Ace Meets The Thirteenth Doctor: A Review Of Sophie Aldred’s ‘At Childhood’s End’
by Rachel Bellwoar
Sometime between Season 26 ending and Doctor Who: The Movie airing the Doctor and his companion, Ace, parted ways. In January, Big Finish had Ace and the Doctor reuniting twenty years later in the audio drama, Dark Universe. In her new book with Steve Cole and Mike Tucker, At Childhood’s End, Sophie Aldred (who played Ace and continues to voice her for Big Finish) moves that reunion to 2020. It’s been thirty-three years since the Doctor and Ace traveled together, and the Doctor doesn’t look like Sylvester McCoy anymore. Instead Ace meets Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor for a mystery that involves her hometown, Perivale, and the time storm that picked her up when she was sixteen years old.
In the past, Ace was always Dorothy McShane’s nickname. In At Childhood’s End, it’s an acronym for the title and A Charitable Earth, the organization Dorothy runs as CEO. Designed to provide aid to communities during crisis, Dorothy is doing what she and the Doctor never did: seeing the changes they implemented through, because that’s the thing about seeing old companions again. They can make you face truths about the Doctor that aren’t always pleasant and sticking around for the aftermath isn’t one of the Doctor’s strong suits.
Dorothy’s been having nightmares – the same nightmare for a week. Unable to fall back asleep one morning, she ends up watching a TV special about alien abductions. A conspiracy theorist that Dorothy’s had run-ins with before is the host, and she doesn’t plan on keeping the channel on, but then one of the girls describes her nightmare to a tee, and Dorothy clears her schedule to investigate.
It’s these inquiries that lead Dorothy to Perivale and her childhood friend, Chantelle. Fans of the show may know her better as “Squeak,” and there are definitely references to Ace’s past that I look forward to appreciating better when the season 26 Blu-Ray comes out later this month. It doesn’t ruin anything not to know these episodes. While reading I wasn’t sure if Chantelle was a character Aldred had invented or not, but it doesn’t change anything. Plus, it’s been thirty-three years. Chantelle was a kid when she appeared in the serial, “Survival,” and now she’s an adult.
Soon after that an alien spacecraft shows up in the moon’s orbit. To use one of Ace’s favorite words, what makes this book so wicked is it doesn’t revolve around the Doctor showing up. Ace’s first trip into space wasn’t on the TARDIS and when the alien spacecraft shows up, she knows exactly who to call to be on the first probe to outer space to check it out. We know the Doctor will make an appearance because that’s what the book jacket promises and Aldred even includes two chapters with Ace and her Doctor, McCoy, where we get to learn why they separated, but At Childhood’s End could work just as well without the Doctor. Ace could’ve carried this story on her own.
She’s not on her own either. Aldred surrounds her with a great supporting cast. Not all of the chapters are written from Ace’s perspective and Yaz is especially impartial when it comes to Dorothy. Whereas a Classic Who fan might smile to learn Ace still makes Nitro 9 (now 90) in her spare time, Yaz is horrified when she learns about the explosives. Nothing is coincidental in this story and I often found the characters asking questions I would’ve never thought to ask. There’s always a good answer and Aldred puts a lot of thought into locations (like Dorothy’s apartment being directly connected to her office).
Dorothy may not go by Ace anymore, and there’s no question she and the Doctor have unfinished business, but she still has her jacket and her old baseball bat. At Childhood’s End would make a great Doctor Who episode and I hope it gets adapted for the screen someday. Aldred/Ace deserve a spinoff and this book is solid proof.
Filled with monsters, space travel, and bat caves, At Childhood’s End is available now from BBC Books.