Wednesday, January 25, 2012

That's The Lion King (Full Circle)

But I want a television in my tummy!
It’s October 25, 1980. Barbra Streisand is at number one with “Woman in Love,” which lasts for three weeks before Blondie unseats her with “The Tide is High.” David Bowie, Adam and the Ants, and The Police also chart, while Air Supply, Kate Bush, and XTC lurk about the lower reaches of the chart.

In real news, six IRA prisoners in Maze prison begin a hunger strike that lasts through December. El Salvador and Honduras resolve to put a border dispute to the International Court of Justice to decide. The border dispute stemmed from the 1969 “Football War,” the first war to be directly caused by a football result. The Polish government reluctantly recognizes Solidarity, Jimmy Carter gets his ass kicked by Ronald Reagan, and Voyager I flies by Saturn.

While on television things begin to get interesting. Some people suggest that this is the true beginning of the John Nathan-Turner era. This claim, however, is based on the difficult to defend assertion that there is a unitary John Nathan-Turner era. Nathan-Turner oversaw four script editors, three of whom deserve to have eras named after them. And one of those - Eric Saward - oversaw the bulk of five seasons and two Doctors, stretching the notion of the era to something in the vicinity of its breaking point there alone.

No, the Nathan-Turner era, inasmuch as such a creature can be said to exist at all, firmly began with The Leisure Hive and the ostentatious drive for change that it entailed. Nevertheless, there’s clearly something that shifts here. The most superficial aspect of it is Adric, who I suppose I have to deal with. Like so much of the John Nathan-Turner era, however, it is difficult to deal with Adric in the correct order. His first moment on screen is haunted by what’s to come. A commenter way back in Planet of the Spiders observed that the story is far better when Jon Pertwee regenerates into a funny looking man with curly hair instead of into Tom Baker. A similar principle applies here. Knowing what becomes of Adric makes every moment he is on the screen resonate oddly and in a way it could not possibly have at the time.

Added to this is the difficulty of Matthew Waterhouse himself. It is difficult to find any creative figure associated with the show that fewer people have anything good to say about than Matthew Waterhouse. He is notable for being, one of only two living leading actors on Doctor Who to have never reprised their roles (the other being Jackie Lane). It is a challenge to find kind words from any of his co-stars about him. One ought be fair - he was eighteen when he took the role. That the work I did and the gossip of people who knew me when I was eighteen is not how I am primarily known to the world can only be called a blessing. But Waterhouse is difficult to like even now, and his autobiography about his time on the series is an... interesting document to say the least.

But we’re putting lipstick on a pig here. The root of the problem is that Matthew Waterhouse was godawful in the role of Adric. I mean, this is an era where even K-9 - a character expressly designed for younger children - was being used in more sophisticated and complex ways. In the next story the musical cues begin making metatextual jokes about K-9, whereas in this story his decapitated head is waved around by the Doctor as a fetishistic totem to ward off swamp creatures. It’s the most interesting and complex use of the concept the series has seen to date (admittedly a low bar to clear). So when that is contrasted with Matthew Waterhouse’s performance of Adric, an overly emotive mess consisting of no successfully communicated emotions other than petulance and vanity, it is very, very hard to come up with anything good to say about the character. He’s a trainwreck of the sort that the series hasn’t seen since Mike Yates.

It’s tempting to try to build this out into a larger critique of John Nathan-Turner’s casting, but the fact of the matter is that he’s no more offensive than the children in The Horns of Nimon or than any number of other unfortunate moments in Graham Williams’s casting of the series. Graham Williams avoided ever making this bad a casting decision in the leads, but given that Williams only cast leads twice (plus two K-9s, only one of whom can even be argued to be flawed) that’s hardly vicious. John Nathan-Turner oversaw the casting of nine more leads in his time on Doctor Who, and while one or two can be quibbled with he never botched another quite this badly. (Casting was never the problem with Colin Baker, and Bonnie Langford has her charm.) Yes, his guest actor policy occasionally led to some questionable decisions, but the fact of the matter is that Waterhouse was no worse than plenty of what came before and that the casting improved dramatically over time. The only thing that really hurts is that he’s a regular.

It’s easier to build a critique of Adric’s high-concept nature. But even there, companions have been in high concept mode since Leela. Sarah Jane was the last “generic female assistant” companion for nearly a decade. Leela and Romana were both high concept, and everyone else in the classic series save Peri is as well. But at least in this critique there’s a grain of truth. Certainly it’s unmistakable that Nathan-Turner oversaw a shift in the series where it became more high concept than it had ever been. Increasingly many stories had blockbuster taglines and single catchy concepts (often, in the problematic middle years, “the return of X,” usually regardless of whether or not X was something anyone gave a crap about).

The question is whether or not that’s a bad thing. “High concept” is an epithet among the highbrow, but given that we’ve spent the better part of a year here taking Doctor Who very, very seriously any claim we might have to highbrow values is probably shot to hell. So let’s take it for what it is. The tag “high concept,” when used derisively, just means that the work is easily summed up in a single sentence. This is not actually entirely appropriate for Full Circle. While its idea - a planet with three species that turn out to be different forms of one species, one of which delusionally believes that it’s actually a species of alien colonists - is relatively simple, it lacks the movie poster punch of something like Alien.

A better definition of high concept is one we’ve been using for a while without attaching it to that phrase, which is a mode of storytelling in which every aspect of technique is pointing in the same direction. A high concept film, in this definition, is not merely one that has a simple premise, but one where every creative decision is made to promote and advance a single aesthetic goal.

This is much harder to criticize. Superficially, and About Time hints at this objection, it seems to mark a rejection of the multiple simultaneous audiences that characterized the Williams era. But closer observation of Full Circle shows that this doesn’t hold. There are clear components of the story that are designed for different audience segments, with children expected to like the Outsiders, teens expected to enjoy the science bits, and adults given some human drama anchored by the unsurprisingly fabulous George Baker. What’s different is not the multiple modes of reception, but rather what they’re supposed to do. The Williams era often held to a model akin to that of the Adam West Batman series where a younger audience was expected to take it seriously while an older audience knew enough to laugh at it. But here even though the show is working for multiple simultaneous audiences, every part of the audience is expected to get more or less the same aesthetic result out of it. It’s using different approaches to get to the same end as opposed to working towards multiple different ends.

This gets us towards the other way in which Full Circle marks a concrete turning point in Doctor Who. It is, if nothing else, the beginning of the Bidmead era. But as with everything else about this story we’re forced to hedge and qualify a little. For one thing, the shuffled production order complicates this. The production order actually goes State of Decay-Meglos-Full Circle. And over those three stories you can see Bidmead successfully developing a distinct style and launching it in a very concrete and sensible way. But it’s worth observing exactly how he does this. With State of Decay he applies his style to what was, in most regards, a Hinchcliffe-era script. (More, obviously, on Friday.) With Meglos he applies it to a story fully in the Williams style (whereas with The Leisure Hive he flailed around desperately trying to “fix” a Williams script).

This script, then, is the culmination of that. Andrew Smith is in many ways the first modern Doctor Who writer. Tat Wood argues in the sixth volume of About Time that the writers of the Cartmel era were all working from a folk memory of what the series was, and credits this with the turnaround of the show in those years. What is significant about this is that it means the writers of that era were all on some level fans of the show - they were not just writing stories for Doctor Who but were writing from a concrete and lived experience of what Doctor Who stories were. Certainly that characterizes every script written for the new series, and it’s unimaginable that there will ever be many, if any at all, scripts in the future that are not written by people who are writing Doctor Who based in part on a memory of watching it.

But Andrew Smith is the first writer this is true of. And so we get something interesting. Again, Miles and Wood come close to observing this by noting how the script incorporates stock elements of Terrance Dicks, Robert Holmes, and Malcolm Hulke scripts. But what they don’t quite nail down precisely is the consequence of all of this. This is the first time that Doctor Who has done a story that is, at its core, the distilled essence of everything that had previously made Doctor Who good. Sure, it’s done ultra-traditional stories before - most obviously Planet of the Spiders, which is unrepentantly a greatest hits reel of the Pertwee era. But those are retrospectives of a single era. This is a retrospective of, in many ways, the entire show. It contains bits of everything that the show did frequently enough to become a trope.

But crucially, it doesn’t do them all out of a sense of nostalgia or cynicism. Smith is changing things around. The tropes aren’t used for their own sake but because Smith is so steeped in Doctor Who that its tropes are completely instinctive to him. So when you get the foolish and bureaucratic old men who are lying to the entire population - a vintage Dicks/Holmes concept - that’s immediately undercut when you find out that they’re only lying because they’ve lost the manual to their spaceship and can’t fly it. The conflict between the people and those in charge, which previously would have been the plot of an entire story - indeed, which next story is the plot of an entire story - is here just a shorthand to get at a different story entirely.

On top of this, there's a sense of seriousness and drama to it. With a script that's just got its head down and is doing its work there are opportunities for depth of acting that have been missing. Tom Baker, for all that is said about how miserable he was on the program and how unpleasant he was, is once again on form in a way he hasn't been since Season 14. When he gets angry here there's a palpable depth to his rage that is new. And the death of the Marsh Child is played so straight as to be devastatingly effective.

Unfortunately it’s a while before this sheer and easy comfort with the past of the show becomes standard issue. Smith, for whatever reason, never pens another script, and as I said it’s not really until the Cartmel era that writers working from an instinctive understanding of what Doctor Who is become the norm. But whatever other weaknesses the script has - and there certainly are a fair few - the fact that the script is so comfortable with being Doctor Who is a major advantage that lets Bidmead, in his edits of it, really shine and do what he’s trying to do.

Which brings us back to the strange paradox of Christopher Bidmead - the fact that despite being the most openly pro-science and anti-magic script editor Doctor Who has ever had he ends up overseeing some of the most magic-filled stories in Doctor Who. On the one hand this is ostensibly a story about evolution that’s meant to teach all the little boys and girls of the United Kingdom how that works. On the other it has next to no understanding of how it works, what timeframe it works over, and postulates a bizarre system in which spiders, humans, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon are all meaningfully the same species.

Miles and Wood indulge in a long and relatively fun essay entitled “How Does Evolution Work” on this point that suggests various scientific models that could rescue evolution in Doctor Who from its obvious scientific difficulties (most obviously the fact that virtually every intelligent lifeform in the universe visually resembles British character actors), but the essay is firmly a case of trying to find a diegetic solution to a non-diegetic problem. Any in-universe explanation for the phenomenon is really just window dressing for the obvious answer that every intelligent lifeform in the universe is being portrayed by British character actors.

But what’s key to understand is that the non-diegetic answer is, in most regards, the superior one. I mean, if you actually want to understand Doctor Who the fact of the matter is that what is going on is not primarily based on some elaborate in-universe explanation about the origins of life. It’s based on the fact that the show is being made in England. We’re back, in other words, to my old anti-realist argument about how art is generally better understood as a constructed aesthetic experience than it is as gossip about imaginary people.

But this is what is so interesting about Bidmead. For all of his pro-rationalist leanings, he is ruthless about subjecting science to the larger concerns of narrative. What we noticed in Meglos about the chronic hysteresis only becomes more extreme here. Alzarius is a planet where the laws of evolution serve the plot of the story in an unabashed manner. The three species we see are all differing forms of one another despite the improbability of that. The story is set in a moment where the evolutionary turmoil of the planet is coming to a head. Everything, in other words, is actively geared towards the matter of telling this specific story. The story may be, on one level, a primer on evolution, but it’s a primer where every aspect of evolution is subject to a larger narrative goal.

The State of Decay-Meglos-Full Circle trilogy, then, is where Bidmead shows what he can do. These are the three stories in which he shows how his vision of what Doctor Who can be improves existing models of Doctor Who. From a production standpoint, he moves through both previous versions of Doctor Who - the Hinchcliffe and Williams eras - and in each case attempts an improvement in which he shows how his approach expands on the potential of the previous models. And now, having completed those, he finishes with this, a script that takes the best of the entirety of Doctor Who. And over it he lays his scientific-minded approach, showing how the intersections of real scientific ideas with narrative structures can tell increasingly interesting stories.

And the thing is, it works. By grounding the fantastic in the high-mindedly real Bidmead manages to construct a model of Doctor Who that is fascinating - one that merges the high concept visuality that Nathan-Turner is demanding with not just strong narrative but with the very essence of Doctor Who. For all its flaws - and to be fair, most of them are Adric - this story is a shot across the bow that suggests a new vision of what Doctor Who can be. Now Bidmead just needs to show that he can carry on with these sorts of high wire acts.

65 comments:

  1. I remember watching the thrilling cliffhanger to episode 3 and thinking "it looks scary next week. I think I'll give it a miss". I was a funny thing.

    My only criticism of Full Circle is that the explanation is a little rushed. Even a "pardon? Could you repeat that?" would have helped. And it's hardly the only story where that's the case!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great essay.

    I'd take (slight) issue with the idea that 'Full Circle' gets evolution so wrong. Of course, technically, it makes loads of mistakes. But it understands some of the BIG philosophical issues about evolution... and depicts evolution thematically better than any other story in the canon (with the possible exception of 'Image of the Fendahl').

    This is the only Who story that depicts evolution as non-teleological. This is mirrored in the directionless improvising of the Alzarians. They can't pilot their own ship and have no idea how to get home... and 'home' isn't a real goal anyway since they've never been there.

    It's the only story that doesn't depict evolution working by a kind of Lamarckism. Admittedly, it LOOKS like Lamarckism until you realise that the Marshmen and Alzarians are only humanoid because they evolved to fit inside the Starliner.

    Also, the story expresses some essential truths about our kinship with the beasts: we bear 'the lowly stamp of our origins', we look on our ancestors with a kind of existential horror, we have insight that they lack, but in our technocratic comfort we've lost the spark of ruthless initiative that must have helped them survive until they became us.

    Beyond that, I love that everybody in 'FC' seems to be doing everything wrong without meaning to. The best intentions are obscured and hindered by incompetence, prejudice and/or fear.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "He is notable for being one of only two living leading actors on Doctor Who to have never reprised their roles" - well, he did pop up as the Ghost of Adric in Time-Flight and again in Androzani. But presumably you mean he and Jackie Lane are the only ones who haven't been called on to contribute to any spin-offs.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In fairness to Matthew Waterhouse, Andrew Sachs was no better.

    Waterhouse now writes novels. The characters have names like "Florinda Quenby".

    ReplyDelete
  5. Surprised there's no mention of the move to E-Space there, probably Bidmead's biggest signpost of 'things are working differently now'.

    Good stuff about Andrew Smith, who I seem to remember might have had some good things to say about Waterhouse, who is around the same age as him. Speaking of which, the reason Smith never wrote for the series again was almost certainly his youth. Not that youth in itself was the issue, but there was almost certainly some feeling that Bidmead had written a lot of the script for Smith. He didn't, but he (understandably) did give Smith more help than writers would normally need. Which would have counted as a mark against him doubly - help + close relationship with departed script editor. Not that it should have, but you can see the reason that it did.

    Also, Smith has commented that George Baker was 'unsurprisingly fabulous' in real life too, making time to be very encouraging towards him. Which was nice to hear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll get to E-Space, obviously, but at this stage it's little more than a standard issue "parallel universe" that happens to be oddly green. There's more to it, but it doesn't really come through this early on. The existence of a plot arc is neat, but that's one to save for when we're actually into the second or third story of it too, I think.

      Delete
    2. Fair enough. And it is oddly green too... why is odd stuff so often green in sci-fi? Radiation? Opposition to Ecological concerns? Anti-Irish Sentiment?

      Kif, we have ourselves a conundrum!

      Delete
    3. Axel, Smith submitted more ideas in '80 and '83; both were heavily considered, the latter even having a storyline commissioned, but were eventually turned down (the first replaced by Time-Flight, the second by The Two Doctors).

      Also, Philip, before we hit Warrior's Gate, will you delve into the rather sad tale of Christopher Priest? Always thought it a shame his scripts never got used; both seemed really, REALLY promising (as you'd naturally expect with Priest), but both hit difficulties, with the latter souring him on the programme completely.

      (Seems some of his ideas have still been floating around since then, however; the latter script seems to've been the inspiration for House-TARDIS in The Doctor's Wife.)

      Delete
    4. Wait a minute. Christopher Priest was going to write for Doctor Who? I would have loved to have seen that.

      Delete
    5. Yup; remember the whole "being summoned back to Gallifrey" thing for the first two E-Space stories that got completely dropped once we hit Warrior's Gate? That was originally supposed to lead into Priest's story Sealed Orders, where the Doctor, Romana, and Adric leave E-Space at the beginning of episode one and become embroiled in a plot on Gallifrey surrounding Romana's failure to return home immediately after completing her assignment to retrieve the Key to Time.

      There would also be time paradoxes and lots of hopping back and forth in time, leading to multiple TARDISes and the appearance of a second Doctor (who dies); the story also involved the idea of time running into itself, resulting in one TARDIS existing inside another. The final episode would see Romana leaving the TARDIS and Leela rejoining the Doctor (to, with Tom Baker leaving, bridge the gap between seasons and Doctors).

      Would've been nice to see JNT dealing with the repercussions of the Williams era, but at a certain point, Priest ran into script troubles; Bidmead feared he could not properly adapt his style from novels to television scripts, and so commissioned a back-up script from Stephen Gallagher. When Louise Jameson backed out of her commitment upon learning it was to be for a whole season rather than just three or four stories, Sealed Orders became useless, and was dropped.

      As for his second script... I'll tell you in the Warrior's Gate comments. ;-)

      Delete
  6. One of my favorite Doctor Who moments is in this one---at a climactic moment in the story, when swamp men are overrunning the ship, the Doctor and his crew are in a lab, huddled over microscopes. It's a such a wonderfully nerdy, endearing scene.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I’ve always liked this story – and indeed all the remaining ones in this season – and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with it succeeding in satisfying several target audiences simultaneously – although I find the children rather irritating now, certainly they are the bit I remember from the time of broadcast. Seeing as I’ve always though of real politics as people generally trying to do things they thought were best in a ham-fisted manner, I guess that probably sank in on some level as well. Moreover, I have no memory of the Marshchild from first watching, but certainly remember the evolution and the blood samples – whereas now it seems rather daft to not be able to see everything as part of a whole integrated story.

    I generally find that when Baker and Waterhouse are paired up together they seem to work quite well – perhaps that was what sold JNT on the idea in the first place. It’s certainly not the only occasion where his character outlines for new companions seem wildly unbalanced – and much as I like all of them in their own way I do wonder whether he ever gave any thought to how any of them might work in the show – even in stories where they take a larger role. Then again, I suspect he had no conception that 30 years later people would care quite so much.

    As for the Bidmead stories, well I fondly remember everything from Full Circle to Castrovalva, and Frontios as well, and would happily rewatch any of them at the drop of a hat so I guess he did something right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Having re-watched these stories recently, I'd agree about Baker and Waterhouse. The brief glimpses of their double-act we get in Keeper and Logopolis are far and away Waterhouse's best moments; something about the chemistry between the pair brings out the best in him.

      Delete
    2. That's actually kind of sadly ironic; in real life, Baker completely detested Waterhouse -- really shows how good of an actor he was that that doesn't show up on-screen.

      Delete
  8. Would you say that this is a turning point? < /cheap shot >

    There's a very nice moment in episode one that speaks to how people are starting to raise their game: when Draith is pulled into the lake, he's obviously actually being pulled and trying to resist, rather than surreptitiously pushing himself in with one leg as happened throughout Power of Kroll. It'd be nice to see some discussion specifically of Peter Grimwade as a director: he makes some bad choices, like having the Doctor be killed by a cardboard cut-out of the Master (the snake in Kinda I think is an entirely different matter, and defensible) but he gets good performances, Full Circle has lovely location shooting and crane shots inside, Earthshock is amazingly well-paced, and so on.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Philip, just a sort-of off topic question (because you mentioned Cartmel). As a young man in 2005 in southern Ontario, I was curious about this unusual show called Doctor Who that I heard was being brought back, a show about which I knew nothing. MAstering the power of the internet, I tried to educate myself, getting my hands on whatever I could - but long story short, my first Doctor Who novel ended up being Lungbarrow, which I thought was really cool.

    It was only later that I learned that this novel is something of a divisive issue among fans, one that has been rejected continuity-wise. Anyways, I'm merely wondering: are you're going to do a Time Can Be Re-Written on it somewhere down the road?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My plan is to cover a majority (though not all) of the NAs in between Survival and the TV Movie as regular entries, not Time Can Be Rewrittens.

      Delete
  10. I just rewatched Full Circle last night (in preparation for this post) and I came away mostly impressed. The "evolution" angle was nonsense, but then I make a point of ignoring all references to "evolution" since everything about the various Silurian episodes show the Doctor to be shockingly ignorant about the subject. Certainly, I really do think it was the best looking Doctor Who story since City of Death in terms of direction and cinematography.

    Also, taking his youth into account, I was really impressed with Waterhouse's performance. The only false note was when he was first in the Tardis half-conscious and started moaning piteously about his brother and the Outlers, but the rest of the time he was fine (standing up to the other Outlers to defend Romana, stealing the image thingy for the Doctor, etc). Was it known by the time he was cast that Baker was leaving? Because I really do think the character works as the assistant to an older man who he sees as a surrogate father figure -- as an orphan who was unable to save his only living relative from dying it makes sense that he would "imprint," so to speak, on the Doctor and Romana. It only goes pear-shaped when the Doctor turns into someone with whom he can't have that sort of relationship.

    Finally, since we've been talking about the fan-industrial complex, has anyone thought about the idea of Adric as a young, nerdy, insecure teen-aged boy completely fascinated with the idea of running away with the Doctor -- i.e. a viewpoint character for probably 75% of the American fanbase?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That conception of Adric is exactly how I read him and a good 60% of why I personally hate him so much.

      Delete
    2. The thing about Adric is that to me he's symptomatic of a larger unpleasant attitude I pick up over the course of this season that's not true of even the later Bidmead/Nathan-Turner ones (they have problems of their own to be sure, but not this particular one). I've already mentioned how "The Leisure Hive" feels like Nathan-Turner mocking and bullying me for liking the Graham Williams era and Adric is taking that to the logical limit. I mean, if he's supposed to be an audience identification figure of all things, what am I to take from this knowledge? Is Adric seriously the kind of person Nathan-Turner thinks he's making the show for? The kind of person he thinks I am? A whiny, petulant, self-absorbed, self-righteous, arrogant, maladjusted spoiled brat? Why would I want to keep watching his (first of many) Bold New Vision(s) if the show under him is deliberately going out of its way to insult me? The fact it took three serials to get the first glimpse of what that Bold New Vision might be doesn't help either.

      Delete
    3. ...funny thing is, Waterhouse was a young, passionate Who fan himself, probably living his lifelong dream of being on the programme; how do you think HE felt about the character he was playing and the reaction he got, then? :-P

      Delete
    4. Well, he obviously wasn't too happy with it given how outspoken he's been in the years since he left...

      But notice I was singling out John Nathan-Turner and his creative team, not Matthew Waterhouse. As Iain says below conveying charm is not his strong point as an actor, but I do lay most of the fault with his character at the feet of the creators.

      Delete
  11. Great essay, Phil, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how you continue the thread of fans writing for Doctor Who from their own experiences and reflections on it as we continue. I still hate Adric though, and sadly your deft analysis doesn't make me want to turn this serial on again any more than before. I'm really very sorry, but it's like you said: Knowing how unpleasant Waterhouse was both behind and in front of the camera makes these stories hard for me to get excited about. His is the only character in Doctor Who I genuinely, passionately dislike and am actually offended by (with the possible exception of Dodo).

    However, I'm going to need to come up with something more intelligent and constructive to contribute to the discussion for the next season or so other than "I hate Adric with the burning passion of a thousand suns" and "Adric ruins absolutely everything", so for now I'll just say I think it's an absolutely brilliant idea to cover the New Adventures books as regular entries. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on them.

    That being said I actually do have a lot to say about "Warriors' Gate" that's *not* about Adric, so I'll pop back in then. The one thing I do genuinely like about this season (and sadly it is only one) is how the team handles Romana's departure. I think it's a very fitting sendoff to her character and very much in tune with her evolution over the Graham Williams era and actually preferable to what the alternative was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also, an aside: The weird conception of evolution here reminded me of the Xindi from Enterprise, who are also made up of wildly different and implausible variations on the same species (in their case reptiles, whales, insects, birds, monkeys and humans) and who also, interestingly enough, exist in a realm outside normal space. Wouldn't be the first time contemporary Star Trek looked to Doctor Who.

      Delete
  12. excellent look at Full Circle, the first stop on the last great season of Doctor Who til 2005 for this viewer. would the program put together a run of stories like Full Circle, State of Decay, Warriors Gate and Traken again? No, not really. This one was interesting and interesting in ways that surprised us, just as Warriors Gate would.

    The thing is, there are intersting to watch now. Williams is certainly interesting to discuss, at least from a post modern perspective, but i just don't want to sit down and suffer through Creature from the pit again. Full Circle may have its flaws, but there are stakes, both emotional and physical for the characters again, and its not just all larking about. Thank god. Seriously, if the characters on the screen don't really care what happens, then why should i? science fiction, fantasy, its still a drama.

    Bidmead's vision of Doctor who re-energized my interest in the show with this next run of stories.

    ReplyDelete
  13. After WGPJosh's comments perhaps I shouldn't do this...

    But I'd defend, if not the actuality of Adric, the idea of Adric. One shouldn't overlook how bold it was to muck around with the "Doctor = male lead, one female character = female lead, and that's it" formula that at this point DW had stuck with for half a decade. (And, really, even in the Pertwee era, this is essentially the format. Only The Ark in Space through Revenge of the Cybermen breaks with this.)

    And breaking with the formula was not necessarily a bad idea. It's notorious how that format tends to pull the show into problematic (and also, frankly, uninteresting) depictions of women as there to have things explained to them and to be put in danger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha Don't worry I'm not going to flame you. Adric may be one of my least favoruite things ever, but I wouldn't do that.

      Actually I agree with you completely. I'd even go one step further and claim The Doctor shouldn't be the lead at all and that role should be filled by someone else. It's just that someone shouldn't be Adric. Or, anything remotely like him actually.

      You're absolutely right about the issues of representation of women in Doctor Who and that's possibly my biggest problem with the entire franchise. I do think there's a solution to this problem, but very, very few showrunners seemed to have figured this out (in fact I can only think of two or three in 50 years). Every once in awhile you get a brilliant actress who nails it (Katy Manning, Lalla Ward) but she has to pull all the weight herself to keep the show from spiraling out of control.

      So in short I agree it's a good idea to do away with the Doctor as Male Lead, Companion as Female Lead formula, this was just the complete wrong way to do it. This was also not the TARDIS team I personally would have tried this experiment on either.

      Delete
  14. I think we can be pretty sure that the production team introduced Adric because they thought the viewers would enjoy the character. But the character does have problems.

    The first, of course, is that he is played by Matthew Waterhouse. I echo the opinion that Waterhouse works much better with Baker than he does with Davison, but he always has the fundamental problem that whenever the script gives Adric a Moment of Charm, the actor is unable to pull it off.

    The other problem is that he is written pretty much like an actual teenage boy, i.e. a smug know-all with an inflated sense of his own superiority and little idea how to actually get on in the world. This reasonably accurate portrait is bound to be annoying to actual teenage boys in the audience, for obvious reasons.

    For seven or eight year olds, though, like me when I first watched these stories, he comes across much better. Children watching TV tend to identify, not with characters their age, but with characters a few years older. For us, Adric was great, and his untimely death a moment of unfeigned sadness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I can't speak for others but I had a severe inferiority complex as a teenager and was chronically depressed, lonely, shut-off and cripplingly shy. There are a great many pejoratives you could use to describe me at that age, but if I may say a few things on my behalf I don't think "a smug know-it-all with an inflated sense of his own superiority and little idea how to actually get on in the world" was one of them.

      I just saw Adric, and still see him, as a hugely problematic character who I blamed from breaking up the Doctor/Romana dynamic (and that carried almost as many unfortunate implications as getting Roz pregnant in Frasier) and was another example of this feeling I had always in the background that John Nathan-Turner quietly hated me.

      Delete
    2. "The other problem is that he is written pretty much like an actual teenage boy, i.e. a smug know-all with an inflated sense of his own superiority and little idea how to actually get on in the world. This reasonably accurate portrait is bound to be annoying to actual teenage boys in the audience, for obvious reasons."

      This was pretty much the problem for myself and my school friends of similar personality characteristics, yes.

      Delete
  15. I had a severe inferiority complex as a teenager

    Doesn't everyone? You know how an inferiority complex manifests, right?

    Adric, as an idiot who thought he was smarter than everybody else but clearly wasn't, and who was at best tolerated by the other characters, was especially annoying to those of us who knew that in his place we really would be smarter than everybody else, and who would be loved by the other characters as they (unlike the uncaring, casually insensitive even when well-meaning fools we were surrounded with in the real world) saw us as we really were.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I think what I find most interesting in all this passionate disdain for Adric is that we are but four stories away from the introduction of Tegan Jovanka, whom I loathed more than any character introduced on the show up to that point (and even afterward, only Peri eclipsed her on my personal hate-o-meter).

    ReplyDelete
  17. Susan Foreman, Liz Shaw, Adric, and Mel Bush. What do they all have in common? So, you get the phone call from the Doctor Who production office offering you the part of the new companion. Your character is at least an expert in something science, if not a bit of a genius. Tempting as it might seem to accept the role, you'd better be certain you CAN act your cotton socks off before you do because the production team isn't going to give you any character development. It's going to be left almost entirely up to you until it's time for you to go - unless your character's called Zoe Heriot.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I know this isn't really the blog to discuss fan issues such as the problem of Adric, but fan attitudes to his character have always mystified me. I often wonder if the perceived hatred of Adric from a lot of fandom is something that is passed down THROUGH fandom. In other words after 30 years it's kind of accepted as fact that Adric is crap and everyone hates him. Some of the comments on here are quite interesting in that you guys actually had reasons for disliking him at the time. This kind of makes him quite successful as a dramatic character as he elicits a strong emotion in the viewer, be it Like or Dislike. Such characters are of course very successful in serial (soap) drama, and tend to last quite a long time. I also agree that Adric works very well with the 4th Doctor, particularly in Logopolis, and I wonder if the fact that he doesn't work anywhere near as well with the 5th contributed to him being written out. Perhaps if Tom had stayed for another year the fan perspective on Adric would be very different now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find this point interesting because I've been fairly isolated from fandom most of my life, before the internet it was increadibly hard to get any contact or info here and once I did get it I was scarred by some pretty terrible perverted fanfic (which honestly wouldn't shock me much now, but I was new to the internet) and a few rude fans who put me off even bothering to seek any connections out.

      I've only happened to stumble on this and another blog that I love recently and I am finding that as obsessed as I was as a kid some of my opinions on many aspects of the show vary widely from popular opinion. It never occured to me to dislike Yates for example and I didn't even mind Mel. I didn't like Romana 2 very much and I quite liked Tegan most of the time.

      Having said all that my opinions of Adric seem exactly in keeping with popular opinion and I remember finding Waterhouse annoying from a very early age when I saw him on a clip on PBS once.

      Delete
  19. Characters aren't always there to be realistic. Doctor Who in the early 1980s can sometimes seem like a programme produced by someone who had heard about, but never actually watched anything written by, Bertholt Brecht.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Although they may have been able to spell his name correctly.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Perhaps if Tom had stayed for another year the fan perspective on Adric would be very different now."

    Almost certainly because the character himself would be very different. I cannot imagine seeing Tom Baker in his eighth season putting up with constant back talk from a sulky adolescent, and so Adric would not have been written to be a sulky adolescent. He would have been written, well, like he was in "Full Circle" -- as a male blend of Romana and Leela. That is, he would be smart enough to help deliver plot exposition, but he would have a slight anti-social edge to allow the Doctor to "Eliza Doolittle" him. I mean really, the Doctor, of all people, making a fuss about Adric stealing the image thingamajig and leaving it in the Tardis... which is itself stolen property.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I just had an epiphany! Adric is to Doctor Who as Hayden Christensen is to Star Wars! A young and inexperienced actor, competent but not remarkable in his acting ability, who thrust into a high-profile, linchpin role for which he will receive very little in the way of useful direction and which will be plagued by incoherent, plot-driven motivations.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The more obvious analogy is Wil Wheaton, only without the grace to spectacularly turn it all around in the end.

    ReplyDelete
  24. True. In a way, that worked in Wheaton's favor, though. He actually had the example of Matthew Waterhouse playing out in front of him (Davison's first season debuted in America just three or four years before ST:TNG debuted, IIRC). I'd bet good money that he was well aware of how Adric and Waterhouse were treated by both the fans and the production team when he made his own decision to leave TNG.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Wil Wheaton also had the extra unneeded baggage of having his character written as an obvious author-insert avatar of Gene Roddenberry, making his scenes about 15% more awkward and uncomfortable. Thankfully, after the first two years he was lucky enough to have an incredibly deft and conscientious creative team to support him and help give his character a more dignified story arc, something Waterhouse sadly seemed to lack.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Also, Wheaton's problem was that Wesley was a Mary Sue who always did everything right (at least in the beginning) and constantly upstaged the other characters. Adric continually screwed up when he should have known better and would spontaneously turn into a whinging little jerk in the middle of a scene for no discernible reason except to stir up some artificial interpersonal drama among the main cast. That's pretty much the exact opposite of a Mary Sue. For what it's worth, TvTropes describes Adric as more of a "Scrappy."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which ties into what WPGJosh said, but our posts crossed because, as per normal, I got lost on TVTropes for about twenty minutes.:)

      Delete
  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I deleted my comment and then decided, no, I really did mean it:

      If Divine ever comes back from the dead to sentence people for assholism, she should go after Doctor Who fans for their continued bullying of Matthew Waterhouse. This decades-long pileup is shameful, and as Tom Baker said, Matthew wasn't any worse than the usual Doctor Who actor. Something else is clearly going on.

      Delete
    2. Well, as I said, for one thing, the usual Doctor Who actor isn't a regular. He's no worse than any of the other Outsiders, it's true. It's just that they all go away after four episodes.

      But yes, there is more to it, I agree. I'm not sure how many more entries will discuss Adric in depth, but Earthshock obviously will, so the issue is hardly finished here.

      Delete
  28. I'm not sure how criticizing someone for their less-than-BAFTA-worthy acting skills constitutes bullying. Perhaps Matthew Waterhouse has gotten more flak than he deserves over the decades, but to be blunt he probably deserves at least a tiny fraction of it-I think we can all maybe agree he's not Orson Welles. As long as it doesn't go into the realm of histrionic personal slander and hate speech it's still just critique.

    My problem with Adric is not so much Waterhouse (though I do object to some of the comments he's made and what I can gather about his general attitude on set)as much as it is the thinking that went into his character and the realisation of it on screen as I thought I'd made clear. I honestly still believe he was a poorly-thought out, poorly realised and seriously problematic character that carries a fleet of unfortunate implications. I have a huge problem with putting him with the Doctor/Romana team specifically and what that says about BBC politics and attitudes towards women and relationships at the time, not to mention what the team seem to be saying about their audience with him, but that's just my opinion and has nothing to do with Waterhouse in particular.

    And for the record, I have no problem with Nyssa and Tegan (apart from finding neither of them to be especially memorable) and happen to like Peri and Mel quite a lot, especially in the audio plays. If that damns me, than on my head be it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I'll have a LOT more to say about Tegan, Peri and Mel going forward, and I'm looking forward to vigorous discussion of the state of female companions between Romana and Ace. (Spoiler Alert: I don't approve of it.) As for Nyssa, I thought she was the best of all of Davison's companions ... which might have something to do with why JNT et al worked so hard to get rid of her.

      Delete
    2. Well, just for a taster I guess, I wouldn't say any of them are paragons of feminism and they're certainly not my favourite companions, even less so coming off Romana and knowing Ace is on the way. However, I do think they're a bit too unfairly maligned seeing how delightful at least Peri and Mel are in the audio plays. Nicola Bryant, who I'm on record as thinking is a truly wodnerful and lovely person, gives a positively sparkly performance in "The Veiled Leopard" for example, and alongside Sophie Aldred no less!

      I'll grant most of my fondness for them is because I admire the actors and know how well their characters are handled in other media, where they're arguably better served than in the TV show. However, the fact that their characters could be salvaged at all seems to me an indication they weren't doomed from the start, which is, if I'm honest, more than I can say for Adric.

      But that is, as you've said, discussion for another day.

      Delete
    3. I have a lot of time for Nicola Bryant, who was I think second only to Peter Davison in her ability to make Eric Saward's awful dialogue sound like what she was actually thinking.

      Casting was never the problem with Colin Baker,

      I have to disagree with this. Colin Baker was awful.

      Delete
    4. As the cliche goes, he's excellent on the audios.

      Delete
    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    6. Previous comment deleted for mean-spiritedness.

      Delete
    7. The reincarnation of Lawrence Olivier could not have possibly played the character of the Sixth Doctor as conceived by the production staff of the time and made the character either believable or likeable.

      Delete
    8. I feel obliged to point out that the bar for "mean spirited" on this blog has been set rather low, and oftentimes by me in the blog itself.

      In any case, yeah - he has some real problems on the screen, but as Alan points out, the entire character was misconceived and his direction was a mess. I mean, the fact that nobody could actually tell him what parts of Mindwarp were meant to be fake speaks volumes to how screwed he was from an acting perspective.

      Delete
    9. I have noticed over the years that actors/characters seen as problematic have almost without exception redeemed themselves in fandom's mind by doing Big Finish audios. The Sixth Doctor, Melanie Bush, Tegan and Peri. Perhaps if Matthew Waterhouse had done a few audios there would have been a certain amount of re-evalution (or should that be reconciliation) over time. The problem there of course (as Waterhouse himself has pointed out) is that of a man in his 40s trying to reprise his role as a teenage boy and making it anything other than farce. Sadly for Matthew I think the Blue Box Boy's reputation is now cast firmly and irrevocably in stone.

      Delete
  29. The pivot of this whole story is the death of the Marsh Child, which is perhaps the first moment ever in Doctor Who to be not merely sad but actually tragic, a situation that grows out of the characters entirely naturally. (Contrast with, among other things, the end of Journey's End, which is more like someone trying to make you be sad by kicking a puppy). It's amazing that the youngest writer for the series produced a scene of such maturity.

    It also marks the theme of the story, and of the season, being played out concretely on a small stage: the risks of the pursuit of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge leads to deaths throughout this season, but no-where so directly as here.

    And it's impressively televisual: the action plays out on screen and the Marshchild is like a character from a different show who the Alzarians think it's okay to tear apart because they don't realise that he's real.

    And you can look on it as a different take on children (and possibly even fandom) than the take provided by Adric. The Marschchild doesn't understand what the grownups are doing, but just wants to be loved, and they tear him apart. Which in a way is the actually same take as the one provided by Adric.

    The sad thing is that this climax comes in episode 2 and its intriguing raising of "who are really the monsters?" turns into a more literal-minded "the people are. No, really, they are. And so are the monsters". The fact that there isn't really a villain in the story is a bit of a weakness, as often noted, but the real problem is that once Dexeter is gone there's not much in the way of moral conflict at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, it's episode 3. Stupid memory.

      Delete
    2. Even Dexeter is ambiguous -- he'd been lied to his entire life about the true nature of the Marshmen, and then a living, breathing specimen of one of the Boogeymen who have terrorized his people for generations falls into his lap. Granted, a lot of that nuance was lost due to the actor's decision to play Dexeter one step removed from Dr. Mengele, but there was interesting potential for the character.

      Delete
    3. I would say that Dexeter is even less of a villain than "ambiguous" implies. He's a good enough guy who ends up doing the wrong thing. The problem isn't to do with him being a villain, it's more that once he's gone the Doctor is pretty much the only moral pole of any kind left and the story unbalances.

      Delete
    4. Bear in mind that Draith, who we're supposed to trust, trusts Dexeter, and I think it's obvious that he's supposed to be basically good.

      Delete
  30. After watching this story again last night, reading all the reviews at Page Fillers, and all the comments here, I couldn't seem to find anything to say.

    But this morning I had a dream where I and some friend found myself on a nearly-identical world, but in another universe. Everything looked right... except, in the otherwise beautiful blue sky were these weird, bright GREEN clouds. So I knew something was wrong.

    I think comparing "MEGLOS" and "FULL CIRCLE" I can see what JNT was doing right-- and wrong. Clearly, the production end of things was being handled better than the year before. The look, the music, the tone, where drama and humor are mixed well. But where he goes wrong is based on his whole attitude, which may be a matter of wanting to be in charge. The idea that Season 17 was "The Tom Baker Show", and that if Baker left, the show would fall apart, is just the wrong way to go about trying to "fix" things. Because, in Season 17, certain things WORKED, and those included the main cast, and the writing. So the last thing JNT should have done was F*** with those. And he did.

    Adric is maddenning in this story for so many reasons. He's frustrated with blindly taking orders, but doesn't get along with people his own age, either. He accidentally causes the death of an old man who was only trying to save his life. After being befriended by The Doctor and Romana, he leads his gang of crminally-minded friends into the TARDIS. Doesn't anybody lock that damn door anymore?

    There's a few things in this story that, even within the context of this story, just make no sense at all. For one, the marshmen grab the TARDIS, and haul it to their cave. Romana & Adric both hit on the idea that they intend to use it as a battering ram. WHA'...? There must be better things to use for that purpose.

    I'm not sure the whole idea of supposedly negative coordinates makes sense, either. This isn't the universe of anti-matter, but just anti-coordinates. Hmm. The image translator shows Gallifrey, because Alzarius is apparently in the same spot, only in the other universe. So, swamp instead of desert. Now, what the HELL are the odds that an image translator designed to fit a Terradon spaceship should just happen to fit into the console of the TARDIS?? Just plugs in like it was made for it.

    And then there's the title, and the old man saying, "We've come full circle!" Wouldn't this make more sense if, after crashing on Alzarius, the people of Terradon had evolved INTO marshmen-- then, back again?

    But back to my main problem with what, otherwise, was a generally well-done, mezmerizing season. Baker, Ward & Leeson were one of the BEST teams the show ever had. You DON'T F*** with something like that!!! Actors leave shows soon enough. You DON'T go pushing them out the door, just because you've got some "personal vision" of how you think the damned show should be. Because the time to push that is WHEN the actors have already left, not when they're still kicking ass and are clearly the best thing you've got. Because Season 18 is way, way, WAY better than Season 19 (and it's a steady downhill from there), and the total change in cast is definitely a huge part of why.

    I wish The Doctor and romana had gotten to Gallifrey-- without Adric-- and by the end, just like Baker straightened things out in "THE DEADLY ASSASIN", the two of them could have left together again, to continue their adventures. And The Master... well, he should have been in "TALONS" and died then and there.

    ReplyDelete