The TARDIS lands on a suburban London street, and out walks a feisty young girl and our old alien hero. Sounds familiar, right? 2005 era Doctor Who springs to mind, an exciting, modern time and the beginning of the show as we now know it. But the groundwork for this kind of set up was being laid long before Russell T Davies got his hands on Doctor Who. The last story of the classic run, Survival planted seeds for the future and began shaping a new format.
Landing in Ace’s hometown, Perivale, The Doctor takes his companion to see her old friends. Watching the pair explore her home is heart warming and begins a theme often taken on in the new series- making Doctor Who relatable and centering it around the companions life. We meet friends and characters from her world, all rounded with hilarious dialogue and interactions. The importance of this translates into the show to this day, with great guest characters even getting their own audio spin offs. Intertwining the companions home life into a mystery is something Doctor Who does very well, and this story cements it as a key element for the future of the show and how to keep it relevant.
The stand out parts of this story come in the form of Ace. Superbly written by Munro, she takes us by the hand and leads us through the adventure. Guiding us and her friends through the cheetah world, we are shown how the companion can be just as much a hero as The Doctor. Strong female characters have become an essential part of the show , but the beginnings of the modern companion are forged in Ace. She’s firey, independent and doesn’t let anybody tell her what to do. Munro really focuses on this in Survival, leaving us to wonder what could have been had this not been the last story of the classic era.
Regularly getting split up from The Doctor, she’s brave and takes centre stage in saving everyone. Her relationship with Karra is an important portrayal of female characters and having it as a central plot point is way ahead of its time. Two female characters who are strong and feel a great connection for each other is the heart of the story here, and resonates well thanks to Munro’s incredible writing. It feels modern and sits well in today’s strong feminist world, a massive feat for a serial from 1989.
In Today’s Doctor Who, companions save the day and have whole story arcs surrounding them. They’re rounded and smart, kind and strong, and some are even black and gay. This incredible time we’re in for female characters in the show began somewhere, and the end of the classic run was in fact much more than and end. Rona Munro finished the classic series in the form of a much more modern outlook on the show, leaving it in actual fact, a beginning.