Adric: An Appreciation
We come now to what could only be described as an in-depth look at one of perhaps the most controversial companions in the shows entire history. Adric sympathisers take note.

ADRIC: AN APPRECIATION

William E. Shawcross, Cambridge, Mass., USA

To Adric I shall be everlastingly grateful for having drawn me into the world of Doctor Who.

Many years ago the program appeared on our local Public Broadcasting Service station after supper and I'd often flip by it without really giving a look. To me the term "Time Lord," which I'd heard somewhere, seemed to be a juvenile joke. But one evening while I was channel surfing Adric caught my eye and I decided to take a closer look.

Much, if not most, of what follows will be familiar to Doctor Who fans, but it was fun putting it together.

Matthew Waterhouse

According to "Doctor Who Companions" (Howe and Stammers, 1995), "Born in 1962, the son of a company solicitor, Matthew Waterhouse joined the BBC working in the news and information department. His first acting role was as a public schoolboy in 'To Serve Then All My Days' (1980) and he had not even started working on that programme before he auditioned for and got the role of Adric in Doctor Who. Since leaving the show, Waterhouse has worked in the theatre, appearing as Puck in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' as Peter in 'Peter Pan' and as Edmund in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.' He also appeared in a one-man show, 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,' which he adapted from Mark Twain's novel."

The Invention of Adric

John Nathan-Turner ("The Companions," 1986) says: "Adric was the first new companion to be introduced after I took over as producer of Doctor Who in November 1979. The character first appeared in my third story at the helm, 'Full Circle' [first broadcast October 25, 1980]....

"The character of Adric was almost totally of Chris [Bidmead]'s devising; even the name Adric (an anagram of scientist Dirac) was his idea. I had suggested a character who was a cross between the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist, and Chris came up with the following:

"Adric is fifteen, small for his age, wiry and strong, with short, straight black hair. His dominating elder brother, Varsh, was the leader of a juvenile street gang on the planet Alzarius -- and under his tuition Adric learned to lie and steal, activities which are the dark side of his natural optimistic brashness and enormous intellectual curiosity.

"Adric never fitted into the gang he was pressed into by his brother, partly because of his superior education, and partly because he is a born non-conformist, even among outlaws. When he met the Doctor his strong sense of self-preservation prompted him to assume an air of subdued innocence and false naivete. Though a disguise, this impersonation reminds us of Adric's very real vulnerability as a mortal (as opposed to the Time Lords). With the last of his family ties broken, Adric stowed away in the TARDIS.

"The Doctor wanted to return Adric to Alzarius, but with one thing and another.... Meanwhile, Adric's true character is emerging -- enquiring, intelligent, but definitely and irritatingly a mendacious magpie. The Doctor's view of his responsibility towards the boy shifts; rather than return him to a planet where he will resume life as a criminal, wouldn't a certain amount of education, reform, and expansion of his moral horizon be appropriate...?" This material also appears in Howe and Stammers.

In this same character sketch, JNT also refers to the character as "a young roughneck."

If the foregoing was written before the first few Adric stories had been written or filmed, the fact that the stories show something else would be understandable. And it may have been. The televised stories show something rather different in character development, in my estimation. One good reason for not returning Adric to Alzarius is, of course, that all his people had already left for Terradon in the starliner! And to really pick nits: Street gang? What streets? Pressed into -- please! He was begging to be admitted.

Furthermore, the idea that he is a thief is a bum rap. The riverfruit episode is a test of manhood (he fails...) and thus not of his devising. He resists hijacking the TARDIS, and the comparator he "lifts" from the lab microscope is to meet the Doctor's needs, not his own.

The Death of Adric

John Nathan-Turner ("The Companions," 1986) writes: "When it came to Adric's departure, I decided to go for broke. I asked Eric Saward, who was writing the script 'Earthshock,' to kill off the character of Adric in as emotional way as possible. Adric was to be the first long-running companion to be killed.

"When Matthew in due course read the script, he refused to speak to me for almost two weeks....

"I think the impact of the death of Adric was so immense that Matthew now has no regrets as to the way he departed from the series." Perhaps.

Howe and Stammers say this about the departure: "The fact of Adric's departure from the series was, as Waterhouse explained, 'a kind of joint decision. As far as I was concerned, everything sort of died on me. I'd done all I could.' ... Matthew Waterhouse returned twice more to the series to reprise his character. Once was in 'Time Flight,' the story that immediately followed 'Earthshock,' when an image of Adric was conjured to try and [sic] prevent Nyssa and Tegan from penetrating the inner sanctum of the Xeraphin; the second time was at the end of 'The Caves of Androzani,' where the regenerating Doctor sees and hears his companions urging him to live."

What Goes In Between

John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado in their "Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text" (1983) have explored in some depth the trajectory of Adric from "Full Circle" to "Earthshock." Their frame of reference is academic and they place Doctor Who firmly within a media theory so complex that it is hard to imagine the producers and writers actually having thought out all the cited factors consciously. Like most analysis, it is after the fact and may explain what happened, but can often only guess at why. Put another way, I was not convinced by the arguments as to the whys and wherefores of what happened.

To quote: "In contrast Nathan-Turner introduced Adric in 1980 in order to rescue the Doctor from the insuperably 'all-knowing' Romana and K-9. As a combination of light-fingered Oliver Twist and precocious mathematical genius, Adric could prick the pomposity of Baker's Doctor by exhibiting his most endearing features (whereas with Davison he tended to bring out his more petulant and 'immature' ones).... Adric plausibly motivated the 'what's happening' companion function in the more complex SF narrative that Nathan-Turner liked.... As Matthew Waterhouse put it; 'For a while the Doctor went around with the Time Lady Romana and a sort of robot computer hound, K-9, and the three of them were all geniuses, all terribly clever. John felt he would like to put a bit of fallibility back into the companions, so he dragged me in.'"

These authors then go into a fairly involved analysis, heavily freighted with theory, of what they perceive as Adric's "other functions." I will try to digest what they say: Adric was identified as a child by constantly getting into trouble and being ever-hungry. He served to smooth over the transition of companions from Romana/K-9 to Tegan/Nyssa and to differentiate and position them. "As a noviciate of the Doctor, Adric was superior in the companion's 'what's happening' function to Tegan. Hence he acted as a transition point in the dialogue between scientific ignorance and wisdom.... Adric's mathematics and his earlier status as companion marks him as superior to Nyssa in the TARDIS."

Further: "It is clear that the character 'space' that Adric inhabited was crossed by a range of generic, narrative and professional discourses...." At this time JNT began to use big-name stars and soon the narrative was "over cluttered" and Adric, who had been introduced "to make the fourth Doctor more fragile" with his "youthful mistakes," was not to outlast the fourth Doctor by much. JNT had carefully fitted Adric to the program's needs and when these changed, Adric was soon history.

Howe and Stammers quote Matthew Waterhouse as saying, "The trouble with Adric was that from the beginning he was so damn complicated." And again: "One of the problems from Matthew Waterhouse's point of view was that the character of Adric changed from story to story. 'As far as I'm concerned, in each four episodes he was a new individual. Every time I established a kind of gut feeling about him, about what he should do and think, it was contradicted by the next script.'"

Waterhouse is quoted by Tulloch and Alvarado: "My character varies from story to story almost. In one story I am a mathematical genius, and in the next I'm just being stupid." Tulloch and Alvarado continue: "Stretched as it was across a whole range of programme 'needs' -- child-identity, narrative 'vulnerability', series continuity, science fiction 'alieness' and so on -- the part of Adric was, as Waterhouse said, a matter of the moment and hardly coherent." Combined with the actor's inexperience, it was a recipe for an early exit.

The Criticisms

We have now looked at the birth and death of Adric and had just a glimpse of Matthew Waterhouse through the brief biography and what he said about his character.

I found nothing but nice things said about Adric/Matthew by John Nathan-Turner (not much of a surprise). Yet from the beginning Adric/Matthew Waterhouse has been to Doctor Who what Wesley Crusher was to ST:TNG. Howe and Stammers jump on the bandwagon with the following cheap shots in their TARDIS Log precis of the character: "Likes: Maths, eating and sulking. Dislikes: being out smarted by Tegan and Nyssa.... 101 Uses for Adric: No. 1: as an interesting wall decoration in 'Castrovalva.' General Description: Total wimp. From his pudding bowl hair cut (the kind of cut that parents force on their kids) to his love of maths, at school he must have been the class nerd...."

For the last year I have been gathering comments, largely negative, about Adric from the Doctor Who newsgroups on the Internet. No one seems to cut him any slack as being young, an apparent orphan who saw his brother die, as a stowaway, and then as an expatriate from E-space. While Matthew Waterhouse may be inexperienced, his acting can't be as bad as fans say just from the fact that he has been able to get at least some stage work since leaving Doctor Who. But of course that is a matter of taste.

A major problem seems to be the one of the boy hero. In media science fiction, Wesley Crusher is forever saving the Enterprise. He is, of course, only the latest in a long line of such heroes and anytime you want to see one, just turn to the Disney channel. Older readers (or viewers) find the boy hero irksome, but he serves in important role-modelling function for youngsters. Unfortunately, much of what is blamed on the Wesleys of the world is due to the mental poverty of the writers doing the scripts.

The inexperience of the youthful hero makes plausible many situations that a more experienced person would avoid, and this just reinforces the inexperience aspect of the youth.

Also, there appears to be major confusion between Adric and Matthew Waterhouse and a conflation of the two -- the actions of one are used to damn the other. It might be better if Matthew had never told the "Castrovalva" barfing story in the first place, let alone repeating it ad nauseam (an appropriate phrase, perhaps). Fortunately, I had formed my opinion of the character long before ever knowing anything about the actor. Maybe some day I'll be lucky enough to meet him at a convention.

My favourite comparison is with Turlough. Mark Strickson did a masterful job of creating a thoroughly despicable (in my eyes) character. While Adric may have been taken in by Monarch (in "Four to Doomsday," with its laughable error in the time period of the Maya Indians), he is always on the Doctor's side. Not so Turlough, who is in the toils of the Black Guardian to encompass the Doctor's doom. Given a choice, I'll take an inept nice guy any day of the week before a polished, dissembling villain-ette. Turlough's theft of the automobile and his wrecking of it shows that he was already bad before being subverted by the Black Guardian; the Guardian simply tilled fertile soil. Score: Adric one, Turlough nothing.

To pirate a net line: Adric is dead -- long live Adric! Thank the maker for videotape!


Bill Shawcross is the retired publisher of SKY & TELESCOPE astronomy magazine and a long-time Doctor Who fan. He is also a B5, B7, etc. aficionado. Maya archaeology, a late interest, is what he studies now. In addition to a bit of fannish writing, he is publishing scandalous personal memoirs under a pen name (don't ask!) and anticipating turning 62 at the end of this year so he can collect Social Security.

Text: Copyright 1996 William E. Shawcross. All Rights Reserved.


ED: Well, thanks to William for this very detailed article. Perhaps some people out there'll think twice before bullying the 'class nerd.' Chance would be a fine thing.

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