Saturday 3 August 2013

The long-awaited return of... Adric?

A few days ago Big Finish made a surprise announcement: Matthew Waterhouse will be reprising his role as Adric for a trilogy of adventures next year.

Adric is not the most fondly remembered companion and Waterhouse is not the most fondly remembered performer of the classic series. In fact, that he was a pretty bad actor and that his character was particularly poorly written is hard to dispute. Numerous anecdotes have been told by his fellow actor that paint him in, shall we say, a less than favourable light. Plus he wrote his autobiography in the third person, which is just odd. Taken on spec this wouldn't seem to be a comeback to look forward to.

However, it isn't like Big Finish didn't test the waters first. Waterhouse has already appeared in one of their Dark Shadows plays. I admit I don't follow the Dark Shadows series but it means we know Big Finish have had a taste of Waterhouse's current acting skills before making the decision to cast him in their most high profile series (it has, after all, been 31 years since he was in Doctor Who).

The return of Adric, if done well, would be the ultimate cap to a theme that has been running through the Fifth Doctor plays for a long time: the redemption of the Peter Davison era. There's a lot of wasted potential in those three years and Big Finish have gone to great lengths to exploit that potential.

Most of this is due to how long it took for Janet Fielding to accept the offer of a role. Since she appeared in all but two of Davison's TV stories this meant Big Finish had to get creative, making extensive use of casts that only appeared in one or two stories. So now we have a huge body of stories featuring the Fifth Doctor and Peri (only together in two stories), the Fifth Doctor and Turlough (one story) and the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa (in the gap between Seasons 19 and 20). Even when Fielding finally gave in they proceeded to make three years of stories featuring Tegan with Nyssa and Turlough, a cast that only got two stories as a group.

The list of missed opportunities they've exploited runs deeper than the central cast. The third season of Lost Stories offered us unmade scripts by Barbara Clegg and Christopher Bailey whose TV serials were underrated in their time but viewed as all-time classics now. Marc Platt even dusted off Bailey's creation the Mara for a third outing, giving the theme the closure it didn't have on TV. Platt also wrote Spare Parts, a Cybermen story that achieved the high emotional drama Earthshock tried to reach by killing off the the least popular character in the cast (his name's in the post title). They even produced a sequel to one of Davison's great turkeys, Arc Of Infinity, to give him a confrontation with Omega that was actually about Omega instead of just a guy in bad Omega cosplay.

Even one of the most often-criticised aspects of the era comes in for re-evaluation, the so-called “soap opera” elements. On TV this amounted to constant bickering between the main characters and short references to the last story at the top of every serial's first episode. Big Finish have given us whole plays about the consequences of other stories: The Gathering revisits Tegan twenty years after she left in Resurrection; Three's A Crowd explores Erimem's mental state following The Roof Of The World; and, one of the episodes of Circular Time explores Nyssa's feelings about her father's death and the destruction of her homeworld. This last one is notable because there is actually a story where Nyssa is confronted by the man wearing her father's corpse as a skin suit AND DOESN'T REACT TO THIS AT ALL!

Who knows, perhaps the return (and consequent re-evaluation) of Adric will be the crowning glory of Big Finish's grand redemption of the Peter Davison era.

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