Ace is one of the more unusual Doctor Who companions. With a love of explosives and a mysterious backstory, she left the series in 1989 and more many years her fate remained a mystery.
Of course, this wasn’t how it was meant to go. In fact, when Ace arrived in Doctor Who Season 24, the production team were keen to give the character a definitive ‘journey,’ and even sat down with the actor Sophie Aldred to discuss where Ace should go. This was a departure from previous Doctor Who companions, whose comings and goings had, historically, been relatively rushed (although there are some exceptions.)
When the Seventh Doctor first meets Ace in the 1987 story ‘Dragonfire,’ she is working as a waitress in Iceworld – a colony on the dark side of the planet of Svartos. Real name Dorothy McShane, Ace doesn’t actually belong to this planet, or indeed this time period. She’d been in her bedroom on Earth experimenting with nitroglycerin and gelignite when a time storm appeared out of nowhere and transported her across space. She suddenly found herself having to fit in with a brand new civilisation – namely, a supermarket / prison ruled over by a madman.
Naturally, she soon became one of the official Doctor Who companions after helping the Seventh Doctor to hunt down a robot dragon and steal its treasure. As you do.
It was during her travels in the TARDIS that she eventually came into contact with a mysterious beast known as Fenric, who had been secretly manipulating the Seventh Doctor’s life for centuries. And Ace was a key part of his machinations. It transpired that Fenric had created the time storm that sent her to the Iceworld colony, and set in motion a chain of events that led her and the Doctor to Maiden’s Point in 1943, where Fenric planned to escape from his ancient prison.
So as you can see, Ace was not a conventional Doctor Who companion. But her return to the gritty streets of Perivale (her hometown) in the 1989 story ‘Survival’ did act as a template for the Doctor Who companions of the future, paving the way for more nuanced characters with detailed backstories and more complex domestic lives.
But sadly, ‘Survival’ was the last time we got to see Ace on our TV screens, apart from a brief appearance in the 1993 charity special ‘Dimensions in Time,’ the canonicity of which is debated to this day. So it’s unclear as to what ultimately became of her character. In fact, Ace became one of the few Doctor Who companions who didn’t receive a proper on-screen send off (the others being Dodo Chaplet, Elizabeth Shaw and the first Romana, if you’re interested.)
So what’s the official line on the fate of Ace? Well, the first thing to a canonical answer came within the Doctor Who Season 26 Blu-ray trailer, in which we see a much older Ace gazing wistfully across the rooftops of London, reminiscing about her time with the Doctor from the headquarters of her organisation, A Charitable Earth. This tied in with an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, in which Sarah Jane Smith revealed that she’d done research on all of the Doctor Who companions, including “Dorothy something” who ran a charity of the same name.
Of course, one of the other Doctor Who companions (Dodo) was also known as Dorothea, so it’s possible that Sarah Jane was talking about her. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume that Ace ended up safe and well on planet Earth in the 20th century. Indeed, this plot point is backed-up in the novel At Childhood’s End written by Sophie Aldred, which mentions the charity that Ace set up.
So is this is the canonical explanation for the fate of Dorothy ‘Ace’ McShane? It’s probably part of it, as Ace did finally return to our screens in the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure ‘The Power of the Doctor,’ where Ace was reunited with the Doctor and one of the other Doctor Who companions Tegan to battle a whole plethora of monsters. In this story, it was revealed that the Doctor and Ace parted ways as the result of a fall-out.
“You made me the person I am today,” she tells the Doctor. “I’m sorry we fell out. I’m sorry I judged you. I didn’t understand the burden you carried.”
“All children leave home sooner or later,” the Doctor replies. “The joy is to watch them fly.”
So we know that Ace is alive and well, even if we don’t know the precise details of her quarrel with the Doctor, or the adventures that came before it. So could more details lie elsewhere in the Whoniverse?
Well, we do have the unmade Season 27, which was originally going to include the character’s departure. In ‘Ice Time’ by Marc Platt, Ace was going to become the first of the Doctor Who companions to enter the Prydonian Academy on Gallifrey, and train to become a Time Lord. Apparently, it would be revealed that the Seventh Doctor had been planning this for a long time, slowly grooming Ace for entrance into the Academy. However, in the Big Finish adaptation (renamed ‘Thin Ice‘) Ace decline’s the Doctor’s offer of a life on Gallifrey, and opts to keep travelling with him instead.
Then we have Virgin Books, who picked up the Seventh Doctor‘s adventures after the series was cancelled. In the Virgin timeline, Ace is still travelling with the Doctor but (like some of the Doctor Who companions before her) she becomes increasingly frustrated with his manipulative tendencies. Indeed, in ‘Love and War’ by Paul Cornell, the Doctor sacrifices her lover Jan in order to defeat the alien Hoothi, and this proves to be too much for Ace. She leaves the TARDIS crew and goes in search of a much quieter life fighting the Daleks as a member of Spacefleet.
But Doctor Who companions do have a habit of returning. Ace re-joins the Seventh Doctor (and his new companion Benny) in the 1993 novel ‘Deceit’ by Peter Darvill-Evans. She is tougher at this point, and more hardened. And even though she comes back to the TARDIS of her own volition, there is some tension between her and the Doctor, and it’s not long before she turns the tables on him.
By the time we reach ‘No Future,’ Ace has become the more deceitful of the pair, and even goes so far as to fake the Doctor’s murder in order to show him what it’s like to be manipulated, and this could – in theory – tie-in with the explanation given in ‘The Power of the Doctor.’
Of course, Doctor Who companions are (usually) good people at heart, and in the novel ‘Set Piece’ she ends up becoming Time’s Vigilante, leaving the Doctor to travel through time and space solo, saving planets on an interdimensional motorbike. And by the time we get to the last of the Virgin Books (‘Lungbarrow‘ by Marc Platt) she’s living on Gallifrey, and is briefly killed by the CIA (the Celestial Intervention Agency) so that her memories can be uploaded to the Matrix, which is the Time Lord repository of all knowledge – which is harder to tally with Jodie Whittaker’s last story.
So how do we decide what really, canonically happened to one of the most complicated Doctor Who companions of all time? Should we look to the Virgin novels? Or the BBC books? Or the Big Finish productions?
Well, it may be possible to unify all of these timelines, and still call them canon. Because in the novel ‘At Childhood’s End,’ Ace’s life splinters into multiple outcomes after she comes into contact with a temporal possibility engine known as the Quantum Anvil. Various scenarios play out, including one in which she ends up living on Gallifrey, and a different one in which she travels with the Doctor until she grows old. And there are many others. So you could easily place the New Series and / or Virgin timeline within this scenario and still call it canon. If you wanted to, of course.
Otherwise, we now know that Ace is alive and well and living on Earth in the 21st century like many of the former Doctor Who companions before her. As for what could be lurking in her future remains to be seen.
But over to you. Why do you think Ace left the Doctor? How do you reconcile all the different explanations? Let us know in the comments below.
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