Heritage is a lot like Dust. They're dead-end frontier planets at the arse end of nowhere in the distant future, populated by a handful of sad loners. They resemble the Wild West, with few natural resources and no law or civilisation except that which their inhabitants make for themselves. Which isn't to say that Dale Smith's novel is anything like Interference, but it's interesting to see that in the 21st-century Doctor Who is at last starting to do Westerns rather more wholeheartedly than it did in The Gunfighters.
This isn't a Western in the cliched gunslinger sense, but instead something rather more historically faithful (despite the fact that it's set in the 61st century). Heritage's cast is a hodge-podge of ill-matched characters who came out for the gold rush... er, actually for Thydonium mining. A cast run-down might make Dale Smith sound like Stephen Wyatt (a cyber-armed Geordie, a talking dolphin called Bernard, etc.) but in fact Heritage is a very measured piece of storytelling from someone with a distinguished theatre background. The high concept characters aren't gag machines, but people. The cast all gets room to breathe and grow into three dimensions, and the story is serious and poignant rather than daft or wacky.
This is a fine book with one flaw: the Doctor. Dale Smith has a good take on the 7th Doctor (both McCoy's interpretation and how he's evolved since), but here he turns him into a brooding stick-in-the-mud who's having second thoughts about interfering. Up to a point, that's fair enough. There's a good reason for it (in fact a great reason). That's the story the author wants to tell... but still I felt that the Doctor's moping went on too long. Let's face it, we all know that our hero will eventually get his arse in gear. The 7th Doctor is prone to the odd crisis of conscience, but this particular bout of introspection gets dragged out for a good hundred pages longer than necessary.
That aside, the regulars are well done. In particular there's one peculiarity with this TARDIS crew which I think Dale Smith might have been deliberately exploiting. The 7th Doctor and Ace have appeared in so many different media in so many contradictory stories that they've almost become Schrodinger's regulars, a kaleidoscope of fragmented alternatives rather than straightforward icons as with most of the other Doctors and companions. Even on TV you've got McCoy's Season 24 characterisation as against the later Cartmel-inspired developments and the TVM. You've got the DWM comic strip, at first dovetailing with the NAs and then breaking away with Ground Zero. You've got New Ace. You've got the PDAs and the revisionism of Perry-Tucker, Darvill-Evans and more. You've got Gale versus McShane. It's a whirling maelstrom of contradictory Doctors and Aces, and at times Dale Smith seems to reference them all. Since these days the back covers merely say "This adventure features the Seventh Doctor and Ace", I had extreme difficulty working out where chronologically this book was supposed to fit.
Take Ace. p113 foreshadows Ground Zero and/or Prime Time. There's rather nice reference to Survival and Ace's history as a Cheetah Person, suggesting that Heritage follows straight on from the TV stories, but then p186 makes you think of New Ace. Eventually p271 nails it with an explicit Storm Harvest reference ("the last time she'd met a Cetacean"), but for me the uncertainty of the preceding pages added a certain frisson to the character.
(Incidentally, Bernard the talking dolphin is merely picking up a Perry-Tucker development. The Cetaceans appeared in Storm Harvest, complete with spider-legged mechanical walkers and a fondness for smoking cigars through their blowhole. However you'll remember Bernard long after Storm Harvest's Krill-fodder have slipped from your memory. In a book populated by some magnificently self-deluding bad guys, Bernard stands out as the no-contest winner of the award for Most Fucked-Up Dolphin In A Doctor Who Story.)
The Doctor is interestingly done. He's powerfully described - almost too powerfully at times, but the text mostly steers clear of groanworthiness. (Random note: p108 is not inconsistent with and may even be deliberately reminiscent of Kevin Clarke's conceit for Silver Nemesis that the Doctor was God.) However it also picks up on Sylvester's notion of the Doctor as an ancient character, weighed down by memories and all the bad things he's seen. It's an interesting experiment, though it wears out its welcome in this book alone. I trust this isn't set to become the latest characterisation fad. But having said all that, if I'd known from the beginning that Heritage comes soon after Prime Time then I'd have had no problems with it. The Doctor's development here is slap in line with Prime Time's epilogue, though Dale Smith makes only the most oblique reference to it. There's also a plot twist that makes us compare this older 7th Doctor with his more carefree Season 24 self, so in the end I admit that this is a fine, thought-provoking portrayal of the Doctor.
It's interesting to note, incidentally, that the Seventh Doctor PDAs seem to have been more interested in exploring their hero's character than Virgin's NAs were. I've always felt that the NA Doctor evolved largely by accident, being shaped by cock-ups, caricatures and bad characterisation. The better writers simply found themselves exploring the direction in which the character was being taken, like it or not. Occasionally the books even passed direct comment upon it. The results were interesting and virtue grew out of necessity, but many of the McCoy PDA authors have had specific things to say about the regulars they've chosen to work with.
The setting is a strong one, and I liked the use it makes of continuity. There are references, but Dale Smith almost always *does* something with them. Adjudicators in the 61st century made my eyebrows go up... but then p180 gives this a twist. A minor aspect of The Invisible Enemy gets revisited and turned into important background.
Oh, and Heritage's economy is so small that it doesn't even have money. Instead it's a favour-barter system. I liked that too.
Sometimes the best characters are the smallest ones. I loved Arabella the raven, and the Fussies are cool as all hell. I like the way the Doctor and Ace ride into town rather than simply materialising in the TARDIS, though I can't work out for the life of me why they put themselves to all that trouble. It's not as if the 7th Doctor ever had trouble steering his time machine. And I *love* what's underground, which is deeply symbolic of what happened up top. You'll see what I mean.
On the downside, I saw the big revelation coming well in advance... and I'm not normally the kind of person who guesses this kind of thing. In fact, I guessed it so far ahead that I'd almost forgotten about it again by the time the truth was revealed. But this isn't a book about excitement and plot twists, so that's okay.
This is a deliberately small-scale novel, guaranteed to disappoint anyone looking for space opera and bug-eyed monsters. The secret isn't what you expect, or what we'd normally see in Doctor Who. Occasionally the author's choices got in the way for me, but I suppose that's partly my fault in bringing my Doctor Who expectations to the table rather than simply appreciating the book I'd bought. (The misleading cover doesn't help; whoever created that is on drugs.) I call this a well-written story with much to recommend it. I wouldn't at all mind seeing a second book from Dale Smith.
If you are one of those readers who complains about "angst-ridden" books, stay away from this one. Doom and gloom is the name of the game on Heritage, not just for the inhabitants but also for an ultra-melancholy Doctor and Ace. The revelation as to why everyone is down in the dumps comes as a genuinely surprising twist (for this reader at least, how long can you avoid the spoiler?), although it does little to lighten the mood. It often seems as though the entire novel is the café scene from Remembrance of the Daleks writ large, with characters endlessly mulling over the choices life throws at them, and the consequences of their actions.
This is very much a mood piece, although Smiths attempts at being portentous occasionally slip into some pretentious writing. This is a novel where no sooner does the Doctor look at someone than we are treated to a lecture on his god-like presence, and this over-use slightly scuppers the effect - it is far better for us to see the Doctors abilities in effect rather than simply be told about them. The author also has an annoying stylistic trait of trying to have the best of both worlds by peppering the narrative with numerous "Perhaps it was because of x. Or perhaps instead it was really x..." sentences which smack of padding and eventually make the reader begin to doubt if the author himself knows his characters motivations.
Away from style the story itself suffers from a major credibility flaw. Central to the plot is the ridiculous notion that mankind will have mastered inter-stellar colonisation (with all the faster than light/wormhole space travel that implies) before being able to master cloning, a technology that humanity has already realized on animals at the time of writing. If you can swallow this notion though the rest of the novel passes harmlessly enough.
Ultimately the novels strengths are in its wrong-footing of the readers expectations. People and animals missing? Bodies disappearing under the ground? Why its Frontios all over again - and look there's even the gaping jaws of some monster on the cover! Whether this is deliberate or not I am unsure, but its only on closer inspection you realise that those "gaping jaws" are really just a hole in the ground, as the story remains resolutely monster free. Like the reader, Ace is busy looking for non-existent aliens to fight, only to face the more difficult confrontation of the monstrous in human nature. As fans we bring our preconceptions of what constitutes a typical Who story to the table, and its good to sometimes be served an unexpected dish.
Could this be the nadir of Doctor Who fiction? I certainly think so. A Doctor Who book has never wound me up so much in all my years of emmersing myself in those imaginative words!!! Judging the book on its cover (which I so often, much to my bitter disapointment, do) i was expecting a real chiller. The black and white effect has often been a favourite of mine and add to it the surreal effect of the little girl staring up at the 'camera' with the big horrible teeth thigny coming out of the sand behind her...brrr...I just knew this was going be a treat.
Huh, yeah right.
I will already admit that I didn't finish the last eighty pages so I cannot comment on the ending but I have to write this to warn all you respectable readers out there to steer clear of this travesty. Forget Divided Loyalties, forget Warmonger, this is the WORST book published under the Doctor Who banner.
What could possibly be the reason for all this hatred I hear you ask, especially when you usually trip under your tongue to praise anything under the BBC books banner? All I ask for in a book is to be kept interested, that's all, a simple thing that even the worst of Who authors have managed. In the first 100 pages of Heritage NOTHING happens. I mean nothing. The Doctor and Ace arrive on Heritage, its a dried up old Western cliche of an alien town and they meet the locals. The Doctor is in his New Adventures contemplative mood and Ace is horrified that he doesn't want to have adventures and solve the mysteries of Heritage (which is...umm some horses have vanished). Hardly thrilling stuff is it? if it had been confined to the first chapter, that would be fine but this spit of a synopsis is stretched to the first eight or so chapters! Theres a brief assasination attempt on the Doc but even thats tediously predictable.
To make matter worse dale Smith seems to think we should privvy to every though rattling around in his characters heads. The seventh Doctor and Ace had a good run in the NA's so to hear they're every thought about their lives together, re-hashing so much of the past is hardly thrilling. Ace, in particular grates in this book, giving us a step by step account of everything she does in her head and then spends six paragraphs taking us through the consequences. There was several whole pages of exposition of what was going on in her head. I just wished shed do something!
There's even a gay subplot, talk of incest and a talking Dolphin who kills people...how can somebody make these things boring? To Mr Smiths advantage he has obviously thought his characters character out well (if you know what i mean) but he just fails to do anything with them.
The prose is okay, there are some nice descriptions here and there but the the tone of the piece is so dry and insipid I just couldn't draw into this world he has created. I hate it when writers repeat things as though we didn't understand in the first place and his constant whining about the sand getting everywhere (it laces the buildings, gets in the water, goes down your top...). Yes we get it, it is a desert planet and it is sandy and hot. And there were several scenes that began with 'The Doctor walked in the sweltering heat with the brim of his hat low...' It just strikes me as sloppy and that due to a serious lack of plot it was all he could do.
Ooh dear aren't I being nasty? Was there anything good about Heritage...not really. There was one moment where I thought some tension might arise when the people of Heritage start talking about bumping of the Doctor but it just comes to nothing. And the less I say about the terrible characterisation of the Sherrif, the better.
To top it off this actually reveals the fate of an ex-companion, a potentially glimmering moment amongst all the tedium but once again nothing is done with this plot. Its a nice surprise but then it seems forgotten about. And the indentidy of the little girl on the cover is OBVIOUS!
I shant go on. I threw Heritage out my second story window leading to the proclamation "That's 5.99 down the drain!" from Simon so I picked it up and put on my bookshelf. I scowl everytime I spot the spin. Thankfully its grey and doesnt stick out too much.
Seriously folks don't waste your time or money.
The seventh Doctor and Ace have long been my favourite Doctor-Companion combination; on television, in print and on audio the depth of their relationship was - and continues to be - explored far more thoroughly than that between any Doctor and previous companion in the series. Benny Summerfield and Charley Pollard owe a lot to Time's Champion and Dorothy. And though many would say that this particular couple have been done to death, I for one, am always glad to see them return.
Dale Smith is a newcomer to the series, and here he gives us a western, done Doctor Who style: the setting is a small, decaying township set on the barren and foreboding mining planet Heritage, complete with its own saloon, sheriff and jailhouse. Hightailing it into town one fateful day come two troublemaking strangers: the Doctor and Ace.
To say the setting is well conveyed is an understatement. Smith's descriptive passages are wonderfully evocative, and he shows a quite dazzling display of wordplay, constantly presenting new and original ways of bringing over the location, the characters and the foreboding atmosphere. Indeed, if one word could be used to describe the entire book, it could only be "atmospheric." There is a chilling feeling throughout the early passages of something being out there - a dark secret that the inhabitants are keeping from the Doctor. At first I, like Ace, was looking in completely the wrong direction; at one point I thought this book was going to be a sequel to Frontios. The build up to the book's revelations is compelling, and the considerable anticipation of the coming storm is well catered for when the truth is revealed.
Characterisation is equally strong. To say that a talking dolphin comes over as one of the most dangerously unpredictable characters the Doctor has ever come up against says a lot for Smith's ability to portray a quite ridiculous concept with deadly and convincing sincerity. The passions, insecurities and fantasies of the supporting characters are so well drawn that the initial slowness of the plot is excusable as the lives and motivations of the story's players are fascinating in their own right, and each and every one of them has its own relevance to the storyline. The character of Cole is particularly familiar, I feel, representing that little voice inside all of us that reminds us of opportunities missed in life.
The Doctor and Ace seem to be in transition; collectively the other PDAs and the audio adventures feel like an epilogue to the television series, a 'season 28.' This book seems to bridge the gap between those stories and the Virgin New Adventures. The Doctor spends the early part of the narrative contemplating on his manipulative actions. For once, we really gain some insight into the Doctor's mind, and it seems to be here that he makes the decision to continue his meddling ways: to become Time's Champion. Ace can see this change happening in the Doctor, and indeed it is she who encourages him to become involved. The major plot device involves an event which the Doctor could avert using the TARDIS, something Ace is keen for him to do, while the Doctor isn't so sure. Again, it's all wonderfully sketched, and even painted, into the reader's consciousness.
Taking the book as a whole, it's an easily read, enthralling piece of fiction. The clues and baits laid down for the reader early on give rise to a satisfying pay off and a real sense of closure by the conclusion. Yes, it's true, the seventh Doctor and Ace have been done to death by now; but once more for the fans doesn't hurt.