“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace: we’ve got work to do.”
For many years, Ace (Sophie Aldred) was a member of an exclusive club of companions who never got an on-screen departure. She joined Dodo and Liz as companions who, due to off-screen problems, never got to say goodbye to her beloved Doctor. However, unlike Dodo, who left because the production team treated actress Jackie Lane terribly and Liz Shaw, whose actress Caroline John had fallen pregnant, Ace, and indeed the Seventh Doctor himself, were never to return to screen following the cancellation at the end of 1989. Instead, they walked off into the sunset, arm-in-arm for destinations unknown.
And that was the end for Ace. That is, until the debut of Virgin Publishing’s new series of New Adventures novels, which were designed to continue the series from the ending of Survival. The books allowed for different types of stories to be told in a more adult way than the television (and its time slot) would have allowed.
But let’s first look at how the show would have written her out had it come back for the new decade in 1990. Departing half-way through Season 27, Ace was to have travelled to Gallifrey where, despite being a human, she would have joined the Academy and become a Time Lord. This was also to have explained the Doctor’s seemingly cruel manipulations and treatment of her during her time in the TARDIS, as he was preparing her for life on Gallifrey and proving to the Time Lords that she was more than capable of joining their ranks.
Of course, Season 27 was never to be and so it fell to the Virgin New Adventures to give her an earned farewell as she was one of the best companions Doctor Who had ever created.
The seeds were sown from the beginning with Ace quickly growing tired of the Doctor’s shrewd influence. The fourth novel, Timewyrm: Revelation from author Paul Cornell (Father’s Day) sees Ace, as a young child, meet a cruel fate from school bully, Chad Boyle, when he hit her over the head with a brick. The book then changes the timeline so that Ace died; however, the version of Ace, travelling with the Doctor, managed to stop the plans of the Timewyrm and Boyle from killing her younger self, thus setting the timeline back on track and creating a parallel universe instead.
The Doctor and Ace were then at each other’s throats throughout the novel Nightshade from Mark Gatiss (Cold War). Nightshade saw Ace falling for a young man, Robin Yeadon. After Robin’s mother is killed, Ace consoles him. She planned to leave the Doctor and stay behind in the sleepy village of Crook Marsham. But the Doctor had one final trick up his sleeve and lured her back into the TARDIS and quickly dematerialised before she could do anything about it.
Of course, living a quiet life in a sleepy town wasn’t going to be a great way to write out Ace’s character and so it fell to Paul Cornell to give her a swansong in the following novel, Love & War which also introduced new companion, Bernice Summerfield. Falling in love with a traveller called Jan, she planned once again to settle down with him and make a life for herself on the planet Heaven. However, her plans began to unravel when Bernice discovered an ancient temple and the alien race, the Hoothi began their invasion/infestation of the planet. Through little fibres that get inside people’s clothes and skin, the inhabitants of Heaven are slowly converted into the hideous creatures. Jan is one of the infected and Ace soon discovers that the Doctor had told him that he was the best person to stop the Hoothi in their tracks, piloting a shuttle on self-destruct into the Hoothi’s ship. Jan is killed.
What made it even harder on Ace was that on the shuttle journey, she and Jan had been betrothed to one another, a traveller tradition, conducted by their friend, Maire. Distraught at the Doctor’s ultimate betrayal, Ace decides to leave him and stay on Heaven with the survivors. In her place, Bernice joins the Doctor’s travels and would go on to become of the longest running companions in the show’s extended universe.
So it seemed that Ace had left the Doctor. In her place, Bernice went on to have plenty of adventures with the Seventh Doctor, making it perfectly clear that she wasn’t a replacement for Ace and if the Doctor even thought of manipulating her in the same way he had done to his previous companion, she would leave. But this wasn’t the last we’d hear from Ace.
Ace would turn up again a few books later in Deceit, which also saw the inclusion of Dalek-Killer, Abslom Daak. While for readers, only a few novels had passed, for Ace, three years had gone by. During her time away, Ace had trained with the Spacefleet which was currently dealing with the Dalek War. Whether this was anything to do with the Time War, we may never know, but Ace made a name for herself as one of their most trained and capable Dalek killers. In typical Virgin New Adventures fashion, the reunion between the Doctor and Ace wasn’t too great and for the first few books, they seemed to be at each other’s throats once more. Ace didn’t really like Bernice all that much either, but she confronts her feelings and treatment of her fellow companion, when she believes her to be dead in Blood Heat.
Her relationship with the Doctor and Bernice was really tested in Lucifer Rising when it transpired that Ace had been working for IMC, the same corporation from the Jon Pertwee story, Colony in Space. She was gathering information concerning time-travel as well as the unique properties of the strange planet Lucifer Rising. The Doctor, Bernice, and Ace come to an understanding at the end of the book, with things seemingly forgiven, though Bernice doesn’t particularly trust Ace as she is someone completely different to the person she had met in Love & War. Even the Doctor keeps Ace at arms-length through books like Shadowmind and White Darkness as he tries to work out what side his old friend is now on.
He didn’t have to worry – even though she was now a changed person, Ace still had the same good heart and continued to travel with the Doctor and Bernice for a many books until her next, and seemingly final, departure in Kate Orman’s Set Piece. In this book, Ace finds herself stranded in Ancient Egypt following on from the apparent death of the Doctor after an attack from metal ants. Here though, following on from a story about the Eternals, Sutekh, and convoluted time-travel, Ace actually gets quite a nice ending. She saves everyone from a creature called Ship and then goes off on a motorbike into the time stream. Orman made sure that her departure wasn’t just something she tacked on at the end; it played an important part in the overall plot.
The epilogue to that book saw Ace meeting up with the Doctor in Paris, helping him with an alien invasion in Sydney in 1993, and then 1871, when she helps defend a building then she decides to put down her gun and walk off into history. And there is also a mention that she met and fell in love with one of Captain Sorin’s ancestors (from The Curse of Fenric).
At the time of publication, many fans didn’t like the way Ace was handled when she returned in Deceit and her following characterisation. As I’m reading these books at the moment – I’m currently on The Dimension Riders – she isn’t the Ace we all know and love from the books and sometimes it is hard to imagine actress, Sophie Aldred, delivering the lines Ace is given. But I think her character is handled fairly well, even if by this point in the New Adventures range, I’m liking Bernice a lot more.
Also, let’s quickly mention the Mindgame series. Released straight to video, the trilogy saw a human, played by Sophie Aldred, as well as a Sontaran and a Draconian, locked up in a cell together by an unknown alien intelligence who wants them to kill each other. Instead of doing this, the three prisoners work together to defeat their captor. Though it is never stated, and it might be a pure coincidence, some viewers have speculated that this is Ace, possibly from some point after the events of the Virgin New Adventures. Indeed, the costume she is wearing seems very similar to that described in the books as her Spacefleet costume. But given how, in the following three stories for the Mindgame series, things don’t exactly go swimmingly for the the human character, hopefully this isn’t the end for Ace.
Since their debut Doctor Who adventure with Sirens of Time in 1999, Big Finish have given us a lot of adventures for the Seventh Doctor and Ace. They continued with the darker tone of the Virgin books, with stories like The Fearmonger and The Genocide Machine, and gave us further adventures with Ace and Bernice in The Shadow of the Scourge and The Dark Flame.
With all the character development that Big Finish has given her character over the many years of stories, all the love in the world didn’t stop Steve Lyons from killing her off in Colditz, in which Ace dies at the hands of a German solider called Kurtz when they arrived in World War II. Colditz introduced the Seventh Doctor’s future companion and frenemy, Elizabeth Klein, who discovered Ace’s Walkman and reverse engineered it. From there, she managed to deduce that the pair had come from a future where the Nazi’s didn’t win the war and that the TARDIS was a time machine. Colditz and the later, one-shot episode, Klein’s Story saw her attempts to win the war negated by the Eighth Doctor who created a false flight log in the TARDIS, and when Klein went back in time, her appearance, and that of a second TARDIS, alerted the Doctor to her knowledge of travelling through time – and he was fortunately able to save Ace.
With Big Finish, she has also travelled again with Mel, plus Hex, Sally, and Lysandra, but they seem to have stuck to the original idea that Ace joined the Time Lord Academy and trained to become a member of the Celestial Intervention Agency.
Ace has enjoyed many audio adventures on Gallifrey, playing a part in Omega’s return in Intervention: Earth as well as rejoining the Doctor and Benny in the first two volumes of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, which saw the trio come up against the Daleks and Sutekh. It seems that Big Finish have gone to great lengths in keeping the idea of Ace’s original departure alive, with her joining the Time Lord ranks; she even joins the opening salvos of the Time War. But as things got deadlier, under orders from the President, Irving Braxiatel wiped her memories of her time on Gallifrey and the Time War, and returned her to Earth.
Ace went on to open up a charitable organisation, A Charitable Earth, raising billions in the process. Sarah Jane mentions the charity in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures (indeed, if the series had continued, Russell T. Davies intended to bring Ace back), and recently, Big Finish have seen to it that they give us some further adventures for Ace in this time, with Dark Universe and Class: Volume 2 – In Remembrance which saw Ace coming up against the Daleks. Ace’s charity is set to appear in the book, At Childhood’s End.
During the Wilderness Years, Doctor Who Magazine also picked up the slack of the cancelled show and continued the adventures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Ace was seemingly killed in a storyline called Ground Zero when she was caught in the blast of one of her own explosions, when they were fighting the villainous Lobri.
And she was also turned into a Cyberman in a prologue to Titan Comics’ crossover event, Supremacy of the Cybermen.
Perhaps more than any other companion, Ace has been at the mercy of parallel universes, before Rose made it cool. When BBC Books took back the licence to publish Doctor Who books in the late 1990s, Robert Perry and Mike Tucker decided to almost carry on the darker tone of Seventh Doctor storytelling in a series of books that ran throughout the collection. Matrix saw the Valeyard posing as Jack the Ripper and Ace becoming his sixth victim. Of course, the Doctor put the timeline right again and Ace’s fate at the hands of the ripper was avoided, but it was only the first of many grisly ends.
Loving The Alien saw Ace falling in love with James Dean when the TARDIS arrives in 1959. She’s surprised because she thought he had died in a car-crash 4 years prior. As the book goes on, she falls in love with him and becomes pregnant with his child (some of these books are seriously weird) and then dies at the hands of George Limb, a time-travelling loony from a previous book, Illegal Alien. Dean manages to change time and stop Limb from killing Ace by dying in the car-crash like he was supposed too. But Limb had disrupted the timelines to such an extent that the Ace that went on to travel with the Doctor wasn’t the ‘real’ one; instead, she was from a very similar timeline. She didn’t have a tattoo which she got in Loving the Alien, disliked peas, and had trouble remembering her real surname. This seems to imply that it wasn’t the real Ace in all the future releases with her character involved. Of course, that depends on how much you think these books fit into the overall canon of the show.
So there you have it. Over the years, Ace has been through quite a bit, travelling with a trickier and more manipulative version of the Doctor which has allowed writers to give her many different fates and departures. Of course, all of this depends on what you consider as canon. If you follow the television series storyline, then she just walked off into the sunset, arm-in-arm with the Doctor. If you follow the Virgin New Adventures, she grew tired with the Doctor’s manipulations and left him on the planet Heaven, going on to join Spacefleet to fight the Daleks until their paths crossed again in Deceit. And good luck if you want to follow the canon of the television series with the BBC Books!
For me, I tend to see Big Finish as the extension for the canon of the television series, so it makes more sense for me that Ace went on to join the Time Lords and made a name for herself there, only for it all to come crashing down with the beginning of the Time War. And given how the television series and its spin-offs have stated she formed a charity, then the lines that Big Finish have gone along seem to make sense in terms of continuation of the character, while the books, especially much of the Seventh Doctor stories, are more an experiment with the types of stories Doctor Who could tell.
But that’s Ace: bold and brash, but kind and brave. Never afraid to get stuck into the action, even if might have meant she might have died. And since her debut in 1987 she has become the companion who has more departures than any other!