Still An Ace In The Hole
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at BBC Books’ Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End…
Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End
Writer: Sophie Aldred (with Steve Cole and Mike Tucker)
Published by BBC Books
“Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.”
With those words, uttered at the end of 1989’s Survival, The Seventh Doctor walked off into the sunset with his companion Ace to an uncertain future. But after a great hiatus, the Doctor made what would ultimately be a triumphant return, firstly with the 1996 TV Movie (where the Seventh Doctor got to regenerate) and then Russell T Davies’ reboot/continuation of the show in 2005.
But Dorothy ‘Ace’ McShane would be given no chance at narrative redemption. True, the ‘New Adventures’ series of books continued her story in a myriad of ways (seeing her become something of a hardened soldier before morphing into ‘Time’s Champion’), but those are of dubious canonicity to say the least. As far as the main Doctor Who universe was concerned, the feisty young girl who in some ways re-defined what a ‘Doctor Who Companion’ could be, had walked off into the sunset never to return.
But she never faded from memory, and a cheeky Russell T Davies scripted reference to her in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures set many hoping that Ace’s story would be given some sort of conclusion. While the TV universe of Doctor Who is still yet to grant her this courtesy, At Childhood’s End – written by the very person who played her on TV (albeit with the help of two stalwart Doctor Who writers) – does provide a little more closure as it explores just what happened to Ace when she finally left that Blue Box that happens to be bigger on the inside.
Now middle aged, Dorothy McShane is the mysterious millionaire philanthropist behind the organisation A Charitable Earth, whose very initials remind her of her past. But it’s been many years since she parted ways with the Seventh incarnation of the Doctor after his constant manipulation led to an incident for which she found it hard to forgive the Time Lord.
But lately Dorothy has been having bad dreams. Dreams that occur at exactly the same time when a group of young runaways have also been disappearing from the streets of London. Utilising her considerable resources – as well as her experience travelling across the galaxy – McShane decides to get to the bottom of what is happening.
Her explorations lead her to an alien space station while ‘Ace’ – with the attendant bravery and feistiness as well as a certain coat covered in patches – reemerges from inside Dorothy. More importantly she meets the Thirteenth Doctor, who is also doing her own investigations with Ryan, Graham and Yaz. As Ace and The Doctor reminisce – and deal with their previous acrimonious parting – they must all face and real and present danger that not only sees their fate in the balance, but those of countless innocent humans.
While, like the New Adventures, the canonicity of the story is debateable the fact that it’s written by Aldred gives everything a certain authenticity and it certainly feels like that this is the best we’re going to get to continue / finish Ace’s story. Thus the book is steeped in a certain nostalgia which should prove appealing to long-time fans though those without a connection to the McCoy years might feel it leaves them a little more cold. There are plenty of in-jokes (McShane’s cat suggests there’s a certain Russian she found it hard to get over) and references to past adventures as well as a satisfying examination of just how Ace found herself as a reclusive millionaire. Indeed, the first third of the book does manage to find a very good blend of backstory alongside intriguing mystery. Certainly, the book’s central story is rather well put together with the ultimate reveal as to what is going quite well done alongside a moment of social commentary that ends up being rather affecting.
Ironically the less successful parts are when the Thirteenth Doctor turns up. While there’s the warm glow of fan service abound in having the two interact, both Ace and the Thirteenth Doctor don’t really seem to have as much of a spark – which may be partly due to the fact that the book was written when the character was less established. And the vaguely antagonist relationship between Ace and current companions does slip into cliché.
But it all moves along at a cracking pace and there are enough twists and turns – alongside plenty of callbacks to the past – for it not only to be entertaining, but on occasion, emotional as well. Aldred – alongside her collaborators – proves to be an engaging writer with clever turn of phrase and (unsurprisingly) a fine grasp of the main character.
It’s not the first time that a former companion has picked up the pen (fans will recall Ian Marter’s Target novelisations as well as his novel ‘Harry Sullivan’s War’) nor will It be the last (with Alex Kingston penning a forthcoming River Song story). Yet, while this provides a satisfying coda to Ace, there’s enough here to hope that Aldred may be bring back Ace one more time
Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End is published in paperback by BBC Books and is priced at £8.99