Huh. That…actually worked.
I am referring, of course, to the death of Adric. Now, I pick on Adric as a character here in this space, but that has more to do with just how much the fans hated the character more than anything else. I think what it comes down to is fans like it better when the companions are not treated like the Doctor’s intellectual equals unless said companion is another Time Lord like Romana. And even then, Romana had to learn how to be more humane. Adric came along, acting like he knew everything, and it reminds me why I found the very earliest episodes of this series so frustrating when the Doctor was treated as a supporting character on the show named after him.
But Adric, all things being equal, wasn’t that bad. I got the impression the series was really trying to flesh out the personalities of all its companions, and he just came across as an obnoxious know-it-all to many people. But, again, he wasn’t that bad, and I certainly didn’t wish him dead. He arguably had more personality than Nyssa did by this point.
But it all came down to the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa watching helplessly from a damaged TARDIS, after defeating the Cyber Leader with the gold from Adric’s math badge, as Adric used his math skills to unlock the logic puzzles to stop the freighter, reconfigured into a giant bomb, into crashing into future Earth. All that to stop an intergallactic peace conference, and if it destroys a planet the Doctor has great affection for, so much the better. Lousy Cybermen…
Instead, Adric’s work sends the ship first into the distant past, and when he just slips out of the escape pod the last of the extra surviving extra characters were using, there’s nothing left to do but watch as Adric, well, is at ground zero for the event that killed the dinosaurs.
And it works.
I rarely praise the acting on Doctor Who because, well, the performances I note most are usually the result of over-the-top overacting. But there arguably hasn’t been a Doctor as melancholy over the loss of a companion since the Third Doctor silently toasted the departing Jo Grant.
And Jo only left to get married!
That said, if you are gonna go out in epic sci-fi style, even for a show where “epic” is often constrained by a visibly low budget approach, this is the way to do it. Sure, I could be cheeky about how Adric caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, but seeing his scared yet determined face in his final moments, as well as the reactions of the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa back on the TARDIS, helpless to do anything about it, followed by Adric’s broken badge on the TARDIS floor as the credits silently play over it, well, you know the show can really pull out a few stops when they need to, and it really can make a viewer re-evaluate whether or not the Daleks or the Cybermen are the Doctor’s worst foes.
But really, this was a surprisingly effective final episode for any character on this show, and while I may not have cared much for Adric, it was more like a general apathy than an antipathy. Since the Doctor loses companions so infrequently, it was a bit of a punch to the gut, marking this as a more serious program than it had been in years past. And perhaps, by constantly reinventing itself, Doctor Who is all the better for it.