Doctor Who often finds fairy tale ways to avoid companions really dying in the series, but one time, a long-serving assistant was killed off unceremoniously, never to be seen again. In Doctor Who's early days, the concept of killing one of the Doctor's travel companions was almost unthinkable. The series was ostensibly a kids show, after all, and Saturday evening BBC1 viewers had little taste for seeing their favorite characters shot by Daleks or turned into Cybermen. Better leave that grim business to the disposable, one-off characters that viewers weren't so attached to.
On one occasion, however, Doctor Who decided to simply blow up one of the show's companions, with no happy ending and no questions asked. The fact that this was the first time a proper companion had ever been killed made the moment even more shocking. Played by Matthew Waterhouse, Adric joined Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor in 1980. The Doctor's youngest ever male companion, Adric was from a separate universe called E-Space and was known for garish, bright clothing and a genius-level intellect. An outcast among his own people, Adric joined the Doctor into his Fifth Regeneration.
Unfortunately for Adric, he was desperately unpopular with viewers. The character's painfully 1980s fashion, know-it-all attitude and corny dialogue, combined with Waterhouse's relative inexperience as an actor, combined to create a companion that audiences largely rejected. Doctor Who's creative chiefs responded by making Adric the first ever casualty of the TARDIS. In 1982's "Earthshock" the Doctor and Adric are arguing, with the latter feeling unappreciated. He requests to be taken back to E-Space, but really just wants the Doctor's respect.
Meanwhile, the Cybermen are planning to destroy Earth by ramming an antimatter-powered freighter ship into the planet. While the Doctor is held up in his TARDIS with the Cyber Controller, Adric is held hostage in the freighter, along with its crew. Adric believes he can alter the freighter's course via a series of complex overrides but, as time runs out, he's dragged into an escape pod by the other prisonerers. At the last moment, Adric jumps back out of the escape vessel, determined to finish his attempts to reroute the freighter. Adric manages to push the freighter back through time to the era of the dinosaurs but is halted from further progress after a Cyberman shoots the control console. Adric resigns himself to death. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor is informed that Adric remains on the doomed spacecraft and attacks the Cyber Controller with his companion's gold badge. While the villain is put out of commission, a stray blast immobilizes the TARDIS, and the Doctor can only watch on the scanner as Adric is blown to smithereens. Silent credits roll on an image of Adric's broken badge.
As media trends have evolved over the decades, tolerances have widened and modern Doctor Who is more open to the fate of its companions. 2010-2017 showrunner, Steven Moffat, killed all of his major companions, but each time provided an escape clause. Amy and Rory were taken by Weeping Angels, but had a happy life together. Clara sacrificed herself for a friend, but lived on travelling through time with Ashildr. And finally, Pearl Mackie's Bill was given a Cyberman makeover, but was saved by her watery lover, Heather.
Adric may not have been as popular as these companions, but his demise still packs an emotional punch. Aside from the shock factor of a companion dying in conclusive and violent fashion, the character's deteriorating relationship with the Doctor and desperate struggle to save Earth, despite being from another planet, make Adric's death truly tragic and depressingly difficult to watch.
Doctor Who doesn't lend itself well to frequently killing off characters, but the recent spate of fake-out deaths became a tired trope of Moffat-era Who and as Chris Chibnall moves into season 12, Adric serves as a worthy reminder of how effective a well-timed, and more importantly straight-forward, companion death can be.
Doctor Who season 12 premieres in 2020 on BBC1 and BBC America.