By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Once again we look back at the catalogue of characters who have touched the Doctor’s life – this week, the very lovely Sophie Aldred as Ace…
Ace was the seventh Doctor’s main companion and was the basis for such successes as Rose Tyler, whether people like to admit it or not and to this day remains one of the best remembered characters of all.
Played by Sophie Aldred, Ace was first seen in the 24th season finale Dragonfire and although some of her characteristics and mannerisms were a little exaggerated to begin with – eg the catchphrase of shouting “Ace!” and the overindulgence in explosive behaviour – by the 25th anniversary season, these had been toned down.
There was a real partnership between the Doctor and Ace that hadn’t been seen since Sarah Jane but in keeping with the darker, grand chessmaster seventh Doctor, there was a plan for Ace.
Caught in a timestorm and deposited on Iceworld, the Doctor was immediately caught with this young girl, lost, alone but a real survivor. She jumped at the chance of joining him in the Tardis but for once everything was not as it seemed.
People talk about the complicated story arcs of twenty-first century Who but the template for this began with the seventh Doctor.
For the first time he was no longer a wandering traveller but a man with a mission. He set out to wipe out his greatest enemies in schemes that stretched back to his first incarnation and that junkyard in Totter’s Lane. Both the Daleks and the Cybermen were his main targets in an effort to bring peace to the universe. And Ace was slap bang in the middle of it as the main enemy had yet to show themselves.
Ace had a backstory, a history; a teenage girl with no dad and who hated her mother. Through her journeys on the Tardis she grew when entire stories where dedicated to her. Her fear of clowns is forefront in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, her trust in Mike, a potential new boyfriend, is shattered when he is revealed as a racist agent working with the Daleks, reinforcing her belief that she is alone in the world and she is the only person she can rely on.
But the Doctor deliberately puts her In harm’s way when he takes her to Gabriel Chase, a house she burned down in retaliation for her Asian friend being badly burned in a racist fire bombing and where she finds an alien force ready to take the throne. By making her confront her past the Doctor is slowly breaking down her emotional barriers and letting her become the person she was meant to be. He recognises she has been touched by alien forces in the past but the battle isn’t over yet.
In the Curse of Fenric, the real enemy is confronted. Fenric is a force once imprisoned by what we believe to be the first Doctor but it has manipulated its way by placing Ace aboard the Tardis to draw the Time Lord into its trap in World War Two using Russian and British soldiers and a horde of vampires. And it is only Ace who can save the day by allowing the doctor to destroy her faith in him and by saving her own mother, the mother she hates, as a baby, Ace secures her own future when she finally admits she loves her. The final scene where she takes a swim in dangerous currents as voices from her past echo in her mind is the point where she sheds her teenage angst and becomes the confident young woman that fights alongside the Brigadier in Battlefield and fights the Master when she is infected by the Cheetah people.
No one can deny the strength and depth of Sophie’s performance and the seventh Doctor has given us quite a few classics, a fact a lot of people forget. Even Russell T Davies’ penchant for housing estates was first seen in the final McCoy story, Survival.
Like many companions, Ace has further developed in books and the Big Finish range and if the television series had continued it would have been revealed the Doctor had a plan all along for Ace. He had put her through so many trials in order to send her to the Time Lord academy where she would show the Time Lords exactly the sort of people they should be when facing the universe.
The character would be spoken of again in the Sarah jane Adventures as the leader of the company A Charitable Earth. Indeed she was due to appear alongside Sarah Jane but the death of Elizabeth Sladen stopped production. You can’t help but wonder just what an adult version of Ace would be like butting heads with Sarah Jane in memory of the Doctor.
So keep your Rose Tylers and Tegan Jovenkas, there has never been a companion like Ace before or since and the fact the Doctor wanted his entire species to be just like his friend Ace; well, what greater compliment could he give his best friend.