Thursday, January 28, 2010

6B4 - Earthshock 4

Adric has been mocked and derided ever since...well, ever, really. It's become come so commonplace to make fun of Adric that it has become as boring and tired a cliche as jokes about wobbly sets and Daleks that can't go upstairs. Sure, Adric isn't the all-time best companion out there, but he is by no means the worst companion, and Matthew Waterhouse's performances in the role have shown a marked improvement since the beginning of Season 19.

Had Adric simply faded away, remained behind on a planet, or fled back to E-Space (as was briefly, and bizarrely, focused upon and then dropped in the first two episodes of Earthshock), he probably would have faded into obscurity. That he is given just about the best exit any companion could hope for raises his stock up considerably. As a kid, I loved Adric, as I imagine other children my age did at the time. He's often called a boy genius, the Doctor Who universe's answer to Wesley Crusher. But, really, Adric was anything but a genius. Only in his final episodes did he finally get to use the mathematical skills for which he was renowned for (he had a badge, you know). Up until now, Adric's played the traditional companion role even more so than Nyssa or Tegan - asking The Doctor questions and getting into trouble.

Adric's death is legitimately sad (please don't point out Matthew Waterhouse's cautious keyboard typing in his final moments) because, even though he's done his best to save everyone, he fails, and is left to die alone, clutching his rope belt once worn by his brother Varsh. All his life, even while on the TARDIS, Adric has been the outsider, disliked and derided by others, so what better than to hold the one thing that actually celebrated being an outsider? In a brilliant act of underplaying the foreshadowing, Adric isn't even given any significant goodbye scenes until he shakes The Doctor's hand in Episode Four. His last scene in the TARDIS is an unremarkable scene in Episode Two. Nyssa, who he seemed to get along with best out of anyone on the TARDIS, barely speaks to him in this story - not because the two weren't getting along, but just through the circumstances of the day. You never know when the last time you see someone will be. That the relatively close and effective pairing of Adric and Nyssa ends so unceremoniously is unrelenting in its tragedy.

Tragedy is the watchword of Earthshock. The whole venture is a tragic failure for The Doctor. He loses a companion and a friend, and the Cybermen are merely dispersed as opposed to being destroyed, ready to dust themselves off and try again. And thanks to the artful way this story is constructed by Eric Saward and Peter Grimwade, you never really think that it's going to go off the rails until the final moments. I mean, how can The Doctor fail? He has never failed before, right? The silent credits after Adric's death are almost necessary to show that this is unlike any Doctor Who story. If the theme music came crashing in at that moment, you could conceivably think that Adric's death was a cliffhanger, and The Doctor will be rushing back in time to save him next week.

But Earthshock isn't like any other Who story. It shows with devastating finality that The Doctor can be as vulnerable as any of us. It is the most impressive re-imagining of an enemy ever seen in the classic series, and would only be equaled by the first appearance of a Dalek in 2005's Dalek. It is also the end of an innocent time in Doctor Who. Earthshock's success was built on gun battles, horror, and death. This approach would be tried on several other occasions in the next few years, never with the success that Earthshock attained, and each time with grimmer results. Earthshock is the intersection of the fantastical and the gritty sides of Doctor Who, and is fundamentally and artistically brilliant.


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