Earthshock: Re-Re-examining Adric
Contributor Peter Ould considers the life and death of Doctor Who’s much maligned, and possibly most misunderstood, companion, Adric…
I was five and he was six
We rode on horses made of sticks
He wore black and I wore white
He would always win the fight
Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down.
Nancy Sinatra, Bang Bang
Ok, letâ€™s get the facts straight. I was eight, he was in his late teens. Iâ€™ve never owned a hobby horse in my life and he travelled in an unfeasible dimensionally transcendent time-ship. He wore khaki, red and mustard with a bluey gold star and we never had a fight ever. And he was the one shot down and when I saw it I cried and cried as the credits scrolled up over a black screen.
But apart from all that Nancy Sinatra captures the awesome, frightful concluding moment pf Earthshock on Wednesday the 27th of March, 1982, when my hero, my idol, the one I wanted to be, died as the freighter he was stuck on crashed through space and time into prehistoric earth. No one saw it coming (unlike the Cybermen for whom so many clues were dropped in Doctor Who Magazine that it was impossible not to realise that they were back) and when the horror of Adricâ€™s death unfolded on screen we all joined in the cry of Tegan â€“ â€œAdric? Doctor!â€. But even a Time Lord couldnâ€™t resolve one eight year oldâ€™s tears, let alone a mouthy Aussie air hostess.
Oh how time changes our perspectives. Back in 1982 my generation of pre-pubescent Doctor Who fans loved, nay adored, nay salivated over Adric. He was everything that we wanted to be â€“ young, attractive, a companion of the Doctor, travelling through the cosmos having exciting adventures and battling fearsome monsters. Now in 2009 itâ€™s all so different. Now my generation, in their mid-thirties and having the wisdom and reflection that comes with two decades of videos and dvds and fan clubs and internet forums and chat rooms, has twenty five plus years later come to a different conclusion.
Adric was pants and Matthew Waterhouse couldnâ€™t act for toffee.
Of course, how were we to know? At the time we were juvenile critics, immature in our ability to discern talentless acting from exhilarating plot lines. We didnâ€™t care that the Cybermen wore silver spray-painted snow boots, all we saw were men of metal who threatened our heroes. We werenâ€™t bothered if the acting was wooden and the characterisation desperate. All that concerned us was the story and the way it made us feel.
Adults know better though. We know that the story isnâ€™t everything, that such naivety demonstrates a lack of understanding of the complexity of watching television drama. It all needs to be packaged just right â€“ the acting, the plot, the design work, the direction. If any of those are missing then the whole thing falls apart and becomes not a triumph of televisual production but an embarrassment of horrific proportions, a bit like that moment when JNT said â€œYes, letâ€™s cast Bonnie Langford. Sheâ€™ll pull in the crowdsâ€.
Who are we kidding (not about Bonnie Langford, obviously)? Why have we turned our backs on one of the most exciting and vibrant periods of Doctor Who? Why have we stabbed our idol in the back? Is it simply because everybody else who weâ€™ve ever met has been sucked onto the â€œString Adric up good and proper and letâ€™s have done with himâ€ bandwagon (and weâ€™re not talking about post-regeneration story fake pseudo spider web thingies here)? Have we lost the courage of our eight years old convictions to declare very clearly and loudly what we like and why we like it?
Itâ€™s time to stand up again for Adric. Itâ€™s time four our opinions to come Full Circle and declare that his legacy should not be a State of Decay but rather, that we will stand like Warriors at the Gate of the defence of Master Waterhouse. Itâ€™s time to drop any pretence of getting words like â€œTrakenâ€, â€œLogopolisâ€ and â€œCastrovalvaâ€ cunningly hidden in a sentence (you didnâ€™t spot what I did in the last sentence did you? Yes? Ah well…..) and simply declare the glory of the model of childhood that was the petulance of the teenage Alzarian in Four to Doomsday. Itâ€™s time to celebrate his playful treachery in Kinda, his pathetic acrobatics in The Visitation, his pitiful gluttony in Black Orchid.
By the time we landed on 25th Century Earth, Adric was the embodiment of my childhood, all the aspects of my boyish character that were to be celebrated and liberated. He was me, I was him, we never met but he was my best friend, my confidante, my all in all.
And the bastards killed him. My nerdy, weedy, foul brown NHS glasses wearing, little heart placed its entire being and future on the back of a tussle-haired spotty teenager and when they shot him down they shot me down too. I was only eight years old, too young to transfer any adoration to the feet (or slightly higher up) of Tegan and Nyssa. The Doctor was positively ancient so he was hardly the right kind of role-model. I had nobody. I was alone, left flying through the past, crashing into the ruins of my idealised world.
But hope springs eternal. Just as Nancy Sinatra can be revitalised, rebadged and remixed, so too there is a future for Adric. Right now I can hear the sound of revival. It is the distant call of the others, the ones who in the early eighties sat in front of the television and placed their hopes and dreams in a dimension hopping orphan. We lived the journey from E-Space to N-Space, losing K9 without a momentâ€™s thought as we had someone far better and suitable to mimic in the school playground (have you ever tried running around on all fours on tarmac?).
We ran alongside Adric through dying planets and universes, inside almost flushed out TARDISes and beside unravelled scarves. We stand now, ready to rise and proclaim that Adric was superb, a brilliant companion, a masterpiece of character development and, contrary to common opinion, a genius of casting. He was the one thing that kept Doctor Who going in the early Eighties. He was the most heroic, most talented, most loved assistant that ever stood by the central console. Who else could plot negative co-ordinates? Who else could curl up tightly in a ball, tripping Jacobean assailants?
Who else could do the things he could do?
Are you with me?
No? In fact most of you would rather watch a Pip and Jane Baker marathon then a single five minute excerpt from an episode with Adric? And there was I thinking that we were on the cusp of a new renaissance in Terradonian appreciation.
I guess now Iâ€™ll never know if I was right.
Peter Ould has been a Doctor Who fan since 1979 when as a five year old he was terrified and entranced by the cliffhanger at the end of part one of Destiny of the Daleks. These days he helps maintain the Vote Saxon website (www.votesaxon.org.uk) and blogs eruditely (and controversially) at www.peter-ould.net.