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01 May 2015 @ 06:59 pm
The Randomiser: Full Circle  
Full Circle is probably the best story in season 18 of Doctor Who. I'm fonder of Warriors' Gate but that is quite a strange beast and arguably one where Doctor Who's ambition is outreaching its ability to deliver. Full Circle on the other hand is comfortably on Doctor Who's home ground of an isolated(-ish) group under threat from lumbering monsters. However the fairly by-the-numbers trappings conceal a story with no real villains, no real monsters and some clever world-building and well-constructed reveals. It is all particularly remarkable given the story was written by a 17-year-old.

Full Circle focuses on the conflict between the humanoid inhabitants of the "Starliner" which crashed on the planet Alzarius many generations before and Marshmen who emerge from the planet's swamps every fifty years or so at "Mistfall". The Doctor, Romana and K9 arrive, naturally, just as Mistfall starts and become embroiled in the affairs of the teenaged outlers who have left the safety of the Starliner, in particular one Adric who is seeking to join the group. However as events proceed the Doctor becomes more and more curious about the history of the Starliner, its inhabitants and their relationship with the Marshmen.

One may as well start with Adric, since the story that introduced the character probably has its work cut out. I actually don't think Adric is all that bad. Matthew Waterhouse is one of the more stilted and underwhelming actors that have played companions but, when one is realistic, the show has often been dogged by weak acting from the companions and many better loved companions's are played by no better actors. Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and Janet Fielding as Tegan (both introduced towards the end season 18), for instance, are arguably no better than Matthew Waterhouse and even Lalla Ward is one of the weaker actresses to appear as a companion. Adric's problem may well be that as well as a weak actor, the character is cursed with being both a "child mathematical genius" and an "artful dodger" and then mostly placed in the hands of writers who seem to have little interest in either characteristic. Even in Full Circle his mathematical ability is much talked about and little used and his artful dodgerness is subsumed into the generally brattishness of the all the outlers.

The teenage outlers are the major weak point of the story (together with, possibly, the Marsh Spider props though they seem to have been well-received at the time). The acting from the older members of the Starliner inhabitants is generally good. The various deciders and the scientist Dexeter, are all conveyed as well-meaning but flawed in a variety of different ways, from Dexeter's lack of compassion and empathy, to Draith impulsiveness and Nefred and Garif's vacillation. The actors playing the outlers, on the other hand, seem to be relying on the fact that they are young rebels to carry our sympathy for a group who seem to resort to threats, violence and theft as first resorts and, right up until they start sacrificing themselves in rather out-of-character fashion in the final episode, generally run away at the first sign of trouble.

However, if the outlers are rather weakly conveyed and distinctly brattish, the thought that has gone in to constructing the backstory is impressive for Doctor Who and avoids the temptation to provide simple monsters and villains. As I noted at the start, the story navigates skilfully between springing surprises out of the blue on the viewer, and foreshadowing its reveals too obviously. I'm not 100% convinced about the workings of evolution on Alzarius (and I'm not sure the story fully knows how it thinks it works) and, particularly, of how evolution relates to acclimatisation, adaptation and mutation within a single individual but it gives us just enough to believe that these things could be fitted together. Moreover the working of evolution on Alzarius isn't the only surprise the story has and everything exists within a general theme of the contrast between change and stagnation.

Season 18 is Christopher H. Bidmead's only full season as script editor and it is well-known that he wanted to introduce hard science into Doctor Who. This is generally felt to be more obvious in stories like Logopolis and Castrovalva, though when we watched Logopolis as part of the Randomizer I was pretty underwhelmed by the science. I'd be reaching a long way to say that Full Circle marries hard science to Doctor Who, but it is a good example of Doctor Who that is scientifically literate (using scientific concepts rather than buzz-words and making them central to the story and its themes) without forgetting that it is, when all is said and done, an adventure series famous for its monsters.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/153993.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on May 3rd, 2015 10:32 am (UTC)
I like Full Circle a lot too (although I prefer Warriors' Gate) for the reasons outlined.

Being halfway through a re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I think Adric suffered from Wesley Crusher Syndrome: audiences just don't like being patronised by a teenage genius.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 3rd, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC)
There are definitely obvious parallels between Adric and Wesley. I think people find the characters unbelievable and dislike the perception that they get special treatment. Adric is also particularly unnecessary since the Doctor is supposed to be a genius and the show doesn't really have space for another (Romana obviously complicates that observation, but I think the general point holds).