‘Ah, an existentialist.’ It’s fun in a different way from the rest of Season 24, furry dice in the Nosferatu cockpit excepted. The erudite guard who spouts lit crit like a PhD student is a neat subversion of the usual grunts, a joke that works on the superficial level of confounding audience expectations, and then on a fannish level for anyone who got The Unfolding Text reference (I only know because I’ve been told). I’ve half-jokingly compared Season 24 to Season 17 before, and while I wouldn’t die on that hill, I do think there’s a playful, witty strand in this that’s not a thousand miles from what Williams and Adams were up to.
Like Season 17, it’s not just jokes. Belazs, who might as easily have been a standard henchman (although played by Patricia Quinn that seems unlikely), is almost as surprising as the guard. I suppose she represents the future in store for Ace had she accepted Kane’s offer – another angry 16-year-old who took the sovereign and has become sour and desperate. But both Ace’s rejection of Kane and Kracauer remind her ‘even at 16 we had a choice.’ Her fate, foiled in her attempt to steal the Nosferatu, condemned by the Doctor (‘And as for you, your debt to Kane: I don’t think you’ll be able to pay it off. Ever’) and killed by the man who had ‘former feelings’ for her, is pretty grim.
Ace gets her ‘I was meant to be somewhere else’ soliloquy while Mel sits and listens. Bonnie Langford was probably thinking Mel got no character and Ace gets several – an unhappy childhood, an obsession with explosives, a conviction she belongs up among the stars, and a time storm that whisked her across the universe. Like Turlough, there’s a mysterious backstory here that’s rare in the classic series and is the first indication that Cartmel enjoys this kind of thing. In future series we’ll get the “Cartmel Masterplan” and Death Comes to Time trying to answer these questions. Time storm aside, though, you could equally accept it as a bit of fanciful teenage angst.
Next episode: Dragonfire – Part Three