Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who
At Childhood's End

(2021) Sophie Aldred, BBC Books, £8.99 / Can$19.99 / US$11.99, pbk, 291pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94501-4


Who better to write a Doctor Who adventure than someone who was actually in the series? The closing seasons of the classic era for Doctor Who featured Sylvester McCoy’s 7th Doctor and teenage companion, Dorothy (Ace), played by Sophie Aldred.

The show's cancellation left Ace without closure or a farewell story, but At Childhood’s End (which acronyms cleverly into ACE), provides not only a satisfying end to the 7th Doctor / Ace relationship, but also introduces the now grown-up Dorothy to Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor and her regular companions.

Ace is no longer a teenager, but a woman in her forties, and though separated from The Doctor, she is still doing what she can to fight off alien threats to the Earth, with many gadgets, alien artefacts (and an entity that seems only happy when powering machines ranging from cars to space-craft).

In many ways, the new Ace is running an operation very similar to that seen on TV in The Sarah Jane Adventures with Elisabeth Sladen. She has contact with UNIT, Torchwood and a man with his own rocket (handy when an alien ship is discovered to approaching Earth). It seems to be connected in many ways to the abductions of many homeless people in London.

Ace uses her friend to boost her out to the ship, which is also being inspected by the current Doctor, leading to an emotional reunion.

Aldred captures the new characters well and seems to be building up some interesting tension and mistrust between Ace and new companion, Yasmin, but this is not ultimately taken to any resolution. Ultimately, even Ace is rather marginalised as the Doctor does her thing and pretty well sorts out the whole shebang on her own.

There are several interesting new characters including a TV presenter obsessed with exposing X-Files style conspiracies and not knowing what to do when directly faced with one.

Aldred writes best in the chapters dealing with her strained-to-breaking-point relationship with the 7th Doctor as she tires of being used as bait. The more mature Ace tries in many ways to be like her younger self, still playing with (a more dangerous version of) nitro-Nine, her homemade explosives (that would surely get her visited by anti-terrorist officers), and she still fits into her iconic badge filled leather jacket. She even still has the baseball bat impregnated with The Hand of Omega that she had used to demolish several Daleks. (It is fun when new companion Ryan gets to wield it too).

Ultimately, this is a story about accepting change and growing up. Ace has wanted to break free of The Doctor but also misses the adventures terribly, and now gets a look at a later generation of her successors. The main aliens of this story are rather forgettable but the story is very much about reunions and forgiving those who you fell out with decades before. Ace is allowed to mature with some dignity while retaining much of her anarchic punk-charm. Aldred captures the emotional side of her character beautifully and I hope she goes on to further appearances as Ace, in writing, and possibly even in some of the Doctor’s future on-screen adventures.

Arthur Chappell

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

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


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