Adric was the companion to the Fourth and Fifth Doctors and left a lasting impact on the world of Doctor Who.
It is worth pointing out that Adric (portrayed by Matthew Waterhouse) doesn’t often top the lists of favourite Doctor Who companions, and yet he certainly shook-up the TARDIS team when he was introduced by producer John Nathan-Turner in Season 18. The series had never had a teenage boy as a companion, and Nathan-Turner envisioned an Artful Dodger-type character to liven up the action – presumably to get himself into scrapes that the Doctor would need to rescue him from.
And whilst there were elements of his more mischievous side in his first story ‘Full Circle,’ Adric became best known for his high level of intelligence, and occasional smugness. He was a numerical genius, and wore a badge on his outfit that had been awarded to him for mathematical excellence. And this character trait was frequently woven into the storytelling and wasn’t simply a throwaway character tag – indeed, the Master kidnapped him in ‘Castrovalva’ in order to harness the power of his superior intellect.
And whilst Adric’s slight arrogance did annoy his fellow companions from time to time, it is clear that the TARDIS team of the early 80s had a robust friendship. All three of them – Adric, Nyssa and Tegan – had witnessed the Fourth Doctor’s death at the hand’s of the Master (and subsequent traumatic regeneration) and it is clear that this difficulty brought them closer together. But like all friendship groups, there was a slight dysfunctionality among the three, and this highlighted the humanity of Team TARDIS – even if Nyssa was actually from Traken and Adric was from Alzarius (which was in a different universe altogether!)
Sometimes, this dysfunctionality was borne out of Adric’s gullibility. For example, in ‘Four to Doomsday’ he temporarily sides with the story’s main villain Monarch who is planning a full-scale invasion of the Earth, having been seduced by his charm and powers of persuasion. Indeed, things become so tense over the course of this story that, during a brief altercation, Tegan actually knocks him out!
But Adric was also a hero and this is perhaps clearest in his final story ‘Earthshock.’ In the adventure, the Cybermen have taken control of a freighter which they plan to smash into Earth in the 26th century. Adric is trapped on the vessel with a number of its crew, and even though they find a way to evacuate, Adric dashes out of the escape pod at the last minute; he is convinced that he was found a way to crack the Cybermen’s logic codes which have paralysed the ship’s controls.
Alas, he hasn’t. In a shock twist, the freighter is destroyed as it impacts with the Earth. And this would have been even more devastating had it not been for the fact that the freighter had been warping through time and space, meaning that it had actually travelled back in time some 65 million years when the dinosaurs walked the planet. The freighter, therefore, became the supposed meteorite that wiped out this ancient species.
As a result, Adric became one of the first Doctor Who companions to actually be killed off. (He wasn’t quite the first, though, as the First Doctor’s short-lived companion Katarina had actually sacrificed herself in the fourth episode of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan.’) Nonetheless, for many people he represented the first companion fatality in living memory, and his demise sent shockwaves through the Whoniverse. And for the first time in the series’ history, the show ended without the traditional Doctor Who theme, with the producer opting for silent credits over a still image of Adric’s shattered badge for mathematical excellence.
This shock departure changed Doctor Who because it suddenly meant that no companion was safe. Much like the other classic science fiction series Blake’s 7 (which had no compunction with rubbing out its regulars) there was now a question mark over the lead actors. There was a genuine possibility that they might not survive their next adventure.
And whilst it would be many years before Doctor Who would be so bold as to kill off one of its companions (Captain Jack in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ is the next notable example) John Nathan-Turner was keen to keep the audience guessing. Indeed, at the end of the next story ‘Time-Flight,’ Tegan is seemingly abandoned by the Doctor and left stranded at Heathrow Airport – even though the production team had every intention of bringing her back the following year.
However, as impactful as this all was, actor Matthew Waterhouse was far from happy about being blown up by the Cybermen, despite the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s best efforts to convince him that it was a good way to go. On the one hand, the character’s death restricted the possibility of him ever returning (even though, surprisingly, Adric did feature briefly in ‘Time-Flight’) but on the other it made for a dramatic and memorable departure that people are still discussing to this day. In fact, Adric’s death was even mentioned in the 2022 episode ‘The Power of the Doctor,’ which reunited the Doctor and Tegan.
Adric’s casting, too, broke the mould in the Whoniverse in that he was an out-and-out Doctor Who fan. He followed the series avidly, and Tom Baker was one of his heroes. Moreover, he was the youngest Doctor Who companion ever cast, and a relatively inexperienced actor to boot; he had been working as a clerk at the BBC prior to winning the role of Adric, and indeed had never acted on TV before this. He had been cast in another BBC drama ‘To Serve Them All my Days,’ but he only filmed this appearance a few days after securing his part on Doctor Who.
That is not to say that Doctor Who fans and teenagers were suddenly flooding the TARDIS post-Adric, but his arrival (and departure) certainly spiced things up. Interestingly, after Adric left, John Nathan-Turner reduced the companion team to two, and in subsequent years he stuck to the more traditional model of having a solo female companion travelling with the Doctor. But the TARDIS doors were now open to a wider range of casting possibilities.
What is your favourite memory of Adric? And how do you feel about the Doctor having three companions? Let us know in the comments below.
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