Ad(ric) Astra!

The Fifth Doctor Box SetWay back at the start of this slightly bonkers endeavour, I had a numbering system. I based that numbering system on the earliest (chronologically speaking) Fifth Doctor play in the Big Finish monthly range – featuring Nyssa only, just after Tegan’s departure in Time-Flight – I did so secure in the knowledge that BF would never get Matthew Waterhouse on board to reprise his role as Adric. More fool me, obviously, as now my numbering system has collapsed beyond repair. Perhaps Adric the maths geek would sympathise. Anyhow, it’s happened: it’s a Fifth Doctor box set featuring Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, it’s dark as hell, nobody’s having any fun, and it’s brilliant – it’s like 1981 all over again! Big Finish Folly, Part 0A – Psychodrome, by Jonathan Morris

For the first of the two stories in this set, we’re going way way back to the very beginning of Season 19. Literally, you cannot go any further back in the Folly’s present remit than this: Tegan doesn’t even have a room in the Tardis yet, which is where we first encounter the bickering quartet, still unsettled by the Doctor’s transformation. They’re all angry at each other, there’s elements of distrust and disappointment, and right now the Doctor doesn’t know who he is either. So when the Tardis materialises in a strange land peopled by aboriginal savages and the survivors of a crashed starship, things start to go wrong very very quickly indeed. Did I mention the writing is dark? There’s no better time to go hunting through emotions, prejudices, inaccurate first impressions and fears however, and Jonathan Morris makes damn fine use of the material. The crew have already isolated themselves, and the characters they encounter in their surroundings don’t help. Playing a curious combination of archetypes and distorted mirror versions, the supporting cast certainly have their work cut out for them. Fortunately, the minor characters start dying very quickly. And very violently too. This isn’t so much survival of the fittest as survival of the most self-aware.

The big question is: what’s Adric like? Does he sound right? Can you really imagine the brash Alzarian genius here? A confession: I have a vivid memory of watching the last minutes of Earthshock when it was first broadcast, but I can’t for the life of me remember how Adric spoke. You can hear Matthew Waterhouse struggling to get back into a high, teenaged tone, but that’s hardly surprising – he’s 52 now, not 19 – but the dialogue and the attitude both serve to convince. “I can do it!” he shouts in petulant frustration as another computer algorithm fails to give way before him, in eerie prescience of future events… Adric rubs up poorly against the rest of the Tardis crew, but then he was always a negative, an outsider – even Tegan, despite her desire to get back to Earth, fits into the crew better than Adric does… and he feels it, I think.

His Doctor has changed, his home is different. The climax of the play sees a grand mental battle to escape the Psychodrome. Perhaps it’s a bit too “we can do it if we all believe in it!” to be entirely convincing after so much darkness and internal pain, but this whole story is really about the crew finding out how they are seen by each other, and how much they have been unsettled by the recent changes. Team Tardis never fails to pull together in the end – and despite his own fears, it’s all because of the Doctor. The Fifth Doctor works well with a team, something that the brilliantly individual Fourth rarely could. Excellent stuff.

*****

Buy it here

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