Title: Doctor Who: Ace Adventures
Director: Chris Clough
Starring: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Bonnie Langford
Released: Out Now
The Seventh Doctor and Mel land in Iceworld on Svartos in search of a dragon but instead find themselves back in the company of Sabalom Glitz and a spunky young waitress named Ace. The cold-blooded criminal Kane is out to find the mysterious dragonfire and decides that the Doctor is the one to lead him right to it.
On Terra Alpha, sadness is outlawed and killjoys are ‘disappeared’ from society by the Happiness Patrol. The fanatical ruler, Helen A, makes sure that happiness will prevail and the fearsome Kandy Man helps to keep the population in check. Time for the Seventh Doctor and Ace to spread a little misery.
Cor blimey, Professor! It’s only a blimmin’ boxset of the Seventh Doctor’s well awesome companion Ace! Gordon Bennett! Doughnut!
Yes, some of Ace’s sayings and general appearance may have dated a bit over the years, some would say they were from the day she started which is also true of a lot of companions, but that doesn’t stop her from being one of my favourite companions. I’m a fan of the Seventh Doctor’s era and Ace’s development is a big part of that although these two stories are hardly the best of her time in the TARDIS and they are not even the last of that era with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy still to be released. Dragonfire is Ace’s first story and The Happiness Patrol is a fan favourite so let’s take a can of Nitro-9 to them both.
Anyone remember Bejams? They were the 1980s version of the Iceland freezer stores we have here in the UK now and I can’t help but look at the tacky interior of the café on Iceworld and think back. As this is Ace’s first adventure, we wave goodbye to Mel and there’s also a welcome return by Tony Selby as Glitz who was first seen in The Trial of a Time Lord. Dragonfire concluded Sylvester McCoy’s unsteady first series as the Doctor and you can see that he’s still trying to find his character. At least he’s always an entertaining performer though and the only one who realises that he is on an ice planet and attempts to do slip/slide acting. The production values unfortunately make it look a bit cheap and garish but as always it helps to try and look past them. That said though, Kane’s melty face is a wonderful effect and one of many things which reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark. One of the designers, Lindsay MacGowan, also worked on the then recent film Aliens and it’s hard not to see a touch of Xenomorph in the dragon creature.
The pace keeps up over its three episodes and it doesn’t overstay its welcome plus there’s some great character work, for example the pairings of Glitz and the Doctor and Mel and Ace. Kane’s disaffected underling Belazs gets some good lines, the Doctor’s philosophical conversation with one of the guards is brilliant and Edward Peel as Kane stays the right side of OTT despite his plan being rubbish. Dragonfire is also notorious in fandom due to a quite literal cliffhanger in which the Doctor climbs over the side of an ice ravine for no good reason other than to put himself in danger at the episode’s end. Mel’s leaving scene is a little confusing but Ace fully deserves her place in the TARDIS as you really warm to her during this story, plus the two companions could not be more different. Essential watching if you’re an Ace or Seventh Doctor fan but otherwise it’s a decent diversion and since there isn’t a lot of love for this story we get another edition of the excellent The Doctor’s Strange Love on the DVD.
It’s interesting to see these two stories side by side as you can see how far the characters, and indeed the whole series, has come. The Doctor has heard rumours about Terra Alpha and has specifically come to sort things out. Ace is not just his travelling companion but his sidekick, ally and partner in crime. The Happiness Patrol hit the headlines in 2010 mainly due to a slow news day, but also taking a comment of then script editor Andrew Cartmel’s out of context and noticing that Sheila Hancock based Helen A on Maggie Thatcher. The show’s relationship with politics is also explored on the DVD in the wonderful When Worlds Collide. This story itself succeeds in being both downbeat and gaudy at the same time and is the closest the show came to noir. In fact, the original idea was to film the whole thing in black and white. The titular sadness exterminators are very 1980s with their bright wigs and V for Vendetta style make-up but in this context it somehow works. For a planet with enforced happiness no one seems to smile that much either. The Bertie Bassett-baiting Kandy Man is the worst thing on display here but the character is well used and the deleted scenes on the disc add a little more depth to him.
This is a wonderful story and again it’s only three episodes long which helps it to keep a steadier pace and reinforce the fact that this is all set over one night. We get a solid cast of familiar British actors all throwing themselves into the scenario, although I could have done without the pipe people and their attempts to speak like Ace. It’s a pity Georgina Hale (here playing Daisy K) never graduated to becoming a proper Who villain but then I fondly recall her playing the titular witch in T-Bag in the early 1990s. One aspect I loved as well is that there’s a census taker blundering around the streets, which is another touch of Britishness in an alien setting. The music is also kept rather low and free of the relentless thumping that some McCoy stories suffered from. A classic story with a great concept behind it.
Overall, these two stories are essential for Seventh Doctor fans although for an exploration of Ace’s character The Curse of Fenric, Ghost Light and Survival are much better. Here we get an introduction to and one of the best stories from a much-loved TARDIS team so crack open a bottle of ye old fruit carbonated alcohol and have a watch.
Extras: Dragonfire: Commentary with Sophie Aldred, Edward Peel, Chris Clough, Ian Briggs, Andrew Cartmel, Dominic Glynn and Mark Ayres. Fire and Ice is the ‘making of’ while Big Bang Theory sees current special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves look back at some of the classic series biggest booms. The Doctor’s Strange Love features Joseph Lidster, Josie Long and Simon Guerrier looking back at the story. Also included is a photo gallery, Coming Soon trailer, deleted scenes, PDF material and text commentary.
The Happiness Patrol: Commentary with Sophie Aldred, Chris Clough, David John Pope, Graeme Curry and Andrew Cartmel. Happiness Will Prevail is our ‘making of’ and When Worlds Collide looks at how politics has been reflected in the show. Also included is a text commentary, deleted and extended scenes, photo gallery, PDF material and Coming Soon trailer.
Continuing Adventures: The New Adventures novel Happy Endings (1996) by Paul Cornell features some backstory of Ace’s life on Iceworld while Head Games (1995) by Steve Lyons looks at why Mel and the Doctor parted company. However in the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound story He Jests At Scars (2003) Mel was killed in an alternate universe while travelling with Glitz. The Trials of Tara by Paul Cornell, featured in the short story collection Decalog 2: Lost Property (1995), saw the Seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield face the Kandy Man again after he is rebuilt by Count Grendel, he of The Androids of Tara.
Trivia learnt from the disc: The badges on Ace’s jacket included two Blue Peter badges (one regular and one silver) and one from Charlton Athletic FC. Patches included the space shuttles Challenger and Colombia, two Rupert Bears, The Ace Roofing Company, the logo of Fanderson (Gerry Anderson’s fan club) and the Thunderbirds logo. The last two were there to reflect Sophie Aldred’s love of Thunderbirds.