Monday, 2 February 2015

DW Companions as PCs: Ace

Mel leaves at the end of the twenty-fourth season. (Yes: twenty-fourth... suck on that, Supernatural). It didn't take long for the player to tire of her prissy and irritating former character, and she has already decided that her next one will be a teenager, yet one quite different from those in the early days of the game. This one will be aggressive and tough, injecting a bit of life into a campaign that's getting a bit long in the tooth.

After vacillating between two characters that broadly fit this concept, she settles on Dorothy McShane, almost universally known by her nickname of 'Ace'.

Ace is an immediate change from her predecessors, and is, along with Leela, one of only two female Action Hero companions. (Well, okay, one of three, if you count Sara Kingdom). On the character sheet, this is reflected with some decent skills in brawling and the use of simple hand weapons. Ace is clearly physically fit, and probably reasonably strong with it, if likely not in quite the same league as Leela. Most memorably, of course, she demonstrates this by attacking a dalek with a super-charged baseball bat, but there are a number of other scenes in which she comes off best in a fight. Her athletic ability also extends to swimming, as we see in Battlefield.

Her skills do not stop at athletics and combat, however. She can also drive, even though she's too young to do so legally, and prefers motorcycles. Judging from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, she also has a pretty good skill in motorcycle maintenance and repair, which likely extends to other mechanical tasks. She also seems, in The Curse of Fenric, to be surprisingly good at maths, and have at least a basic understanding of computing. And, while her other academic skills are probably not up to much, that clearly doesn't apply to Chemistry.

Ace, in fact, has been brewing home-made explosives from what must be quite an early age. She claims to have made gelignite, which isn't that easy to do, and, once in the future, has also managed to brew up something called Nitro-9 ("like nitroglycerin but with a bit more wallop") in her bedroom on a space station. Her crafting skills show up again in her ability to make what are effectively grenades carrying this stuff, although she doesn't seem to have quite got the hang of the fuse lengths.

Nitro-9 is, as the 7th Doctor Sourcebook indicates, a bit of a problem in game. Going around blowing up the opposition isn't really in the style of the show, and, here, it's notable that Ace doesn't really do that. On most occasions, she uses explosives to get through barriers of some kind, and she likely has an aversion to actually killing her opponents. (Unlike Leela, it should be noted). In her hands, they are more of a tool than a weapon, and some skill in Demolitions - knowing where to place charges, for instance - is likely justified if your system of choice is detailed enough.

Her social skills are not the greatest, although at least she isn't handicapped by a particularly low Charisma, and she manages to bond quickly with people who have a similar sense of adventure. With everyone else, she is somewhat obstreperous, although she has a habit of using childish insults like "bog-breath" rather than actually swearing at people. (Funny, that). Another point to bear in mind while playing her is that she usually refers to the Doctor by the nickname "Professor"... but that when she's under genuine stress or danger, she switches to his real title.

What of her background, though? Ace was born, according to Ghost Light, in 1970, in the west London suburb of Perivale. She evidently comes from a broken home, although the details are never really spelled out, and hates her real name. She doesn't appear to have any close relatives other than her parents, although we do know that her maternal grandmother died in 1973, and that her mother was an only child.

At any rate, Ace is obviously quite uncontrollable from at least the age of thirteen onwards, getting into a number of serious scrapes culminating in her being expelled from school after blowing up the art room. It's shortly after this that she ends up being catapulted through time, and eventually meeting the Doctor. She is sixteen by this point, although pretending to be a couple of years older, and her personality is still clearly shaped by both a deeply rebellious nature and a desire for adventure. She's a little older and calmer by the time the series ends... but not a lot.

Ace retains her '80s sense of fashion, usually dressing in leggings and T-shirt under a black bomber jacket festooned with badges. The badges, in fact, give some further clue to her interests. In addition to those associated with biking, or with plays on the word 'Ace', she has a number of patches relating to Space Shuttle flights, indicating an early fascination with space travel. She also supports Charlton Athletic, possibly just to be difficult, since the ground is nowhere near Perivale, and appears to be a fan of Gerry Anderson and Thunderbirds. (She also has a couple of Blue Peter badges... did she really earn them?)

I normally finish these posts by explaining how the companion concerned eventually left the Doctor, what little we know of their life afterwards, and how it might be possible to use an older version of the character as an NPC, or even PC, in your games. With Ace, however, we have an obvious problem: we don't see her leave.

At the end of the final episode of the classic series, Survival Part 3, we see Ace and the Doctor walking back to the TARDIS, discussing how much there still is for them to do. When we next see the Doctor, in the 1996 TV movie, he is travelling alone, and Ace isn't mentioned either then, or in the modern series.

It is ambiguously implied in The Sarah Jane Adventures, that, by 2010, Ace has returned to Earth and is, for some inscrutable reason, the head of an international charity. On the other hand, the producers of classic Doctor Who itself had toyed with the idea of her maturing enough under the Doctor's tutelage to eventually join the Time Lord Academy, but the cancellation ensured that that story never got anywhere near to being scripted, let alone made.

So, from TV at least, we know nothing concrete. Evidently, Ace travels with the Doctor for some time after the events of Survival, and this is surely one of the most obvious gaps in the Doctor's personal timeline into which to insert our own adventures. But, if we want to get some sort of even semi-official answer to Ace's fate, we have to turn to the spin-off media.

Which, unfortunately, give us at least three different answers, depending on the medium we're talking about. According to the comics, she is eventually killed while attempting to blow up a hostile alien. The audio plays featuring Ace and the Seventh Doctor are still ongoing, with no departure in sight. Which leaves only the books.

These do, at least, provide an answer that's internally consistent, if not necessarily so with any of the rival spin-offs. According to the 1992 novel Love and War, Ace eventually falls out with the Doctor, and leaves him to live in the 26th century (where the story is set). While there, she joins the military, basically becoming a space marine.

Having worked out her issues with the Doctor, she re-joins him in the 1993 novel Deceit. She is, by this point, a battle-hardened combat veteran, three years older, with a string of ex-boyfriends, and a great wodge of firearms/blaster-gun skills to add to what she already had. Plus, of course, all the other stuff an interstellar military force is likely to teach you. (Just to confuse matters, this version of Ace is the one that appears in the audio plays Shadow of the Scourge and The Dark Flame, rather than the usual audio version of the character).

Several more novels follow, before Ace leaves for the second, and final, time in the 1995 novel Set Piece. She is 26 by this point, has acquired a time-travelling motorbike and has finally decided that she is old enough to be setting out for adventures on her own. She does make brief appearances in future novels, and, at a real stretch it's just about possible to imagine that most of the audio plays featuring her represent some even later, third, period of travel with the Doctor. (Indeed, it's worth noting that, if you count licensed novels and audio plays alongside TV broadcasts, Ace appears in more stories than any other televised companion). But, essentially, if we do go with this particular version of events, she's surely ready-made for a recurring NPC, a party patron, or even a player character in a time-travelling game without the Doctor.

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