Who knew a simple promo for a Blu-ray release could send Doctor Who fandom into such a tizzy?
Yesterday’s announcement that season 26 – the final series from Doctor Who’s classic era – would be the next entry in the show’s range of Blu-ray releases came coupled with a spectacular teaser which saw actress Sophie Aldred reprise her role as companion Ace, 30 years after she last appeared as a regular on the show.
Fans were, it’s fair to say, a little bit excited to see Aldred back.
Some particularly praised her jacket…
And who can blame them? It’s always a treat to have a veteran Doctor Who cast member revisit their old character, but having Aldred back to play an older Ace is just that little bit more special, since the character’s fate was never resolved on-screen.
Real name Dorothy McShane, ‘Ace’ – a smart, snarky London teenager who once took a baseball bat to a Dalek – was still serving as companion to Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor when Doctor Who was first cancelled in 1989 and when the series returns to our screens seven years later, 1996’s TV movie opened with our Time Lord hero travelling alone.
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What happened to Ace? Aldred previously had her own theories, speculating in 2017 that perhaps her character “never did” leave the the Doctor’s side. “Maybe he had that heartbreaking thing of having to see his companion grow old and die,” she said.
“That could be what happened to Ace, because she never really had anywhere to go back to, or any particular relationships that she wanted to go back to.”
One variation on Ace’s fate, presented in Doctor Who Magazine’s long-running comic strip, also killed off the character just prior to the events of the TV movie, though in other mediums – Virgin Publishing’s ’90s series of New Adventure novels and the 2002 ‘webcast’ Death Comes to Time – she ends her apprenticeship under the Doctor by becoming a Time Lord-in-training on Gallifrey.
Since 1999, Aldred has also appeared in the Doctor Who audio plays produced by Big Finish, which chronicle a more mature Ace’s further adventures with the Doctor.
On television, though, there’s only been one direct reference to Ace in the three decades since she vanished.
‘Death of the Doctor’, a 2010 story from Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, saw Sarah make passing references to another of the Doctor’s former companions, a “Dorothy something – she runs that charity, A Charitable Earth.”
A Charitable Earth… ACE, geddit?
There were even plans to have Ace appear on The Sarah Jane Adventures (as revealed by series creator Russell T Davies to Doctor Who Magazine in 2012), but these plans came to naught when the death of lead actress Elisabeth Sladen led to the show being curtailed in 2011.
But the new Blu-ray teaser – written by Pete McTighe, who scripted ‘Kerblam!‘ for Jodie Whittaker’s first series – appears to ratify Ace’s fate as laid out by The Sarah Jane Adventures. We see an older Ace, sharply dressed in a business suit, presiding over A Charitable Earth from its headquarters in London, fondly recalling her time with the Doctor and revealing that her friend eventually “let [her] go, so [she] could make this world a better place” with her philanthropic efforts.
The promo also reveals that the Doctor left Ace with a promise, “that one day he’d be back” – a pledge that the Doctor appears to follow through, as we hear the sound of the TARDIS materialising and briefly glimpse his seventh incarnation’s signature question mark umbrella.
Is the teaser canon? Do we finally, unambiguously, know what happened to Ace? We like to think so, but will we ever get to see what happened next, and witness her reunion with the Doctor? Right now, there’s only one man who knows the answers to that question.
Come on, Chibs, you know what to do…
Doctor Who – Season 26 – The Collection is out on Blu-ray on 23rd December and is available to pre-order now.