❉ Matthew Waterhouse reprises the role of Adric with the new release in the ‘Doctor Who Short Trips’ monthly series. Is this the rehabilitation of a much-maligned companion?
Adric’s life is full of death. His parents died when he was a child. His brother died a few months ago. Now, travelling with the Doctor and Romana, everywhere he visits, people die. But now they have arrived on Veridis. And on Veridis, the dead come back…
Along with giving Paul McGann the proper tenure as the Doctor he was denied on television, the greatest accomplishment of Big Finish’s ‘Doctor Who’ audio stories has been their ongoing rehabilitation of characters – and in some cases entire eras – that are generally seen as disappointments on television. They started with Bonnie Langford as Mel in 2000’s ‘The Fires of Vulcan’ and have continued to this day with the new release from their ‘Short Trips’ series, ‘A Full Life’, which features Matthew Waterhouse reprising the role of Adric.
Waterhouse is a relative latecomer to the Big Finish fold, this being just his third audio appearance following the two stories that comprised 2014’s ‘Fifth Doctor Box Set’. However, where that collection was more about recapturing the feel of a televised era, ‘A Full Life” uses the audio medium to put the character of Adric – and more importantly Adric’s character – in the foreground. This was a bold choice not just because Adric is such a polarizing character among ‘Doctor Who’ fans but also because it puts the burden on Waterhouse as an actor.
While Waterhouse may not be an especially versatile actor, one thing he can do better than anyone else is play the role of Adric.
Thankfully, while Waterhouse may not be an especially versatile actor, one thing he can do better than anyone else is play the role of Adric. In ‘A Full Life’, he benefits from a remarkable script (the word “text” doesn’t do this release justice) by Joseph Lidster. As anyone who’s heard his recent ‘Torchwood’ audio stories – not to mention 2003’s ‘Master’ – can appreciate, Lidster excels at stories that simultaneously encapsulate and redefine characters we think that we know already. This is a particular challenge with Adric, since we know exactly where his path will lead, but the writer actually uses this knowledge to play on audience expectations.
Lidster excels at stories that simultaneously encapsulate and redefine characters we think that we know already.
One of the distinguishing traits of Big Finish reinventing contentious characters is that they’ve been able to do it without denying what came before. This holds true with Adric in ‘A Full Life’. The narrative openly acknowledges the traits that made his character difficult while adding an element of self-awareness that reminds us of the character’s unrealized potential. This comes through particularly well in his observations about the Doctor and Romana. When he refers to the former as having “saved a life in the time it had taken [him] to trip over a doorstep” and notes that the latter “always seemed to glide rather than run”, it conveys both his intrinsic cleverness and a level of reflectiveness we seldom saw onscreen.
Overall the story wisely embraces Matthew Waterhouse himself being so much older than he was during his onscreen tenure, which speaks to one of Joseph Lidster’s distinguishing traits as a writer. Though working in thoroughly narrative mediums, he infuses them with a degree of poetry; not poetry in the precious or pretentious sense but rather words that collectively convey atmosphere and feeling far deeper than their surfaces would suggest. It’s poetry that, combined with Waterhouse’s older – and, yes, wiser – delivery makes it easier to accept an ending that’s tangibly less inventive than the 40+ minutes that precede it, albeit still affecting.
One story – even a rather good one – isn’t going to make Adric a fan favorite. Nonetheless, only a very churlish listener would deny that ‘A Full Life’ makes a good case that he’s a character worth exploring further.
❉ ‘Short Trips: A Full Life’ written by Joseph Lidster was released on 29 September 2016 by Big Finish Productions and is available to buy as a download from the official Big Finish website, £2.99