It may come as no surprise that a Doctor Who story called A Full Life, and starring the doomed Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), is all about death.
Depending on what sort of tale you’re after, that could put you off this title, the sixth release in Big Finish’s Short Trips Series 6 – maybe you prefer a historical romp like The Romans or an exploration of religion and temptation as in The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit. But you’d be wrong to dismiss this 43-minute audio adventure, even if you’re not the greatest fan of Adric. In fact, not fully embracing Adric is a perfect reason to listen to A Full Life.
This is the first Short Trips title to be read by Matthew Waterhouse, and as such, it gets to the heart of the character he portrayed all those years ago, straight away adding layers to the companion.
We start with Adric recounting his early adventures with the Fourth Doctor and Romana, his upbringing on Alzarius, and him missing his brother and parents. When trying to escape E-Space, the TARDIS lands on Veridis, a planet where one scientist has created a machine that brings the dead back to life. Its consequences are obviously huge, and they’ve been explored in other mediums (though not especially in Doctor Who, unless you count Torchwood: Miracle Day stopping death). What’s interesting here is how it affects Adric.
Immediately, his thoughts turn to those he’s lost, and that’s when the Doctor simply explains the domino effect of such a machine, with one simple rhetorical question: “But who’s next?”
The tale feels like a present from the past: told through something that sounds like a cassette tape being wound backwards and forwards, A Full Life is an ideal fit for the E-Space Trilogy, very reminiscent of State of Decay. You can imagine how it would’ve been achieved on television, although it’s far more effective on audio – more intimate, more honest, more chilling.
Naturally, it’s evocative of Frankenstein – its gloomy setting and tone brings to mind the dark foggy nights of Victorian London – but it twists in unexpected directions, so much so that it begins to feel like a heady dream. Unreal. It’s still appropriate that Adric mulls over mortality, and the burden of life.
Writer, Joseph Lidster, of course, has history with the subject, having notably written Torchwood: A Day in the Death, telling Owen’s adjustment to life after death. But he also finds inspiration from a couple of his other scripts, most obviously The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Mad Woman in the Attic, and, surprisingly, The Nightmare Man. The symbiotic nature of life and death is very well explored, and personified by the TARDIS. How? Well, you’ll just have to listen; you’ll get a revealing insight into the time-space ship.
Lidster gives Waterhouse some wonderful dialogue, infested with beautifully unsettling phrases and notions, including the grotesque idea of a “dead woman giving birth.” He gets to the heart of this narrative: forget the mechanisms of bringing back the dead; what you want is the emotion.
What’s more, Adric is afforded a great deal of character development: we hear how much he really appreciates the Doctor and Romana, his new life, and his motivations behind the arrogance. There’s also a nicely understated scene that brings to mind the core of the whole story: rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The crux of the matter is Adric’s line, “It just somehow felt right for me to be dead.”
Fortunately, it’s not a through and through tragedy. There’s a glint of hope and a dark humour too, with knowing winks to the behind-the-scenes of Matthew’s time on the show.
So what of Waterhouse himself? He brings Adric back to life brilliantly – better, I dare say, than in his time actually on Doctor Who. There’s a natural swing to his narration, and his interpretation of the gliding Romana is great, even if his Fourth Doctor ventures slightly into Kenneth Williams territory. Nonetheless, it’s actually a pleasure to listen to.
This Short Trips has been a revelation: masterfully and tastefully done, adding greater pathos to Adric and, indeed, to Earthshock. It proves there’s still plenty of life to the character and to this era of Doctor Who.
Short Trips: A Full Life is out now, available as a download only for just £2.99.