For the second time this year we the readers of the Past Doctor Adventures from BBC Books are delivered a title featuring the well-worn, over-developed team of the Seventh Doctor and Ace - a team that, no matter popular on television or in the New Adventures, wore out its welcome a long time ago for many fans. It’s a daunting task to give a new writer, to write for the most analyzed and developed Doctor-companion team in the history of DOCTOR WHO.
To his credit, Dale Smith avoids the usual traps and succeeds admirably. Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel - all the standard elements of the forced mystery of the Seventh Doctor and an angst-ridden Ace are there but in Heritage they don’t feel as old as they once did.
Heritage is a traditional Western story set in some very untraditional locations. The residents of a run-down mining town have had little but blowing dust to occupy their time since the mining company left town. Visitors are not a common occurrence. A mysterious stranger arrives in town with his young female companion looking for some old friends but hears that they’ve left town. Almost immediately there’s a showdown in the local bar between the newcomers and the local heavies. Yep, this is all traditional Western genre trappings that most of us will be pretty familiar with. Except for the fact that the local gunslinger is a talking dolphin.
Smith is not afraid to take chances and does the unexpected and it pays for him. The events of Heritage are unpredictable but rather than simply being unpredictable for the sake of shock value, the author has provided a believable context that makes such jolts work. Books in the PDA line rarely ask questions about why the Doctor does what he does. Heritage not only asks these questions but it provides some interesting answers.
Dale Smith’s prose is crisp and satisfying to the reader. This is author as director and he provides a vision of the book’s events for the reader through the camera eye. Where he directs us we look and we’re consistently given something interesting to look at.
Michael J Doran