18: Change and Decay
Part 3: Full Circle
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 316
"Full Circle", the story which introduces new companion Adric, is far from the deepest or most interesting serial of Season 18, and is a slight departure in tone from the rest of the stories. Despite this, it does have a number of redeeming points, and adds to the season's continuing themes of change and decay by considering the perspective of the companions.
The serial was written by a 19-year-old longtime Doctor Who fan and DWAS member named Andrew Smith, who had originally developed a story entitled "The Planet That Slept", in which a spaceship crash-lands on the planet Alzarius, and its crew have to fight off Marshmen and giant cave-dwelling spiders. Christopher H. Bidmead, however, worked with him to bring in the introduction of Adric (which required amending Smith's original spaceship-crash scenario, as the ship in question was intended to be a freighter) and the concept of E-space. Although introducing a recurring character into a serial which had been developed without them in mind has been known to cause problems (as in the cases of Adric and Nyssa being written in to "State of Decay" and "Logopolis" respectively), in this instance, the changes seem to have improved the scenario. Not only is the E-space concept introduced in such a way as to provide a motivation for the Doctor and Romana to become involved with the outside world, rather than simply coming across as a grafted-on idea, but the evolutionary theme which Bidmead introduced turns Smith's script from the run-of-the-mill monster story which it could have been into one containing the rather poetic message that, whether people realise it or not, we are connected to our environment and it to us.
The production is generally quite good: the Marshmen and Spiders are very effective, even if the Marshmen costumes do inspire questions as to where exactly they keep their genitalia, and what the nipple-like flaps on their chests are (breast pockets, perhaps?). The Starliner is well-designed, and the Deciders costumes are effective, though some of the Alzarians' haircuts are a bit too 1980s, and also the Outler gang are dressed in a variety of pastel shades where everyone else in the "colony" is wearing yellow and orange. Although this does have the intended effect of making them stand out, it also begs the question of where they obtained the clothing and/or dye. The lighting is also very good, and the Mistfall sequence is quite dramatic. There is a slightly homoerotic sequence of young men frolicking in the river in clingy, translucent shorts. It does have to be said that the performances are not generally outstanding, but it must be remembered that most of the cast were quite young and lacking in acting experience. The real problem with the production comes with the intrusive and twee incidental music by Paddy Kingsland. Kingsland was also marked down to do the score for "Meglos" but he fell ill while doing episode 1 and Peter Howell took over.
The science of the story, on the other hand, is considerably more dubious. The Lamarckian idea of the Marshmen evolving (in a very short time) into something that looks like humans and acts like humans simply because they happen to have wandered on to a spaceship built for humans (or, if you will, Terradonians) is just not credible. Nor is the idea that Romana, having been bitten by a creature which is the Marshmen's evolutionary ancestor, develops a psychic link with the Marshmen; being bitten by a tree shrew doesn't give humans the ability to talk to chimpanzees, after all. Evolution, furthermore, takes place over generations and involves changes to the genotypes of entire species, rather than individuals adapting suddenly to new situations, so the idea that the Marshmen's ability to learn quickly affects the speed of their evolution is preposterous. One might be able to forgive the scientific inaccuracies if they were at least internally consistent within the story, but then, the perfectly-logical idea of using the oxygen cylinders to drive out the Marshmen by changing the environment faster than they can adapt to it is followed up by the idea of driving out the Marshmen by flooding the Starliner with oxygen, which, following the earlier-established logic, would simply give them the chance to adapt to the new environment. It is also never explained why Romana is seemingly also affected by the use of oxygen cylinders. The idea that the image translator from the Starliner is compatible with the Tardis' technology also strains credibility more than a little. Bidmead's idea that Doctor Who should contain "less magic" and "more science" is in and of itself not problematic, but when the science introduced contains fatal flaws, it simply invalidates the point of the whole exercise.
In essence, "Full Circle" is really a story for older children, in the tradition of children's sci-fi such as The Tripods, A Wrinkle in Time and The Keeper of the Isis Light. Viewed as such, it stands up well, and imparts a couple of useful messages: don't trust blindly in authority, and respect your environment. The character of the Marshchild, another children's-SF element, is a good introduction: aside from the anti-vivisection message and the dramatic pathos conveyed by the creature, it is unusual to see a child of any sort in Doctor Who, let alone a monster child (which consequently paints the monsters themselves in a more sympathetic light, as parents and children rather than as simple cardboard antagonists). There is also a nice swipe at authority and politics in the subplot about how the Deciders procrastinate over the Starliner's departure and neglect to inform any of the people about the true state of affairs; although the Deciders, like many modern politicians, insist that they want things to change, they really just want to maintain the status quo. The story also has no actual villains; even Dexeter, who is responsible for the death of the Marshchild, does not come across as evil, but simply as misguided. There are visible influences within the story from the Doctor Who serial "Inferno" (in the use of oxygen cylinders to drive off the monsters), and the Survivors two-part story "The Lights of London" (which featured a post-apocalyptic community which appeared to be preparing to leave for the Isle of Wight, but their leader, who stood to lose his position if the community departed, was continually coming up with excuses to remain where they were). There is, however, only one female speaking part in the story bar Romana, even though the settlement is mixed, which is a problematic exclusion.
The main contribution of this story to the season is, of course, the introduction of Adric. John Nathan-Turner intended Adric to bring an air of vulnerability and human failing to the programme, as he felt that the Doctor, Romana and K9 were all fairly infallible characters. Adric was supposed to be a kind of Artful Dodger with a talent for mathematics (which does sit ill with the portrayal of the character in this story as, in contrast to the Artful Dodger, Adric is an Elite youth who only tries to steal things because he wants to prove himself to his rebellious older brother and/or the Doctor); Matthew Waterhouse seems to be playing the character as about 15, suggesting that Adric was intended to appeal to the 10-13-year-old age bracket, who are known to prefer to identify with characters slightly older than they are. Ironically, Adric comes across as a less interesting character than his brother Varsh, who seems like a sort of prototype for Turlough (and who is, of course, played by an older and more experienced actor than Matthew Waterhouse). There is, however, a nice uncertainty about whether or not the character will continue; we don't learn that he has stowed away on the Tardis at the end of "Full Circle" until the beginning of "State of Decay" and in the latter story there is always the possibility that the Doctor and Romana will take him straight back to the Starliner at the end.
Romana, on the other hand, receives some interesting development at the outset of the story, when we learn that the Time Lords want her to return to Gallifrey. Far from being delighted at the idea of going home, Romana is not at all pleased with this news: having seen what life is like out in the big wide universe, she doesn't want to return to the restrictive society of the Time Lords, rather like a student who reluctantly goes on a gap-year before university and finds, over the course of their time abroad, that doing development work in South America is a much more personally fulfilling activity than taking a job with a City bank as they had originally expected to do. Romana's portrayal in this and other stories does lead one to wonder where the idea developed in later non-televised adventures that she would ultimately wind up as President of the High Council of Time Lords: after going to as much trouble and effort as she has to break away from Gallifreyan society, it seems counterintuitive that she would want to go back and assume the mantle of power. Her temporary transformation into a sort of Marshman-affiliate in "Full Circle" only serves to highlight her repressed anger over the Time Lords' summons (as well as indicating the trouble which curious and creative people cause in repressive societies; if Romana's bold investigation of the spiders leads ultimately to her letting the Marshmen into the Starliner, who knows what sort of trouble she might cause for the Gallifreyans). In a symbolic gesture, she lashes out at the Doctor, who is the one encouraging her to return.
The themes of change and decay focusing around the Doctor are once again developed in "Full Circle". Although Tom Baker's health appears to have improved, K9 takes another pounding, having his head smashed off by a Marshman (although he also gets a nice scene going across rough terrain). We see the introduction of a new companion, bringing in the idea that the balance of power in the Tardis is as subject to change as anything else: Romana, also, receives a reminder that her time with the Doctor is finite, and that she herself is subject to outside control. Significantly, when she departs the Tardis under the Marshmen's influence, she leaves a trail of torn pieces of the Doctor's waistcoat, as if the production team are ensuring that he can't simply discard his new costume and return to his previous manner of appearance: much as Romana can only return to her normal self through the intervention of the Doctor, the only way that the Doctor could return to his previous appearance would be through a change in production teams (interestingly, "The Leisure Hive" costume designer June Hudson reports that Nathan-Turner had suggested getting rid of Baker's trademark scarf). The Time Lords are again referenced, both directly in that the Doctor and Romana are being summoned back to Gallifrey (suggesting that the series and its characters are to come under external review from powerful beings), and in that the Alzarians, whose planet lies at the negative-coordinate position for Gallifrey, have an oligarchy reminiscent of the Time Lords in "The War Games", as well as limited regenerative abilities. Significantly, the Doctor rejects the Alzarians' request that he stay on and be a Decider, much as he has also rejected Gallifrey. The set-up on Alzarius again references the themes of weariness and decay in the plotline about the Deciders' procrastination and indecision: the Alzarians perpetually circle their ship, "fixing" equipment which works perfectly well, simply in order to give the appearance of doing something. When real change comes, it has to come from outside, with the arrival of the Doctor and Romana. The Alzarians are, furthermore, contained within the cycle of evolution of their own planet: although they may believe themselves to be above the Marshmen and Spiders, they are irrevocably connected to them, subconsciously emphasising Nathan-Turner's belief that Tom Baker needed to be reminded that the series did not revolve around him, but that he was a part of the series.
Although "Full Circle" is for the most part a fairly superficial story which is further let down by some poor and inconsistent science, it has to be said that it is an entertaining story for older children with a strong moral (which is conveyed in a manner neither preachy nor patronising), and that it does pick up on the themes of stagnation and change which run through the rest of the season.
Effects courtesy of Fiona Moore, Maureen Marrs and Alan Stevens