Some Doctor Who novelists strive for ‘significance’, weighty work commenting on the Human Condition. Such scribes might perhaps benefit from the advice of, I believe, Herman Melville, who asserted that to create a mighty novel, one must select a mighty theme. That’s ‘theme’. Singular. Because, ultimately, the problem with Heritage is that it sinks under the dusty weight of myriad ideas.
Now, 1966’s The Gunfighters may be amusing cheap entertainment, but it didn’t provide any grounds for belief that the Western would provide fertile ground for Doctor Who, any more than, say, commedia dell’arte or Japanese Noh theatre. Nevertheless, Heritage kicks off as a futuristic Western - the dusty, isolated environment, the sheriff who’s not really in control, the local bad guys, even the saloon bar. Add a talking dolphin called Bernard to the mix, enter the Doctor and Ace in a laudable no-faffing-about manner, and the signs are encouraging.
Once ensconced and settled, though, our heroes seem to be forgotten by the other characters, and there’s a sense that while we are witness to a lot of meandering around, there’s not much purpose to the movement. Further, the prose actually starts to irritate after a while - there’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, it’s simply that, as we bear witness to every character’s every innermost thought, it’s screaming out for a bit of subtlety or subtext. Yes, the Doctor, especially in this incarnation, can look unassuming but contain multitudes of danger beneath those mysterious eyes; there are, however, more effective ways of conveying this than for each incidental character to realize it in turn - in much the same way - in their own internal monologues. He’s mercurial, he’s angry. We know.
What starts as an intriguing mystery - albeit one without any explicit threat or motive - never develops into a tangible story. There are so many strands, so many vague developments, so many abrupt changes of tone . . . it’s ungainly. Thus the otherwise likeable Heritage comes across as little more than acceptable fan fiction with ideas above its station. 4