ACE: The Classic Doctor Who Companion Who Could

Sophie Aldred as Ace

Dorothy? Moose? McShane? Ace! The girl who found herself caught in the time storm, met the Doctor on Iceworld and continued to storm time and space. The Doctor’s last best friend, a girl with a scarred past and an uncertain future. So much was promised with the introduction of Ace. But did she deliver?

When casting a new regular in a long running television series, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. The new regular should appeal to the viewers en masse.
  2. The new regular should in particular appeal to 14+ males, particularly if she is female.
  3. They should be able to scream.
  4. The new regular should not, under any circumstances, be Bonnie Langford.

To be fair to Bonnie, she is attractive and she can scream. The whole “Doctor Who as Royal Variety” argument is a whole other discussion. Sadly though her casting was misguided, an attempt to break the shackles of typecasting. Only John-Nathan Turner could have thought her casting appropriate. Only the viewing public and the fans combined could have changed his mind. Add to this the audience initial flat reaction to Sylvester McCoy, and the casting of Ace could not have been more important.

Although not a teenager, Sophie Aldred had the look of a girl in her late teens; perhaps in later years the Doctor would have met Ace in a nightclub. In 1987, Ace was waitressing on a trading post, Iceworld. Over the next two years, we would see a slow development from excitable teenager to tortured young woman…

When next we saw Ace, she accompanied the Professor “Doctor ” to London 1963. It was here that her development began. In retrospect the plan is visible – to turn Ace into a warrior. As the Doctor’s enemies became more cunning, he needed to arm himself; rarely a carrier of weapons, who else could he choose but an affable, angry teenager? Who could be more perfect to mould into the perfect classic Doctor Who companion? So it began, with her baseball bat now supercharged thanks to the Hand of Omega, Ace was given the confidence to go up against the Daleks, and later in the season the Cybermen.

Following the horrors of the Greatest Show in the Galaxy and the Destroyer in Battlefield, Ace’s next lesson was more personal. To face the monsters of the Universe, she first had to face the monsters of her past. But why? Why had the Doctor chosen this particular companion? Why had he resorted to this kind of tactic? Rarely in the past would he allow his companions to walk into danger, so why start now?

The only possible explanation is that this was a mechanism to compensate for the Doctor’s seventh persona’s shortcomings. Lacking height, wit and presence, all he had was tactical nuance, his intelligence and this new best friend. Without bending the rules, how could he hope to fight evil?

We never learnt from the television series if Ace was a willing participant in her casting as a Time Warrior. What we did learn though was of Ace’s background, her arsonist past in Ghost Light, her frail relationship with her mother in Fenric, and the love she had for her friends in Survival. We also learnt in the end how happy she was to travel with the Doctor.

Rumour has it that Season 27 would have seen Ace left on Gallifrey to train at the Academy. Of course, Season 27 never occurred in this form, and Ace continued her travels with the Doctor for the best part of five years in print. Here her character was developed even further – for many years a screwed-up, hard-drinking soldier, haunted by her time away from the Doctor as a Space Marine. Eventually she became the longest running classic Doctor Who companion thanks to non-TV media, only leaving when the opportunity came to live in 19th century France, as prophesised in Silver Nemesis. Or was she killed?

Giant insects sent by the mysterious Threshold in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip captured Susan, Sarah, Peri and Ace. Previous DWM strips had followed the continuity of the Virgin New Adventures – possibly to their own detriment. Here was an opportunity to forge a new “DWM continuity”, and they pulled this off with a bang, albeit tragically. Ace’s death allowed the others to escape, but it was a truly shocking end to the life of a popular character.

Levelled at the character of Ace in the past have been accusations that she was a poor stereotype. This is probably true in Season 25. By the shows final season, she was an interesting young woman. Her initial conception was undoubtedly imperfect, but then it can be argued that every 80s companion was an attempt by JNT to be a bit too clever. Other than Turlough and Peri, Ace is the only companion from this period to have any impact.

Ace was the last on-screen travelling companion for the Doctor. Therefore whatever we think of her and the period of the show that she inhabited, she will always represent Doctor Who to an important number of fans.

Originally published in 2004

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