“How I Killed Adric”: Behind-the-Scenes on Earthshock and The Five Doctors

Video tape (VT) editor, Simon Anthony has written a two-part blog for RedShark, including reminiscences about his years working on Doctor Who. In particular, he discusses his work on The Five Doctors and another notable classic story, the 1982 landmark: Earthshock.

Fans know that Earthshock, written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Grimwade, is a historic story for two reasons (three, if one counts the only time we were ever graced with the wonderful Beryl Reid). Firstly, it reintroduced  ̶  in fine style  ̶ the Cybermen, who had not been seen since their Revenge in 1974. Secondly, the story’s climax sees the immolation of Adric, the first companion to die since 1965 when The Daleks’ Master Plan forced Adrienne Hill’s Katarina to give herself to the stars.

He never knew if he was right.

Adric’s final moments see him frantically typing logical combinations to unlock the controls of a space freighter that is screaming through space and time towards Jurassic Earth. With two of the three locks defeated, Adric has almost won when a lone surviving Cyberman blasts the controls. His intellect defeated by violence, and knowing that his young life has mere seconds left to it, Adric can only clutch his late brother’s belt as the freighter rips through the sky and brings a final winter to the dinosaurs. Doctor Who was doing dramatic, unexpected death years before George RR Martin sat down with his copy of Lord of the Rings and picked up a highlighter pen.

Simon recorded the VT for these final moments and for some reason feels that he had a hand in Adric’s death. In real life, the end of Adric didn’t go entirely to script. Simon recalls that, as Matthew Waterhouse typed away and the Cyberman got off his fateful shot, the console exploded in a “very satisfying, and on the first take somewhat unexpectedly violent explosion,” which produced such an authentic reaction in Waterhouse that they had to re-take the shot. This second take led to the notorious and unintentionally comical scene in which a clearly spooked Waterhouse “tentatively tapped at full arm’s length” before (pre)history took its course.

“Act natural, Matthew.”

Earthshock also ends with another striking moment in Who history, never repeated: the closing credits superimposed in grim silence over the remains of Adric’s badge of mathematical excellence. As Simon recalls:

“The next job for me was to record the end captions. There was a problem – there was no sound, so, like the diligent RO I was I called the studio to report the fault. I was told the silence was deliberate, but, I was not told why. The reason for the rather terse comments I was given became clear when the show went out. Adric had died. I had killed him and I didn’t realise it – nor did I leak the story to the press. I found out the same way everyone else did.”

In fact, Simon need not feel guilty at all, as informed fans know that Adric in reality survived the crash and lived to fight another day.

Well, perhaps not a whole day.

Earthshock, Episode 5.