This gorgeous color-illustrated coffee-table book by Abba Eban, along with the PBS documentary, tells the inspiring story of how a nomadic tribe prospered against incalculable odds and insurmountable foes, and made the desert bloom. Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses, to Sandy Koufax...
Oh, wait. Wrong "Heritage".
"Heritage", "Doctor Who" style, is a novel-length short story with the kind of aggressively off-putting cover illustration that has plagued the book line since its inception. A scrawny, barefoot, sepia-colored child, squints at the reader, while a leering mouthful of teeth (think Coldheart or Return of the Jedi) gapes in the sand behind her. Who wants to look at this? Why sell 20,000 books, when you can sell 8,000?
Anyway, don?t be put off by the atrocious cover, or by the suffocating prose. An old "Doctor Who" friend has been murdered, and Heritage is all about the aftermath. Every scene is about how people reacts to that murder. For example, I?ve just finished with the Season 3 box set of "Homicide". After actor Jon Polito was fired following Season 2, an early Season 3 episodes "?Crosetti") was entirely dedicated to the aftermath of his character?s suicide. That?s a bold move, and it?s an effective episode. "Heritage" follows the same funereal theme. The only difference is that Crosetti?s body was discovered at the start of Act One. Here, we don?t learn the body?s identity until page 110, so it takes a while to realize we?re supposed to care.
What takes Dale Smith 280 pages to tell could have been done in "Crosetti"?s 48 minutes. The villain is not the anatomical beast featured on the cover, but rather a mad scientist who?d have been well-played by some Philip Madoc type on TV. There?s also a Clifton James-type Wild West sheriff, a cyborg bartender evidently played by Brendan Gleeson, and a 61st-century dolphin reminiscent of the gangster shark demon from a Season 6 episode of "Buffy". This is a good small cast. The Doctor figures out who?s good and who?s bad in a hurry, and everyone gets their just deserts (as opposed to "desserts"). Except for the dolphin, whose fate is not specified. What happens to him after he doesn?t die? Maybe there wasn?t enough room to say, as if the author couldn?t have omitted three chapters full of descriptions of red sand.
Really, I needed to rinse my mouth out after reading "Heritage". The descriptions of the desert sand mount toward silly proportions, like the out-of-control descriptions of snow in "Drift". Anyone who?s read the Dust portions of "Interference" has already tread this ground.
The subplot is the ongoing 7th Doctor-Ace conflict. References are made to most of the Season 25 and 26 McCoy/Aldred series, so this takes place after "Survival". There?s no explicit mention to the Tucker/Perry Season 27 "arc"; nor is there reference to "Relative Dementias", which presumably predated Tucker/Perry. The Doctor does make reference, somewhere among all the red sand, to a storm coming. Is that the Timewyrm? Or the TV-movie? Honestly, I can?t tell if the New Adventures are even supposed to have taken place anymore. People keep piling more and more stories in between "Survival" and "Love and War". At this point you?d think Ace traveled with the Seventh Doctor for thirty years. Anyway, if 7th Doctor angst hadn?t already been the subject of literally 70 other books, this would?ve been satisfying. Instead, like the characters in the desert, it keeps treading the same old ground.
Another weird narrative trick is the use of epigraphs. I mean, one chapter ends with a revelation about the tow-headed child on the cover. The very next page gives us a quote from her autobiography, which spoils the ending of the book, telling us, as it does, that she?s not going to die, and also who's going to adopt her. A later chapter ends on a mini-cliffhanger, as one character contemplates suicide in an abandoned mineshaft. On the next page, however, Smith gives us his obituary, 14 years hence. And then goes back to resolve the cliffhanger a chapter later. Remember how the US sitcom "Growing Pains" used to solve its characters problems by setting its final scene six months in the future to show how everyone wound up happy again? Of course you don?t. No one remembers "Growing Pains". Anyway, don?t do it again, guys.
What I took away from "Heritage", apart from dry mouth, was a sense of justice. Ended, finally, is the old Virgin/BBC/Short Trips trend of killing off Dodo, Liz or Sarah Jane, or showing us how miserable Barbara, Victoria, Jo, Romana, Nyssa, Tegan, Peri and Mel were after leaving the TARDIS. Here, finally, when an old friend is killed off, the Doctor swoops in furiously and makes the situation right. Believe it or not, he?s never really done that before. Thank you, Doctor.