A CELEBRATION OF ACE
In just a few short weeks we’ll see the release of another Doctor Who DVD boxset featuring 80’s companion Ace.
The seventh Doctor’s best friend for over two seasons, Ace was the template for the entire new era and no companion ever has spawned so much fiction about her departure.
Now you see, Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, never got a proper departure due to the cancellation of the series by the then blind BBC, so the last we saw of her was walking into the sunset arm in arm with the Doctor on their way to new adventures.
It is only with hindsight that their era has been completely re-evaluated – including by my son who has Sylvester McCoy at the top of his favourite Doctor list.
It never ceases to amaze me how people can’t think for themselves and automatically go with the mainstream illusion that the last years of Doctor Who were crap. This simply isn’t true, and I know a few thirty-somethings whose Doctor was the seventh and they love him as much as I do.
And with the advent of Big Finish audio stories, we saw the seventh Doctor grow and evolve on the brilliant beginnings he sewed in his three years on TV, to make him one of the most popular Doctors.
However, without Ace, the Doctor wouldn’t be half the man he is and neither would the twenty first century Doctor Who.
We are so used to story arcs and companions with depths and levels to them these days that we forget Ace was the first to achieve this and, like Donna Noble, an old enemy of the Doctor’s was behind it all.
When we first met Ace she was working as a waitress on Svartos otherwise known as Ice world. But when she threw a drink over a customer and joined the Doctor on a hunt for a dragon, little did we know that her arrival would see the return of an ancient enemy that would follow them across time, forcing the Tardis into the Second World War to face the final battle.
Ace was more than capable then of looking after herself with her home brew bombs, ever present back pack filled with rope ladders, weapons and kick-ass attitude.
Even if she were quaking on the inside, she would face an enemy down, anything to protect her best friend the Doctor. She took Daleks out with baseball bats and Cybermen with gold coins in a catapult. She faced her fear of clowns when trapped in a sealed room with mechanical ones that could murder.
She even teamed up with the Brigadier to face interdimensional knights and the Destroyer. They may have had their arguments, but her place was at the Doctor’s side. They enjoyed jazz together, had picnics, whistled as they walked and generally had a great time, but there was something the Doctor didn’t tell her, something that could destroy her faith in him and take away the only home she knew.
Years before, in an unseen story, the Doctor faced the entity Fenric and imprisoned him in a bottle. But the genie was loose and had brought Ace to him via the time storm that took her from her home. She was a wolf of Fenric, a pawn just like the Russian soldiers, vampiric haemovores and British soldiers, all guided to a secret British base in World War Two where the fate of humanity would be decided over a game of chess and the fateful decision of a young girl.
From the beginning we knew Ace was estranged from her mother and hated her. Over the course of her adventures the Doctor seemed to be manipulating her, making her face her past, dark memories that were holding her back emotionally. In the Curse of Fenric, it is Ace that finds her mother and grandmother working in the vampire besieged base and saves them, thus securing her own future, but not until she admits she always loved her mother, despite the fights.
In Ghost Light, we learn her Asian friend was fire bombed in a racial attack so Ace burned Gabriel Chase down out of revenge, not knowing there was an alien presence within which she helped defeat when the Doctor brought her back to the house to stop Light from destroying all life on Earth.
In the Happiness Patrol she frees a society under the repressive rule of Helen A where everyone must be happy. In the final story, Survival, she is infected by the planet of the Cheetah People and must stop the similarly infected Master from hurting her friends.
It is here that the council estate thread, so favoured by the new era, is cemented. We visit youth clubs, see people washing their cars, a child’s playground invaded by aliens and a cat slaughtered in a flat with a bad sofa and huge mirror we see every day. The battle between good and evil was now at the heart of Ace’s home, the people and places she knew under threat from the Master and the Cheetah people. And she fought it all the way, even when she believed her best friend was dead.
Ace never cried, never showed weakness and this was crippling her. The Doctor showed her there was as much power in grief as there was in joy and that the past could be a prison too and that the key to freedom lay in Ace herself.
But her travels continued with several different endings. In the comic strip The Good Soldier, Ace is killed in a battle with the Cybermen. In the New Adventures series, she left the Doctor to become a Dalek commando fighter returning later, older and more hardened than before, which was not the way fans wanted her to go as it became boring. Eventually she went off on her own adventures, reconciled with the Doctor and even ending up on Gallifrey to save the universe.
She still travels with the Doctor in the Big Finish audio plays where the magic has never been lost. They have stretched Ace in ways they never had the chance to in the series, though they did a fantastic story arc for her there anyway. And if the Sarah Jane Adventures had continued, we would have seen Ace back and battling alongside Sarah herself. She was name-checked even here as Dorothy fighting to save the Earth by raising billions through her charity A Charitable Earth- clever eh?
We saw her go from a young troubled teenager to a kick-ass young woman and if the series had continued we would have learned that the dark Doctor was preparing her to join the Time Lord Academy where she would show a new generation of time Lords exactly what it was to live.
How much of a compliment from the Doctor is that?
He believed she was better than his own species and the example the Time Lords should follow if they were to be a better people and by definition, she was the sort of person the Doctor wanted to be.
Check out Owen and his great book series ‘The Time Warriors’ here