ACE OF HEARTS
|This story is a fairly typical example of some of the pieces that were
published in the BBC's Short Trips anthologies. Admittedly, More
Short Trips is worse, but I can't bring myself to read those stories again to
gain a critical appraisal of them. I feel that Steven Cole's decision to go for as
many stories as possible, of varying lengths (but mostly minimal), has led to a drop
in quality. Even the longer stories are only about 20 pages, which means there's not
enough length to develop a decent storyline. What's important in Doctor Who
is the storytelling, and you can't tell a story without enough words. Most of the
More Short Trips stories are over before they even begin, leading to a general
feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Some are little more than one page
character vignettes, which achieve nothing. We're back in Brief Encounters
Virgin's Decalog collections were much more worthwhile, usually with stories of 30 to 40 pages. There were some duff stories certainly - those written by Howe, Stammers and Walker spring to mind - interesting to note that they didn't commission stories from themselves in their second collection - but overall the quality was good, and most of the stories felt as if something had happened in them.
Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but it had to be said. Anyway, back to Ace of Hearts. This is only a few pages in length, and nothing much happens. It represents the other major failing of the Doctor Who short story - it picks up on something that happened in a TV episode, and would therefore make no sense to someone who wasn't already a fan. It's not a proper story for that reason, because it requires the reader to come to it with background information already acquired from another source. I personally don't think the BBC should be publishing bad fan fiction in a professional anthology. Let's hope the next editor has more of an eye for stories, and less for the fan-wanky gimmickry.
The big irony of Ace of Hearts is that, in their desire to be all clever and continuity-referencing, the authors have completely missed the point of what happens in The Curse of Fenric. If you haven't read it, Ace of Hearts is set at a time when Ace is still a baby. It features Kathleen Dudman, Ace's grandmother, organizing a reunion of Wrens, and hiring a peculiar magician as the entertainment. He seems a bit familiar, and of course he turns out to be the seventh Doctor. He has come to this time to see the baby Ace, and apologize to her for the trauma he put her through, because he can't apologize to the grown-up Ace. And that's the whole story...
Leaving aside the paucity of the plot, I am just staggered by this idea of Kathleen Dudman being Ace's grandmother. Sure, she turned out to be Ace's biological grandmother, but Ace didn't know that. She sent Kathleen off to her grandmother's house in Streatham, so that she could take baby Audrey to escape the Haemovores, unwittingly saving her own mother in the process. I'm not surprised that Ace didn't recognize her mother as a baby, but are they seriously trying to suggest that Ace wouldn't recognize her own grandmother, even as a young woman? Hasn't she seen any family snapshots? And wouldn't she know her grandmother's name was Kathleen Dudman? The point is, we don't know what happened to Kathleen Dudman. Maybe she was killed - there was a war on after all. All we can infer from The Curse of Fenric is that she got the baby to Streatham, whereupon Audrey must have been adopted by the woman whom Ace knew as her grandmother. We'll never know the precise circumstances, and of course it doesn't matter. That's another story.
What matters is that Kathleen Dudman was not the grandmother Ace knew - The Curse of Fenric just wouldn't make sense otherwise. So it seemed to me that Perry and Tucker built an entire story around a misconception. Which would be amusing if it wasn't for the fact that the vast majority of fandom seem to have the same misconception, and it's crept into some other spin-off material over the years. It crops up quite frequently on internet forums, usually someone asking how come Ace didn't recognize her grandmother. And it's interesting to see various theories come up, and quite often people swear blind that they wouldn't recognize their grandmother forty years earlier, that they never knew their grandmother's maiden name, etc. Well, maybe not, but I'd say they were the exception rather than the norm. After all, Ace knows the address that her grandmother lived at in the 40s, and is sure she will look after Kathleen and the baby, implying that she knows both the woman, the house and the family history pretty well. I still think my interpretation is the best, and I'm convinced it's what the original author intended.