on 8 January 2004
Heritage is a Dr. Who novel by first-time Who-writer Dale Smith. It is extremely atmospheric and really delves into the characters, sometimes too much. Character development is a wonderful thing but sometimes it gets in the way of telling a story. Such is the case here. Add a melodramatic ending to the whole thing, and you have a great attempt, but a so-so novel.
One of my favourite Doctor-companion relationships has always been the Seventh Doctor and Ace. No matter what you think of the last few seasons of stories, you have to agree that the series tried to do something different with Ace. She was made a dynamic companion, someone who doesn't scream, who changes and learns things in each story. The individual writing of the stories may have suffered at times, but the idea behind Ace was wonderful.
The books have carried that further, creating a wonderfully rich relationship between her and the Doctor. She sees herself as a companion (one of many, as she well knows), but she also sees herself as a student of the Doctor. Thus, her first thought when the Doctor gets all moody and doesn't want to get involved on Heritage is that it's an initiative test for her, to see what she will do if left to her own devices. This quickly subsides, however, and she starts to get seriously worried about the Doctor.
Smith examines this relationship very closely, with long, introspective sections of the book from both Ace's point of view and from the locals' seeing these two in action. It can be quite interesting, though sometimes Smith overdoes it. These passages start to drag on and on with no conclusion in sight, and you realize you've just read a couple of pages and nothing has happened. It's a valuable tool, I just wish there had been a bit less of it. The story, when broken down into its components, feels very insubstantial, and that's a shame. However, I did like the atmosphere that the passages told from the locals' side gave to the book. It really brought back the "who the hell is this guy?" feeling that the very beginning of the television series evoked. The Doctor is a mystery, wrapped up in an enigma (to borrow a phrase). He should be presented like that at times. These are the passages where the introspection succeeds handily.
Given the paucity of characters (there are only 7 Heritage residents who are on screen at all, which gives the impression that Heritage really *is* a ghost town), you would think they would be well done. Unfortunately, that's a hit or a miss proposition. While Lee and Cole are great, the Sheriff is fairly one-note. He feels tremendous guilt about what happened, and how Wakeling and his goons have him under their thumbs. As is usual in stories like this, he eventually gets a bit of a backbone. But that's about it. Wakeling and his cronies are the worst, though, evoking little interest in the reader and becoming very cardboard villains. There is no reason that I can see to have Bernard be a sadistic dolphin in a walker with automatic weaponry in it, besides the "wouldn't it be cool" factor. Sure, the fact that he needs a mechanical translator becomes an important factor late in the book, but overall it comes over as Smith trying to be cute.
Thus, Ace and the Doctor have to carry the novel, and they do a fairly decent job of it, however it's not flawless. I guess the best word would be "overwritten." Smith tries so hard to examine these characters that you just want to tell him to get on with it. He never really tells us why the Doctor has been moody for these long months. As a continuing reader of the series, I got the impression that it was because of the fact that the TARDIS is carrying a coffin with Ace's corpse in it (a dangling plotline from a previous book). However, that book was written by a different author and there's no clue that this book takes place right after it, so you're left hanging. He does have the Doctor say that he's been thinking of hanging up the Save-the-Universe shoes and retiring, but he doesn't give any indication of why he would be feeling that way.
I haven't said much about the story, but that's because there isn't a whole lot to say. It's your typical "visitors come to Western town that doesn't like visitors and is hiding a secret and everybody's hostile to the heroes until the heroes finally reveal the secret" kind of story. It's been done many times, and this story doesn't add a lot to it. The prose is pretty good, but not outstanding. It's a fairly quick read and if you're a Doctor Who fan, it will give you a sense of nostalgia (especially if you're fans of the 7th Doctor). Otherwise, though, there's not much meat to it.
This is your typical middle of the road Dr. Who novel. It won't make you a fan of the show if you're not already one. If you didn't like the 7th Doctor, then you will probably find the relationship and overwriting to be very tiresome. If you like the 7th Doctor, it's a passable read.