Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who
At Childhood's End

(2020) Sophie Aldred (with Steve Cole & Mike Tucker)
BBC Books, £16.99 / Can$35.99 / US$19.99, hrdbk, ix +291pp, ISBN 978-1-785- 94499-4


Past, present and future collide as the Thirteenth Doctor meets classic Doctor Who companion Ace – in the first novel from the actress who played her, Sophie Aldred. Once, a girl called Ace travelled the universe with the Doctor – until, in the wake of a terrible tragedy they parted company. Now, decades on, she is known as Dorothy McShane, the reclusive millionaire philanthropist who heads global organisation A Charitable Earth. But Dorothy is being haunted by terrible nightmares in which she’s abducted to an alien world. Nightmares that begin just as scores of young runaways are vanishing from the dark alleyways of London. Could the disappearances be linked to sightings of sinister creatures lurking in the city shadows? Why has an alien satellite entered a secret orbit around the Moon? And how has Dorothy become a target for the victors in an interstellar war? Investigating the satellite with Ryan, Graham and Yaz, the Doctor is thrown together with Ace once more… Sophie Aldred is best known as Ace, companion of the seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy in Doctor Who. Ah, Ace, and the Professor (as she called the seventh Doctor back in her companion days), those really were the days. Apart from watching the original episodes when they were first shown, I was trying unsuccessfully to write a Doctor Who novel back in the limbo years before the series was resurrected and Virgin published the Doctor’s adventures, and in order to do my research I bought loads of Doctor Who books and probably even more adventures, not DVD, but video! Yes, VHS tapes and there might still be some kicking around Hunter Towers, I know for sure that ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ is, and who can forget Ace’s super-charged baseball bat, capable of giving a Dalek a high-powered whack, or two, or several, knowing Ace.

Sadly, the way things went, Ace never got a proper send off. Doctor Who fizzled out, and Sylvester McCoy came back without a companion to briefly hand over the reins to Paul McGann in the TV film that came to nought, although McCoy and Aldred have been reunited many times in Big Finish audio adventures, and the character of Ace has been handled differently in different media spin-offs, being killed and even replaced, and even becoming a Time Lord herself. The incarnation we are treated to here comes from a passing line in The Sarah Jane Adventures when it is mentioned that she runs a charitable foundation looking after the underprivileged as head of a charity called “A Charitable Earth” (the initials spelling ACE, of course).

So 30 years – blimey – have passed since Ace crossed paths with the Doctor, and times have certainly changed, Ace called Dorothy or Dot, now runs a charity and can look out of her window and see where the old UNIT offices used to be under the Tower of London, except UNIT is long-gone and so is the Doctor. The only strange thing going on in her life is these terrifying dreams she’s been having, but when a chance brush with a TV story which seems to mirror her own dreams involving a girl living on Ace’s old stomping ground, then it is time for her to revisit her past, in more ways than one. It helps to be the CEO of a charity, and also to have (somehow) amassed some alien kit, which allows her to persuade her astronaut, ex-boyfriend, to let her go on a trip to the moon where an alien ship has appeared. Of course, the TARDIS is already there with Jaz, Graham and Ryan, and while Ace is expecting to meet “The Professor” she meets a much-changed Doctor, although they still have unresolved issues about their past and their parting. One of the clever things about their meeting is that it’s about a quarter into the book before the two of them finally do get together.

At Childhood’s End does mirror slightly the David Tennant/Rose Tyler days when Sarah Jane Smith came back into his life, with Rose jealous and distrustful of Sarah Jane and then realises that might be her in the future. So, here it is with Jaz and Ace, and with the tension rising between Ace and the Doctor and Ace and Yaz, poor Graham and Ryan hardly get a look in, a fate shared by some of the other characters who featured in earlier parts of the novel. The story is fast-moving told by a prologue, an ending coda and 32 chapters in between, and when you consider about 30 pages of the 290 are actually blank as they are placed between chapters or sections, then the tale is even pacier, and…it’s alright. The baddies are bad, Ace has (too) convenient bits of alien technology – one essential piece retrieved from the depths of a lake in the Lake District after Ace just happened to witness a UFO being shot down by some scrambled jets. The story is so-so, but what everyone is paying the price of admission here is to see Ace and the Doctor reunite, and they won’t be disappointed, and for the true Who fan, there are lots of little nuggets, or gems, referencing past events in the Doctor’s lives.

Ian Hunter

See also Arthur's take on At Childhood’s End.

See also Karen's take on At Childhood’s End.


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