Doctor Who: At Childhood's End & The Cartmel/Chibnall Masterplans - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: At Childhood's End & The Cartmel/Chibnall Masterplans

Chris Morley has an Ace time.
In light of the recent announcement of Jodie Whittaker & indeed Chris Chibnall's exits from a divisive new era for Doctor Who, At Childhood's End feels strangely apt. Within the pages of the recently published novel, the trio of Sophie Aldred, Mike Tucker & Steve Cole revisit dark days for one of the Thirteenth Doctor's predecessors via various 1990s interludes retrospectively woven into the fabric of the New Series Adventures. In a sense, At Childhood's End provides an in-print post Survival continuation for the schemes of the little chap in the pullover, who, it was hinted, was in fact more than just another Time Lord. Notes of which, of course, have been abundant through the Timeless Child storyarc, but here the respective Cartmel & Chibnall master plans intersect.

Firstly, though, what was the Cartmel Masterplan?

It was to have been a new Doctor Who backstory developed primarily by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt, by which they intended to restore some of the mystery of the Doctor's background that had been lost through revelation of the existing back story. Although hints were dropped in the last two seasons, the proposed revelations never materialised on screen as Doctor Who was cancelled.

Stories such as Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis were intended to suggest that he was more powerful and mysterious figure than previously thought. The Cartmel Masterplan was then used as a guide for the subsequent Doctor Who: New Adventures novels licensed from the BBC and published by Virgin, and revelations about the Doctor's origins were written into the penultimate New Adventures novel, Lungbarrow (by Platt. However, these origins were ignored and even contradicted by the new TV series from 2005 onwards).

The Cartmel Masterplan would have added the Doctor as a figure to the founding of Gallifrey alongside Rassilon and Omega. Known as The Other, he was first mentioned explicitly in the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks by Aaronovitch as a shadowy figure in Time Lord history, one of the founding Triumvirate of Time Lord society after the overthrow of the cult of the Pythia that had, until then, dominated Gallifrey.

The Other was said to have powers surpassing that of Rassilon or Omega, and suggesting that he was not born on Gallifrey and a former version of the Doctor before he regenerated into The First Doctor. With Chris Chibnall known to be an old school Doctor Who fan, especially prominent when Andrew Cartmel was the producer of Doctor Who in the final days of the original series, it's not a stretch to suggest his Timeless Child-arc was inspired by this.
With the Seventh Doctor's era, perhaps, never so pertinent to current proceedings within Doctor Who, it feels rather congrouos that the Thirteenth Doctor should find herself having to confront the human consequence of her previous machination as she & her “fam” of current companions find themselves joining an old one during both parties' investigations of alien satellite activity around the Moon.

And that 'old one', of course, being Dorothy "Ace" McShane, played on screen by Sophie Aldred herself and a fan favourite companion within the series. Again, it's fitting that is is Aldred who guides this story along. At Childhood's End explores how Ace has come a long way since Perivale, now she's the reclusive head of A Charitable Earth with headquarters opposite UNIT's former base under the Tower of London, and concerns over Torchwood & the Counter-Measures Group's possible interest in her technology. A scheme of her own helped her get the funds for the whole enterprise (the Doctor's unwitting hand in which adds an interesting postscript to Tucker's Illegal Alien from the Past Doctor Adventures range).

Such clearing of the air forms the central part of At Childhood's End, with the Doctor's apparent manipulation of the girl who used to call her Professor coming back to both of them relatively soon after reintroduction by way of the shared memory of battles with the Daleks. But there's one final piece of engineering up the Time Lord's sleeve, begun by the man she was and unwittingly finished off by the woman she is now which will stop the plans of the latest major player on the board of Dorothy's life -  Halogi-Kari, an agent of the higher power who caused the time storm which brought Ace to Iceworld and into the next phase of the then relatively recently begun life of the Doctor as he picked up a first companion of his own choosing.

A lot has changed for Ace since then, which she realises long before she enters the TARDIS. Which itself has changed along with its thief, the latter quite significantly so! Ace meets the "fam" and takes a shine to Graham. Yaz, though, initially distrusts her. Logically, as most police officers might those who've manufactured explosives in the past! But there's common ground to be found as they get to discussing what it means to travel with the Doctor, with Yaz shocked by the apparent extent of the lies told to Ace.

Eventual reconciliation feels like a suitable pay-off, as does Dorothy taking her jacket off its peg and becoming the older, wiser Ace of the New Series Adventures once more. Using her own status as a child of time to save those taken just as she was way back when and prove herself to have risen above her past.

As will the Doctor herself in finally getting the chance to explain her initial plans for Ace to stay a few steps ahead of both Halogi-Kari and his paymaster, before a parting of the ways and a return to pondering the implications of the lofty status seemingly placed upon her, the initial embrace of it seemingly emboldening who she was before provoking a certain fear in her older self. With At Childhood's End adding an extra layer to a potential on-screen resolution for the Doctor herself, and perhaps the Chibnall Masterplan, before the coming of the next leading man or lady, and indeed the man or woman who is to shape the future direction of the series.

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