Season 18, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #112) | Previous - Next | Index
In which the TARDIS slips into E-Space and Adric joins the crew after a bit of Creature From the Alzarian Lagoon shenanigans about evolution. One problem is, for a show that's ostensibly about evolution, it's got evolution all wrong and ... well, there's Adric. Which, in case you're new all this, means you've got to be ready to do a lot of cringing because never before has a regular character been so miscast. (I'll wait and re-watch some more Ace stories before I assert, as I remember, that Sophie Aldred gave Matthew Waterhouse a run for the title of Most Over His Or Her Head Actor To Play A Companion.)
So let's get Adric out of the way. We know he's going to be part of a very impactful event in the history of life on Earth down the line, but that's ten stories in the future. This is one of the ten of stories where he isn't crashed into a planet causing a mass extinction. (So much the worse for we, the viewers, a wag might opine.) How much of this is Matthew Waterhouse's fault? Certainly his portrayal doesn't disguise any problems with the character as written; however, it's as if he's written to be peevish, annoying, and unlikable. Mr. Waterhouse was an inexperienced actor, only 18-years-old, so it was probably unfair to put him in the position of playing a role that even an experienced, gifted actor would've had trouble making appealing.
I've not read Blue Box Boy, but I gather it must have tremendously difficult for a young kid who grew up as a devoted fan of the show to come in and, apparently, not fit in at all with the cast he's joined. I'm not sure what to make of his allegations, from the book, of Tom Baker being sour drunk either. Would it surprise me if he was drunk on set? No. (It would explain some things, like his performance in "The Invasion of Time," for one.) No matter how charming and genial Tom Baker seems to me in his interviews, I don't know the man; but, knowing drunks, it wouldn't surprise me if he were hard on his fellow cast and crew. Again, if true.
Getting this out of the way now, because in future, when I bash on Adric for being unbearable, I want to be clear that I've got no malice towards Mr. Waterhouse. Just as my dislike for Wesley ("The Adric of ST:TNG") Crusher has nothing to do with my feelings about Wil Wheaton, I've really got no opinion about Mr. Waterhouse except the default position that, as a fellow human being, I assume he's doing his best to make his way in the world, and is therefore deserving of respect and compassion. (Can't say the snippets I've read of his books courtesy of Amazon's 'look inside' function make we want to read them but if being a tedious writer of exaggerated self-importance were a crime, then the walls of my house look glassy in the waning daylight and I'm mindful of my own shortcomings.)
So how about those spiders? It's a shame this story doesn't appear to capture the fancy of GIF makers, because there are several moments here that cry out for the treatment. The first time we see one of those giant spiders pop from a riverfruit is one of them. When one pops out and bites Romana's face, that's another.
Not to be a broken record, but the incidental music in this story is torturous. A broken record would've been preferable. Years. Years of episodes where cheesy synthesizers are programmed to commit aural human rights abuses. This isn't just the judgment of thirty three years passing since this story was broadcast, they sounded rubbish when they were new.
Tom Baker's righteous anger when lacing into the Deciders is first order though. There's no clowning around here. When he castigates them for allowing Dexeter to proceed with the vivisection of the conscious marshman child, and for keeping the secret that their ship is already capable of flight, the Doctor's disgust with them is visceral. It's rather astonishing this story was written someone even younger than Matthew Waterhouse. Andrew Smith was just 17 when he submitted the story!
In About Time, Miles and Wood mark this as the true beginning of the JN-T era, where it seems to be the first complete realization of his vision for the show. The former rues the day, the latter sees it as "cracking" TV. The easy way out would be to say the truth is somewhere in between, but I think Miles has the stronger argument. There's something perverse about using actors as charming as Baker and Ward in the service of a vision for the show that is utterly charmless. Witty and charming isn't the only mode Doctor Who works in; it can do thoughtful, epic, romantic, adventurous, camp, suspenseful, even dabble in philosophical, but even when operating primarily in another mode, it's the show that continues to engage audiences over the course of decades when its sense of fun buttresses whatever else it's doing. There are things we can appreciate about what this production team is trying to do ... but when you have to work at appreciating the good bits while enduring terrible production values, overly stylized, garish costumes, dodgy science, and distractingly bad acting, your goodwill for the show is being expended instead of restored.