Companion Tropes 3
Young viewers of Scooby Doo cartoons could be forgiven for being completely unaware of the existence of Scrappy Doo nowadays. The character hasn’t featured for years, and is rarely mentioned in any marketing material. He has almost been airbrushed from history, or airfreshenered, like a bad smell.
As a child of the 80s I actually quite liked Scrappy (shock, horror!). I can see how annoying he must have been to older fans of Scooby Doo, but one thing I’ve learnt from years of being a Doctor Who fan is that television should never be made for the fans. We make up too small a percentage of the viewers. So what happened with Scooby Doo is that the show was doing badly and had reached a point where it probably wasn’t going to be worth making any more. Scrappy was introduced to interest younger viewers (like me, sorry) and the most annoying thing for the fans is that it worked. He was popular, the viewing figures were healthier, and the franchise lived to unmask villains another day. But boy, did the fans hate him.
…all of which brings us to a particular kind of character that has come to be known as “the Scrappy”. These are not unusual in television shows: the one character in the lineup that the fans can’t stand. That brings us to Adric.
The defining characteristic of a Scrappy is that it has to be a character that is unpopular, but was not designed by the writers to be unpopular. So the Rani can’t be a Scrappy for example because you’re not supposed to like her anyway. Scrappies are not the villains. Adric was introduced with a similar motivation to Scrappy himself: to engage with younger viewers. It was done in a sickeningly simplistic and obvious way. The thought process seems to have gone like this: there are lots of teenage nerds with bad hair watching this, so let’s have a companion who’s a teenage nerd with bad hair. The problem with that is we don’t all like what we see in the mirror, and Adric was a distorting fairground mirror, with every imperfection magnified. Especially the hair. If that wasn’t bad enough, from the point of view of a teenage fan who saw himself reflected in Adric, he became a useful character to be the one who is fooled by the villain, or sides with the villain, or goes rogue in some way, or gets on everyone else’s nerves. And of course a teenage nerd in the early 80s has to be written as a sexist pig as well.
It’s no surprise he isn’t popular, but the important thing is that this is all a fan perspective. Adric is the Scrappy, but for contemporary viewers he was not universally hated. Just as I liked Scrappy Doo as a child, there were plenty of children watching who liked Adric, yellow pyjamas and all.
An important subcategory of Scrappies are the ones who are hated because of who came before them. This applies to Adric to a certain extent. The way this works is you have a popular cast of characters, one leaves, and is replaced by the Scrappy. The fans are not happy. Alternatively, nobody leaves, and the Scrappy turns up as an extra gooseberry.
There are elements of both these scenarios with Adric. Before he arrived, we had the much-loved team of the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9. For a couple of stories Adric is added to the mix, and then Romana and K9 depart. So initially he is very much the gooseberry, and an awkward fit. There’s little point having a character who is a mathematical genius, if he is travelling with three characters who are super-geniuses, all cleverer than him. Later, when he does have a character he out-brainboxes (Tegan), it’s just an excuse for him to be arrogant.
So when the writers realise they have a Scrappy on their hands, what do they do? Well, there are a few approaches, but the obvious one is what we got with Adric: kill the Scrappy. If it’s done well it can even leave the viewers with a pang of guilt at hating the Scrappy so much, and feeling an emotion that isn’t hatred towards the character for the first time. That happens with Adric, with the ending of Earthshock widely considered to be one of Doctor Who’s finest moments (it’s not, but that’s my opinion and I’m in the minority). Even in retrospect, it’s probably fair to say that most fans see no issue with identifying Adric as their least favourite companion, and then getting teary when those silent credits role over the image of his shattered badge. That Badge of Mathematical Arrogance, broken.
With skilled writing it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility to redeem the Scrappy and turn him around to be a character people like. That didn’t happen with Adric, but Russell T Davies managed it with Scrappy-esque (in her first appearance) Donna, and Big Finish have already performed that feat with lesser Scrappies Mel, and the Sixth Doctor. Maybe they’ll manage to do the same with Adric one day, but somehow I doubt it.
Adric will probably always be Doctor Who’s ultimate Scrappy character. But there are always people who go against the tide and love a Scrappy, so that’s fine.
And Scrappy Doo was a great character from my childhood. Oh yes he was. RP