Adric, Matthew Waterhouse, and the Fannish Gestalt (repost)

(Reposted from my original blog on Blogger)

The following was originally posted by me more than 12 years ago 15 years ago. While much has changed since its last revision (who’d have thought that a new series was then a little less than 5 years away?), I’ve recently had a few requests to repost it as many feel the points it raises are still quite relevant.

I suppose the good news from the intervening decade is that it is no longer considered odd for fans (both old series and new) to confess that they liked Adric, and that in some ways Mr. Waterhouse himself has recently enjoyed something of a renaissance with fandom. I like to think that this essay played a part in that re-assessment, but in truth, if so I think it was probably a small part. But while the reasons for why this essay was written may no longer be relevant, the topic of fandom intolerance certainly is —perhaps even more so than ever in this internet, Twitter, blog-driven age.

In answer to a question I am periodically asked, I have no idea if Mr. Waterhouse has ever read this piece, or even knows of its existence. I know it was posted for many years on a (now defunct) website, so odds are it might have been noticed at one time or another. But beyond that I can only speculate. But if by some odd chance Mr. Waterhouse might stumble upon this posting, let me at least take the time to say this:

Thank You, Sir. For everything.

—DBK

First Posted: 31 May 2000
Revision Date: 9 October 2003
Please send commentary to:    DeTroyes@rcn.com    DeTroyes@sbcglobal.net

The following is my opinion only, mostly written to get it out of my system. I welcome constructive discussion and commentary. I view this piece as a living document, i.e. one that will probably be revised and periodically rewritten as time and new thoughts occur to me, or as I am persuaded by other arguments. I would really appreciate some commentary on this, as I think some of the issues raised should be talked about and discussed in the open.

I would like to thank Vicki Griswold, Diane Brendan, Bradley K. Willis, Clive May, Heather Smith, William December Starr, and all the others whom I’ve talked to over the years about this subject. Here’s to bringing some sanity back to the fold.
*****

“Sancho, my armor!”

“Oh no, Master! You’re not going to…”

“Yes, Sancho… I must. No one else is willing to speak up, so it is up to I!”

“But… but, you know what happened the last time you did this, my lord!”

“Yes, Sancho, I know… My email account was spammed and online friends stopped writing. But still, it must be said… there must be some sanity brought to the world.”

Sancho thinks: You’re one to talk.
 

Adric, Matthew Waterhouse, and the Fannish Gestalt
an opinion by Douglas B. Killings

I liked Adric.

There. I’ve said it. Possibly three of the most despised words in all of Doctor Who fandom. In some corners, worse than the appellation “Doctor Who Sucks”, and even infinitely more appalling than that other three-word outrage, “British Broadcasting Corporation”.

For those of you who are presently choking on their coffee or trying desperately to hit the back button on their browser, let me repeat this statement in smaller, more easily digestible chunks:

“I”: The nominative case singular of the personal pronoun indicating the first person;

“Liked”: The past tense of like, to have a favorable opinion of something or someone;

“Adric”: Proper name. A companion of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Also known as “the little creep” and “that damn annoyance”.

This is not a typo. This is not an error. This is an actual and truthful statement by a long time fan of Doctor Who — an adult of some 35 years (god, has it really been that long?) who is married, has one darling three-year old daughter, two gorgeous baby boys, two cats, a job, a car payment, and a mortgage. One who is currently trying to slug his way through the entire range of original novels (just polished off “The Last of the Gaderene”), who has been known to set his Windows opening music to a wav of the entire original theme, and who even periodically spends valuable free time dashing off odd bits of fan fiction. In short, someone who is a typically rabid fan of a television series that has been a part of his life for almost as long as he can remember.

Yet, because I say that I liked Adric, there seems to be a perception that I am somehow different, that I am somehow atypical, merely because I profess an opinion that differs from much (if not most) of DWfandom. It is in the conversations I have with other fans, sometimes in the responses to newsgroup posts I make, in the chat rooms that I occasionally drop into, even periodically in the email I receive. It is an attitude that considers me peculiar and somehow defective in my fandom, as if hating Adric were one of the litmus tests of whether or not you were a “true” fan of the series. In extreme cases, it is a belief that says my attitude is somehow threatening to the entire integrity of DW fandom, that by merely mentioning this I was somehow undermining the entire Doctor Who universe, no doubt to be followed by the heinous crime of (horrors!) advocating a resurrection of the dead and forcing everyone to dress in banana suits at the next con.

Why is this so?

What is it about Adric that makes this reaction so vehement?

Why is it that Doctor Who fans tend to find this unacceptable, or at the very least, uncomfortable?

And, most importantly, what is really wrong with liking something out of the ordinary, especially among a group of people who are themselves out of the ordinary?

*****

I know why it is that I started to like the character.

Let’s set the Way-Back machine a little bit. Let’s go back to 1981, and to the living room where the television sat. It’s late Sunday night, and the channel is set to WTTW Channel 11. Dave Allen at Largewas just ending, and another “new” (as in, I hadn’t seen it before) episode of Doctor Who was about to begin.

There I am, sitting in front of the television set. I was 16 at the time, soon to be going on 17, but that was a few months yet away. I had already started collecting and reading Target and Pinnacle novelizations, and was eager to see another new installment of this show. After all, I’d been watching it nearly religiously for some years already.

The episode started, and this time the adventure was set on a planet populated by the descendants of a crashed star liner. There were also these marshmen and… well, you get the idea. You all know the story, so why repeat it here? Suffice to say I was enjoying the tale as I always did, knowing that no matter how strange the situation was, the Doctor would sort it all out in the end.

But something odd happened in that story. There was this character. At first I didn’t think there was anything important about him, just one of the usual walk-on parts that have populated the series for as long as I can remember. This one was teenaged, young, male, intelligent, slightly headstrong, and (to my mind) reasonably likeable. Ok, not an especially stellar resume; “Horns of Nimon” had a similar set of characters, so his existence was hardly unique. But then he did something that wasunique, something completely unexpected; at the end of the story, he stowed away aboard the TARDIS, and became a companion.

I was suddenly intrigued. And glued to the TV. I could hardly wait for the next week’s episode, possibly with more anticipation than I ever had at any time previously.

It took me a couple of stories, but eventually I realized what it was about this character that made me react so. I knew this guy. I knew him because I went to school with him every day. He was the kid who sat next to me in home room and read Heinlein; he was the guy in the computer lab working on the TRS-80 trying to get Star Trek to work right; he was the guy at the comic shop I used to talk with for hours, discussingX-MenandSpiderMan and speculating on whether or not Darth Vader was really Luke’s father. And yes, he was the guy I saw in the mirror in the mornings, cleaning himself up for another day of High School.

He was the first character I ever saw in the series who acted and felt like the people I knew, like those who were around me. So what that he was awkward, clumsy, and had terrible sartorial tastes; that pretty much described most of my peers, myself included. So what that he was just a little arrogant and a touch immature; show me a 16-year-old who isn’t. So what that he was woefully in over his head most of the time and wasn’t entirely competent; that’s called inexperience, and off hand I’d say 99.9% of the teenagers of the world would fare no better or no worse in the same situation.

Adric felt and acted like a real, living, 16-year-old to me. I never knew Sarah-Jane Smith or Leela or Romana or the Brigadier or any of those people as anything other than reasonably interesting fictionalcharacters. I knew Adric, though. I felt I knew him for what he was. He was arrogant enough to hide the lack of self-confidence, idealistic enough to not notice when he was making a big mistake, unsure of himself and still trying to figure out who the heck he was and what he wanted. He wasn’t handsome, he wasn’t suave, he was basically unformed. He was all of this, and yet was still lucky enough to get to visit neat places like Traken and Logopolis and whatever that castle was in “Warrior’s Gate”. Lucky bastard.

After watching “Logopolis”, I went away thinking that he was quite possibly in the best position of any companion to date in the series in terms of future potential. There were so many possibilities, so many ways that the writers could take the character, that I genuinely thought he was the most exciting development to come in a long time. I fully expected that, before he left the series, they would let him grow up and come of age.

Of course, we all know that didn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no objection to killing off main characters. One of my favorite series of all times is Blake’s 7, which ends quite appropriately with everyone blown away in a Hamlet-like catharsis. Ditto the anime film Arrivaderci Yamato, where the only survivors are the secondary-characters while all the main cast gets blown to kingdom come. But Adric’s death was different; it never sat well with me, and has continued to gnaw away as one big missed opportunity.

I didn’t actually see “Earthshock” until almost two years later, but by then I had already heard much about it. When I actually did watch the story, I was intrigued right up until the very end. Adric’s death left a bad taste in my mouth. I’d known beforehand that Adric would die in the story, but actually seeing the way it happened made me appalled. It was all flashy and melodramatic, but ultimately pointless (which, come to think of it, is a pretty accurate epitaph for the entire JNT era). What made it worse was the way the Doctor reacted in “Time Flight”; I just could not see him reacting this way over the death of a friend, and the fact that he was doing so was so totally out of character (or at least, for my interpretation of the character) that I was left with a queasy feeling in my stomach. This was not the Doctor Who that I’d grown to love.

It was soon after that I first became aware of the general fan reaction toward Adric. It was at a Doctor Who Con, and I just happened to opine that I didn’t particularly like the way that Adric had been written out. I said it in an off-hand manner, really as a throw-away comment in a conversation concerning broader topics. Yet, it immediately became the centerpoint of discussion. “What do you mean you didn’t like it?” one person asked me, apparently quite incredulous. “What do you mean you likedhim?” another sputtered. “I thought it was the best thing that ever happened.” “I stood up and clapped.” “I thought the character got what he deserved.”

“What the hell do you mean you wish they’d find a way to bring him back? We want him to stay dead!!!”

It was amazing how, by making one off-hand comment, I could so immediately polarize a group and dominate the topic of conversation. There was no middle ground among them: everyone there hated Adric, and hated him with a passion unmatched by anything I’d seen before — and that included the passionate debates about which Doctor was the best and whether or not JNT was God or the Devil. I had inadvertently touched a raw nerve, and now saw for the first time a reaction that I found rather bewildering. And, as time went on, frankly troubling.

*****

Almost from the moment I first saw Adric’s fiery demise, I began to try to concoct his rescue.

You have to understand that I did this all the time with the shows that I loved. At that time I was also reeling from the experience (and trust me, it was an experience!) of watching the end of Blake’s 7 for the first time, so I suppose resurrection of the dead was on my mind. I remember too that I was just beginning to get interested in Japanese anime and manga, and so somewhere along the way the idea of crossing Doctor Who and anime came together. OK, a pretty lame-o idea, but I thought “What the hell?”, and proceeded to start coming up with story ideas. A few I even started writing. I viewed them as thought experiments, ideas with which to take my mind off my studies, commuting, or whatever it was that I’d rather not be doing. Most of them, quite frankly, looked a lot better at age 20 than they do now at age 35.

Along the way, I continued to watch Doctor Who fandom’s view of Adric, looking for any sign that my first experience in this regard was an aberration. It wasn’t. If anything, it grew worse. Long time fans were openly dismissing him, new fans were joining on the bandwagon, often without ever having actually watched the episodes in question. Adric was fast becoming the character to hate, the commonly acknowledged dreg at the bottom of the barrel. And as before, there was no middle ground: you had to hate him, if for no other reason than because everyone else did.

“Why?” I once asked a fan.

“Because he was annoying and whiny and argued with everyone.” was the essential reply.

“What about Tegan or Turlough? Do you like them?”

“Well, yeah. They were great…”

Go figure.

One particular person stands out in my mind. She appeared to be late 20’s, slightly overweight, and had a fixation on Turlough. We happened to be discussing fanfiction at a con, and the subject of story ideas came up. By now I’d grown pretty wary of discussing my views on Adric with Doctor Who fans, as I just didn’t want to have to explain over and over again ad nauseam my reasons for liking the character. But somehow in the course of our conversations, the fact that I was contemplating a story where Adric gets rescued slipped out, and much to my chagrin the tone of the conversation shifted dramatically.

The woman grew livid.

Without wanting to hear the particulars, she immediately pounced on the idea with all the abandon of a lion moving in for the kill. The idea was stupid, she said, and dreadful. And was somehow detrimental to the spirit ofDoctor Who (huh?). Adric was a creepy little moron that should never have been allowed in, and killing him was the best thing they ever did, and how dare you suggest that bringing him back would be a good thing. It would destroy Doctor Who if the character was resurrected, and anyone who did so was an asshole and didn’t understand the show and you’d better damn well not do it because you’d be playing hell with something she loved.

I mumbled something, grew quiet, and slinked away.

The conversation stuck with me for weeks after. Was I somehow wrong, I thought? Was there something I was missing? What was it that everyone was seeing that I wasn’t? Sure he had his problems as a character, and sure his role in Season 19 was less than stellar, but surely it wasn’t worth all the vehemence and bile that was being directed toward him? He was a character, after all. A fictional construct. Someone that didn’t really exist. What was it about him that made him so universally reviled, so thoroughly despised, that a grown adult would feel a need to vent anger at a would-be writer over his mere mention?

And then, in a moment of epiphany, it struck me.

The woman felt threatened by Adric.

It was the only explanation that fit. Somehow, someway, this particular person felt personally threatened by the mere idea of the character’s existence, as if killing him was the only way to make her feel absolutely secure. It was the only thing I could think of that fit the facts. She had acted as if I was committing an act of extreme, heinous heresy — and what was more, was worried that by doing so perhaps I could convince others to join with me in my apostasy. She didn’t want Adric back; she found the idea deeply anathema, at odds with the world she wanted to believe in. Adric — snot-nosed, incompetent, rather innocuous little Adric — was a direct menace to her self.

*****

After this, I began to watch Doctor Who fans closely, and started to notice a pattern.

Those that really, really, vehemently hated Adric tended to be slightly arrogant, a little whiny, and more than just a little argumentative. In other words, rather like the character they hated. But what was really striking was the way that they all tended to be just a little bit immature themselves. It showed in a lot of ways — the way they acted, the way they talked, the way they argued, the way they discussed differences of opinion. They wanted to believe they were right, and often had a hard time accepting the idea that maybe there were others with differing viewpoints.

It was then that I realized that my original assessment, that Adric was a lot like the average 16-year-old that I remembered being, was all too true. The problem was, Adric emphasized the teenaged aspect all too well. And as been pointed out by me and others before, people generally do not like it when mirrors are held to their faces.

Most of us do not like to admit that we are fallible, that we have faults. We prefer to believe that we are suave and confident, peerless and without flaws. We have the picture of James Bond in our heads, when in reality Ralph Kramden is probably closer to the truth. We generally don’t want to believe that we are capable of being boorish or obnoxious, even when we are being so. It doesn’t fit into our psyche, so when we are confronted with the truth we have a universal tendency to shy away from it, to want to ignore and deny the evidence. And when that evidence is presented before us in a manner that is hard to ignore, our natural reaction is to hate and despise it, or at the very least wish it to disappear.

At the core, this is I believe what happened to Adric. Adric’s big problem as a character was that he tended to emphasis all the negative aspects of being a teenager. Growing up is difficult enough without having to be reminded of all the things you did wrong; to have a character based on this premise is practically a recipe for disaster. Adric exposed our insecurities, and did so in a way that left little room to deny. Faced with itself, fandom chose to hate the messenger, and then rejoiced when the messenger was no longer there to remind them of who they once were. Adolescence was over; there was no need or desire to revisit that awkward time.

It is a pity, therefore, that Adric was killed off. In my opinion, he had the most wasted potential of all the characters in the history of the series. It would have been nice to see him grow up and shed some of those self-doubts, to reach adulthood under the tutelage of Doctor-sensei, and to come back maybe in a few years to see what kind of a person he had become. My guess is, he wouldn’t have been all that different from you and me. In the end, we all grow up. The person we are at 16 is very rarely the person we are at 26, and even more removed is the person we are at 36. It would have been nice to see this happen, to show that adolescence isn’t all that bad, that even the most obnoxious teenager can grow up to be a decent person. Instead we are left with a symbol of that uneasy moment in our lives, and rather than acknowledge some truths we shy away and wish it would just vanish. Or, as the case may be, get blown away to smithereens.

*****

A lot of the blame for Adric’s failure as a character has been laid on the shoulders of his portrayer, Matthew Waterhouse. He was stiff, they complained; his facial expressions were rather limited, and he did that thing with his hands constantly, especially when he was trying to act excited. Then there was that high-pitched voice of his, grating on the nerves.

I recently spent a good deal of time re-watching old Doctor Whoepisodes. It happens when you have twin babies and don’t have much else to do while watching them. Just to make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me, I hauled out all of my old copies of Seasons 18 & 19, and watched every story that I still had. In particular, I wanted to see how well (or badly, as the case may be) Matthew Waterhouse’s performance stacked up to the test of time. And lo and behold, I found my memory had not been colored by the years.

Yes, I admit it, Waterhouse was not the best actor. But yet, I think it also must be pointed out that this is Doctor Who we’re talking about, not Shakespeare. Even at his worst, Waterhouse’s acting abilities do not strike me as being any worse than any number of performances in the series, either previously or since. Especially since. True, there were low points. “Four to Doomsday” and “The Visitation” are to my mind the least inspired. But there were also high-points; even the harshest Adric critic will generally admit that he wasn’t bad in “Keeper of Traken” or “Logopolis”, and in “Earthshock” he gets downright good. In short, his range in performance looks no different to me than any other half-way talented person who somehow found their way onto the show. Watch some of those old black-and-whites sometime, and tell me if I’m wrong. Go ahead, do it. Got a name for you: Dodo Chaplet. See? Told you so.

To accuse Matthew Waterhouse of stiff acting strikes me as rather like singling out a single tree in a forest, and accuse it of being wood. The charge may be accurate, but it ignores the context.

True, the most talented actors can make even the worst part theirs and eke some mileage out of it, and Waterhouse’s failure to do so does speak volumes for his inexperience. But yet, I think in all fairness one must look objectively at the task Waterhouse was being asked to do; the problem, I think, was not in Waterhouse but in the character itself. As has been pointed out by others (including the authors of Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text), no one with the possible exception of Christopher H. Bidmead (Adric’s creator) had a clear idea as to who Adric was. In one story he’d be a mathematical genius, in the next he’d be a brain-dead idiot; in one story he’d be relatively competent, in the next bumbling and ineffectual. He could throw a knife with deadly accuracy in “State of Decay”, but blunders his way into the hands of a Tereliptl android in “The Visitation”. From story to story, it was often almost as if he were a different character.

If you examine Waterhouse’ tenure closely, you notice something about the characters’ basic traits. Up until “Castrovalva”, Adric is more or less consistent in some basic ways: he is earnest although inexperienced, friendly, rather helpful. He readily does whatever the Doctor asks of him, and does so without complaint. He even, as in the case of “Keeper of Traken”, provides valuable aid in finding a way to defeat Melkur/The Master. But starting with “Four to Doomsday”, the character starts to undergo a radical shift. The whininess sets in. He becomes more petulant and argumentative. And then there is that whole food thing. In short, most of the characteristics that Adric has been reviled for start to come prominently into play at this point in time.

The difference, I think, is Eric Saward, the script editor for the series from “Four to Doomsday” on. Christopher H. Bidmead, the previous editor, seems to have had a better idea as to what he wanted in the character, and took steps to make certain some degree of coherency was maintained. Not so Saward. If Bidmead had only a vague idea as to what he wanted, Saward seems to have had none, and as a result Adric becomes wildly unfocused for the remainder of his tenure. The idea, it seems, was to inject some characterization and differentiation among the cast. The problem was that if Saward did not have a clear idea as to what he wanted, Waterhouse was left with only the very core background to fall back upon, that of a young, headstrong teenager. The combination proved fatal for the character, in more ways than one.

Now to be fair, Saward was tasked with almost a herculean task himself, that of trying to juggle four separate main characters in a series format that works best with only two. One Doctor and three companions may have worked well in the sixties, when seasons were forty- some episodes in length and stories often went to six episodes apiece. But in the eighties, with smaller seasons and far shorter stories, finding something for everyone to do can be almost an impossible task. Many of the stories in Season 19 were written originally with the expectation of only two companions; now suddenly, three companions had to share the limelight, and it seems that much of what should have gone to Adric instead went to Tegan and Nyssa. What was left was a vague attempt at characterization that, for a variety of reasons, could not be made to come off in the tight confines the series suddenly found itself in, coupled with a very limited ability to use the character in the first place. As a result, Adric as a character was gradually marginalized and consequentially suffered. I have no doubt in my mind that, had there been one less companion running around in Season 19, Adric would not be as reviled as much as he is today — Waterhouse’s acting abilities not withstanding. But this is only conjecture, and irresolvable conjecture at best.

Suffice to say, then, that I think the evidence suggests Waterhouse cannot be blamed entirely for the character’s failure, or arguably even mostly for it. Factors were stacked in such a way against the character that I do not think even the best actor could successfully overcome them. Yet, Waterhouse continues to receive the lion’s share of JNT-era fan criticism, even downright hatred. For what? That he had the misfortune to play a poorly thought-out character on a series that has a history of mediocre acting?

*****

Let me say before continuing any further that much of what I am about to say has been gleaned from conversations with other fans, from reading newsgroup posts, attending fan gatherings, and from years of just watching from the sidelines. Although I do like to attend conventions, I have not been to a Doctor Who-oriented convention in almost a dozen years, and unless I suddenly get a lottery windfall the likelihood is that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Thus, some of the following probably would be considered, as my lawyer-wife would insist, as nothing more than hearsay and therefore of dubious accuracy, although I for one am confident of its veracity. Make of this what you will.

But be that as it may, there can be no denying that Adric and especially Matthew Waterhouse have become the whipping-boys of Doctor Whofandom. Tasteless websites have been offered up to (dis)honor him, pro-Waterhouse posts on Rec.Arts.DrWho have been routinely met with derision and ridicule, and authors of generally pro-Adric fanfiction have been flamed and sent derogatory, anonymous email (I’ve even got one up on my website!). I know of no person in any other fandom to which such consistent vehemence has been expended upon against them, and that includes diatribes against the likes of Will Wheaton/Wesley Crusher and Carl “Scissors” Macek. Clearly, the two still touch raw nerves, even after all the long years that have passed.

I have heard stories of Waterhouse being heckled at conventions, of so-called fans going up to him and telling him in no uncertain terms why they hated him and his character, and of people in general being more obnoxious and disrespectful toward him than any other actor in the history of the series. His name is routinely greeted with boo’s and hisses at mere mention, and he is frequently seen as the butt of many (sometimes vicious) jokes. On the anarchy that is the Rec.Arts.DrWho newsgroup, it is considered a serious breach of protocol to wish death upon the most obnoxious and virulent troll, but wishing death upon Matthew Waterhouse is considered a national sport.

What is wrong with fandom? Why is it that we continue to perpetuate this? Why do we have to constantly put something/someone down, simply because some don’t like them? To make us feel better about ourselves, to count ourselves lucky that there but for the graces go I? Were it one or two isolated incidents I wouldn’t be writing this. However, this is hardly the case. Go to any gathering of Doctor Who fans and just mention the names of Adric and Matthew Waterhouse, and see how quickly the shit starts to fly. It has now sunk to the point that it has become such an underlying feature of the sub-culture that it self-perpetuates, with each new generation that enters emulating those that have come before them. Objectivity has all but evaporated; in it’s place are long-standing prejudices and an irrational hatred for someone who did nothing more than to land an unpopular role on their favorite TV series.

Does any of this justify the level of personal vitriol that is routinely leveled against him?

Keep in mind, most of these stories were filmed almost 20 years ago. Every report I’ve read about recent Waterhouse appearances indicate that he’s matured as both a person and an actor. The most oft-mentioned comment is that he’s “surprisingly warm” in person, and a few have even boldly stated that he had a better presence on stage than some of the regulars (!). Clearly, Waterhouse has changed over the years.

So why can’t fandom change with it?

The problem, I think, is that it doesn’t want to. It seems to want to vilify Waterhouse as a sort of boogey-man, someone that it can always have around to sneer it’s nose at. Long after there was any purpose, long after there was any meaning. Keep kicking that doggy, because it’s fun, there ain’t no way he can respond, and it makes us look a whole mite taller. Yep, that’s the ticket.

Bullshit.

It’s wrong. It’s flat-out wrong.

*****

And what of the Adric-fans themselves, those few souls brave enough to admit they actually liked the character? Stop laughing; there are more of us out there than you would be appalled to admit to.

When I started posting my fanfiction, I began to receive email from other fans who felt as I did that Adric was being overly-maligned. Almost universally, the comment from them was “I thought I was the only one who thought that way about him.” Many reported some variation of the same experiences I’d had: fans who dismissed them and their views, or who argued with them vehemently against the character, or even just being obnoxious and condescending merely for the crime of liking something the greater group-mind did not. I heard from fans who admitted to being moved by his death (including one now housewife and mother of two, who says she cried for days), a fair number that wanted to discuss (sometimes passionately) why the character and actor weren’t complete wastes, and even one or two who still “carried the torch” as it were, and wondered if there was ever a chance the character could be brought back. Adric-supporters I have heard from include owners of graphics arts corporations, systems admins, game designers, engineers, and even the former managing editor of Sky and Telescope. People have named their pets, their computers (including a number of web servers and at least one big corporation’s primary SQL server!), and even their gaming personae after him. At Microsoft, there was once a Windows NT subgroup called the “Application Development, Research, and Integration Crew”, and DeLaSalle University has the Advanced Research Institute for Computing (which they refer to as “AdRIC”), a Linux think-tank.

For a couple of people who are supposedly the most universally-reviled in Doctor Who fandom, Adric and his portrayer seem to enjoy a fair degree of underground support, much of whom had absolutely no knowledge that they were hardly alone.

If you were to believe mainline Doctor Who fandom, such a thing should not be possible. But yet there we are, hiding in the fringes, nooks and crannies. Fans who stubbornly persist in bucking the trend, who ignore constant pressure to conform and persist in believing something they know others don’t. They sit there, sometimes afraid to come forward because they are afraid of what others will say, or because they do not want to put up with the mindless attacks and other problems that go along with stating that they do not agree with the majority. In the extreme, some gave up and just dropped out of Doctor Who fandom altogether.

And this is a shame. It is a shame that they should have to hide their beliefs or their ideas; it is a shame that thoughtless barbarians are allowed to set the agenda; it is a shame that uncouth and boorish behavior is not only sanctioned but encouraged, where ever mainline views meet offline dissent; it is a shame that some fans feel they must abandon Doctor Who altogether, merely because they find that their particular set of preferences are not accepted by the greater.

We can do better than this. We MUST do better than this.

This isn’t just about whether or not Adric was a good character, people. This is about tolerance. This is about tolerance of other ideas, of other interpretations. But most of all, it is about the tolerance of other people. Like the best of mythos, everyone sees what they want in Doctor Who; everyone comes away with their own interpretations, their own likes and dislikes. No two are ever quite alike. Neither do they always compliment each other.

Adric-fans may get the most extreme treatment, but they are by no means alone. On the map of unpopular fan-views, we have those who despise the novels, those who like other unpopular companions (Mel, Peri, even the previously slighted Dodo), or just those who take unpopular stances (X is not really canon, etc.). Just having these views should not invalidate the person who has them. Yet, the fan collective-conscience consistently demands that it does.

Any group that does not allow the free admission and absorption of new ideas is destined for stagnation and decay. Rather than alienate those with unpopular ideas, we should be embracing them, welcoming them with open arms. Not denigrating, ridiculing, or otherwise dismissing them. It is said that every generation re-evaluates the assumptions of the old, and remolds them to new thinking and new ideas. There is nothing wrong with having a dissenting viewpoint, or even a popular one; only in refusing to acknowledge that others have a right to their views.

I admit that, by and large, most fans are generally well-behaved, good, open people who wouldn’t dream of attacking someone else. But yet despite this, we have somehow cultivated a mind-set that encourages a set rule of thought, and heaven help anyone that dares to disagree with those rules. Either consciously or unconsciously we as a group are enforcing that mind-set, trying to imprint it on all who seek to enter our realm. It cannot continue; it MUST NOT continue. We must learn to give others the same courtesy and freedom we expect them to give us. Whether they agree with the same things as we do or not, it is wrong to force those preferences on others, it is wrong to condemn people for believing differently. No other fandom I am aware of deliberately sets out to alienate segments of its population so, nor goes to such lengths to burn the heretics in its midst.

Doctor Who fandom must change.

*****

Episode #4 of “Earthshock” was first broadcast in February of 1982. Since that time we have had three U.S. Presidents, three U.K. Prime Ministers, a handful of wars, the odd recession, the rise of the internet, and the fall of evil empires. Bill Gates went from being a nobody to the richest man on the planet, the map of Europe was redrawn dramatically, and my favorite television show was cancelled. Twice.

Eighteen years. That’s a long time. A person born on the day Adric died would be entering university now. Eighteen years; a very long time.

Time enough, I think, to give it all a rest.

So this is what I propose.

I probably will never be able to convince you. You almost certainly will never be able convince me. Let’s just agree to disagree, and move on.

Everyone is different. Not everyone has the same background, not everyone has the same life experiences. If you think Adric was an annoying little creep who deserved to get blown up, fine; that’s your belief. I disagree, but that doesn’t mean I think your viewpoint is any less invalid than mine. All I am asking is that my beliefs, no matter how contrary they are to yours, be treated on the exact same footing. Not ridiculed, not dismissed out of hand, just accepted. The same goes for every other fan out there who may harbor thoughts and preferences different than yours or mine. We may disagree, but that does not make us any less of a fan. It is wrong to assume that any one viewpoint is absolute; it is even more wrong to actively push to suppress those views.

And as for Matthew Waterhouse, lets just give the guy a break. Like it or not he’s part of the show’s history, so fandom should stop regretting that fact and just accept it. There are better, more important things for us to gripe about than old news, like the fact that we haven’t had a real series in twelve years. If you didn’t like Waterhouse’s acting, fine; you’re probably right on some level, but again there are a number of people who will disagree with you. But whatever the case, it does not excuse asinine, nasty behavior. Whatever his faults, the guy deserves at least a modicum of respect for contributing to something most of us hold dear.

I guess I’m an eternal optimist; I still hope (even if it is a distant hope) to one day pick up an Eighth Doctor Adventure and find a rescued Adric in the story, or to buy a Big Finish Doctor Who Audio CD with Matthew Waterhouse’s name in the credits. Yeah, I know; it’s not likely to happen in this continuum. But that doesn’t mean I still can’t hope. Likewise, I can also hope that Doctor Who fandom as a whole can grow up just enough to acknowledge it’s responsibilities. We are the keepers of the torch; if we alienate ourselves, we threaten our continued existence and hence the future of our purpose as fans. This hope, at least, is probably a more likely one to achieve.

Is it too much to ask of us?

Is it?

–DBK

31 May 2000

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