There are only two words to describe Sophie Aldred’s book, At Childhood’s End.
Okay, with that having been said, let’s back up a bit. I don’t remember the last fiction book that I read. I read a steady stream of comics for Geekorama.net and RPG materials for TheRatHole.ca, so for fiction books, I tend to go for the audio versions. That way I can listen when I’m on the go. More pertinent than just having limited time, is that some health issues in recent years have made focusing to read a novel frustratingly difficult. That wasn’t an option for me this time, so I was a tad bit nervous about whether I’d be able to get through this book in the time I needed to be finished it. I’m telling you this so you understand the context and significance of my next statement.
I have not burned through a novel this fast since Harry Potter finished 12 and a half years ago. Younger me probably would have finished this in a night, without a second thought. I loved every word.
For those who don’t know Sophie Aldred, she played Ace: one of the most popular and influential companions in the history of Doctor Who. Because Sylvester McCoy’s run as the Seventh Doctor ended the way it did, the circumstances of Ace’s departure from the TARDIS have never officially been revealed. In the years since then, her future-history has been written and rewritten in numerous media. But it was a throwaway line in the spin-off series Sarah Jane Chronicles that really set things in motion. It was mentioned that Ace had started the multi-million dollar charity organization A Charitable Earth, that’s it. From there she was asked to reprise her roll in an ad for the Doctor Who Season 26 Bluray set, and soon after agreed to write At Childhood’s End.
The plot is a beautifully woven tapestry that brings together Ace’s time with The Doctor, the continuing adventures of the current Doctor and her companions, easter eggs from classic who, at least one potential spoiler for next year’s Series 13, and possibly the foreshadowing of a mind-blowing reveal in later in Series 12 or 13. On top of all that she managed to take all of Ace’s non-cannon loose threads from the past 30 years and tie them all together seamlessly. Quite honestly, there is so much packed into this book that this is going to be short, to avoid as much actual plot as I can.
I can probably say it’s no secret that Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor and her Fam are a major part of the book (she’s on the cover for heaven’s sake). I’ve seen her show up in several other print stories, but I’ve yet to come across a portrayal as incredibly accurate as this. I would even say that some of this Doctor’s motivations are portrayed better here than some episodes of the tv show, and that carries through with every single character.
Again, without spoiling the whole thing, my favourite scene in the book isn’t some big action sequence, or even the above mentioned tying together of Ace’s different stories. My favorite scene is one that sheds a subtle light on one of Ace’s personality quirks. During their first meeting, Sylvester McCoy tells Ace not to call him “Professor”, she then proceeds to call him “Professor” for the remainder of their time together. That moniker continues when she’s dealing with the current Doctor, until she is alone with Yaz. During that conversation, Ace always uses “Doctor”. It shows that “Professor” clearly started as an act of defiance that grew into more of a pet name, but Ace still has the class to use “Doctor” when she’s in private (and The Doctor isn’t around to feign offence).
I’m just going to close this out by saying that I would do just about anything for this book to be made into a self contained mini-series for television. Make up for the year-long hiatus with no Christmas episode and run it daily from Christmas to New Years Day. If that’s too much to ask, can we at least get a multi-part audio production by Big Finish Audio? Seriously, whether you are a Classic Who fan or a New Who fan, this is a story you want to pick up and that you won’t want to put down.
At Childhood’s End will be available from Penguin Book as an audiobook (narrated by Sophie Aldred of course), ebook, or print book, everywhere on February 6, 2020.
BONUS: David had the chance to join the cast of the Legend of the Traveling Tardis Radio Show, and chat with Sophie Aldred herself!