In celebration of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s recent birthday on 20 August (I haven’t checked, but I’d bet Davros’ good hand that no other Doctor-companion team share the same birthdate), here are my thoughts on why they are my absolute favorite TARDIS team, with an emphasis on “team”.
I have foggy, hazy, vaguely vague memories of watching Doctor Who with my cousin at my grandparents’ house in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The Doctor was all “teeth and curls” back then… and I didn’t have a clue what was going on from episode to episode. Of course, the themes and subtexts of stories like Genesis of the Daleks were pretty much lost on me, as I probably hadn’t graduated from Kindergarten yet.
It wasn’t until 8 or 9 years later, as a young teenager flipping through TV channels like teenagers do, that I eventually became the Doctor Who fan that I am today. It was a late Friday night, and as it turned out, our local PBS station showed Doctor Who (and from time to time, a “new” show called Red Dwarf) in the edited “movie style” format. In this way, a three-episode Seventh Doctor adventure might barely last an hour.
Anyway, as I sat there changing channels, I came upon a stunning sight: a girl was running around on a metal scaffolding, shooting laughable silver robots (!) with a slingshot (!) and a handful of gold coins (!). It was almost too much for my brain to take in: Was this a real show? Who was this action heroine? Were those robots built with a budget somewhere around $1.98?
Then HE came on screen… and it slowly dawned on my teenage brain: this was Doctor Who! Not the version I had seen as a young child, but a new and different version with a new Doctor and lots of action! Why did the Doctor look so different? He wasn’t tall Mr. Long Scarf anymore, he was a little man with a furrowed brow, a white hat, and an umbrella. I sat, intrigued. And I watched the rest of what I later found out was the 25th anniversary show, Silver Nemesis. And I watched every Friday night for as long our PBS station kept it running.
The question mark pullover! The bomber jacket! The umbrella! The Nitro-9! Even when the special effects were pretty “naff” or the stories were less than “wicked!”, the Seventh Doctor and Ace would pull the viewer along with them anyway. They seemed like real friends – looking out for each other, protecting each other, and yes, even testing each other. This terrific relationship, of course, was due to McCoy and Aldred, with their charm, likability, and amazing chemistry.
One of the greatest “What-Ifs” in Doctor Who’s nearly 60-year history is what would have happened in Season 27 (and beyond) if the show had been allowed to continue. Would we really have seen Ace leave the TARDIS and go to Time Lord school on Gallifrey? Would the Seventh Doctor have regenerated at the end of the season? Leaving together seems like the only real, fitting way for the Seventh Doctor and Ace to make their exits. Could McCoy and Aldred have even been persuaded to stay on another season or two?
Would the growing popularity and excitement for the Seventh Doctor-Ace team (admittedly, with a decent budget and improved stories) have even ushered in a mini-Golden Era for the show in the early 90s? We’ll never know. As is often said, just as the show was “getting good” again, the rug was pulled out from under it by the BBC.
As it turned out, McCoy’s increasingly more dark and mysterious “more than a Time Lord” Doctor (hey, a season-long underlying mystery!) and a maturing, heroic Ace (hey, companion-centric stories!) wouldn’t get their stories told… on TV at least. But their TARDIS team did make a lasting impression on me, and they are why I am still here today. Happy birthday, Sylvester and Sophie!