By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
One of the most maligned companions ever, Adric, played by Matthew Waterhouse was introduced to replace outgoing companions Romana and K9 in Tom Baker’s final season.
The character outline was for Adric to be an Artful Dodger type, straight out of Oliver Twist. The signs were good; according to John Nathan Turner, Matthew gave an outstanding audition and I remember him being introduced on Top of the Pops a few days before his debut in episode one of Full Circle and feeling excited about this new companion.
The Tardis is drawn into another universe and lands on the planet Alzarius just as Mistfall comes – and when the mist comes so do the giants. Adric is a mathematical genius but yearns to be with his rebel brother who has rejected life aboard the Starliner which is preparing to return to their homeworld, Terradon, which is engaged in a relentless system repair. Challenged to prove his loyalty to his brother’s gang, Adric steals some fruit but is chased by a Decider who is swallowed by the swamp. Injured, he stumbles across the Tardis.
Despite his super healing abilities, Adric contributes little to the story and stows away when the Doctor resolves everything. Their next battle is against vampires and here’s where Adric’s character begins to unravel as he pretends to side with the vampires but the acting doesn’t really convince and the execution doesn’t pull it together. Again, in Warrior’s Gate – Romana’s final story – Adric does little but wander about and get captured.
But in Keeper of Traken he finds a friend in Nyssa, daughter of the tragic Tremas but Matthew’s acting is again lacking. It’s as if the writers aren’t sure what to do with him and his character is all over the place.
Now, it has been well documented that Matthew wasn’t well-liked by his co-stars who, to this day, haven’t changed their minds, despite meeting him for several DVD documentaries, and the infamous story of his giving national treasure Richard Todd acting tips have gone down in Who history. Again, in Kinda and Four to Doomsday he attempts his pretend to betray the Doctor trick and given the backstage gossip you have to wonder how much Janet Fielding’s real life dislike of him ran over into the scripts but you can sort of understand.
However, it also reflects lazy writing and complete lack of defining the character beforehand, so to put all the blame on the actor isn’t really fair. There is no point in sticking a character in a show just to fill numbers. What was intended never materialized character wise. In Castrovalva he is kept prisoner by the Master, his mathematical abilities tapped to help create the illusionary town of Castrovalva as a lure for the Doctor. It is Adric that saves them as the town, actually a space/time trap, begins to collapse and as Adric is the one that created it, only he can see the way out. Even in The Visitation and Black Orchid Adric does little more than eat and run around a forest including suffering the old classic: a sprained ankle. The classics never die do they?
However contracts had been signed and he had to appear in these stories. There was an attempt to show a possible relationship with Nyssa which ultimately went nowhere. Perhaps it was the increased numbers in the Tardis crew that caused his character to fade away. However in Earthshock not only did the Cybermen return and kick ass, but Adric joined an exclusive Doctor Who club that he shares with only two other companions.
The Cybermen have accidentally sent a bomb-filled freighter back in time where it was to crash and cause the extinction of the dinosaurs. It cannot be changed, it is history and the Doctor is helpless to stop it. As Tegan and Nyssa beg him to go back for Adric, the camera cuts to the boy, knowing what is coming, all alone and futilely holding the wires of the computer that could save everything, he says quietly, “Well, now I’ll never know” (see video below)…
Bang. Adric is no more. And the tragedy is, Adric will never know that he just saved the Earth. He dies believing his death is for nothing. He appears as a hallucination in the next story Time Flight but outside of that he never returns bar comic strip appearances and novels where he is actually used to great effec,t especially missing adventure Cold Fusion where the fifth and seventh Doctors meet and there is a beautiful moment where the fifth Doctor notices the seventh Doctor looking sadly at Adric and he cannot say what is to come.
In the Big Finish story The Boy that Time Forgot, it is revealed Adric survived the explosion and is now an old megalomaniac the Doctor must stop. However he isn’t played by Waterhouse but by Andrew Sachs. To date, Matthew has been the only surviving companion not to return to the role in Big Finish. He now lives in America and has published his autobiography which is fascinating stuff. He gives his side of the story and even in the DVD commentaries there is still a hint of old wounds.
Love him or loathe him, Adric is a part of history and in the seconds of his death, viewers forgot they disliked him and mourned his loss. Now if only that standard of writing had been put into his character from the very beginning then maybe history would have played out very differently.