Film, TV & Animation
Sophie Aldred as the fiesty Ace
Doctor Who: Ace visitor in Norwich
By Martin Barber
Actress Sophie Aldred, a former companion to Doctor Who, was in Norwich on Saturday, 2 February, 2008 to meet fans of the cult television sci-fi drama. She talked about fighting the Daleks, a love of meeting fans and her passion for Norfolk.
Doctor Who fans enjoyed a treat at the weekend when actress Sophie Aldred materialised in Norwich to make a special guest appearance.
In the late 1980s, Sophie starred in nine stories across two seasons of the classic series as Ace, companion to the seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy.
The 46-year-old mother-of-two now spends her time working as a voice-over artist, in addition to appearing at Doctor Who conventions around the world and recording new Doctor Who audio adventures with Big Finish.
Now living in London, Sophie admits that she's almost a Norfolk girl.
Sophie Aldred in Norwich
Having holidayed in the county for many years, she married her husband in Walsingham and returns as much as possible to visit family and spend time on the north Norfolk coast.
The Doctor and Ace
The Doctor first met Ace in the story Dragonfire, where she was working as a waitress on the planet Svartos after being plucked from her home in Perivale by a freak time storm.
She had a rebellious streak and aptitude for explosives, the result of a troubled upbringing.
Ace matured considerably during her travels with the Doctor. Their last adventure together was in Survival on the planet of the cheetah people, an episode which saw the classic series draw to a close in 1989.
In an exclusive interview with BBC Norfolk, Sophie talked to Martin Barber about her memories of Doctor Who, accosting Christopher Eccleston on the streets of London and her love of meeting fans.
MB: Were you a fan of Doctor Who before you auditioned for Ace, or was it just a job and you were in need of work?
SA: When I went for the audition I was in the back row of the chorus in Fiddler On The Roof up in Manchester so for me it was a big deal 'cause it was TV. I'd never been in a TV studio, I'd never been up for any TV parts before.
I got there and I remember reading the bit of script I was going to do at the audition and I had this funny feeling, it was very much like me – my kind of thing.
I read it and thought, 'That was a waste of money coming down from Manchester to read for 10 minutes,' and went back up. Then I got a recall and though much the same thing.
I thought, 'Why would they choose somebody who's not got any experience,' – but how wrong could I be.
MB: Ace was quite a departure for a Doctor's assistant. Until then they'd always been a bit glam, girlie, lots of screaming - whereas you were like the Just William of the companions.
SA: You couldn't have said a nicer thing. I was a real tomboy when I was growing-up. I really understood the character of Ace.
Twenty years ago there were no equivalent young female roles on television who were doing realistic, down-to-earth, tomboyish things.
I think there was Susan Tully on EastEnders, but I can't think of any others – so it was very exiting for me to do that part and get such great feedback from the public about having somebody realistic to see on the screen.
Still now I meet women who say, 'You were such a hero of mine. I loved the way you were so strong,' and all that sort of thing – so I'm very proud to have played a character like that.
Ace and the Doctor ready for the Daleks
MB: You were in Remembrance Of The Daleks, working with Norfolk's Terry Molloy as Davros. Were you glad to get a storyline featuring the Daleks?
SA: Yeah, it was my first real outing as the assistant. I don't think I'd have considered myself to have done my Doctor Who days if I hadn't come up against the Daleks.
I remember this massive explosion that the visual effects department did under Waterloo Bridge. They set up these explosives, but unfortunately I don't think they'd done the usual warnings to the police.
The day we did it, it was the anniversary of Easter Sunday and the troubles. Twenty years ago that was still quite fresh in people’s minds. So when this almighty explosion went off it was extraordinary.
Smoke was billowing out of these tunnels and the police, we could hear the sirens coming, and they jumped out of their cars and then the smoke cleared and these Daleks appeared from under the bridge – can you imagine the police faces as the Daleks came out.
And my real claim to fame is that I beat up a Dalek with a baseball bat! Nobody had ever done that and nobody has done it since. It was really amazing to do that stunt sequence.
MB: You're going out to Los Angeles later this month for a big Doctor Who convention. Do you enjoy doing the convention circuit, or does it get a bit wearing?
SA: One of the wonderful thing about doing the conventions is that you get to meet up with all your mates and there's also this Doctor Who family. The family of actors who've been in the series and we all get on together incredibly well.
We do these conventions together and it's just a joy to see people. The Doctor Who assistants are very interesting. We're all very different characters, we've all brought something very different to the series - it's a very close relationship we seem to have because of this show.
I'm now delighted a number of the fans who I first met have grown up and are now writing, helping and doing their own stuff for the present series.
Gary Russell is script editor who I met years ago when he was editing Doctor Who magazine, Nick Briggs, who I knew when he was interviewing on fan videos, is now head of Big Finish and doing the Dalek voices and all sorts.
MB: Colours on the mast time - Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant – whose camp are you going to fall into?
SA: I couldn't possibly dare to say. I've worked with David doing one of the Big Finish CDs and I knew just straight away how talented he was.
You just meet somebody sometimes and you think, 'Wow, he's got something this guy.' Apart from being incredibly good looking, of course!
I was pregnant at the time so hormonally it was quite interesting. It was wonderful to work with David and I knew then he had an extraordinary talent.
Christopher Eccleston - I have loved his work. Weirdly enough I bumped into him in the street about six months ago and accosted him – for about five minutes he thought I was a fan, but was very, very nice.
Then the penny dropped and we stood on the pavement just outside BBC Broadcasting House for about 20 minutes just not being able to stop talking. I was trying to persuade him to come to conventions, but he wasn't having any of it sadly.
Ace and the Doctor in the TARDIS
As for their performance – I don't think you can compare a Doctor.
I think you always have a fondness for the Doctor you grew up with, so mine was Jon Pertwee into Tom Baker, then of course there's my Doctor, Sylvester McCoy and then there's these two new ones.
They're all as different as each other and are all amazing people and actors.
MB: How excited were you when you heard the series was coming back?
SA: At first I though, 'Yeah we've heard it all before' – then I heard it was Russell T Davies and I thought, 'He's the man.' He’s the kind of god of all things television really.
I adore everything he's done on TV. I loved Queer As Folk, I loved The Second Coming and I knew he was a great Doctor Who fan, so it was safe.
You really needed somebody like that. Somebody who is an extremely talented writer, a complete television nutcase, a crazy Doctor Who fan who is passionate about the show.
I can't think of anyone else who could have brought it back and make it appeal to the fans and this new generation of children and family viewing.
It's just amazing and I'm so, so delighted that it's back and wish it would go on and on and on.
MB: Is there a hankering to be back in it? To get the call that says they need Ace back?
SA: I'd love it, it would be so exciting.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane say goodbye
I'd love to have another go at some point, but I can see it was totally right that Lis went back to do her bit and I'm so delighted for her that she's going on to do the Sarah Jane Adventures.
I think it so fantastic for children to have an older female role model – where else can you find that. An exciting, adventurous older woman on children's telly, it's so brilliant.
I thought the episode that she did [School Reunion], the story summed it up for all the assistants.
I was in buckets of tears by the end as it very much represented what all the assistants felt about the Doctor and the series – it said it all really.
Doctor Who Easter treat
A new Doctor Who Exhibition is set to materialise at Earls Court, London from Easter 2008.
The exhibition, situated in the Museum Halls beneath the venue, will be the largest ever Doctor Who display in the UK.
Visitors will be able to get up close to props, costumes, monsters and creatures from all the latest episodes of the show, including Voyage Of The Damned.
Costumes and props from Series Four will be added once they've been seen on TV.
Tickets for the exhibition will go on sale from Monday, 18 February, 2008. Visit the official Doctor Who website's news pages for more details.
last updated: 17/04/2008 at 12:04