Wicked! Ace is back alongside her Professor once more this Sunday. But for those who don’t know her, just who is Ace? And why is it so great that she’s back?
Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor is shaping up to be much more than just a tearful farewell to the Thirteenth Doctor. It looks like it will also be a nostalgic reunion with some of the Doctor’s old friends. Among them is Dorothy “Ace” McShane, CEO and founder of charitable NGO A Charitable Earth. But who exactly is Ace? And what is her connection to the Doctor? Well Blogtor Who can tell you everything you need to know right here.
Ace is the last of the 20th century companions, but she’s also the template for a new type of companion that followed her
Of all the Doctor’s many friends over the past fifty-nine years, Ace is unique. The last of the 20th century companions, she forms a bridge to much of what was to follow. A disaffected teenager from London council estate, with a dead father and a difficult relationship with her mother, she’s a waitress when the Doctor first meets her. Our hero had travelled with space pilots, Time Lords, and scientists.. Compared to them, Ace was a new type of companion, one more immediately relatable to the show’s audience. It’s a template that would carry over to the show’s revival in 2005, with Rose Tyler sharing a similar backstory.
Similarly, previous companions joined the Doctor through a mix of pure chance (Dodo, Tegan and Ben and Polly all entering what they took for a real Police Box), stowing away (Adric, Zoe, and Steven for instance), or receiving an invitation to come aboard (as with Jamie). Some were even simply assigned to assist the Doctor as their actual job, like Liz, Jo, and Romana. But it’s revealed that Ace and the Doctor have been put together by the machinations of one of the Time Lord’s deadliest enemies, believing their friendship would contain the seeds of the Doctor’s destruction. Not only that, but the Doctor has had his suspicions all along and invited Ace aboard to solve the mystery. It’s an idea that would find a 21st century echo in the story of Clara, the Impossible Girl.
Ace is a sixteen year old from 1980s London, so how she’s on a distant planet when the Doctor meets her is an instant mystery
Ace is first introduced in 1987’s Dragonfire, the final story of Season Twenty-Four. When the Seventh Doctor and his companion Mel encounter her on the planet of Iceworld, her very presence is an oddity. She’s a teenager from Perivale in 1980s London, working in a spaceport cafe in the distant future. Her experiments in her bedroom with her own special blend of nitroglycerine explosive, Nitro 9, had somehow blown a hole in Time itself, blasting her across time and space in a time storm.
It’s an impossible sounding story. And, as we’ll learn later, for good reason. And the end of this first adventure the Doctor decides to offer Ace a ride home in the TARDIS. Or, he suggests, they could take the scenic route. Interestingly, though, he gives Mel a little push to leave the TARDIS even as he recruits Ace, perhaps wanting to protect her for what he suspects will follow.
The Doctor involves Ace in many of his schemes to set the universe to rights, but he rarely lets her in on his actual plan
Ace continues to have many adventures by the side of the Doctor, or “Professor,” as she insists on calling him. But while many of the Doctor’s other selves are content to stumble into danger as a “madman with a box,” this was a Doctor with an agenda. He selected his destinations with care, and often with an ulterior motive he didn’t share with Ace.
The Doctor brought her to fight the Daleks in Shorditch in 1963, but it was all a feint to trick them into destroying their own homeworld of Skaro. He takes her to Terra Alpha, where they overthrow the despotic regime of Helen A in a single night. She was with the Doctor when he triggered his labyrinthine trap, four hundred years in the making, to destroy the Cybermen with the Nemesis statue. Only once in their travels is the Doctor wrong-footed. And that’s when he finds himself a pawn in a game being played by his own future self in Battlefield.
Things get too close for comfort as the Doctor begins manipulating Ace herself as a pawn in his grand chess match against evil
But the Doctor’s scheming begins to have a direct impact on Ace herself. She share with him a personal story of burning an abandoned house down because she sensed an unspeakable evil there. His response is to bring the TARDIS to the very same house during the 19th century to discover its secrets, but while lying to Ace about where they are. It’s a betrayal that wounds Ace, but the ultimate test of their friendship comes in The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor has unfinished business at a naval base in Northumberland during WWII. Millennia ago he trapped the ancient god of destruction Fenric in a bottle but now the time of Fenric’s liberation is at hand.
There’s an apt metaphor of a chess game between the two, as Fenric reveals he’s been using his influence to affect events across time and space, using people as pawns to bring about the exact circumstances he needs to be freed. Shockingly, Ace herself is part of this plot. She discovers her own grandmother works at the base with her own mother present as an infant. It was Fenric responsible for sending Ace to Iceworld in the first place, too. All because he foresaw she could be tricked into betraying the Time Lord at the vital moment.
But the Doctor flips the metaphorical board, revealing that he’s been playing Fenric all along – knowing he had to be released first so he could be finally destroyed. But he must shatter Ace’s faith in him for his plan to work. He convinces her that she’s been a fool and a tool in his schemes that he’s barely tolerated having around. Again Ace preempts a modern story, time time with shades of the Eleventh Doctor and Amy in The God Complex.
Thanks to the 1989 cancellation we never saw what happened to Ace… until now
Although she understands why the Doctor did it, the news that he’s been lying to her all this time, forces Ace to grow up a little and become a little less trusting. She’s understandably a little suspicious when he brings her home to 1980s Perivale in Survival. But, ironically, he really does just want to offer her a chance to reconnect with family and friends. Unfortunately Perviale is the latest hunting ground of the Cheetah People, whose kitlings can teleport people to their home planet. The Cheetah People will hunt and kill some, while others who survive long enough will fall prey instead to the planet’s curse and become Cheetah People themselves.
Soon the Doctor, Ace, and a group of others are trapped there. But the Doctor faces a dilemma when he realizes the only way home. Someone who has begun the transformation, but not yet lost their humanity, can open the route home. Can he really just let Ace be infected?
Survival was the final story of Doctor Who’s original run. The last we see of Ace on television is her walking off into the distance, arm in arm with her Professor, listening as he waxes lyrical about people made of smoke and cities made of song. “Come on Ace! We’ve got work to do!”
The novels transformed Ace into an elite space commando with a difficult friendship with the Doctor
The fact that Ace never got an exit story on television freed the expanded universe of the so-called Wilderness Years from 1990 to 2004 to go their own way. Unfortunately no two media could agree what that way should be. The result is that for Ace, her future became a multiple choice question. In the New Adventures series of novels, she becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Seventh Doctor’s cold-bloodedness, the final straw being when he sacrifices the life of her lover Jan as part of his latest master plan. She leaves the TARDIS for three years, from her point of view. In the meantime, she becomes an elite anti-Dalek commando, and returns older, tougher, and more cynical than when she left. But her relationship with the Doctor remains strained, culminating in her stabbing him through one of the hearts in the novel The Left-Handed Humming Bird.
The main character arc for Ace in the novels concludes shortly after she plays the Doctor at his own game. She manipulates him as part of her own plan to take down renegade Time Lord the Monk. Realizing that she’s now outgrown him, but also become more like him than she’s entirely comfortable with, she departs to be her own woman. She dubs herself “Time’s Vigilante” and sets off on her own time travelling motorbike.
Doctor Who Magazine actually killed Ace off in the controversial Ground Zero!
The comic strips of Doctor Who Magazine contradict all that, however. According to them, Ace meets her fate only a few years after the events of Survival. In the comic story Ground Zero, aliens known as the Threshold kidnap former companions Susan, Sarah Jane, Peri, as well as Ace. The Doctor stages a rescue but is too late to save Ace, who dies in his arms. It’s one of the bleakest ends for any companion, but one largely ignored ever since.
Similarly brushed under the continuity carpet these days is the webcast drama Death Comes to Time, which does the complete opposite. It climaxes with the death of the Doctor and all of the other Time Lords! Ace survives, and in the power vacuum left in the universe ascends to a higher state of being to become the new Lord of Time.
Sophie Aldred has continued to play Ace for Big Finish, with stories which dip and and out of the character’s different lives
Ace’s appearances in various Big Finish audio dramas present yet more views of her future. She again travelled with the Doctor for a long time, both solo and alongside new companion Hex, and returning companion Mel. In this version she too had her ups and downs with the Doctor. He sometimes pushes her too far with his schemes and secrets. Especially when she disovers he’s been travelling in two TARDISes with two different sets of companions. The death of Hex battling a returning Fenric also placed a great deal of stress on Ace and the Doctor’s fragile relationship.
Later she moves to Gallifrey and trains to become one of the Time Lords herself. Caught up in the schemes and counter-schemes of the Time Lords, she becomes an ally of the Doctor’s former companions Romana, now President, and Leela. When the Time War breaks out, she’s ready to bring the fight to the Daleks. However, ultimately a particularly cunning Time Lord called Braxiatel betrays her and exiles her to Earth.
Ace’s story unfolds at Big Finish in a non-sequential way, with stories from different times in her life released out of order. So there are some inconsistencies. For instance, a younger, enthusiastic version of Ace references events that happened to the older, more jaded one. For these and other reasons timey-wimey shenanigans have undone some of her adventures so that they no longer happened at all, while her memory is erased of other ones.
It was Russell T Davies himself who revealed Ace had returned to Earth found NGO ‘A Charitable Earth’
But the version of Ace that’s now definitive is the one we’ll see on Sunday in The Power of the Doctor. It began with a throwaway reference in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. At the end of The Death of the Doctor, Sarah Jane tells her young friends that she knows of many other former friends of the Doctor. Including “a Dorothy something. She runs that company, A Charitable Earth. She’s raised billions.” It’s a fun line, including a nice tease of the fact that different media haven’t always agreed even on Ace’s real name (sometimes it’s Dorothy Gale, sometimes Dorothy McShane.)
But it was the short minisode The Promise that really brought this Ace into focus. Created to promote the Season Twenty-Six Collection Blu-ray, it put Sophie Aldred back on screen as Ace for the first time in decades. And in its few minutes, it created a strong image of an older, wiser, Dorothy McShane who feels the weight of her responsibilities and looks back on her time with the Doctor with affection.
Since then, Ms McShane and her NGO have featured in the novel At Childhood’s End, by Aldred herself. And she’s now appearing in the Big Finish audios too. She’s had her dealings with Torchwood in The Red List and Death in Venice. And David Tennant returned to play the Doctor opposite Aldred’s Ace when Axos attempts to infiltrate A Charitable Earth for its own evil purposes. Neatly, it seems to be set after The Power of the Doctor, as far as Ace is concerned, with her mentioning having met one of the Doctor’s future selves. It even ends with what feels like an Ace Adventures spin-off in the spin off of The Sarah Jane Adventures…
Ace, her jacket, and her faithful Dalek-busting baseball bat are back for The Power of the Doctor!
Naturally this apparent contradiction between Ace the Time Lord agent and Ace the CEO of an NGO is fixed by having her memory wiped of her time on Gallifrey when Braxatial exiles her home.
But who knows what the unwritten future holds for Ace? What will happen when she returns on Sunday for a start? Based on the promo photos that have been released she’s both stunned and delighted that her old ‘Professor’ is now a woman. And she’s every inch the basebat wielding, explosion making, death defying action hero she was before.
Frankly, Blogtor Who can’t wait to see her in action!
Doctor Who returns with The Power of the Doctor this Sunday on BBC One at 7.30pm and on BBC America at 8pm ET