Ace’s reaction to the Doctor’s new appearance isn’t unexpected, she understands regeneration, but wasn’t expecting somebody so different to her professor. There is a perfect contrast between the Seventh and Thirteenth Doctor’s, which works to highlight that while the Seventh Doctor was the master manipulator, manipulation is still a character trait the Doctor possesses. There is this great exchange between Ace and Yaz that really deconstructs the idea that while the Doctor is rarely the one who commits acts of violence, they are often a character who gets others to do it for them. Seeing the older Dorothy McShane, however, really shows how important the Doctor’s impact on Ace was. A Charitable Earth really does make a difference and works as both an international charity and a connection to UNIT, Torchwood, and Counter Measures, the three big secret government organizations of the Doctor Who Universe. There is almost an implication that Dorothy has run in with all three organization, bringing an older Ace and Captain Jack meeting into possibility. There’s also the continuation of Ace’s experimentation with explosives, refining her Nitro 9 into Nitro 90, and really using her inventions for good overall. There is a maturity to this Ace which only comes from the fact that this was a book written by the character herself, Sophie Aldred. It is a brilliant examination of who the character is and what motivates her own actions.
The author of At Childhood’s End is credited to Sophie Aldred, but Mike Tucker and Stephen Cole are also credited as authors on the title page (thought the copyright is exclusively Aldred’s). While there can only be speculation, I believe the contributions from Tucker and Cole are on specific continuity matters and perhaps assistance with the characterization of the current TARDIS team. There are quite a few references to other eras of the show including The Android Invasion, The Day of the Doctor, and Torchwood. The characterization of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor reflects much of the development that she has had in Series 12, still the easily excitable incarnation of the Doctor who cares deeply for her friends, but there is a certain unease about her. Once she reunites with Ace, she puts on a face of being incredibly happy to see her old friend, but there is an effect on her, perhaps a twinge of guilt and regret of everything she had to put Ace through. When trouble starts, she immediately puts these feelings aside and remembers why she travelled with Ace in the first place, because they make a good team. The dynamic between them is excellent and this portrayal of the Thirteenth Doctor is clearly intended to be performed by Whittaker, making it a bit of a shame that this is a book and not a television script.
Graham, Ryan, and Yaz all have their own parts to play as well with the novel’s 290-page count being used to great effect to ensure that each companion has something to do. The book is structured like a typical Seventh Doctor three-episode story, and each companion gets several subplots in helping with the main plot. Graham and Ryan perhaps have the best characterization as the novel’s main source of comic relief while Yaz is used as an almost reflection of Ace. There’s this moment late in the book where the Doctor gets Yaz back into the TARDIS just so that she could save her life, which is almost the reflection of Seven putting Ace in danger for his own ends. Graham also gets to be the caring grandfather and be given several subtle moments to shine outside of his comic relief with Ryan. The supporting characters are also excellent from conspiracy nut Kim Fortune, to astronaut Will Buckland, and Chantelle. Chantelle is actually the character Squeak who appeared in Survival and much of her life reflects the work of Andrew Cartmel, in watching someone’s life fall apart via Cat’s Cradle: Warhead and Warlock. The villain of the novel also works incredibly well as a foil for Ace’s charitable efforts, but as this novel has only been out for a few weeks I shall go no further in spoilers.
At Childhood’s End is not perfect, however, as the prose itself varies in quality. It starts off incredibly well, focusing solely on Ace as she investigates the various goings on with plenty of internal monologue. At the halfway point cracks begin to show, with several points of the book being encumbered with clunky dialogue and some descriptions that just feel out of place in a book like this. There is literally a reference to Anime eyes which just jolt you out of the narrative when you come across it, and honestly it takes down what should be a brilliant novel. Overall, At Childhood’s End proves that while the writing isn’t always the strongest Sophie Aldred is definitely a good storyteller, and the story it tells closes one chapter in Ace’s life. There is room for Aldred to write a follow-up if the ideas are there, as it is overall an engaging and enlightening read. 8/10.