"Birthright" is an unusual little book. It checks in at a bantamweight 216 pages, made up of short chapters and choppy sentences. It was the first New Adventure to omit the Doctor entirely, apart from very brief passages at the beginning and end. The author was Nigel Robinson, former editor of the DW novelizations range, writing his second and final NA. It's part of a brief 2-book detour (not an arc), and yet drops lots of hints about the Doctor himself; introduces a potential recurring character; and shows the Doctor at his darkest and most manipulative. 9 years later, does "Birthright" still hold up?
I really enjoyed "Birthright" when it was published. I enjoyed the way that the Doctor's fingerprints were allowed to remain all over the action, even when he was offscreen. I enjoyed the new character Muldwych, who seems to have an intimate connection with the Doctor. He wears the same blue Roman ring favored by the first Doctor, and much of his dialogue is recycled from the TV episodes. I enjoyed the way the first 100 pages were anchored by new companion Benny, who in 1993 was still a novelty act.
This time around, however, I'm afraid that "Birthright"'s technical faults grabbed my attention more than the story. Benny, whose character was never really firmly defined from year to year, has some horrible moments in this story -- she aids in the theft of jewelry from the person of an unconscious assault victim, and is seen to exult at the death of a foe. While I still enjoyed the story's fast pacing, the writing style of a 216-page book feels more like an outline of a novel than a book in its own right. Passages which should convey tension or drama feel more like Post-It notes describing what the author intends to do. A room is described as "a massive chamber the size of a small church". I'm not sure how that works. Another character recognizes the "shape of a tall blue box" simply from seeing a square outline in the grass.
Other elements of the book -- the Doctor's offstage manipulations, the strange motivations of Muldwych -- were interesting, tantalizing hints in 1993, but have yellowed with disuse. Muldwych is basically a one-off character (he did have a cameo in "Happy Endings"), and it's a shame we never found out what Robinson intended for him.
"Birthright" remains an interesting time capsule into what "Doctor Who" looked like in print in 1993. Unfortunately, even though all the elements for success are there, it's something less than a complete story in its own right.