Doctor Who

Author: Dale Smith
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53864 3
Available now

Ace is worried. The Doctor is not himself. Not wishing to be a manipulator any longer, he just wants to relax and visit old friends. His next port of call is Heritage, a dry, dusty colony world whose people guard a secret. But secrets have a way of unearthing themselves when the Doctor is around, even when he doesn't want them to...

Heritage is a frontier settlement very much in the style of the Old West - a once prosperous mining colony whose fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. There's a saloon with old-fashioned swing doors (although the barman has a cybernetic arm), an alcoholic sheriff, and a surly gunslinger.

In this instance, though, the gunslinger in question is a dolphin called Bernard, who does his strutting and posturing by the use of a mechanised walker. Dolphins with walkers and translators, which enable them to interact with human beings, have previously featured in Robert Perry and Mike Tucker's Storm Harvest. But Bernard's anti-social attitude means that he has more in common with Steve Lyons' vicious Selachians, who featured in The Murder Game and The Final Sanction. This cetacean is a real nasty piece of work, despising other dolphins for their peaceful ways, which he sees as signs of weakness. However, an annoying habit of Dale Smith's writing is his tendency to refer to Bernard as a fish - dolphins are not fish; they are mammals.

A more commendable aspect of the novel is the author's recognition of the fact that Ace still carries the influence of the Cheetah People with her following her experiences in Survival. Whenever she becomes tense or when danger lurks, Ace's cat-like instincts rise to the surface, and occasionally she has to fight the urge to growl like a predator. As far as I can recall, no other author writing for this era of Who has thought to acknowledge this factor.

The pace of the story is often a little too sedate for its own good, but this novel does contain some intriguing ideas, at least one of which is likely to raise a few eyebrows. These include the unusual notion of a lethargic Seventh Doctor, presumably following the harsh criticisms that were levelled at him during Mark Michalowski's Relative Dementias.

Don't be misled by the deceptive cover illustration, however - there are no Star Wars Sarlaccs in this book!

Richard McGinlay

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