I almost tacked this on the bottom of my review of Curse of Fenric, but decided it would work better as a separate post.
Ace was the last “Classic Who” companion, still at the Doctor’s side when the show was cancelled in 1989, though there were plans afoot to write her out in the following season. The Doctor’s last line as they walk off into the sunset of Survival is “Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.”
In many ways, she never left him.
Ace’s character and her post-TV-adventures future have been explored every which way in the New Adventures novels of the 90’s, in the audio plays of the 00’s, and all over the place. She has transformed into a leather-clad Dalek killer, a time travelling biker, from glamorous Dorothea to the bad-ass, cranky “McShane.” She is one of the very few companions who is shown to grow up around the Doctor during her impossibly long time at his side, and sometimes has grown in several different directions. (There have been new Ace stories pretty much every year since the late 80’s – that’s 25 years of character development!)
My favourites are the Ace-and-Hex line of audio plays from Big Finish, where Hex Schofield, a Liverpudlian male nurse (before Rory!) and absolute beta hero, is the younger, more innocent recruit compared to Ace as a cynical, battle-blooded woman. Their chemistry is brilliant, and though they haven’t gotten it together romantically (YET, SAYS THE SHIPPER) their relationship is reminiscent of the relationship between Amy and Rory. Hex is the one who stays to help people, while Ace is the one who runs headlong towards someone screaming or under attack and they also have an interesting relationship as a unit with the Doctor, often ganging up on him to tease or challenge him about that habit he has of manipulating people, history and worlds. There’s a lovely feminist vibe about the way that, as Sophie Aldred herself put it, Ace is tough and independent while Hex is full of “squishy feelings.”
In Forty-Five, a collection of 4 mini-plays (featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin from Press Gang if either of those details are of interest) we see a follow up story to Curse of Fenric, in which Ace once again gets a chance to make peace with the child who will someday be her mother, and find out a little bit more about how Kathleen coped in the latter years of the war. While it isn’t entirely clear how much of the Virgin New Adventures book history has been incorporated into this older, Big Finish Ace, but it’s really nice that the character has been allowed to grow and develop along with the actress who plays her (who is now now a forty-something suburban Mum).
I also really enjoy the character team-up of Ace with Bernice Summerfield, though theirs is more of a hit-and-miss relationship with me because writers (especially in the books) often chose to position them as being competitive rather than friendly. Big Finish has erred on the side of friendly in their occasional representations of that pairing though, and I like The Dark Flame in particular for the way they show them together. I’m also really excited that we get to hear Sophie Aldred’s Ace and Lisa Bowerman’s Benny recreating the first story they appeared in together, when Paul Cornell’s original Benny novel Love and War is released as a full cast audio later this year.
Quite recently, in the “Lost Stories” range, the Big Finish team attempted to recreate the original plans for the Seventh Doctor TV season that would have been produced if Doctor Who had not been cancelled in 1989, and while I am not a huge fan of the Raine Creevey companion introduced in those stories to partner with Ace (for me the posh cat burglar companion works as awkwardly in practice here as it did in New Who story Planet of the Dead), I like that they put the two companions together rather than recreating what would have actually happened in that season, with Ace written out from the show.
The idea that Ace would end up going to Time Lord Academy always seemed to me profoundly stupid and annoying, and something entirely designed to fulfil the Doctor’s wishes rather than coming from her own character. So I love the fact that in these Lost Stories audios (particularly the excellent Thin Ice), instead of following the original plan for that story, we get to see Ace and the Doctor addressing the fact that him trying to create such a future for her would be ridiculously patronising and inappropriate.
A friend of mine has a wish (okay, possibly mild obsession) to see Sophie Aldred bring the character back to the show as UNIT’s current Brigadier, and I think that would be an extraordinary way to honour this game-changing classic companion, and the actress who did such a great job with her.
Steven Moffat reads this blog, right? MAKE IT HAPPEN PLEASE!