Review: Doctor Who - Ace Adventures Box Set (PG) / Director: Chris Clough / Screenplay: Ian Briggs (Dragonfire), Graeme Curry (The Happiness Patrol) / Starring: Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, Sophie Aldred, Tim Barker, / Release Date: May 7th
It would be easy to start a review by asking if this is truly an ‘Ace’ box set. And then go on to prove that it is not Ace at all. Taking the micky out of 2 Entertain’s (now BBC Worldwide) penchant for giving box sets collective names has become an increasingly unrewarding past time.
This box set consists of two of the three remaining Sylvester McCoy stories: Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol. In Dragonfire we see the Doctor arrive on the planet Svartos, where he and Mel encounter an old friend – Sabalom Glitz and are joined by Ace, a teenage waitress with a love for explosives. For a lark they wander off to find the fabled Dragonfire treasure, all the time, the sinister Kane (ruler and all round psycho) watches on.
For many people this story marks the beginning of the return to form for Doctor Who. Three very important things happen in this story. The first is the introduction of Ace. A character that works perfectly with the Seventh Doctor and also brings new life to the role of companion. Secondly it marks the departure of Bonnie Langford, a woman so typecast (in the eyes of UK/hard core fans) that some people see her casting as an actual nail in the coffin of an ailing show rather than a wasted opportunity to use a talented actor to play against type. Either way, a Mel-free TARDIS was an improvement. Thirdly – we have a simply stunning melting face effect that left a lasting impression on any viewer in 1987.
It is far from perfect. The creature is overly lit and the – literal – cliff hanger moment has passed into fan lore as a low point of Doctor Who. Despite its faults, this is a magical story. Not exactly Doctor Who does Aliens, but it’s as close as the classic series ever got.
It could be argued that the reason to group The Happiness Patrol in with Dragonfire is that it could be the only way that people would actually buy it. A Harsh but financially sound piece of reasoning. While Dragonfire has a certain charm, fan reception of The Happiness Patrol is overwhelmingly negative. To understand this one simply had to remember that the week before this story aired we had the highly visual – and frankly cool – Remembrance of the Daleks. Which gave us a false sense of security. A rug that was firmly pulled out from fans feet when ‘it’ walked on screen.
A character so awful that it is often cited by old school fans as the worst thing in the history of Doctor Who.
Say it once and don’t look in a mirror.
Yes, the Kandyman is a travesty. A copyright breaking monster if ever there was one.
And so, with fresh eyes, I look once more on this story and hope that the sickly sweet taste won’t ruin my appetite.
The plot is intriguingly simple. Having heard rumours, the Doctor and Ace arrive on the planet Terra Alpha to topple the entire regime. In a single night! On Terra Alpha the population must display happy smiles. Anyone feeling remotely blue or glum disappears. Very quickly. This story had all the potential to be a classic from the very start. Here, we are shown a proactive, dark Doctor. A Doctor we came to love in later years
Much has been made of the allegorical nature of this story and how Helen A is Margret T or how painting the TARDIS Pink has a certain political message but all of these things get in the way of enjoying a classic tale just as much as the Basset Monster ever did.
So, yes this is the Ace Box set and yes it is Ace. Mostly.
Special Features: Both DVDs are very similar with commentaries – here the commentaries take a new direction by taking questions from fans of the story submitted via soundcloud/twitter. There are: deleted and extended scenes, Production subtitles, a Coming Soon Trailer (Death to the Daleks), the Radio Times listings and Making-of documentary for each story. There are also a couple of extra documentaries such as the one about explosive effects in Doctor Who and another in the series ‘The Doctor's Strange Love’. Across the set we also find "Ace" wishing Blue Peter Happy Birthday.