Before story-arcs became the norm when Doctor Who returned in 2005, they were something of a rarity in the classic series. One such example was the so-called ‘E-Space’ trilogy of Season 18 – where the Doctor and Romana find themselves sucked out of the normal universe (N-Space) and into Exo-Space (E-Space) – a smaller pocket universe. Full Circle is the first in the loose trilogy, explaining how the TARDIS crew pass through a gateway to E-Space while meaning to get to Gallifrey.
All three stories are very good, and deal with very serious themes – though Full Circle probably involves the greatest amount of mental gymnastics to untangle. Arriving on the planet Alzarius the Doctor spends most of the first episode trying to fathom why the instruments tell them that they are Gallifrey but they are quite clearly not actually on Gallifrey! Then it takes some considerable time to figure out who the bad guys of the piece are meant to be – the dwellers in a spacecraft pledged to return to Terradon; the marshmen; or the army of spiders. Instead it unfolds that there is no enemy – that in fact all three species are one and the same, but the spiders mutated into marshmen, and the marshmen into the colonists. The current dwellers in the spacecraf are not the original crew, who were killed when they first arrived on Alzarius.
Ignoring the dubious science, it makes for a very engaging story – the colonists are unable to return to Terradon because they never left in the first place and feel unable to leave their true home; the marshmen are unable to progress because of the ongoing presence of the colonists, and likewise the spiders. For the Doctor to save the day, he simply has to persuade the colonists to leave in their spaceship and trust that they can make a better life elsewhere. Meanwhile he and Romana leave, hoping to somehow escape E-Space, but not knowing for sure if they can, and blissfully unaware that they have a stowaway on board the TARDIS …
Which leads neatly to Adric and the gang of outlaw ne’erdowells he aspires to join. Intended to join the TARDIS crew as a sort of ‘Artful Dodger’ figure he suffers from a similar issue to companions such as Zoe and Liz – being too clever for his own good – but without the likeability and charm that endears fans to the former. He sadly gets off on entirely the wrong footing in this story, coming across as petulant and sulky – if we judged him instead on The Keeper of Traken and Earthshock he’d get a much better press. But given his start in Full Circle he was probably doomed from the start.
It has to be said that the E-Space trilogy is an excellent mini-story arc, and Full Circle is a very worthy first entrant to that trilogy. Rather surprisingly, every story in this arc stands well on their own feet – you will want to watch the Trilogy in one go, but you could very easily watch each in isolation and enjoy them – just perhaps not as much!