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Book Review

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Doctor Who
At Childhood’s End (Hardback)


Author: Sophie Aldred
Publisher: BBC Books
304 pages
RRP: UK £16.99, US $19.99, Cdn $35.99
ISBN: 978 1 78594 499 4
Publication Date: 06 February 2020

Dorothy McShane, formerly known as Ace, is haunted by terrible 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’s shadows? Why has an alien satellite entered a secret orbit around the Moon? Investigating the satellite with Ryan, Graham and Yaz, the Doctor is thrown together with Ace once more. Together they must unravel a malevolent plot that will cost thousands of lives. But can the Doctor atone for her past incarnation’s behaviour – and how much must Ace sacrifice to win victory, not only for herself, but for the Earth…?

So, why did Ace leave the Doctor all those years ago? It’s an incident that was never depicted on screen, as the classic series came to an end with the companion still travelling the universe with the Seventh Doctor.

Various versions of Ace’s departure have been presented in spin-off media over the decades. The New Adventures novels saw Ms McShane parting company with the Doctor in Earth’s future, only for her to return a few books later as an older, more cynical, battle-hardened warrior. Eventually she left again, more happily this time, settling in Earth’s past. Despite following the New Adventures continuity for a time, the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip ultimately went its own way, killing off Ace before any of the aforementioned events had taken place. Had the original series not ceased production in 1989, the plan had been for Ace to be enrolled as a trainee Time Lord on Gallifrey, a notion that was realised in the webcast Death Comes to Time and several Big Finish audios.

In this, her debut novel, Sophie Aldred, the actress who played Ace on screen (and continues to do so on audio), offers her own account of the circumstances that led to the parting of the ways. During a couple of short interludes that separate the main sections of the book, we learn about a tragedy that took place a year after Ace’s final televised adventure. The companion’s previous ‘last bows’ are not entirely invalidated, however, as they are briefly glimpsed in alternative timelines experienced by Ace. It’s also possible that Ms McShane didn’t actually walk out on the Doctor at this point. We witness her decision to go, but not her actual departure – perhaps the Doctor persuaded her to stay, at least for a while.

What is known for sure is that Dorothy McShane eventually returned to her home planet to set up and run a not-for-profit organisation called A Charitable Earth. This became canon when it was briefly mentioned at the end of the Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor. At Childhood’s End (another play on the initials ACE) explains why Dorothy founded the charity (to provide longer-term aid than the Doctor’s style of quick fixes) and where she got the money from.

Aldred (with an unspecified amount of help from established Doctor Who authors Steve Cole and Mike Tucker) also throws in references to classic series elements such as UNIT, the Space Defence Station in Devesham, Captain Sorin, Fenric, Darth the brain-dead plumber and even Squeak, the little girl played by a young Adele Silva in Survival. Squeak, who nowadays prefers to go by the name of Chantelle, plays a significant role in events. Amusingly, her career is shown to have taken a similar path to that of the actress who portrayed her, including glamour modelling and a part in EastEnders.

The current TARDIS team don’t enter the fray until page 67 of the 290-page prose, but they work surprisingly well with Ace and her associates. There is believable initial tension between the former teenage delinquent and the junior police officer Yaz. The Doctor’s guilt over the way her former self treated Ace gives the thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord some much-needed gravitas. Ryan is star-struck when he meets Chantelle, and Graham (who is the closest to Ace’s present age) is his usual level-headed self.

The whole pudding is rather over-egged, with a complicated plot that also involves an astronaut ex-boyfriend of Dorothy; aliens that resemble rats; aliens that resemble horses; one alien whose hood-like folds of flesh bring to mind the unpleasant image of a walking, talking, flaccid penis; and yet another explanation as to who created the time storm that carried Ace to Iceworld and into the Doctor’s life. Nevertheless, I enjoyed At Childhood’s End a lot more than I had expected to.


Richard McGinlay

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