Doctor Who: Transit

Doctor Who: Transit

by Ben Aaronovitch

'Oh no, not again...' It's the ultimate in mass transit systems, a network of interstitial tunnels that bind the planets of the solar system together.

But something is living in the network, chewing its way to the very heart of the system and leaving a trail of death and mutation behind it.

Once again the Doctor is all that stands between humanity and its own mistakes.

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It has been many years since I read Transit, so while I'll talk a little about the book in question, this review is going to be a little more of a general "love letter" to the Doctor Who concept, and my experiences with the show and its literary spin-offs. I think this is in many ways an appropriate book to conduct such a monologue, because it seems to me that it marked a bit of a turning point in peoples' notions of what Doctor Who could get away with. I'm not one of those people: I happen to think the final season of the original run brought in some really interesting and original concepts that were breathing new life into a show that had admittedly stagnated somewhat through the mid-80s. I read a lot of those novelisations as a kid; I was particularly interested in the ones based on the really old stories that barely anyone was able to see anymore, since they were completely new to me at the time. Some people at Virgin Publishing decided there was a market for stand-alone Doctor Who books that would continue from where the show left off, only they would be full-length novels that would deliberately, more often than not, take things in directions the BBC show would never have been able to go, either because of budgetary restrictions or, and this was a bit of a shock to people at the time, due to much more adult-oriented content. Loads of them hated it, for all sorts of reasons, but mostly, I think, because it forced them to look at the Doctor Who concept in a new way; because it contained unrepentent violence; a bit of sex and swearing; because it suggested that a principle character whom fans had loved since the 1970s was a bit of a womaniser and had fathered an illegitimate daughter while serving in the army in Africa. I'd read some of the more traditional New Adventures, which came across like weightier TV stories, but this book was decidedly "non-trad". The thing about many of the less traditional New Adventures was that they often seemed like other peoples' stories with the Doctor Who matrix grafted onto them. This might appear unfortunate at first, but if you think about it, Doctor Who has always sort of been like this; it's just that it's a television show where people usually expect to see the same characters interacting with a new, basically random situation every few weeks. Bernice is hardly in the book at all, which is a bit unfortunate, but she had just been introduced in the previous novel, and I suppose at that time the new writers really didn't know what to do with her yet. The approach to Doctor Who continuity is interesting, too, because while it can be viewed in some ways as a "Doctor-light" book (since he isn't necessarily at the centre of everything for most of it), there's actually quite a lot of it present, tying Aaronovitch's story in with "future Earth history" stuff brought up in the TV show as far back as the 1960s. Perhaps in a way we expected the concept to grow with us, and so these books were a product of their time and place in a very important, groundbreaking way, since they did just that very thing.

Yours sincerely Peter P.S. On second thought, just stop ok.

If I hadn't committed to reading the whole "New Adventures" series (Which I'm thoroughly enjoying on the whole) I would not have finished this book. Which is a surprise, because I enjoyed Ben Aaronovitch's episodes of the TV series and was really looking forward to this one.

It cannot be denied that Aaronovitch has read Gibson, for he writes a number of sentences that explicitly homage the chief cyberpunk. Though Aaronovitch occasionally shades into this, there is a liveliness to his writing, a sense of wonder and joy about the story. Probably the main similarity between Transit and a cyberpunk novel is in its use of jargons. The cyberpunks revelled in bringing words from writing-at-large into literature, and so does Aaronovitch. The portrayal of the lower class is probably what fans were mostly complaining about when they decried this as a cyberpunk novel. Transit takes its inspiration not just from The Seeds of Death but from all those 60s stories that prophesied future diversity. In the second mode, Aaronovitch writes your classic smart-arsed SF computer, e.g. Florance, the STS network, Fred. (The STS network's Yak Harris avatars are an obvious call-out to Max Headroom, but the underlying conception is more 'Dial F for Frankenstein'.) Of course the central use for computers in cyberpunk is cyberspace. Every time I read this novel I find something new. My points one, two, and four could be summed up with a quote: 'Maybe time travel fucked with your mind.' I can't imagine that sentence in a cyberpunk novel. The New Adventures were sending a big message by getting rid of the Doctor's last televised companion and introducing a new, literary companion. Transit might have co-starred Ace and either seen her leave the Doctor or leave with him. (I'd love to have a non-fiction book about the New Adventures, by Peter Darvill-Evans or Lance Parkin.) One thing seems certain. That Fred possesses the Doctor's companion is of central importance to the plot. At the time, I, like a lot of readers, noted only that Benny was effectively sidelined. Of course, we understood the expediency, that there was little time for Aaronovitch to have come to grips with her. Now, it's hard for me to imagine this novel taking place anywhere other than after Ace's departure. Now add the fact that the Doctor ends up in bed with this woman after getting drunk with her imagine what Moffat would do with that. But Aaronovitch doesn't do anything like what you'd imagine Moffat would do. Despite her heritage, despite appearing in the Doctor's story, despite being the weaker party, Kadiatu is her own person. (It's also interesting to note that one of Kadiatu's many motivations is the death of her male lover, a few years before the reverse became a sexist trope in popular culture.) On the other hand, this novel, along with the preceding one, are major interventions in our conception of the Doctor, ones that would have a strong influence on the revived TV series. Love and War and Transit specifically introduce the suspicion that everything would fall to pieces if the Doctor didn't turn up. No special Doctor, no Transit. First of all, I like what I defended the novel with above. I like how the New Adventures treat the continuity of Doctor Who like another novel might treat the Bible or Greek myth. This has its roots in television stories like City of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks, but it's never been as fully developed as here, from the Doctor generating hex code by pretending he has sixteen fingers to Benny's question as to whether the Doctor has any (physical) limits at all. It's a metatextual acknowledgement that the Doctor will be able to do whatever the plot requires, it's a way of building the tension between the hero's necessary omnipotence and necessary fallibility, it's a way of estranging our frame of reference for both the Doctor and his context, it's probably much more, but to me most importantly it's a claim that the authors of even an SF adventure series should be able to write whatever they want as long as it is lively, imaginative, stylish, and handled with a certain indeterminacy. (Contrast the source image here with Lawrence Mile's variation of the Doctor as a complex space-time event, which is textual brutalism, another step on the path from Transit to the new TV series.) In the televised stories, the seventh Doctor developed a reputation for being a bit of a planner, but a cursory examination of his stories reveals him to be as much of a grand improviser. I love even more that the Doctor cognitively models both his and the enemy's improvisations as a crazy jazz performance and I love how, after all that, he still takes time to rehydrate and reassure a minor character. Gallifrey, the Thousand Day War, Francine, the Lethbridge-Stewarts, Kadiatu, Fred, the STS network, the Stop, Blondie, Ming, the Doctor and Ace, the Doctor and Benny, the Doctor ...

Since I began stepping into the waters of Doctor Who novels, I've heard good things regarding the works of Ben Aaronovitch, whose couple of television stories for Sylvester McCoy were particularly well-received. Far from the dreary authors who feel the need to spell out every single step in thuddingly dull detail, Transit is the kind of novel that can end one chapter with our characters heading somewhere, and begin the next with news that they arrived at that location, met their contact, and have already left! What caused the transit system to evolve into a living thing in the first place?) And while the novel is impressive in its ability to push the envelope and take Doctor Who into new and exciting places, at other times it's dragged down by its continued insistence on traditional tropes - such as the requisite chase scene across the surface of Mars, something which comes across as both near-interminable and wholly unnecessary. (Part of this scene actually includes the Doctor coming to a fork, choosing one path, then discovering at a dead end that he'd taken the wrong turn and has to head back. That may be something that happens in real life, but it's narratively pointless and frustrating to read.) In the end, Transit is a novel whose constituent parts never quite cohere, and succeeds about as much as it fails.

http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1444240.html There was one pedantic point that really annoyed me about this book: Arcturus is spelt incorrectly throughout, missing the first 'r'. The previous volume in the series, Love and War, invested much time in introducing new companion Benny Summerfield; but here she (and to an extent the Doctor) blend into background scenery, with much more action going to the Brigadier's genetically engineered warrior descendent, Kadiatu Lethbridge Stewart.

It's very adult, witty, and packed with interesting concepts.

Das Überstrapazieren einiger prosaischer Kunstgriffe, wie den Leser am Anfang fast jeden Kapitels darüber im Dunkeln zu lassen, was die Protagonisten warum jetzt überhaupt machen, hätte vielleicht funktionieren können, wenn man sich entweder für Story oder die Charaktere interessieren würde, da aber beides ziemlich blass bleibt, liest man Seiten um Seiten, ohne überhaupt wissen zu WOLLEN, was gerade los ist. Darüber hinaus präsentiert uns das Buch zum dritten Mal in Folge eine komplett unglaubwürdige Liebesgeschichte, die diesmal sogar eine explizite Sexszene beinhaltet, die eigentlich nur dafür da ist das Buch erwachsener wirken zu lassen und ansonsten rein gar keine Daseinsberechtigung hat. Das ist nur einer der Gründe warum ich auch die meiste Zeit über nicht wirklich das Gefühl hatte einen Doctor Who Roman zu lesen, sondern einen typischen, unterdurchschnittlichen 90er-Jahre Cyberpunk-Thriller.