This is a little something for my sister Rebecca on her birthday. Bec's always loved the Seventh Doctor/Ace TARDIS team, so when I saw the "Ace Returns!" to promote the blu-ray release of the 26th season of Doctor Who, I thought of writing a little story for her. It follows on directly from the video.
The shape was a question mark. The unmistakeable question-mark shape of an umbrella handle. The umbrella of a man with a mania for that specific punctuation.
Dorothy's heart rushed. Had he really come back?
The umbrella tapped on the window.
“Come in,” she answered, before remembering that the door was locked.
There was a high-pitched whine from the other side, and the door clicked open. Of course, a locked door wouldn't bother him, would it?
Dorothy waited for the little man in the Panama hat to poke his head round, flashing that goofy grin. Instead, she found herself confronted with the face of a young woman, framed by straight, blonde hair. The face broke into a broad smile.
“Hello Ace,” she said, in a voice touched by a soft Yorkshire accent. “Mind if I stop by?”
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Dorothy. “And who do you think you're calling Ace?”
“Why, don't you like that name anymore?” The woman stepped into the room fully. She wore a long pale coat over a rainbow T-shirt and blue culottes. She clutched the familiar black-and-red umbrella in her hands, turning it over slowly as she paced around the room.
“Only my friends call me Ace. Friends I've had for a long time. Now who are you and why have you got that?” She reached out and grabbed the umbrella from the woman's hands, snatching it like she was jealous of another child's toy.
“You don't recognise me?” asked the woman, her face falling. “I know I've changed a bit, but I thought the umbrella would give it away. I should've worn the hat, shouldn't I? That would've done it.” She paused, and looked thoughtful. “Hold on a sec, let me give this a try.” Reaching into the bumbag that hung off her waist, she pulled out a pair of spoons. She rattled off a tune of sorts, before bowing and dropping them back in the bag with a flourish. The smile returned. “Yeah, still got it.”
The impossible truth dawned on Ace.
“Oh, you have got to be joking,” she muttered.
“Nope,” she beamed, “not this time!”
“Mel told me about this,” said Dorothy, returning the smile in spite of herself. “She said when she met you, you were this big bloke with curly hair, and then you turned into the proper Doctor.”
“Oi!” snapped the Doctor, for that was who she was. “I am the proper Doctor!”
“You know what I mean,” replied Dorothy. “The little guy with all the question marks.”
“Regeneration!” exclaimed the Doctor, as if that explained everything. “How is Mel, anyway? Can't remember the last time I saw her.”
“She's fine,” said Dorothy. “Works for me sometimes on the IT side of things. Set up a load of schools in Tanzania with equipment. Can we get back to what you're doing here, and why you're a woman now?”
The Doctor wandered around the office, inspecting the fittings. “Nice place you've got. Very posh. Bit Spartan.” She hung up the umbrella on the hat stand, next to Dorothy's jacket. “I actually met the Spartans. Not too bad once you got to know them, really -” The Doctor stopped, snapping her head back in a double take. “The Ace jacket!” she exclaimed. “You've still got it!”
“Doctor,” said Dorothy in a warning tone. This version of the Doctor was almost as bad as the old one.
“You know about regeneration,” said the Doctor, “I've had a few faces since I last saw you. This time I'm a woman. Just for a change.”
“To be honest, it's the accent that's bothering me. Why aren't you Scottish anymore?”
“Funny thing,” said the Doctor, still pacing the room, “turns out I'm Scottish once every seven regenerations. You just missed my Glazzy phase.”
Dorothy shook her head. This was too much.
“I need a drink,” she said. “Are you coming? Or do you still only drink ginger pop?”
The Doctor looked thoughtful. “Not sure,” she said. “Only one way to find out.”
It was a Wednesday night. There were only half a dozen people in the bar when Dorothy and the Doctor walked in, including the barman. It was the sort of high class place that was so unnecessarily spacious and sparsely furnished that even at capacity it looked empty.
“Not the sort of place I expected you to take me to,” noted the Doctor, eyeing the cocktail menu. “What's a slow comfortable – oh. Never mind.”
“What did you expect? A spacer dive? A Parisian basement?”
“I dunno,” admitted the Doctor. “Somewhere with a bit of character, I guess. This place isn't very Ace.”
Dorothy ordered two large glasses of white wine and sat the Doctor down at a corner table. The alien sniffed the wine, scronching her face up.
“Don't like wine then?” sighed Dorothy.
“I'm sure I do,” said the Doctor, “I'm just a bit out of practise. I used to be brilliant at wine. If I can still do Venusian aikido, I'm sure I can still do wine.” She sipped the drink, but her face didn't look like the face of someone enjoying herself.
“How long has it been, then?” asked Dorothy. “I mean, it's been thirty years for me, but how long's it been for you?”
“Has it though?” said the Doctor. “Think about it. You were sixteen when I met you, but how old were you when you came home?”
Dorothy tried to think about it, but the harder she pushed at the memories, the cloudier and more elusive they became. A jumble of images coalesced in her mind, then faded again.
“I'm not sure,” she admitted. “I've been thinking about him a lot lately – I mean, you – I mean, the TARDIS and the travelling and the adventures. But it's hard to keep it all clear in my head.”
The Doctor looked her square in the eye.
“What's the last thing your clearly remember? The last sharp memory of the old me?”
Dorothy sipped her wine, and thought. There were memories, clear as video, replaying in her head, somehow clearer than ever before now the Doctor was back in her life.
“The Cheetahs,” she said. “Holding Karra as she died. The Master killed her. I thought he'd killed you too.”
“Nah, she never manages that,” sneered the Doctor.
“She? The Master's a she too? Is there anyone else I should know about who's suddenly a woman now?”
“The TARDIS was for a bit,” said the Doctor, as an angry buzz emanated from her pocket.
“Screwdriver?” asked Dorothy.
“Phone,” said the Doctor, making an apologetic face. “Sorry, one sec.” She answered the call. “Hi Graham, not the best time right now, alright if I call you back?”
A blokey Essex voice replied, loud enough to be heard even without being put on speaker.
“Sorry Doc, but we've got a bit of a problem 'ere. There's fifteen of those things now, and every time I count them there's more. We're gonna be overrun soon.”
“Look, I'll be back in an hour, tops.” said the Doctor. “Just don't let them eat anything else, OK? Right. Bye.”
“I'm not even going to ask,” said Dorothy. “Hang on, did he call you 'Doc?' You'd never have let me call you 'Doc.'”
“You didn't even all me Doctor! You insisted on calling me Professor.”
Dorothy frowned. “I'll accept that you're the Doctor. I've seen enough weird stuff to buy that. But he was the Professor.”
“What else do you remember Ace?” asked the Doctor, quietly. “Think hard. What happened after Cheetah World?”
“We went back to the TARDIS, and then...” The Doctor's eyes pierced her own, and a mad tangle of memories flooded her mind. She remembered fighting Daleks on the star frontier. She remembered travelling through time from her base in 19th century Paris. She remembered hopping between universes, sideways in time. She remembered learning about the dimensions of time on Gallifrey. She remembered getting engaged, she remembered screaming for her life, completely alone, she remembered dying in the Doctor's arms.
“Bloody hell!” she gasped, breaking away from the Doctor's gaze. “What was that?”
“Your memories,” said the Doctor. “All real, every one of them. But they might not make sense all together.”
“Too right they don't. No wonder I can't remember what happened clearly. It's like... living a dozen lives, all at the same time.”
“Exactly. You were with me at a complex point in my personal timeline. There was a discontinuity, multiple timelines overlapping. Some more likely than others, I guess – you remember that time in Albert Square? Even I can't believe that one. But they all happened, somewhere out there. In the end, though, we got you back to Earth, straightened things out a little so you could get on with your life, but I never got the chance to straighten things out with you. I'm sorry.”
Dorothy swallowed the last of her wine.
“That might be the first time I've actually heard you apologise. It's taken long enough.”
“I just thought, as I was nearby, space/time speaking, I should set things straight. And look, you're doing brilliantly! Everything turned out fine.”
Anger welled up in Dorothy's chest – thirty years of emotions surging forward.
“Yeah, I did turn out fine, and I am doing brilliantly! And you should have apologised to me a long time ago, Doctor. This timeline thing isn't the half of it. God, I can remember it all so clearly now. You manipulated me, again and again, getting me to do your dirty work. Not just me, either. You dumped Mel in the year one million, you let people die. You didn't care who got in your way, as long as you finished your little missions.”
“That's not true!” protested the Doctor. “I always cared. Whatever I had to do, I always cared what happened to people, especially to you.” She stood up, too uncomfortable to look Dorothy in the eye. “And it was the year two million, actually,” she added, quietly.
“That doesn't matter! The point is, you used people Doctor. You used me.”
The Doctor still didn't look at her.
“I know. I'm sorry. But I promise you, everything I did I did because I thought it was the right thing.” She turned back to Dorothy. “And listen, a lot of stuff's happened since then. I've grown up a lot, I've had to.”
“So have I, Doctor. I was just a kid, remember? And you, you took me on this wild ride with no idea what it would do to me, you toerag.”
The Doctor looked briefly crestfallen, then burst out laughing.
“Oh my god, I can't believe you still say toerag! That's brilliant!”
Dorothy tried hard to keep her face serious, but couldn't help laughing herself.
“Oh shut up, I work with kids, alright? I've trained myself not to swear, even at Time Lord gits like you.”
The Doctor sat down again.
“Come on, Ace. Was it really that bad? Did you not love it, any of it?”
“Course I did. I saw things I never dreamed of. I did things I never thought anyone could do. It was mad and it was terrifying but it was brilliant.”
“And now you're running the biggest charity success of the century,” said the Doctor. “Helping kids, making a difference. It's fantastic. I bought this in one of your shops, you know,” she continued, pointing thumbs at her outfit.
“Well, I'm not taking responsibility for that.”
They sat in silence for a moment, collecting their thoughts.
“Did you really just come here to say sorry? After all this time?”
The Doctor looked sheepish. “Well... there is this thing I need blowing up, and you were always the expert at that, so...”
Dorothy flung her head back in exasperation. “I knew it! I knew there'd be something! It really is you, isn't it?”
“'Fraid so,” said the Doctor. “What do you say? One last adventure, for old times' sake? Meet my new mates, get your hands dirty for a change? Don't you miss that?”
“Of course. But I've got a whole other life now Doctor. I can't just drop everything.”
“And your life is brilliant, but sometimes, don't you just want to run headlong into it all again, just to see what happens? You were the bravest person I ever knew. I know that's still got to be true, or you wouldn't have done everything you've done. And I've missed you.”
Dorothy closed her eyes, the flood of memories sweeping over her again.
“OK, Professor. One last time.”
The Doctor smiled her huge smile again. She stood up and held her hand out.
“Come on, Ace. We've got work to do.”
When the umbrella appeared at the door, I thought how brilliant it would be if the current Doctor - number thirteen, as played by Jodie Whittaker - was the one holding it. How different would the interaction be between Ace and this new Doctor? Then the news hit that Sophie Aldred - Ace herself - was writing a novel featuring the Thirteenth Doctor and Ace, called At Childhood's End, which comes out in February.
So I wondered if there was really any point writing my own version of that meeting. But then, I realised, why not? So I put together this little thing, looking at Ace and the Doctor and the mysterious many lives of the characters after the original series ended. More of a vignette, really, but here it is. Happy birthday Bec. It's a little late, but not as late as the Doctor x
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