Adric and the Death of Doctor Who, 1980-1982 – Part 3

GOLD STAR GOAT – A Blog in Bad Pyjamas- Part Three

Adric and the Death of Doctor Who, 1980-1982. Why was Doctor Who Canceled

by Jacob Edwards

doctor who season 18 logo, Doctor who 1980-1981, doctor who canceledSTATE OF DECAY

In which Adric’s character outline falls apart and Matthew Waterhouse sucks the life out of an otherwise good vampire serial.

Those who look back at Doctor Who under John Nathan-Turner often wonder at what troubled waters the programme sailed into; and more pointedly, why nobody noticed it was drifting off course, or took steps to correct it.

One answer is that Nathan-Turner, while given command of the former BBC flagship, at the same time had his compass taken away, and so was forced to navigate by his own dead reckoning.

doctor who canceled, bbc audience research department, doctor who viewership, popular tv 1982

A BBC Audience Research Department report for Doctor Who in 1982


For the entirety of its run up to and including The Leisure Hive, Doctor Who was reviewed by the BBC’s Audience Research Department.[1] The ARD recorded the general consensus — of everyday viewers rather than hard-core fans — regarding elements of the show such as: the strength, originality and comprehensibility of its storyline; the quality of its production in terms of makeup, special effects, music, costume and sets; the appeal (or otherwise) of new characters; and overall a summation of how enjoyable or well received was any particular serial.

The gleanings of the ARD would surely have been invaluable in providing audience feedback to John Nathan-Turner as he fashioned Doctor Who for the 1980s (especially once the programme left its traditional Saturday evening slot, thereby calling into question any comparison of viewing figures with those of previous seasons).

And even if Nathan-Turner were generally inclined to disregard criticisms, or cite them as fickle stabs of nostalgia, one must suspect — and let’s take note here: the final ARD report showed some disparagement of Lalla Ward’s acting[2] — that Matthew Waterhouse’s portrayal of Adric would have to have drawn a sufficiently negative response to occasion at least a small misgiving or two at the production level.

In absence of the ARD to provide this direction after the fact, Doctor Who’s only safeguard was the efficacy of its casting process…

matthew waterhouse, doctor who adric, doctor who canceled

Matthew Waterhouse on his newfound fame

How Did Matthew Waterhouse become Adric?

Upon leaving school Matthew Waterhouse landed a job at the BBC filing newspaper articles, while waiting to apply for drama school.[3] Having sought out casting director Jenny Jenkins, he was called in to read for To Serve Them All My Days (1980-1981), a schoolboy drama ‘in desperate need of lads who looked young and were posh.’[4] He was accepted by director Ronald Wilson and was still engaged in read-throughs when the part of Adric came up.

Waterhouse asked that his name be put forward,[5] and despite having neither formal training nor any real experience as an actor, he was called to read a two-page scene in which he responded with suitably companion-esque wonder to John Nathan-Turner playing the role of the Doctor.[6]

Curiously enough, the scene in question was used again when Nathan-Turner summoned Waterhouse for a second reading, this time in the presence of Christopher H. Bidmead.[7] That Nathan-Turner, rather than investigating Waterhouse’s range as an actor, merely required him to repeat the same performance seems to tally with the idea that Waterhouse was cast ‘[because he] was not the type to be found on the front of chocolate boxes!’;[8] or, in other words, more for his eagerness and physical appearance than for any proven ability to act.

As Christopher H. Bidmead recalls:

What we did, which may have been a mistake in practical terms but which I still think is a good idea, was that we invented the character as a whole, rounded entity and then cast it. Other shows often work the other way around. What drew us to Matthew, although he wasn’t wholly the character we designed, was his tremendous enthusiasm as a real fan of the show, coupled with his interesting and unusual face.[9]

Graham Rickard’s book A Day with a TV Producer shows Nathan-Turner and Waterhouse reading the scene in question, but suggests that Waterhouse had already been cast.[10] In this scenario the repeat performance served no purpose beyond filling a page in the written walkthrough of a so-called typical Nathan-Turner day.

Christopher H. Bidmead, for his part, seemed mainly interested in whether Waterhouse had understood the symbolism of the audition.[11] Whether this attitude stemmed from an unhealthy focus on the complexity, the cleverness of the scripts under his care, or merely from an acceptance that John Nathan-Turner would cast whomsoever he wished regardless of what Bidmead thought, the upshot of the process was that Adric did not feature in the readings, and neither Bidmead nor Nathan-Turner seemed particularly concerned to determine whether or not Waterhouse was capable of acting the character they envisaged.

When compared, for example, to the lengths that former producer Barry Letts went to in casting the characters of Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith — he auditioned over 200 actresses before hiring Katy Manning and Elisabeth Sladen[12] — Nathan-Turner’s and Bidmead’s efforts seem remarkably lax… as indeed does their failure to prepare Waterhouse in any way for the environment into which he was then plunged:

matthew waterhouse, tom baker, doctor who canceledHalf-Baked, Wholly Bakered

While Bidmead whispered, ‘Watch out for Tom,’[13] — gaining a wicked pleasure, it would seem, from knowing what Waterhouse had yet to find out — Nathan-Turner stuck with what he probably wished were the case; namely, ‘Tom’s alright,’ repeated a second time, without conviction. ‘Tom’s alright.’[14]

Tom Baker, however, was not alright, and at a time when he was having taken away from him most of the creative input and leeway he had come to expect from his long and successful tenure as Doctor Who’s leading man, he was unlikely to react well to having a new regular cast member hired without being consulted (or indeed even informed) by either Bidmead or Nathan-Turner.[15]

Furthermore, if the best way to handle Baker’s temperamental nature was to stand up to him — as Louise Jameson had done[16] — then the fannishly nervous and overawed Matthew Waterhouse was manifestly the wrong person for the job.

The character of Adric, much though Nathan-Turner would publicise Waterhouse as a fresh-faced sign of the changing times, would prove as unwelcome aboard the fourth Doctor’s TARDIS as Waterhouse himself proved unprepared for surviving the dark and twisted labyrinth that marked the end of Baker’s era.

doctor who season 17, state of decay

Season 17 – State of Decay

New Beginnings in a State of Decay

Unlike almost everything else in Season 18, State of Decay was not new; it was dug up by John Nathan-Turner from a pile of shelved stories left lying around by previous producers,[17] there being what Christopher H. Bidmead describes as a dearth of quality scripts being submitted to the show.[18]

Originally scheduled to open Season 15 — a slot given over to Horror of Fang Rock when the BBC staged its own production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and vampires were declared off limits to Doctor Who[19]State of Decay was written by Terrance Dicks in the gothic style that Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had favoured throughout Seasons 13 and 14. When Bidmead tried to make it new, an authorial tussle ensued in which Dicks baulked at Bidmead’s changing the focus more towards technological aspects,[20] and Bidmead put Dicks’s objections down to an indolent reluctance to keep retyping the script.[21] Bidmead eventually prevailed, but when director Peter Moffatt read the modernised version and saw it had lost all of the gothic elements, he threatened to pull out… whereupon Nathan-Turner ruled in favour of the original script by Dicks.[22]

Unfortunately for Matthew Waterhouse, Adric was not in the story Terrance Dicks had written for Season 15. (Neither were Romana or K9 but at least there was some manoeuvring room for them to double up in Leela’s place.) Dicks talks about reworking his script to accommodate the dynamic between the Doctor and Romana,[23] yet clearly he had no room for Adric.

In an otherwise well-realised serial, Waterhouse’s part is nothing more than a clumsily scripted, piecemeal nod to the cosmic Artful Dodger aspect that Nathan-Turner favoured. Adric sets off from the TARDIS with an exaggerated, carefree jauntiness more reminiscent of Foghorn Leghorn than the Artful Dodger. Paddy Kingsland attempts to cover up this Maryland performance with what might charitably be called twinkle-toed miscreant music, yet it quickly becomes evident that Adric is neither artful nor all that capable of dodging.

How (Not) to Act in Doctor Who

Elisabeth Sladen once talked about her process in playing the part of Sarah Jane:

I remember watching my eight-year-old cousins a lot and I got some of what I thought were good body movements for Sarah, because I think there’s an area of Doctor Who that can never be real…. because I see the Doctor and his companion really as cartoon characters. You had to justify a lot of silly things that you did. You had to make them work the best you could.[24]

the sarah jane adventures, elisabeth sladen

Elisabeth Sladen worked on 86 episodes of Doctor Who, then 56 episodes of her spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Question: rather than be crucified for sacrilegiously bad acting, could Matthew Waterhouse then be credited instead with attempting to convey a slightly unreal sense of movement…? Answer: only insofar as attaining this goal may be inferred from having passed well beyond it and into the crippling extremes of pantomime tripe.

Adric shows no peripheral awareness while romping through the TARDIS.[25] His attempt to steal a piece of bread evinces a mentality more in keeping with the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal than the Mathematical Genius of Alzarius. Indeed, from Adric’s almost comical ineptness it seems almost as if, having made such an effort to rein in Tom Baker’s antics, Bidmead and Nathan-Turner then decided, in a perverse and fatuous about-face, to inject lightness and humour into the show by other means, failing disastrously.

Into the Breach

Matthew Waterhouse’s performance is hardly inspiring throughout this farce of characterisation gone bad, yet it would be cruel to suggest that he alone was to blame.

John Nathan-Turner was renowned for taking an interventionist yet non-discerning stance with regards filming, and was always urging his directors to move forward without retakes.[26] Some of the responsibility must rest with him, and also director Peter Moffatt (although, in fairness, Moffatt’s work was excellent in most other respects and he did already have his hands full dealing with Tom Baker and the untenable off-camera relationship between Baker and Lalla Ward).[27]

Yes, Waterhouse oscillates between exaggerated, playacting movements and equally unnatural, statue- or zombie-like stillness; yet in acknowledging these failings, it must be recognised that actors — and particularly actors of limited experience — are constrained to work within the bounds of their material, a later example being Nicola Bryant’s portrayal of Peri, which was very much up and down but clearly at its most convincing when playing in scripts by higher calibre writers such as Robert Holmes and Philip Martin.

What was Adric Supposed to Do?

Matthew Waterhouse was jarring in his performance, but he was let down from the outset by Terrance Dicks and Christopher H. Bidmead, who when locked in their battle for artistic control over State of Decay allowed one rather fundamental element of script-writing and -editing to fall by the wayside; namely, that of providing characters with clear and believable motivations.

Adric is childishly pompous when dealing with K9,[28] spoilt brat condescending when talking to the villagers, and then astoundingly ungrateful in the face of Romana’s rescue attempt… let alone Tarak’s death. Worst of all is the righteous blame that he directs at Romana: ‘One of my family’s died for your lot already!’[29] This is a patent falsehood, and one that should have been picked up during script-editing or at very least in the two month break between recording State of Decay and Full Circle.[30]

Even if the Doctor or Romana had been responsible in some way for Varsh dying, only three episodes have passed since Adric blithely, and with no emotional turmoil whatsoever, stowed away aboard the TARDIS to see the universe. Given this situation, his outburst comes across not only as a flimsy plot device but also as a slap in the face to all who have travelled (or would like to travel) as the Doctor’s companion.

⚖The Verdict

Was Adric really the worst thing since unsliced bread? Yes, and if the ARD had still been around, it would surely have revealed a toss-up between Matthew Waterhouse and the giant vampire sock puppet for worst acting performance in an otherwise classic serial.

Tune in next month for Warriors’ Gate, wherein Doctor Who truly sets sail… weighed down only by one very lightweight anchor.

[1] Howe and Walker, Doctor Who: The Television Companion, 383.

[2] Howe and Walker, Doctor Who: The Television Companion, 383.

[3] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 88; 90-91.

[4] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 95.

[5] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 96-98; Matthew Waterhouse, quoted in The Boy with the Golden Star, 1:12-1:30.

[6] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 7-9; 101.

[7] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 103.

[8] John Nathan-Turner, quoted in Howe and Stammers, Doctor Who: Companions, 90.

[9] Christopher H. Bidmead, quoted in Howe, Stammers and Walker, Doctor Who: The Eighties, 14.

[10] Graham Rickard, A Day with a TV Producer, 30.

[11] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 104.

[12] Barry Letts, quoted in Time Warrior DVD Commentary, 16:12-16:49.

[13] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 114.

[14] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 112.

[15] Miles and Wood, About Time, Volume Five, 56.

[16] Louise Jameson, quoted in Horror of Fang Rock DVD Commentary, 18:50-19:10; 66:10-67:32.

[17] Terrance Dicks, quoted in State of Decay DVD Commentary, 0:34-2:16.

[18] Christopher H. Bidmead, quoted in Vampire Lovers, 1:21-1:31; Full Circle DVD Commentary, 71:00-71:35.

[19] Terrance Dicks, quoted in Vampire Lovers, 0:50-1:17.

[20] Terrance Dicks, quoted in State of Decay DVD Commentary, 32:44-33:38.

[21] Christopher H. Bidmead, quoted in Vampire Lovers, 4:19-4:33.

[22] Peter Moffatt, quoted in Vampire Lovers, 5:15-5:35.

[23] Terrance Dicks, quoted in State of Decay DVD Commentary, 0:34-2:16.

[24] Elisabeth Sladen, quoted in Howe and Stammers, Doctor Who: Companions, 70.

[25] State of Decay, Episode 1, 9:39-9:52.

[26] John Black, quoted in Four to Doomsday DVD Commentary, 24:45-25:20.

[27] Peter Moffatt, quoted in A New Body at Last, 9:26-9:32.

[28] State of Decay, Episode 1, 9:53-11:04.

[29] State of Decay DVD, 79:40-79:45.

[30] Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 183.

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Jacob Edwards
Jacob Edwards writes creative and academic non-fiction, short stories, reviews and poetry, and has appeared in journals, magazines and anthologies in Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and the US. He may be found online at, salvaging 42 word reviews at Derelict Space Sheep, posting poems of the everyday at and (to his eternal shame) now tweeting @ToastyVogon.
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