Matthew Waterhouse’s problems in televised Doctor Who were manifold: his character Adric was perhaps ill-devised, more of a concept than a person; his embryonic acting skills were poorly developed by directors less concerned with character than with style; his arrival in the series coincided with the departure of a tiring leading man’s interest in continuing; the list goes on. Adric – and to almost as much of an extent, Waterhouse – quickly became a by-word among fans for how not to do a Doctor Who companion.
The young actor’s renaissance in latter years thanks to his reinvention as an author, and his rehabilitation at the hands of Big Finish, show us just what we might have had, with a little more care and attention back in 1980. The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius is just superb, and while that’s primarily down to Julian Richards’ unconventional and imaginative yet cogent script, much of the credit must also go to Waterhouse’s understated, thoughtful and perceptive reading of it. This is so far from your average Season Nineteen Doctor Who adventure – if such a thing even exists – it barely feels like Doctor Who at all. And yet Richards’ narrative pulls itself around so sharply at the end, this might easily be the illegitimate offspring of some illicit literary union between Christopher H. Bidmead and Steven Moffat.
It’s a story about story, an almost metatextual journey through conventions and archetypes, in which Adric finds himself separated from the fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa and playing squire to a Knight Errant in a hunt for dragons, treasure and traitors. To say anything more would be to spoil the enjoyment of a plot that gently unfolds rather than springing surprises, although that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of hairs on the back of the neck moments provided. Most of them come out of dawning realisations followed by direct allusions to television stories, rather than shock revelations – and the play is all the better for the approach too. Suffice it to say, this is a kind of two-Doctor story that easily repays your confidence in it making sense, despite a premise that appears to defy any kind of logic.
There is also an abundance of warm humour, and an admittedly signposted but nevertheless chokingly well achieved resolution that will have you buying Waterhouse pints by the bar-load next time he rocks up at your nearest convention. The ex-companion’s subtle impersonations of his erstwhile co-stars are also wonderfully on the nose, even if his Tegan feels at times a bit like revenge.
The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius is a deft, astute and utterly delightful story, that never once fails to live up to the promise of its title.
THE INGENIOUS GENTLEMAN ADRIC OF ALZARIUS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN / WRITTEN BY: JULIAN RICHARDS / STARRING: MATTHEW WATERHOUSE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW