Friday, 8 April 2011

Heritage by Dale Smith

Plot: Nobody visits Heritage. A failed mining colony too stupid to realise its already dead. Secrets have a way of unearthing themselves when the Doctor’s around and there is a bloody secret waiting for him at the heart of Heritage. A secret that will change his life forever…

Master Manipulator: Possibly the best evocation of the seventh Doctor in print. If you ever wanted to get inside the head of this complex and unfathomable incarnation of the Doctor Heritage is the book for you. It gives you scope and depth not often seen in the books and penetrates the thoughts of the seventh Doctor in a way that the New Adventures only rarely touched upon this effectively. Not only that but Heritage provides an ideal bridge between the playful Doctor of the BBC novels and the master manipulator of the Virgin novels. In a dramatic scene the Doctor reveals why he did not want to find out the dark secret at Heritage’s heart: “Something’s coming Ace, something I might not be able to plan for. I was starting to think that perhaps someone else might be better suited to deal with it. Someone who wasn’t me. Sometimes all I want to do is play the spoons in a jazz band, and pull ferrets from my trousers and make children smile. Mel knew that. But Mel isn’t here anymore. Professor Wakeling took that away from me, perhaps forever. And as he did that he reminded me of something else. He reminded me what evil is, and he reminded me that it has to be fought. No matter what the consequences. Evil cannot prevail.” The Doctor from the beginning of Heritage is moody and completive, disturbed after discovering the truth about Ace’s corpse in Prime Time. Was he considering giving up this lark to protect her? Events from this book reveal that he cannot hide away from the nasty truths in the universe…that he has to play his part in things. After trying to fight himself, the master manipulator takes his first few steps in the universe…and it took the needless death of a friend to give birth to him. What a great idea…

The Doctor’s cold, slate grey eyes hit you before his smile. Who hides themselves behind a title instead of a name? Someone with a guilty past? The Doctor has the air of somebody who knew that all problems could not be solved. He radiated guilt for things he hadn’t done. He is a man of contradictions and had never been able to resist a game. A day could not go by without him treating Ace like a child. The Doctor was not like Ace, but not in a way that other adults weren’t like her. He was alien and there was no way to guess what he would do next. He had lied to her many times, made her cry, stopped her from being Ace…all for a good so great even she had to admit there was no other way. Was he an avenging function of history? Nothing else mattered but setting things right, regardless of casualties. The Doctor could take over the world in a night if that was what he wanted. He’s starting to think he has been getting far too involved in other peoples business. Meddling and tinkering until he has botched the situation to suit his mood. Ace trusted the Doctor to do what needed to be done. If you couldn’t see why that was because you weren’t looking in the same place he was. He likes humans but he doesn’t always trust them. It did Ace good to remember the Doctor wasn’t perfect. There’s a great description of the Doctor on page 268: “He looked so ridiculous, so comical; he was like a clown, a performer escaped from some circus just waiting to twirl his battered umbrella and spin his hat along his arm until it came to rest- satisfied – back on his wiry hair again. And yet…and yet…His words drew blood.”

Oh Wicked: Take what I said about the Doctor at the beginning of his section and repeat for Ace. Heritage is the ultimate examination of Ace, years after her initial conception and after the several billion stories featuring her (this is only a slight exaggeration) we are still seeing new shades to this character. Whilst I do genuinely feel there are more neglected companions that deserve further exploration (Mel herself, Dodo…even Adric…what a line up!) it thrills me to see Ace written for so well here. Anyone who is following my two threads will realise I am writing both a New Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures review thread and it pains me to say the range which occasionally features Ace is doing a far better job of dealing with the character’s evolution than the range that is stuck with her in every novel. For some bizarre reason the New Adventures just cannot get a handle on this character…turning her into a nasty, violent, angst ridden bully as though that would make her appeal to us. Obviously the PDAs have the benefit of hindsight but the Ace of The Hollow Men, Matrix, Relative Dementias, Heritage, The Algebra of Ice and Atom Bomb Blues just rocks. Damage limitation is being performed on the character. And not before time.

Ace is somewhere between plain and good-looking but is different and new which meant she was something of a Goddess on Heritage. She still had a problem with the law. She doesn’t know how to handle being disgusted by the Doctor. Ace is all energy and excitement, fascinating and terrifying in one. The old Ace would have lashed out when she got angry but these days she was more sociable. She wonders if perhaps the Doctor has finally had enough of her and the next trip will be Perivale. Perhaps somewhere a part of her actually wanted that. When angry, Ace snarls like a cat and Lee could believe she became a monster herself in battle. Ace only met Mel briefly and didn’t really get to know her – she was the ex, the previous, the one he would always compare her to. She knew Mel had left…just as she would leave, but when she decided. She would make a decision and step out of the Doctor’s life. Is there something in her always looking for a father figure? Perhaps there was too much past for her to ever shake off and become a new person. The Doctor had slapped her around the face and opened her eyes to the universe – he’d shown her beauty and fun and what injustice really was. He had saved her. She loved him for that. For giving her a chance when no one else had. Go and read pages 201-202…has there ever been a better description of how Ace’s mind works? By killing Mel, they had taken Ace’s invulnerability away, made her think what if it was me?

{Excuse me Mr Heritage, this is the continuity police, can you step out of the car and lay bare all your revisions…

…The fate of Melanie Bush was already dealt with in Steve Lyons’ Head Games, a potent novel that brought Mel into the world of the New Adventures and horrified her at what she saw, particularly the manipulative Doctor and his gun toting companions. So did the Doctor know all about Mel’s death during that adventure? Unlikely…but the blame for this bizarre oversight can be explained somewhat by the Eighth Doctor alternative reality arc. Yes, it gets its dirty paws everywhere, doesn’t it?

In Sometime Never…, the climatic adventure when the Doctor comes face to face with the diabolical Council of Eight who have been chasing his tail for a hell of a time. They have been manipulating the timelines and attempting to surgically remove any actions taken by the Doctor…and anybody he may have touched during his adventures. During a very Sapphire and Steel sequence a young boy is shown through a room full of hourglasses that represent the lives of the Doctor’s companions that they have attempted to snip from the timelines:

“Take this as an example” he said. “It belonged to a lady called Melanie. I say belonged” he told me “as although we are ourselves outside of the normal ebb and flow of time while we are in this station, this ‘Vortex Palace’ if you like, the hourglasses are anchored in real time. And at that point in the relative time of Melanie, her life has been cut short. Ended. The timeline is broken.” He told me about Melanie. “She was tainted. She had a plague, an infection that needed rooting out. There have been so many that he has touched and tainted, we cannot hope to find them all.”

At the end of Sometime Never… the Doctor managed to release a myriad of alternative universe back into existence, defeating the Council of Eight. It is never explicitly stated that Melanie lived or died but it does give an explanation of how both timelines can have existed, if only for a time.

In the end of the day take your pick…do you prefer Heritage’s explanation or Head Games? I’ll go with the former, simply because it provides such a fantastic shoe in for the darker seventh Doctor. Or maybe that nasty Doctor chose not to tell Mel what he knew in store for her future…]

Twists: Prime Time’s revelation that the Ace is going to die soon has clearly had a profound effect on the Doctor. Pages 50-53 contain a breathtaking piece of prose from a crow’s eye view of Heritage. I love the atmosphere of conspiracy, the feeling of dark secrets being hidden. Lee’s reminiscing about Ryan is heartbreaking. Ace creeping around the Heyworth’s burnt out house is seriously creepy. The revelation of Mel’s death is very satisfying after all the build-up and a real shock to Ace and the reader. The Fussy city is such a cute idea. Sweetness is revealed to be Mel’s daughter (oh come on…look at that cover!). Chapter twenty is absolutely astonishing, like a self-contained story of its own. The writing is startlingly mature and the answers that spill – that Wakeling murdered Mel and convinced the town to kill her husband so he could continue doing his research and save the town – are shocking and raw. Ryan killed himself because Lee helped the town to murder Ben. The Doctor discovers the shuttle crew dead, Wakeling trying desperately to stop the Doctor escaping and spilling the planets bloody secrets. Pages 234-236 make you realise just how pathetic Bernard is and how much you feel for him. Mel was going through the menopause and desperately wanted a child – Wakeling cloned her but that was not what she wanted and when she confronted him about it he smashed her skull in with a surgical instrument. He was only interested in the science, not her feelings. The final confrontation with Wakeling is very dramatic, he falls into the mines and the Doctor attempts to pull him up but Sweetness appears at the lip of the hole and throws at him the instrument of her mothers murder, sending him to his death.

Result: Astonishingly adult, both in tone and its mature prose. I have been far too hard on Heritage in the past and have missed the manifest of treasures it buries beneath its simplistic surface. It’s a stunning examination of what makes the Doctor and Ace tick and provides an excellent crossing between the BBC and Virgin seventh Doctor adventures. The central mystery is intriguing, beautifully plotted to surprise and then disgust you as you go deeper into the past and realise just how dirty a game this colony has played. And the characterisation is phenomenal; you will remember Cole and Sheriff, Bernard and Lee long after the last page is turned. It isn’t perfect, all this reflection and introspection means the book moves really slowly and you will need to be patient to get your answers and at times it feels as though the characters cannot actually do anything without thinking through the consequences first. A mature reader will find much to applaud, the death of Mel is shocking and the Doctor’s cold anger towards her murderer provides some truly dramatic moments: 8/10

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