's just sort of there. Which in this series is better than average.

Earthshock

Just as the last story was inevitably viewed after the fact as "the one without a monster", this one is inevitably "the one where Adric dies". (Originally that would have been Christopher Priest's The Enemy Within, had Nathan-Turner not fatally offended him.)

More significantly to me at the time, it was the first Cybermen story I'd seen live, coming seven years after the frankly sub-par Revenge of the Cybermen. Nathan-Turner even turned down a Radio Times cover that would have spoiled the effective surprise: it didn't provide exceptional ratings in either direction, but fan reaction convinced him that going back to the show's past was a direction worth pursuing.

(That there was such a thing as "a Cybermen story" I just took without question: there had been Cybermen before, so presumably there would be again. Ditto Daleks.)

In the initial argument, Adric sabotages his own side by being such a whiny git, as always. Even if he actually had a point, we'd have no reason to believe it. That Tegan and Nyssa side with him just makes it less plausible. Matthew Waterhouse plays him so offensively that even when I was first watching the show as a kid I couldn't sympathise with the tantrum he throws here. (And given that Adric has shown an ability to fly the TARDIS, I certainly wouldn't leave him on his own there!)

As the tracker lights start going out without warning, I do feel that the soldiers really ought to start bailing out rather sooner than they do. With all that significant foreshadowing about the scanner detecting "only mammalian life", I was frankly expecting the Silurians, and it's a little disappointing to see the Cybermen in a quick clip at the end of the first episode, especially when the TARDIS crew don't learn this until half-way through part three: as I've been saying in my reviews of mystery novels, the mystery should be solved by the reader about as fast as it's solved by the protagonists, as otherwise the protagonists look either stupid or over-smart.

Actually the cliffhangers are rather odd here - that revelation in the middle of part three really should have been a cliffhanger in itself, perhaps for part two, and the point at which the cybermen confront and recognise the Doctor should have been the part three ending.

For me these really are the "classic" Cybermen, at least of the hard-headed versions rather than the original bandaged ones. They're arguably a little "busy" with those forehead slots, but straight "handle" ear-pipes always seem less obtrusive than corrugated flexible ones, and the support structure makes a certain amount of sense. I'm less convinced by the Plexiglas chin plates; yes, I know it makes it easier to see which one's talking, but I'm still of the "total body prosthesis" school rather than the "heavily augmented with some organic parts remaining" tendency. On the other hand, the cyberleader's quest for revenge, all this stuff about how the Doctor "must be taken alive" so that he will suffer, seems rather at odds with their supposedly emotionless attitude. And most crucially, they fail to kill the freighter crew (thus ensuring their plot's failure) for purely emotional reasons… for all the role their specific characteristics play in the plot, they could be any old alien menace, Daleks or Ice Warriors or whatever. There's nothing here to make them distinctively cybermen.

Fan opinion is divided on Beryl Reid as a hard-bitten space captain, possibly based on whether they've seen her in other things. I haven't (except for a small part I didn't notice in Dr. Phibes Rises Again), and I think she works reasonably well, even if June Bland as her Number One (sadly never called that) is a bit more interesting through being less thoroughly confrontational.

The regulars have less to do; Tegan gets to run around in overalls a bit and shoot cybermen, but Nyssa's been put back in the cupboard and Adric just carries on as usual.

The cave is all right, but the spaceship sets are excellent, obviously inspired by the industrial grime of Alien, with random detritus all over the place. One of the big flaws of set design and decoration on a budget has been that things which should look crowded and lived-in end up looking stark and basic; this time that's fixed.

Two separate occurrences of "let me show you our ship to prove that we're harmless", after the one in the last story. Why is this suddenly now the universal answer to "we don't trust strangers round here"?

The plot generates plenty of mystery, but end up not making any sense. Why use androids rather than more cybermen? Why not just hide two or three or 256 planet-busting bombs on Earth rather than faffing about with the space freighter? It wasn't needed as a transmission point, given that a cyber-ship (that we never see) could rendezvous with it later; if it was wanted as a backup plan, the transmission should have been sent from a different freighter. Why don't the cybermen use the effective flesh-dissolving guns that they give to their androids, rather than the rather less effective cyber-guns that can be turned on them if captured? Why store that huge invasion force aboard the ship that's intended to be used as a bomb and then evacuate them onto some other ship, when they could just have been put on board that other ship in the first place? How did that final Cyberman on the bridge get damaged? It feels to me like a first draft rather than a completed script.

Gosh, time travel's easy all of a sudden.

Temporal grace? What's that?

The freighter's explosion was apparently re-done for the DVD release: in the original, it's apparently spontaneous rather than following on from the crash. This and the absence of cyber-ships are where the lack of budget really shows up in this story.

Even with all these problems, this manages to be an enjoyable story, I suspect thanks largely to excellent direction and especially shot composition from Peter Grimwade. And in the end, Adric gets his climactic, character-defining moment… by fucking up one final time. Really, that was one of only two possible ways for him to go out with any sort of narrative consistency: the alternative would have had him betraying everyone again and being killed for that.

Time-Flight

Peter Grimwade, as we've just seen, could be a great director. As we see here, not such a great writer. Still, this was originally pitched to Douglas Adams for series 17; it had been hanging around in limbo for a while before getting made.

Mind you, he gets the initial ATC chatter right, which is an encouraging start; making up a Concorde registration is probably fair enough. The shots around Heathrow (actual Heathrow, the first time the show was allowed to film there) and on board the plane are well-mounted, even if the local air traffic control is just two men in a cupboard somewhere.

The argument in the TARDIS, though, doesn't quite work, because it's having a go at one of the basic narrative pillars of the show: if it were possible to whizz around precisely in time and save people from being killed, it would already have been happening, and it would remove a major source of dramatic tension. As an unspoken background detail of the show, it just about works; when it's brought into the foreground, as it is here, the only reason for it not to be done is unclear bluster from the Doctor. But now the question has been asked, not only by fans but actually within the show's continuity (such as it is), which means that there exists the possibility of an actual answer.

There's a lot of stuff going on in part one, building a complicated structure for the rest of the story to sit on. Concordes being dragged into the past is one thing; then there's hypnotic illusion; then there's the pseudo-oriental bloke (played by "Leon Ny Taiy" to keep the secret) with the crystal ball; then there are the grey low-budget special effects, sorry, Plasmatons… it's an awful lot of setup for a four-parter. But as part one of six, with the remaining episodes being completely different, it might have worked.

Instead it's followed by an awful lot of squabbling. The Doctor versus Kalid [sic] and his "magic", the pilots and the professor versus the prisoners, Nyssa's intuition versus Tegan, it all feels like filler.

(We know why Adric's really here, of course. It's so that he could be credited in Radio Times for the week after the last two episodes of Earthshock, so as not to give anything away by his absence. Also because his contract had a little more time to run.)

Plot bandage, please! Why the whole Kalid act? (Because he was the villain in the original script.) Once the two pilots had seen the Master opening the TARDIS door, why didn't they reverse what he'd done to lock him out? And at the end of it all, the Master still has the Xeraphin core on board. Maybe he's been shoved onto a particular world, but there's no reason he should have to let them out when he gets there.

What did happen to Angela Clifford, anyway?

Deus ex Machina is always a sign that the writers have messed up.

And this is an example of "we can win the day by wishing really really hard", something the modern show does a lot and I tend to deplore in the extreme. All right, here it's only a minor plot point, but it's introduced and it's considered valid.

Basically, ideas are not a substitute for plot. Kidnapping aeroplanes? Evil sorcerers in the ancient past? The Master trying to take advantage of aliens? Each of these could work on its own – indeed, with minor variations they have worked on the show before. But they need to be developed, to have characters put through them, to matter, rather than just to wave a sheet of paper at us and say "look, neat stuff is going on".

With the three flight crew along for most of the adventure, the surviving TARDIS kiddies are as redundant as usual. All right, Tegan and Nyssa break into the Xeraphin chamber and blow something up, but they turn out to have been mind-controlled into it anyway. Direction is lifeless, especially compared with Earthshock. With the usual budgetary worries of a last-of-the-season story, the crew doesn't even attempt to show the vast prehistoric landscape apart from a few polystyrene boulders; we're back to the later Pertwee years now, with everyone talking about a plane that we never actually see them standing next to. (And how did they get in or out without air stairs?)

The takeoff against a rocky landscape is not the worst piece of paintboxing I've seen, though it's pretty sloppy and I've done better myself, but it's a shame the aircraft jumps about so much in the frame.

And then there's the weird anticlimax of Tegan's departure. Like Adric's death, no great dramatic moment, but just another silly accident. Did she just wander off? It's not as though the Doctor actually needed to go anywhere in a hurry; he could just have played the UNIT card again. Like the presence of the Master (forced in at Nathan-Turner's insistence when Saward thought he'd been overused), this was bodged in as a false climax to end the season on a sense of anxiety.

Actually, part one of this serial was the highest-rated Who episode during all of the Nathan-Turner years, the last time ratings would be over ten million. They were down to 8.3 by the final episode. It's worth remembering that at the time this was widely considered the best story of the series.

Overall impressions

It's been hard work again to get up the enthusiasm to watch this series. Once I got started, I went through the stories fairly fast; I just didn't particularly want to start.

I'm trying hard not to blame John Nathan-Turner for everything I dislike about this series. That's a fannish orthodoxy, but I don't think the story's really that simple. Some errors were entirely understandable (K-9 and Company). Some things would have been hard for anyone to do right (keeping the show going after getting rid of Tom Baker). Far worse errors could have been made instead, like trying to keep on doing the old thing until it wore out its welcome rather than trying new things.

I am however entirely willing to blame Antony Root and then Eric Saward: the script editor's job is to spot a naff script and either reject it or fix it up so that it works, and they evidently didn't.

Nathan-Turner's stated objective was to get away from the silly and cheap image that the show had had under previous producers, and instead make a serious-minded show with good production values. Except that he didn't have the budget for good production values, and he didn't have the scriptwriters or editors for serious-minded stories. So what we got was silly and cheap that was trying not to admit it was silly and cheap, that eliminated humour and over-reached itself.

Within the series, there's a pronounced tendency all of a sudden to use the TARDIS as a taxi, moving from place to place within the current story rather than as a mechanism for getting the regulars to where the story's going to happen. Practically anyone can now operate it, and it makes short and long hops with perfect accuracy when it's not moving between one story and the next. It takes out mystery and wonder and replaces it with Just Another Spaceship.

As a first-time viewer, I knew that Doctor Who was a thing I liked, so I supposed I liked this series. But I did find it dreadfully dull.

Adric

Adric was not the fault of Andrew Smith, the young fan who wrote Full Circle; it was entirely John Nathan-Turner's idea to bring in a companion (a set of companions, in fact) who'd be more "relatable" and less, well, competent. (The Doctor, too – look how often Davison says some variant of "all is lost", compared with Baker.) Because competence was regarded as a problem, and that in itself is a huge sign in retrospect of what was going wrong with the show, not to mention a hint as to Nathan-Turner's psychology. I've ranted in previous instalments about the idea of the "audience identification figure" and the perceived need for a companion from contemporary Earth, but this is slightly different: rather than an Earth-person, the idea was to get in someone young and vulnerable with whom the fans would (in theory) more readily identify.

All right, they didn't yet have the awful example of Star Trek: The Next Generation to go by, but Adric really is the proto-Wesley. From the beginning he's annoying, a casual thief, arguing with his "friends", assaulting the one woman in his peer group for daring to disagree with him, carrying on with a trivial fruit theft when his fellow villagers are drowning, carelessly killing the one adult who's actually interested in helping him, trying to leave his "friends" to die… and that's all in his very first story!

The scripts don't help make him less objectionable, certainly, but one has to consider the core of the problem to be Matthew Waterhouse's fault. We've seen good actors overcome naff scripts before, after all. On the set, all the cast and crew took an instant dislike to Waterhouse as the producer's blue-eyed boy who was too good to do what the more experienced people advised, and it seems to have been mutual. The fans despised him – yeah, opinions differ about this, but I'm speaking as someone who was a fan at the time, squarely in the middle of the target audience, who knew other fans when we talked about the show at school, and Adric was the part of the show we tried not to talk about – as they would a few years later with Wesley Crusher, and at least in my case in doing so started to move from a casual acceptance of the programme to a consideration of the minds behind it: this is what you think we are, this is what you think we'll identify with? The spotty kid with no social graces who talks a good game but annoys everybody and messes up all the time?

Yes, of course his exit is famously the first companion death since Katarina (and Sara Kingdom and arguably even Bret Vyon). Killing a companion every now and then is a legitimate attempt to raise the dramatic stakes. Picking the one who'll be least missed is kind of cheap.

Favourite story of this series: I suppose, in the end, Earthshock, barely edging in ahead of Kinda.

Departed companions to date, ranked by how much I like them:

  1. Zoe
  2. Barbara
  3. Liz Shaw
  4. Leela
  5. Romana II
  6. Romana I
  7. Sarah Jane Smith
  8. Susan
  9. Ian
  10. K-9
  11. Steven
  12. Sara Kingdom
  13. Jo Grant
  14. Jamie
  15. Ben
  16. Polly
  17. Vicki
  18. Victoria
  19. Dodo
  20. Katarina
  21. Adric

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:27pm on 13 November 2014

    I liked Davison, he was as much my doctor as Tom Baker. Shame he was given poor material.

    Even as a teenger I remember thinking "hang on, he's thrown the cricket ball, he should have moved, and then moved again when he catches if". What I didn't realise at the time is he's in vacuum, so why did he slow to a stop in the first place?

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:36pm on 13 November 2014

    Russell T Davies of Nu Who said it best about the Sonic Screwdriver: you don't want the Doctor stopped by something as simple as a locked door. It's boring.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:46pm on 13 November 2014

    Adric dying quite shocked me and affected me for a while when I saw this first time round. I didn't realise how awful he was, I wasn't a very discriminating viewer as a teenager.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 09:59am on 14 November 2014

    The whole business with the cricket ball strikes me now as a "we should have some science in this show" moment. It's wedged in.

    The other answer to the Doctor being stopped by a locked door is, um, not to write in a locked door or other boring obstacles in the first place. (There are plenty of times in the show when the Doctor is locked up, and the writers don't want him to escape at once.) The plot device of the sonic screwdriver is all right if you limit it to bypassing boring obstacles; I think that it had sometimes become a bit of a magic wand (and in the new series it simply is a magic wand, just a special techie-looking one that the BBC can sell new toys of each year). I am less interested in the story fragment that goes "a person had a problem, and magicked it away with a thing he had" than in the one that goes "a person had a problem, and solved it by being clever".

  5. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:11pm on 14 November 2014

    The BBC said that Davison's doctor would solve some of his problems using his cricketing skills. The cricket ball bounced of the spacecraft is the only one I recall. He played in a cricket match in an episode (as an all rounder) but I don't recall it solving an particular problem.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 01:20pm on 14 November 2014

    Indeed, those are the only times I've seen the enthusiasm be more than talk in the Davison I've seen so far. Well, arguably there's the "clubhouse" room on the TARDIS in Logopolis, and his selection of costume there.

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