THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Transit
Set Piece
The Benny Adventures
Virgin Books
The Also People

Author Ben Aaronovitch Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20456 5
Published 1995
Cover Tony Masero

Synopsis: The Doctor and company relax inside a Dyson sphere, where an incredibly advanced race known as The People, goverened by a computer called God, are faced with the ultimate transgression: there may be a murderer in their midst. Worse than that, it appears one of the Doctor's old friends has turned up and she's the most dangerous of all...


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 17/8/99

This was one great book. I mean, even people who hated Transit, and I'm not one of them, will like this one.

Lessee, since I liked it there should be less to talk about.

High Points:

Minuses - none, really. This book was great. If you liked Transit, you'll love this. If you hated Transit, you'll love this. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

10/10


A Review by Graeme Burk 10/6/00

The scene in Ben Aaronovitch's The Also People which is depicted on the cover is one which sums up the tone of the book. Several sentient warships with the power to blast planets to rubble begin to get ready for war. The Doctor, sitting in a comfortable armchair while drinking some tea, rides in a bubble to face off with them in space.

In most novels, this would be a major plot point and this would be preceded by a chapter long build-up, and then followed by a whole chapter focusing on an action packed confrontation.

In The Also People, it lasts roughly a paragraph and a half. The Doctor talks them out of it. The warships fly off. We don't even see him do it.

And that's pretty much the tone for the rest of the book. Nothing very consequential-- that is of galaxy-shattering epic proportions-- happens in The Also People. The Doctor and his companions visit a Dysan Sphere inhabited by people who are advanced technologically, physically and psychically. There, they explore life within the sphere and solve the murder of a sentient robotic drone. That's about it. The stakes are very small.

At the same time, this is not a dull book in the slightest. Indeed, this is one of the best books in the New Adventures line. The narrative is fresh and original-- something incredibly weird and ingenious seems to be happening every paragraph. The characterization of the Doctor and the companions is complex and intriguing, and the prose is intricate and, at times, powerful.

The Also People goes a long way in proving how advanced the New Adventures line is in comparison with other lines of franchise fiction. Rather than slavishly imitate the TV show with reams of dumbed-down plot and prose, this is a genuine novel, with a strong emphasis on character, ideas, themes, motifs, and, all the while, strong writing. At the same time, this is also very much Doctor Who. Indeed this is Doctor Who at its finest, full of complexity and wit, with dashes of hard SF, fantasy, humour, outrageous quirkiness and whimsy thrown in for good measure.

This is a triumph for author Ben Aaronovitch whose last novel, Transit, was exquisitely written but overall too cynical by half. If at times it sounds a little too close to the works of Iain Banks, we shall forgive Mr. Aaronovitch, for the invention and care which otherwise went into the novel shows through in every passage.

The Also People succeeds in achieving what only a few other novels in the NA line have pulled off -- it is a truly adult Doctor Who story. By adult I am not referring to swearing and shagging, though The Also People does have some of the latter (which doesn't bother me in the slightest). By adult I mean storytelling which relies on subtlety and wit, as well as good characterization and good prose, to achieve its effect. This is in stark opposition with most genre writing that needs a planet to blow up every 30 pages to keep things interesting. It's about time we had more adult storytelling happen in the NA line, and we need more books like The Also People. Hopefully sooner than later. 10/10


Trip To The Past Trilogy Part 3 by Robert Thomas 30/1/01

Here we are at last, the final book I ordered of those I really wanted but couldn't afford when they came out.

Before I started, the first I read the opening pages of all of them just to get the feel of the book so I knew what to expect. I had to force myself to put this book down, it was just begging to be read. The best thing about the book is ....................... well, everything. This is not your typical NA however as the pace and style of the book are original in the series. Think of just laying back in a boat while Ben Aaronovitch rows you along into the story.

I can't put into words just how much this story impressed me, it has fast become one of my favorites. Ben has a lot of guts to turn around to the other authors in the range and say, 'You got it wrong, this is how you do it.' The thing that most people forget about the seventh Doctor (and arguably the second) is that they were both funny and dark, it was the ability to slip effortlessly between both characteristics that made the characters who they were. Thee Doctor is both funny and brooding in this book, his brooding over Kadiatu and his street performance are fantastic examples of these traits.

Every single character in here is marvelous, I'll also state this - It doesn't matter if I read any other Doctor Who that I haven't read, this is the best setting of any book ever. As a non religious cult follower God made me laugh out loud almost every time he appeared. SaRa!qava is a creation of comedy genius and all the characters sprang to life well.

For a relaxed book its surprisingly how much happens in here. Needless to say there are many sub-plots and they are all carried out with style. I haven't read Transit but Kadiatu and here backstory was told well and didn't get in the way of the story. Chris and Roz also worked very well in this book, I mention them briefly because this is only the third book with them in I have read (Godengine and Happy Endings being the others, still I plan to buy Sky Pirates soon and look forward to finding out a little more about them). I think this is the best performance I have seen of Benny (in book form), I always liked her and she made me laugh. I never thought she was strong enough to carry her own range but I may delve into them for one, just to have a look.

This is a classic book destined to become one of the great stories of Doctor Who. It has so much going on, some sadness and some fun. Such as how justice is carried out at the end to the secenes with the parachute and fish.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 29/1/03

I just read the damn thing, and I still don't know how I really feel about it.

Um, it may be an odd way to start a review, especially from me, a very definitive and opinionated git, but after I closed the back cover, the first thought that came was "Um, yeah."

Okay, Ben Aaronovitch is a world builder in the same way that Lawrence Miles is a universe creator. This time, we have the Worldsphere, and its inhabitants, the People and their drones and ships. It's Paradise, for all intents and purposes, filled with magic technology and friendly anime-type lifeforms. There's a supercomputer called God, in case you don't get it. The People speak in a language similar to the bushmen tongue, filled with clicks and whistles. All of the inhabitants of the Worldsphere are members of committees based on hobbies and interests.

The Doctor, Bernice, Roz and Chris are here on a break from the events in Head Games. Also in the worldsphere is Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, recovering from the events in Set Piece. As usual, trouble erupts when a Drone is destroyed and God asks the Doctor and his "barbarians" to play detective.

The writing is solid. Ben builds up the plot and character arcs well. You are immediately submerged into this weird little world with its strange, but pleasant population. There is the obligatory dream sequence, although instead of being mystic, it's done with humor.

Which brings me to my point of unease. I think the use of humor, of downplaying events that would normally be ratcheted up as prime DW climaxes works. There's a scene where we find out that the ships are ready to go to war, but the Doctor floats up in a lounge chair and tells the ships there's nothing to worry about. A crisis is dealt with a couple of sentences and you move on to the next scene. The whole book is like that, where plot and character peaks are settled with anticlimactic asides. It's obvious that Aaronovitch planned it this way, but it puts everything that occurs in the book at arms length, even the one subplot regarding the fate of Kadiatu being placed in Bernice's hands. Aaronovitch is consistent with this "arm's length" tone, but by the time I finished the book, I felt distanced from the material as well.

The characters, both TARDIS crew and the worldsphere residents are all done well. Roz gets the deepest characterization of all. The Doctor here isn't as much fun as the one who turned up in Transit, but he didn't annoy me all that much. One problem is that all of the worldsphere residents seem to have the same attitude, especially the ships and drones, who are presented as more emotive than the people themselves.

Well? The Also People is a well-written book. However, it doesn't have the gleeful insanity of Transit. I do recommend it, but not as highly as Aaronovitch's previous novel.

Supplement, 10/10/04:

Um, my first go-round with The Also People was a bit weird. I don't think I was expecting such a laid back book. And so at the end, I was like, well, it's good, but it didn't suck me in.

So, we have Ben Aaronovitch world building, and the supreme confidence of telling a story that first and foremost is something he would want to read. And after creating the hell of the Transit world(s), Aaronovitch shows us paradise. And it is the kind of paradise that the smart adult Who fan would love being in.

But, since is Doctor Who, y'know, even Paradise has its problems.

The two main threads of The Also People wrap around very "human," simple ideas, a whodunnit, and an exploration of what it means to be the (Virgin New Adventures) 7th Doctor.

The whodunnit is well developed, logical, and has enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Besides, Roz Forrester is the star of this thread and I can read about her endlessly. She's wonderfully belligerent, grumpy and honest. She's a shrewd investigator and the only one of the TARDIS crew who understands what the Doctor is doing, and why he does things his way.

The other thread is just as fascinating. Its a follow-up from Set Piece, where Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart is recovering in Paradise from the effects of Ship (you don't need to read Set Piece before Also People). The Doctor is trying to give time for Kadiatu to heal on her own, but is scared he might have to kill her so that she won't wreak any more havoc with time. Bernice finds out about Kadiatu and flips out erroneously. And the Doctor says, "All right, you decide."

The two threads dance around each other, while we spend some time meeting the People in the Worldsphere. There is a general relaxed tone to everything, even when potential big dramatic moments are casually tossed aside in a very non-climatic way. The funniest bit was when Roz finally finds out she's a cult icon on the WorldSphere, subject of figurines and T-shirts.

However, the best scene in the book is the climax of the murder mystery, with an ending straight from The Maltese Falcon (the John Huston Version). Roz even paraphrases the famous Sam Spade line twice: "I won't play the fool for you." It is one of the better scene thefts done in Who -- when I read it the first time, it didn't dawn on me till after where Aaronovitch had lifted the ending from.

Like Transit, The Also People showcases Ben Aaronovitch's supreme confidence of writing, both in terms of characters and in terms of creating very interesting worlds.

Pcik up a copy and read it again. You'll love yourself for it.

Post Script Theory: It still shocks me that Transit still has the bad reputation it does, becasue it still is a much better novel than The Also People, IMHO. Methinks part of it might have to do with the settings of each. As I said, the WorldSphere is designed to be a fanboy's paradise, while the Transit world is just ugly, and squalid -- a hell filled with hard to reach characters. Transit's setting turned people off, and they judged the books horrible because they didn't like the world Aaronovitch created.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 15/9/03

"The things are also people." -- Douglas Adams
Pleasant. There is so much about The Also People that is just pleasant. This was a book billed as the Doctor and his companions simply going on holiday, and it actually delivers on that premise. It's relaxing, understated and utterly absorbing. Its simplicity is its greatest strength. By having a slow-moving plot, we really get to grips with the details, and the details are what make this such an enjoyable read.

Although this is one of the largest settings ever seen in a Doctor Who story, the stakes feel surprisingly small. There is just one unexplained murder to solve, and one ethical dilemma, both of which don't even appear until we're well into the flow. The rest of the time is spent in a combination of world-building and character exploration. It's hard to believe that the same book can feel both relaxing and riveting, but Aaronovitch manages it. The plot is extremely slight, yet the story never feels padded. The book seems to be exactly the right length for the storyline, and although there aren't huge plot twists and revelations every twenty pages, that's wonderful, because that isn't what this book is going for. The book focuses on the small things, and lets the big things take care of themselves. And, really, isn't that what Doctor Who itself has always been about in one form or another?

Every character is gorgeously portrayed, including, surprisingly, the Doctor. Yes, there are a greater-than-average number of scenes told from the Doctor's point of view, and they're fantastic (of course, the average itself is only slightly above zero). I have a sneaking suspicion that Ben Aaronovitch counts among his friends a certain centuries old, world-weary Time Lord and that he somehow sweet-talked that fellow into ghostwriting these sections of the book for him. Shame on Ben Aaronovitch. Of course, he also nails every other character perfectly, so I can deduce that he's also buddies with cops hailing from the far future, a grumpy drunken archeologist, and incredibly powerful aliens living inside a Dyson Sphere. Oh yeah, and God. Lucky Aaronovitch; I bet his dinner parties are a laugh.

Speaking of the Dyson Sphere (if you didn't already know: a Dyson Sphere as a scientific proposal based upon the idea of building a huge shell around a stable star, with people living on the inside walls), it is an incredible achievement that the author was able to make this as believable a concept as it turned out. We know from the back cover that the people of the Worldsphere are an extremely advanced civilization with incredible powers (we're told that they have a non-aggression pact with the Time Lords). All too often, this only results in the initial concept being abandoned when the author needs to have the superior creatures outsmarted by the mere mortal protagonists. But not here. Here, Aaronovitch doesn't let up on his premise in the slightest. The result is a civilization that sparkles and jumps right off the page. Is this because the core ideas were borrowed from another source? Possibly, though I haven't read any of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, so I don't really have an opinion on that. The main point is that wherever the ideas come from, they work extremely well here, and they're treated intelligently.

But huge world-building aside, it's the little things that the book does that are the reason it's so popular. The prose is sharp and wonderful. The novel is deceptively simple; it's only when I go back and rethink certain portions that I realize quite how clever Aaronovitch was in the construction of the themes. The murder subplot, the treatment of Chris and Roz by the Worldsphere people, and the sections with Kadiatu all revolve around the same topics, and it's a blast working out how everything fits together. I think there are one or two points of the plot that are sacrificed to make the themes succeed properly, but, in context, it worked.

For anyone who thinks that the NAs were too gritty, too dark, too angsty, or just plain "not Doctor Who", The Also People should be required reading. It deals with deep and thoughtful issues, but it does so in an amazingly enjoyable story that contains as many great jokes as it does introspective passages. There's much to cherish in this one. From the Doctor sadly wondering if he couldn't just be a street entertainer, to the sentient, talking parachute, to the scene of Cwej accidentally dumping several gallons of water onto a sleeping Doctor's head, there are just too many great scenes in the book to dryly list off in a review such as this. Just snag yourself a copy and read it immediately. And if you've already read it, read it again.


A Review by Finn Clark 1/12/04

A joy to read, from beginning to end. This book is delightful even for someone like me who came to hate the People in the later Benny books. Okay, so it's a rip-off of Iain M. Banks and his Culture novels, but it's not plagiarism. It's more honest and loving than that. No, it's a playful "what if"... "what if the Doctor met the Culture?". That's a pretty slender thread on which to hang a novel, but (against all expectation, now I come to think about it) the results are wonderful.

Plotwise it's almost on a par with Happy Endings. The TARDIS crew goof around in an advanced super-civilisation and when they can't think of anything better to do, play at being detectives. None of that matters. The book isn't trying to be action-adventure, with the usual villainy and brushes with death. Instead it simply has fun following the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz through their encounters with endearingly human People of varyingly biological or mechanical origins. This is where subsequent People novels fell down. Eventually they became a bunch of charmless smug gits hanging on to God's coat-tails and needlessly cluttering up the Benniverse. However here they're people. Not People. Just people. You'll like them and want to keep reading about them.

What's more, they're funny. This book has a wonderfully light touch, such with the way our heroes become reluctant celebrities. ["You're that Roz Forrester, aren't you? I'm your greatest fan."] Once we get past an ugly wodge of continuity in Chapter One, things settle down to some lovely characterisation of the regulars with one or two interesting touches. Near the start of the book I was tickled to see the way in which Chris kept seeking permission from Roz to do things. There's also a strong African sensibility to the book, realised through Roz, Kadiatu and more, which made a nice change from Doctor Who's usual lily-white Englishness. We need more of that.

An oddity struck me. I can see why the People's machines find the term "robot" insulting, but I'm surprised that they prefer the word "drone". As a real-life experiment, try calling someone a drone to their face tomorrow and see how they react. Oh, and there's Dalek poetry on p199.

This is an intelligently written book, but at its heart is a comparison that's pure kiddie playground. The Doctor versus the Culture... who's badder? Of course this book is far wittier and more playful than my deliberately childish question, but Aaronovitch is still having fun making the Doctor look awesome by comparing him with people who can basically do anything. What's more, both sides come out looking cool from the book's light-hearted games of one-upmanship (as opposed to, say, Sherlock Holmes in All-Consuming Fire or the Sean Connery character in Trading Futures).

This is a lightweight book, almost candyfloss... but it's delightful. I never wanted to stop reading it. You know how normally one has half an eye on how many pages are left? No matter how good a book might be, there's always that tendency to rebellion of the attention span... "still another 200 pages, bloody hell, let's take a break for a moment". The Also People never made me think that. It's just charming and fun from the first page to the last, and one of very few Doctor Who books where I was slightly disappointed to reach the end and have to stop reading. I can't think of a higher compliment.


A Review by Jamie Beckwith 11/7/11

The quote from the back cover sets the scale of the story from the very off. The Doctor and company are on a world where the People are so advanced they have a Non-Aggression pact with the Time Lords. Quite understandably, Bernice quickly tries to get very drunk trying to comprehend that fact.

The beauty of The Also People lies in the sheer poetry of the prose. Every sentence sings with new ideas and concepts and paints a world so vividly in your mind you'll believe you can see the sky of the WorldSphere curve right above you.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the first murder in living memory of a citizen of that planet and the Doctor reluctantly drawn in to investigate when he was simply trying to have a holiday. And if you'll believe that...

All four members of the TARDIS crew get ample coverage and their own storylines, from Bernice's moral dilemma as she tries to challenge the Doctor's galactic chess games and Roz falling quite unexpectedly in love. The supporting cast are all very strong and have their own distinctive voice; from God, the artificial intelligence who runs the planet and SaRa!gava, the party hostess with a secret, all the way down to minor characters such as the sentient Parachute with a passion for landscape gardening. (Trust me, it makes sense!)

This is in many ways the perfect New Adventure; the Seventh Doctor his mysterious best, Bernice and Cwej doing what they do best (getting drunk and getting laid respectively), whilst Roz is shown in a new and unexpected light. Best of all, though, they're all getting along and really feel like a band of friends and adventurers having the time of their lives.

Find this novel any way you can and curl up on a cold night with a cup of hot chocolate and be transported to the fantastical People's WorldSphere. Trust me, you won't want to leave.