Doctor Who: Short Trips: The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius – Narrated by Matthew Waterhouse & Written by Julian Richards. Directed by Lisa Bowerman – Download Only (Big Finish)
The Short Trips series is a frequently moveable feast – most of the time, the 30-40 minute story format delivers the equivalent of a one-episode story, and demands the writers keep everything tighter and more toned than a gym full of burn-feelers. Occasionally though, the format allows for crucial moments in the history of Doctor Who to be played out, just as they are, or build up our understanding of a character’s motivations and feelings in a way that the TV show rarely allowed.
The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius, from Julian Richards, isn’t an entirely crucial moment of Who history, but it does take the time to add some emotional beats to the development of Adric’s character, and it does teach a central message of the show. As the companion who most distinctly bridged the Tom Baker/Peter Davison regeneration, there’s always been a question of disconnect in Adric’s adventures with the Fifth Doctor, because it was the Fourth Doctor who allowed him to come along on his travels in time and space, and who took him under his wing as something of a protégé. There was always that sense of his potential redundancy in the Fifth Doctor’s Tardis, a sense of him just cluttering up the place – a sense on which the character himself explosively remarked in Earthshock, not long before meeting his unhappy fate at the hands of the Cybermen.
The Ingenious Gentleman is a study in Adric’s feelings about the change of Doctors – his uncertainty that the new young Doctor is really the same person, his longing for the simplicity of the way things used to be, with just him, Romana, K9 and the Fourth Doctor, and his need to be needed on board the Tardis. This emotional journey is filtered – some would say heavy-handedly – through the story of Don Quixote, or Sir Keeyoht as this Short Trip has it, Adric becoming the squire of a windmill-tilting knight with a mop of curly hair and a toothy grin, tracking down a dragon and a master sorcerer… known as The Doctor.
It’s a story that wears its influences and plotting not so much on its sleeve as on a bright yellow sticky note attached to its forehead – you’ll assume early on that you understand the mechanics of what’s going on, and by the end of the story, you won’t be far wrong. But in terms of developing the characterization of Adric, and taking a moment with him to understand more about the Alzarian than we got the chance to do throughout most of his TV time, The Ingenious Gentleman delivers the goods, and gives you at least two gorgeous little moments at the end to boot, one touching on the personality of the Fourth Doctor, and the other on Adric’s coming to terms with the new Fifth Doctor as being a continuation of that personality, just differently mixed.
As we head to Christmas 2017, and the changing of the Doctor’s body again, The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius grows beyond its source material to offer a phone call from the past, an assurance that though things are changing, the fundamental nature of the Doctor will always stay the same. If we embrace the change, it tells us, there are new adventures to be had, in a whole new way. Tony Fyler