Tag Archive for ace

Two Women in the TARDIS

So the TARDIS is a lady. We’ve always known that, right?

The Doctor’s Wife, which made concrete the Doctor’s characterisation of the TARDIS as female, and a living being with her own thoughts and feelings, makes re-watching older episodes a fascinating exercise. It brings an extra layer of meaning to almost every story since 1963.

But crucially, it shakes up the Doctor Who “formula” which, to so many people, sums up what the show is about: One Doctor, One Female Companion.

If you actually watch the show for any length of time, you know that this formula isn’t actually essential at all – but it’s amazing how often the media surrounding the show, official or otherwise, prioritises this depiction of how Doctor Who works. We all know that Jack, Mickey, Rory and River count companions (there hasn’t been a single full season of New Who in which the Doctor has one lone female companion at his side) and yet somehow they disappear in the way the show is pitched to the audience, in the newspaper and blog coverage, and even the merchandise (Arthur Darvill, after one year as occasional companion and a second year as a billed co-star, is only just receiving his first action figure).

[Ritch discusses why this might be the case in one of his Ritch and Space YouTube vids: New Companion, Old Companions]

It happened in the old days, too. JNT, a previous generation’s RTD, famously set up all manner of sexy photo shoots for the Doctor’s co-stars, to the point that you would easily believe that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa or Janet Fielding’s Tegan travelled with him alone. Most non-diehard-fans remember a Doctor-companion combination that is singular. There’s a kind of mythic resonance to the concept of the “Doctor Who girl” and yet for huge chunks of the show from 1963 all the way through to the present, the Doctor travelled with more than one companion, often a man and woman together, but sometimes as many as three.

In fact, only the Third, Sixth and Seventh Doctors followed the ‘one Doctor Who girl’ format for their whole TV run, and considering that the Third Doctor had an ensemble cast as well as his female companion, it’s really only the late 80’s (and a few chunks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, depending on whether or not you count the robot dog) which completely support the ‘crew of two’ concept.

Now, of course, we know that the TARDIS *always* made three.

But I thought it was worth talking about one of my favourite companion combinations: when the Doctor has two women in his life at at time. (Well, okay, three.) Having more than one woman in the regular cast allows for multiple “types” of female character (yay diversity) plus we get to see them gang up on him, and when is that not fun?

So here are the best examples:

SUSAN AND BARBARA:
The Doctor’s grand-daughter and her history teacher, worlds apart in so many ways. It was Barbara’s curiosity about (and concern for) Susan which got she and Ian into this mess in the first place, and she often takes on a motherly (or at least, cool auntie) role with the alien teenager. I particularly like that they both have such different spheres of expertise, and often have something to learn from each other.
From The Unearthly Child (1963) to The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1965)

BARBARA AND VICKI: Just as Vicki was the substitute granddaughter figure for the Doctor, she had a similar relationship with Barbara as had Susan, though perhaps they erred closer to be being friends rather than teacher-student. It didn’t hurt that Vicki was human, if from the far future, which meant she had extra reason to think that Barbara (and Ian) were like, SO OLD, MAN. When the crew split up (as often happened back then) it often meant we had the Doctor and Vicki going one way and Ian and Barbara going the other, but we still get plenty of great scenes with these two very different women working together.
From The Rescue (1965) to The Chase (1965).

TEGAN AND NYSSA: After a very long gap including the entire Troughton and Pertwee years (and most of Tom Baker) the Fourth Doctor accidentally took on a random assortment of urchins and orphans in his last stories, including two women: Tegan, a mouthy Australian air stewardess and Nyssa, a demure alien aristocrat with mad science skills, along with alien boy genius Adric. While the scripts didn’t always give them the best material to work with (often the writers dealt with the three companion dilemma by making one fall mysteriously asleep for a whole story or otherwise disappear) we did get to see the forging of a strong friendship between these two young women, which was further developed after Adric left and we got to see them working together as the Doctor’s companions. More recently, in Big Finish, their friendship has been further explored with a series of adventures based on the premise that a much older Nyssa has returned to the TARDIS crew – fifty years have passed for her, while only a few weeks for Tegan.
From Logopolis (1981) to Terminus (1983) [TV]
From Cradle of the Snake [Big Finish Audio]

PERI AND ERIMEM: Not only does Big Finish provide us with a bunch of new stories for Doctor-companion combinations that didn’t get much time in the TV show (like Five-Peri) they also create new ones! Erimem, the feisty female Pharaoh who chose a different destiny for herself by leaping into the TARDIS, makes a great offsider for Peri, and their stories involve a lot of girl talk as well as culture clashes between them – for the most part it’s a warm, supportive friendship. I haven’t listened all the way through to Erimem’s end, though!
From: The Eye of the Scorpion [Big Finish Audio]

DONNA AND MARTHA: After two years of Rose, it felt like Martha Jones left too soon, and so it was lovely to have a story in which the Doctor returned at her summons to help with a UNIT mission that turned out to be a Sontaran attack. Even better, we got to see new companion Donna join forces with her predecessor without a hint of jealousy between them. The scene in which the Doctor watches, baffled, as they hug and shriek and mock him, is pure Doctor Who gold. It’s particularly nice because Martha’s era had been overshadowed by her cranky jealousy of her own predecessor Rose, and it’s the first time we get to see a Martha who isn’t in love with the Doctor any more. The Doctor and Donna then manage to kidnap Martha for at least one more spin in the TARDIS.
From The Sontaran Stratagem to The Doctor’s Daughter, plus Journey’s End

AMY AND RIVER
While River’s travels in the TARDIS are rarely chronological, she does manage to pop in quite often when Amy is there – and as we realise in Season 6, it’s not all about the Doctor’s charisma. Even before we learned that Amy and River were mother and daughter, we saw them as friends. The lack of jealousy (so crucial) between them was evident from the start, and Amy is delighted at the weird possibility that River might be the Doctor’s future wife. We also see River work to save Amy by her own methods, proving the Doctor wrong and showing her own capability. The two of them come into their own as a team many times over, across several adventures, often overriding or challenging the Doctor.
From The Time of Angels on and off until The Wedding of River Song.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

MEL AND ACE: In the story Dragonfire, we get a rare overlap/handover from old companion to new, but most of the story actually has Mel and Ace working together as a team while the Doctor does his own thing. At the end, it’s Mel who nudges the Doctor to take Ace along on his adventures.

ROSE AND SARAH-JANE: In the episode School Reunion, New and Old Who collided, and Rose discovered she wasn’t the first young woman to be important to the Doctor. Sadly, jealousy was a big issue in this story, though Rose and Sarah-Jane did work through their issues and boy, wasn’t the Doctor worried when they started laughing at him together?

ROSE AND JACKIE: Obviously this mother-daughter team had been hanging out for a long time, but it wasn’t until Army of Ghosts and Doomsday that Jackie actually hopped aboard the TARDIS and came for a ride. Only across the city, but still… it was very cute to see the Doctor claim Jackie as an aged Rose, and while the mother-daughter team were mostly separated (as they were also in Journey’s End) it was enough evidence for me to claim Jackie as a companion.

DONNA AND ROSE: In Turn Left, Rose became the Mysterious Enabler of Donna’s adventures – with the Doctor nowhere in sight! Lovely to have two companions get a story entirely to themselves. Donna was always a bit of a Doctor/Rose shipper, and while they didn’t get to recreate their Turn Left relationship in Journey’s End, we do get to see the two of them (and Jackie and Martha and Sarah-Jane) all jammed into the TARDIS together. Five women in the TARDIS!

ACE AND BENNY: While Bernice Summerfield was introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel that wrote Ace out, the two of them didn’t stay strangers. Ace returned several times, the two of them wrangling over all kinds of issues (including I think some rivalry over Jason Kane – boo for jealousy but yay for it not being the Doctor in the pointy end of the triangle for once). Big Finish recreated the Seven-Ace-Benny team a few times, and will be bringing them back together again for the anniversary of that first story, Love and War, later in 2012.

EVELYN AND MEL: in the Big Finish audio Thicker Than Water, the Sixth Doctor brings Mel back to meet Evelyn, the companion who has had the most effect on how he lives his life. And the two of them get into all kinds of trouble together!

LUCIE AND SUSAN: Rose wasn’t the first companion to be faced with the Doctor’s distant past – in Big Finish audio Relative Dimensions, she cooked Christmas Doctor for the Eighth Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and great-grandson Alex! Together, Lucie and Susan discussed what it meant to travel at the Doctor’s side… and whether it was something either of them wanted to do now.

SARAH-JANE AND JO: In the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor, these two iconic 70’s companions met and were delighted to do so, even if it was at the funeral of the man they both thought of as their best friend. There was a hint of jealousy here and there, but not of the romantic kind – plenty of wistfulness too, especially when Jo discovered that the Doctor’s current companion got to bring her hubby along on the adventures. But mostly it was two awesome women who had fabulous lives, with fond memories of that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. And I would have watched whole seasons of them together!

LEELA & ROMANA II: in another spin off series, Big Finish’s Gallifrey, two of the Fourth Doctor’s companions work together in war, death and politics, and barely even mention that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. Luckily for us, there are whole seasons of them together!


HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING:

But for completion’s sake…

VICKI AND KATARINA – a hand-maiden introduced late into the Trojan story The Myth-Makers was sent on her way to the TARDIS by Vicki, who had a better offer.
DODO AND POLLY – They got along quite well in the opening episodes of The War Machines but Dodo was sent “to the country” halfway through, leaving Polly to carry on with Ben instead.
ROMANA I AND PRINCESS ASTRA – liked each other so much in The Armageddon Factor that Romana stole her body – well, the intellectual property surrounding her body, anyway. She wore it better, too.
ROMANA II and CHARLEY – Disapproved of each other mightily in Big Finish’s Neverland mostly because Romana II had a problem with Charley’s status as a time paradox. How awesome that they didn’t conflict over their feelings for the Doctor, though!

The Many Futures of Ace McShane

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!

Female Power & The Curse of Fenric

One of the nice things about the Seventh Doctor era is the wealth of strong and interesting female supporting characters. Ace, like Mel before her, is a companion who tends to seek the company of other young women, making instant bonds of friendship and allowing for Bechdel-approved shenanigans. The Curse of Fenric, ostensibly a story about a (male) ancient evil returning for a final duel with his enemy the Doctor, surrounded by soldiers on a military base, turns out to be a story that explores several different aspects of female power.

I find it interesting how many descriptions of the story’s plot online talk about the Haemovores (kind of watery vampires, though act more like zombies in many instances) come out of the water, without acknowledging how they got there. Right at the start, we are introduced to two fun loving Cockney girls who have been evacuated from London (thus probably under 18) and who ignore their uptight landlady’s warning to go swimming at the local beach.

Now, if I know my British wartime social history, a pretty major reason not to go swimming at this time was because of mines and barbed wire set up to stop Germans landing on the shores, but in this case, there’s a far more paranormal reason for the warning, and either a fog, gas or otherworldly presence turns those girls into watery vampire creatures with long fingernails. There’s an odd vibe about the landlady’s fears for and attacks upon the girls, and you could read the whole turning-into-Haemovores thing as a punishment for wayward young women, but the upshot of the whole affair is that the two most ‘human’ and personalised monsters terrorising the village are women. There’s also a fabulously powerful and chilling scene in which we see a whole cabin full of Wrens (female naval clerks) transformed similarly into creeping, long-nailed monsters (who mock, threaten and overpower several male characters in the narrative of the story)

Ace doesn’t go into the water, and escapes the same fate of her friends, despite mocking peer pressure from them. Does that make her a good girl, not a bad girl, thus the only one who “deserves” to survive? Possibly. But this whole story is about how deeply she trusts the Doctor and listens to what he tells her (except when he tells her not to bring explosives on a day trip), and how that maybe isn’t something he entirely deserves.

There’s a raw, sensual vibe in this story which is lacking from most Classic Who. Not only is there a sense that the slightly wicked Cockney girls have become sinister, predatory femmes fatale, but we also see Ace herself getting in touch with her sexy side, flirting with a guard to clear a path for the Doctor (though I have to say her methods of flirtation are bizarrely esoteric – it’s fun to see her playing up the woman of mystery, though) and embarking on a deep romance-of-meaningful-gazes with the Soviet Captain Sorin.

The most important relationship in the story, though, apart from that of the Doctor and Ace, is the friendship Ace forms with Kathleen, the only Wren to escape the horrors of the Haemovore invasion. Kathleen represents the women who went out to work to serve their country during WWII while their menfolk were abroad, and the kind of problems they faced in juggling this with family responsibilities – in this case, lacking suitable daycare, she has to bring her baby on to the base and keep her in a basket under her desk.

There’s an adorable scene in which Ace is surprised to hear Kathleen is married, not having heard mention of the husband before, and is taken aback at Kathleen’s horrified reaction at the thought that Ace could POSSIBLY have thought she was an unmarried mother. It’s a nice snipped of social history and how values have changed, reminiscent of the sort of conversations-with-girls-from-other-times-and-places that Rose often has in New Who.

Kathleen’s baby Audrey shares a name with Ace’s mother, which brings up her dark, angry feelings about her Mum all over again (this is a running theme through Ace’s whole story and yet we never really get the details about why things are so bad between them, nor do we get any real closure to the relationship apart from what’s offered in this story). It’s important to see such a strong emotional arc for a companion, something we rarely got to watch in Classic Who.

Just look at the other 1980’s companions: Nyssa only got to show occasional flashes of emotion in response to the horrific killing of her father and the theft of his body by the Master, and Tegan likewise had to mourn her aunt very briefly but didn’t get a lot of follow through. Peri had very powerful emotional issues with her stepfather which were dropped after her first story, while Turlough got to save up his entire emotional/personal arc until his very last appearance – which suggests the writers hadn’t thought of giving him one until that moment.

Ace, however, is a bundle of angst, frustration and rage issues, and it’s lovely to see that depicted. Far more than the slang they dropped into her scripts, it’s the aspect of these scripts that makes her feel like an actual teenage girl.

There’s a scene I had entirely forgotten, possibly because it was a cliffhanger accidentally edited out of my old VHS, but there is a scene where the Doctor, Sorin and Ace are lined up to be shot by firing squad, and it’s a very compelling bit of characterisation: the Doctor is talking nineteen-to-the-dozen, trying to get them to relent in the case of the very young Ace, whereas she faces what she thinks is her death with a single screaming outburst “Mum, I’m sorry!”

The more I think about it, the crankier I get that we never saw Ace face her Mum when she went home, in the story after this one.

The other women in the story (and yes, it does pass the Bechdel Test several times over because Ace and Kathleen talk about issues as well as the Doctor & Kathleen’s gone-to-war husband) are Miss Hardaker, the aforementioned landlady who spends most of her time telling the Cockney girls how wicked they are (another Bechdel scene!), until they retaliate by eating her (honestly, it’s hard to fault them for that, given how determined she is to be proved right that they’re evil) and Nurse Crane, who spends most of the time hovering around her patient, the wheelchair-using Dr Judson, until he turns evil and kills her.

I found their final scene quite fascinating in an awful way, as he, possessed by the all-powerful Fenric, turns upon her and accuses her of patronising him and treating him as a child, basically harassing this poor woman for doing her job. I know that people can be incredibly patronising towards those with disabilities, and there were signs that she was that sort of person, but it wasn’t like he was not in a position of power over her as her employer, and he certainly treated her like an indentured slave throughout the story. Why did he have a nurse at all if he didn’t like it? (you can argue this is Fenric, not Judson, but he does seem to be conveying the real character’s inner thoughts) Her death is an ugly end to a disturbing relationship, though performed very well by both actors (and ironic that the actress Anne Reid, who played Nurse Crane, returned to Doctor Who to play the straw-sucking vampire alien in Smith and Jones).

So yes, lots of women in this story, and sure LOTS of them end up dead, but there’s also a whole lot of material exploring power relationships between women, which I found crunchy and compelling. This is such a strong story for Ace, whom we see not only being very physically capable (the scene where she climbs down her dinky metal rope ladder only to be surrounded by Haemovores and have to physically punch, kick and pound her way through them until help arrives is really quite extraordinary) and despite her general placement as someone from a poor, underprivileged and didn’t-respond-well-to-education background, we also see her using her smarts in this. Sure, she twice figures out important information and accidentally gives it to the wrong person, but the fact that she figures it out on her own is important.

I really enjoy the early scenes where we see Ace positioned as an intellectual equal to Dr Judson – he may be a learned professor and a genius of his time, but her basic comprehensive education from the future has made her a match for him, with ideas that are revolutionary in his time period now being take-it-for-granted facts and skills in hers.

Then there’s the other huge aspect of this story, which is that Fenric and the Doctor both hold a significant amount of information about Ace’s past which she is only now becoming privy to – and that much of this is revealed at a point where the Doctor has to be deliberately cruel to her in order to break her faith in him.

Faith, incidentally, is dealt with in a fascinating way in this story, with the origin of the ‘crucifixes scare vampires’ myth taken to a broader interpretation, where faith in ANYTHING keeps the haemovores at bay. The story of the vicar who has lost his faith because of British war atrocities is a minor but vital subplot, and we see indications of faith expressed in ways that tell us so much about their characters: Sorin believes in the Russian Revolution, and Communism. The Doctor believes in his companions, and mutters the names of early friends (Susan, Ian, Barbara, etc.) to keep the monsters at bay. (This is one of those things I only learned from fandom because it never occurred to me as a kid watching the show that his words were intelligible)

Ace, of course, believes in the Doctor, and at a crucial moment when he needs the Haemovore to be freed so it can turn upon Fenric’s current host and save the day, he has to break her. This scene was remembered by many when a similar plot twist was used in recent New Who story “The God Complex,” and rightly so. Ace learns all at once that the time storm she thought she herself had accidentally created in her school lab to send her into space was part of Fenric’s design; that she is one of his descendants through bloodline, and that Kathleen’s baby which Ace had adored is really the mother she hates. Worse, she discovers that the Doctor always knew this about her.

A softer, more sympathetic revelation comes later, and we see the Doctor churned up by having hurt Ace, but at the same time it is very clear that he has always been playing the role of protective patriarch to her, and she has been the child.

She forgives him rather quickly, at the behest of the narrative, but I do have a deep soft spot for the scene in which she takes off and leaps into the water (now safe from haemovores but rich with metaphorical significance) and literally swims out her angst. It’s a nice symbol for her having time to think about what has happened (how else do you convey this on screen – frowny face montage?), and decide whether or not she is going to allow all this new knowledge to destroy her friendship with the Doctor.

When she returns to him, cleansed and cheerful, they start again. It feels like an imperfect and overly simplistic end to her emotional arc – and indeed there’s one more story to come that addresses Ace’s past and her angst before Classic Who ends altogether with Ace’s story unfinished, but it does feel like a new beginning for these two beloved characters, and suggests that from now on it will be more of an adult partnership rather than a father-and-child relationship.

RAELI’S (Age 7) REVIEW:
I don’t like this Doctor much, but Ace is my favourite now.

====
PRODUCTION NOTES
“Curse of Fenric” (1989)
Season 26: Production Code 7M

Writer: Ian Briggs
Director: Nicholas Mallett
Script Editor: Andrew Cartmel

Starring:
THE DOCTOR:
Sylvester McCoy
ACE: Sophie Aldred