Adric and the Death of Doctor Who, 1980-1982 – Part 2
GOLD STAR GOAT – A Blog in Bad Pyjamas- Part Two
A look at interactions between the cast, crew and characters to determine if Full Circle’s introduction of Adric killed the Doctor Who classic series
Season 18 of Doctor Who saw the introduction of the show’s equal youngest companion, played by the youngest actor ever to appear as a regular on the programme. Adric, a fifteen year old portrayed by eighteen year old Matthew Waterhouse, joined Tom Baker’s Doctor after Full Circle (October 1980) and continued on through most of Peter Davison’s first season, eventually being killed off at the conclusion of Earthshock (March 1982).
Much criticism has been leveled, both at Adric the character and Waterhouse the actor, yet however undeniable the failings of each, these did not exist in a vacuum. Behind the scenes of Doctor Who numerous factors combined to shape and define the persona that Waterhouse presented onscreen.
To many Who enthusiasts, the word Adric has become synonymous with the decline they remember as having followed in the wake of Baker’s exit. Yet, evidence would suggest that Waterhouse’s hapless portrayal, rather than being the rotten egg that spoiled an otherwise tried and true recipe, merely was the lingering aftertaste of a programme being concocted on the fly and haphazardly stirred.
In which Adric is picked up from a discarded pile of river fruit.
An audience of 5.9 million tuned in to episode one of Full Circle, which both introduced Adric and ended with one of the programmes most iconic images: dread marshmen breaking from beneath the surface and wading from a misty, bubbling swamp. Episode two saw the viewing figures plummet to a calamitous 3.7 million.
And so we cut straight to the 2.2 million viewer question: Did people really hate Adric that much?
Yes, is the short answer. The long answer requires a bit more consideration.
Lalla Ward (Romana) is said to have disliked Matthew Waterhouse from the moment he started on the programme. Waterhouse himself remembers nothing but cordiality but looking back there do appear signs of aversion. In the DVD commentary for Warriors’ Gate, when asked what it was like hiding under a blanket with Waterhouse, Ward replies, ‘I think it’s a question you shouldn’t ask because I’m likely to let off such a stream of invective that it will all be bleeped to the point where we’ll collapse.’
Likewise, in a documentary on the making of Full Circle, she says of Adric, ‘I think it would have been a wonderful idea if Adric could have, say, taken the plot over the edge of a cliff and never come back, but they didn’t see it that way, so he stuck, like a burr.’
If Ward’s distaste shows through in retrospect, generally speaking her comments have been directed at Adric the character rather than Waterhouse per se. She seems to have tolerated his unexpected elevation to the rank of regular cast member, and maintained at least a veneer of civility.
If nothing else, Waterhouse’s remembrances of her may have been favourably coloured through mere dint of being far less painful than those he had of…
Tom Baker (The Doctor) by this time had become notoriously difficult to work with, his mood swings worsening as he and Ward became romantically involved. Baker could be staggeringly rude, and as Waterhouse had grown up idolising the Fourth Doctor, it must have come as quite a shock to find his dream job was in reality an actor’s worst nightmare.
Wendy Padbury (Zoe), who in 1968 joined Doctor Who in circumstances not dissimilar to Waterhouse’s, recalls having been far more fortunate in her introduction to the programme: ‘Patrick Troughton had always been my favourite actor from when I was a little girl. It’s very daunting when you’re very young and you meet somebody you admire. But he made it very easy.’
Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton were renowned for their friendliness in welcoming newly cast regulars. Tom Baker in contrast (and particularly in Ward’s presence) proved to be tense, moody and volatile. On a good day — such as on The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis once he and Ward were engaged — he might prove friendly towards Waterhouse and considerate when acting with him; but on most days he ran horribly short on patience. On an especially bad day he could stop suddenly, turn to Waterhouse and bellow, ‘Why don’t you piss off?’
Tom Baker was a brooding elephant in the studio and rehearsal rooms, and Matthew Waterhouse found little support from those around him. Indeed, sometimes his inexperience was taken advantage of to provide a buffer between someone else and Baker’s explosive temper, such as when Assistant Floor Manager Val McCrimmon sent a reluctant Waterhouse into the minefield to give Baker a prop, only for Baker, already in something of a rage, to proclaim, ‘I don’t need that fucking thing!’, and for emphasis send the prop (a small chair with wheels) soaring over Waterhouse’s head.
Tom Baker and director Peter Grimwade both held very negative views of the script for Full Circle, and would criticise it (often and loudly) during rehearsals. Their main bone of contention seemed to be that its writer was ‘young and spotty,’ ergo useless, an attitude that can have done little to make Matthew Waterhouse — then eighteen years old — feel comfortable in an unfamiliar environment.
Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) have both suggested that Grimwade was a far better director in terms of technical aspects than he was at relating to actors. This lack of consideration seems to have manifested while filming on location for Full Circle, where Waterhouse remembers Grimwade as a relentlessly hectoring, harpy-like figure who, far from being constructive, was constantly venting his frustration at being an uncommissioned, wannabe writer.
In some aspects this mirrors the reception Wendy Padbury, then twenty years old, received from director Morris Barry when recording her second story, Season 6’s The Dominators. ‘You’re a little girl and will be put in your place,’ Barry told her, but whereas Padbury already had been embraced into the regular cast by Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, nobody seems to have made any effort to help Waterhouse find his feet in the acting world.
Some of the guest actors were later to prove sympathetic — Emrys James, for instance, and John Fraser and Anthony Ainley — but the permanents were nightmarish and the crew indifferent. When Waterhouse was sent into the marsh to do an underwater scene, he was left holding his breath and desperately waiting for a call of, ‘Action!’, not having been instructed just to swim when he was ready. ‘We thought you’d drowned,’ the costume lady told him afterwards, but nobody had gone splashing in to check.
When interviewed about John Nathan-Turner’s policy of hiring big name guest stars, Peter Grimwade concluded: ‘The thinner a character is written, the stronger in a way it needs to be played in order to convince — it’s got to be real and believable.’ Perhaps then Grimwade’s frustrations came not so much from being an uncommissioned writer, as Waterhouse asserts, but from being lumbered with the paper-thin character of Adric and no-one to blow life into it but a fledgling not-quite actor; a disastrous combination.
Notwithstanding that he was working in a hostile environment, Waterhouse gives a markedly uninspiring performance in Full Circle. Whether from tension at Grimwade’s overbearing snipes or merely from cluelessness, he regularly holds his hands and arms rigid in front of his body and continues to do so even when walking. Waterhouse plays Adric like animated clay — a golem, almost — and this odd pseudo stiffness extends also to his speech. His delivery seems consistently off by half a second, jilting his conversations and making him seem the least likely of the Outler kids to be taken on as the Doctor’s new companion.
(Viewers at this point might wonder why Richard Willis (Varsh) was not hired — his performance and character being far closer to what Christopher H. Bidmead and John Nathan-Turner had conceptualised in Adric — or even Bernard Padden (Tylos), who read three times for the part but apparently lost out to Waterhouse on account of having a northern accent. One answer is that the stories were recorded out of order, leaving no opportunity to use Full Circle as an audition.)
Whatever the audience might think, Adric was the new Doctor Who regular and Waterhouse was Adric, trotting around and oscillating with great strangeness between a state of total indifference to the Doctor and Romana and one where he appeared to think himself their best friend. There was, it would seem, an option in Waterhouse’s contract to write him out after eight episodes, but this was not taken up.
Upon Full Circle’s first broadcast, at least one critic responded favourably to Matthew Waterhouse’s debut, saying: ‘Adric was interesting. He was very well introduced… and blended into the story rather well. Matthew Waterhouse isn’t the best of young actors, but he’s by no means the worst, and gave a fairly pleasing performance.’
Although this seems an overly generous assessment, it bears remembering that it was made contemporaneously. As writer Andrew Smith has noted, Adric’s character, as it was established in Full Circle, varied quite noticeably in later stories, the effect of which was to retrospectively undermine Waterhouse’s portrayal.
Waterhouse’s acting may pale in comparison with that of the experienced adult cast — and even when marked against the other Outlers — yet however abject his embodiment of Adric, it should also be recognised that he was given the least promising role to play. Andrew Smith conceived a number of strong, interesting characters; but Adric was not in his original script and had to be written in, his role and persona gleaned not from any natural attachment to the story but rather from an A4 page of character notes cobbled together by…
Christopher H. Bidmead
Bidmead (Script Editor) described Adric as a liar and a thief, both brazen and intellectually curious; a non-conformist (even among his peers), whose brother sacrifices himself to save the Doctor and Romana.
What is most notable about this character sketch is not how little it was followed throughout Matthew Waterhouse’s tenure in the TARDIS, but rather how little it was followed in his first story, into which Christopher H. Bidmead had even more input than was usual for a script editor.
Andrew Smith was eighteen years old when he wrote Full Circle, his inexperience empowering Bidmead to re-author the script in accordance with his own interests. Yet, in spite of Bidmead’s interventions — or perhaps because of them? — Full Circle presents Adric more as a hopeless bumbler than an irredeemable miscreant; more a pretentious class-brat than a non-conformist intellectual. Even his brother’s death is not carried out in a way that has any bearing on saving the Doctor or Romana; certainly it provokes far less a reaction from Adric than is consistent with his subsequent (though previously recorded) finger-pointing in State of Decay.
Bidmead has cited three reasons why the recidivist aspect of Adric’s character faded into disuse: because Bidmead himself had no interest in it; because Matthew Waterhouse was not very good at conveying it; and because John Nathan-Turner, whose idea it was, quickly forgot about it.
This, however, seems rather a flimsy rationale, suggesting that Bidmead, despite drawing up Adric’s character outline in conjunction with Nathan-Turner, disagreed (but only privately) with his producer and so went ahead and script-edited the series in subversive accordance with his own ideas. ‘We never quite got Adric right,’ he admits, while in essence still blaming Waterhouse and Nathan-Turner, not himself.
Yet, Bidmead was the script editor, and one aspect of his job was to ensure that Adric received a characterisation consistent with his outline and with Waterhouse’s understanding of how he was to play the part. That this didn’t happen — either in Adric’s first story or in Logopolis and Castrovalva, the two stories that Bidmead wrote outright — is really quite damning.
By mocking the paltriness of Adric’s thievery, joking that he is ‘master stealer of the river fruit’, Bidmead displays a flippancy that points strongly to his disregard for this aspect of script-editing. If river fruit theft seems trifling — and it does — then Bidmead has failed at his job, neither standing up to Nathan-Turner over Adric’s characterisation nor bringing it out in a more subtle, more compelling manner.
Instead, Bidmead wrote Adric off as someone else’s mistake and focussed on his own interests: the marshmen / starliner plot. Moreover, he made no apparent effort to rescind or modify the character brief he had sent out, and so burdened other writers with character prerequisites that had not been, and only sporadically would be, applied to Adric.
Did viewers dislike Adric from the get-go? Yes, though perhaps not as much as the people who created him. Was Matthew Waterhouse supremely wretched in his first outing? Yes, but he had a lot of help.
Tune in next month for State of Decay, in which the situation, while desperately seeking an adage through which to get better, first contrives to get a whole lot worse…
 Lalla Ward, quoted in Warriors’ Gate DVD Commentary, 58:44-58:57.
 Lalla Ward, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 7:25-7:34.
 Wendy Padbury, quoted in Howe and Stammers, Doctor Who: Companions, 50.
 Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 166.
 Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 221.
 Sarah Sutton and Peter Davison, quoted in Earthshock DVD Commentary, 46:36-46:56.
 Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 189-190; 191-192.
 Wendy Padbury, quoted in The Dominators DVD Commentary, 29:05-29:55.
 Bernard Padden, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 8:39-8:47.
 Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 188-189.
 Matthew Waterhouse, Blue Box Boy, 189.
 Peter Grimwade, quoted in Tulloch and Alvarado, Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, 264.
 Bernard Padden, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 9:16-9:39.
 Frank Danes, Fendahl 13 (November / December 1980), quoted in Howe and Walker, Doctor Who: The Television Companion, 389.
 Andrew Smith, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 8:00-8:23.
 Howe and Stammers, Doctor Who: Companions, 89.
 Christopher H. Bidmead, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 6:31-6:56.
 Christopher H. Bidmead, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 7:40-7:47.
 Christopher H. Bidmead, quoted in All Aboard the Starliner, 5:49-6:14.