Well, that’s more like it – a story that lives up to its reputation. I’d heard that this one contained high emotion and huge revelations, and it didn’t disappoint in the end, although at one stage I was a little bit worried that it was going the way of Ghost Light. I was enjoying the WW2 ambience and Nicholas Parsons being Nicholas Parsons, but I was growing impatient for the revelatory action to start, and frustrated that we were once again being kept in the dark about what was going on.
But then all of a sudden Ace berates The Doctor for exactly this reason, he starts to open up, and everything kicks up a gear, building up beautifully to the cliffhanger of Fenric finally showing up. The emotional stakes were already high, after the scene where we learn that Kathleen has lost her husband had nearly made me cry. Plus the bastards killed off Nicholas Parsons. Add to this the talk of The Doctor not knowing if he has a family, and suddenly you begin to view this season as a prelude to the first new series.
This is particularly true in terms of the companion’s role. It’s becoming increasingly common for Ace to drive the plot, or at least be just as central to it as The Doctor, and it’s only a few steps away from the decision to have Rose be the first character we meet when the show returned. We know far more about her than any previous companion – those with longer tenures may have had a lot of biographical material filled in, but the stuff we learn about Ace runs deep, and it really matters. In this story alone, we see her familiar danger-seeking and caring sides, but also as a petulant child screaming about hating her mum, a lovestruck teenager, and a sexually-confident woman of the world. So much internal conflict boiling up inside this extraordinary character.
Another very modern thing to do is to shed new light on specific past adventures, and it could be said that Fenric commands the original Bad Wolves. To the casual viewer, the final episode may well have been slightly baffling, but as an avid fan it was brilliant storytelling. The reveal that Fenric was the one who brought Ace and The Doctor together was one thing, but seeing The Doctor forced to assassinate her character in such a cruel and horrible way was completely gripping. The whole final episode was edge of the seat stuff.
The show is doing the same thing to us as happens to Ace – pushes us to the limits of our faith in The Doctor, but when all’s said and done we just end up with more reasons to love him. Like I say, the secrecy surrounding his motives was beginning to irritate me, but seeing him risk everything and claw victory from the jaws of defeat seemed like a cathartic climax to this thread, and it was all worth it.
With Ace’s secrets revealed too, and the bond between them stronger than ever, now’s the time to remove the shackles and really let these magnificent characters fly. What’s that? There’s only one story left? Shit. I really want there to be more Classic Who than there is.