The Curse of Peladon
The Future History Cycle
The Future History Cycle Part Two
|ISBN#||0 426 20384 4|
|Synopsis: In the largest interplanetary transit system ever built, the transit system has accidentally opened itself to possession by an entity from another dimension. New companion Bernice is converted into the enitity's figurehead, while the Doctor teams up with Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, whose genetic record is both startlingly familiar and horribly alien. How can the Doctor fight against something as huge as the entire transit system without killing Benny?|
Travesty Is More Like It by Tammy Potash 2/7/00
Ben Aaronovitch. The guy who gave us the superb Remembrance of the Daleks, and the also great novelisation of same. Who would later give us the sublime The Also People, produced... this.
My best friend thinks this book's great. He says it's just like FASA's Shadowrun. Maybe. What I know for certain is that this is a thoroughly repulsive society, filled with thoroughly repulsive people. There's extremely casual sex, bad language (I don't think the f-word really has any place in a Dr. Who novel), lots and lots of drugs, and cryptic dream sequences.
Poor Benny. She steps out of the TARDIS and spends the rest of the book possessed. I had hoped this book, coming immediately after Love and War, would further cement her relationship with the Doctor. Nope. It takes forever before the Doctor even remembers about her, and he doesn't seem to like her all that much anyway. ("I never made you a stereo," he thought.) The Doctor gets completely drunk in one ridiculous sequence; you'd think he'd have learned better from Slipback.
Good things about this book: Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. The introduction of the Doctor's house on Allen Road.
Trad fans will absolutely hate this. Even rad fans may find it a bit much. Cyberpunkers will be in ecstasy. Benny fans, do what I do and just jump ahead to The Highest Science.
Travesty? No, Transformation by Ed Swatland 18/9/01
I have just finished reading Transit, a book that should have known better. I don’t mean that it’s a crap book, because it isn’t. what I mean is that when the book was published in 1992, fans were still hoping Doctor Who was coming back. 1990 to late ’92 were the wilderness years. Fans had devoured the Timewyrm cycle, and the Cat’s Cradle trilogy. The only book that sparked any real controversy was Warhead. So, along comes Transit, with it’s extreme language and casual sex. Something fans didn’t want. They wanted Doctor Who as they remembered it, but others wanted Who to embrace the future. Rad fans were born. Now what does this have to do with bloody Transit you cry? Well, Transit (I’m trying to prove it’s unpopularity here) came last in the DWM readers survey. Oh. Was it really that bad. Almost 10 years since it’s publication, Transit is regarded as a classic by many. Lawrence Miles said it was the best Doctor Who book ever, etc. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, most fans think Transit is shite. So, I approached the book with some trepidation. I gave up after the first 20 pages. On my second reading I had more time and wasn’t overwhelmed by the fact I had bought NINE NA’s in one go (the lure of Warlock was to strong!), so I entered into in to the world of Transit.
So my opinion of Transit…
Characters now, well...erm. They weren’t very likeable let’s put it that way. I mean they were all called odd names. Credit Card, Blondie, Lambada, Ming the Merciless, Dogface, so sometimes you simply couldn’t tell who was who. Kadiatu was, definitely, by miles the best character and an excellent addition to Who fiction. Smart, but sexy, tough, but not Brigadier Bambera butch. The Doctor was good, I laughed out loud when he got drunk, it was THAT funny. . Benny was, well, not herself to put it frankly. After reading many of the middle NA’s then going back to this one I at least knew she was going to get better (Thank God she did that’s all I can say). Yes, she was pretty nasty, but was nothing like the character she would be in The Pit. I mean she slapped a kid, and carried a gun, and was...not very pleasant.
The first 20 pages need to be read slowly, and you’ll definitely need to keep looking back at the glossary, but when you get past those pages the book whizzes by. Now, the f-word (namely, fuck) was certainly not needed, but I got a kick when it appeared, mainly for the reason you don’t expect language of that sort to appear in a Who novel. The ending was, for me, the let-down. A total pile of bollocks if I ever saw one. I won’t go into it, but up till then Transit was excellent. The Earth of this novel belongs in the same universe as the one in Warhead, which is very interesting, and presumably the authors intention. The books are very similar in fact. But I wouldn’t advise reading them back-to-back. Transit’s even got the silver cat in it! In terms of continuity Warhead really belongs in the Future History cycle you know…
The gore was not a turn-off of course, I can stomach stuff like that, but it fits well into the whole basic premise of the book. Which is excellent. The future Earth is really alive and realistic-something that could (probably) definitely happen. Like Warhead, Transit uses writing styles and themes to improve upon the basic idea, but the basic idea is a little bit cleverer, this really is a good thing. Something else I didn’t appreciate was the subplot about the two mutated Freesurfers. They weren’t needed. Put it that way.
In conclusion, Transit is a controversial book (probably still is) but I enjoyed it, despite the dreadful, psychedelic ending. It seemed to work, and I would recommend it to rad fans who haven’t read it yet. Trads, steer clear! It’s not a classic, but I do look forward to reading more about Kadiatu. She’s a really interesting character. The prologue was wonderful, the writing-style complex, the characters good. But let me say this. Transit defined Doctor Who fiction for the 90's. Love it or hate it. It really doesn't matter, because it has happened. Transit changed the cosy world forever. Dashed aside the 'UNIT family', the Terrance Dicks books and Doctor Who itself. It transformed our perceptions of what Doctor Who could do. If Transit had never happened (and I bet 50% of you wish it hadn't), books like Interference would either have been crucified or never written. Authors like bloody Lawrence Miles would be churning out a continuity free Eighth Doctor story involving rebels, dominating aliens (usually green) and... it would be set in a quarry. At least people know what might be coming in an EDA now, the glimmer that a rad book like The Ancestor Cell, might just be around the corner. It split fandom down the middle, created rads and trads, or the neutral. And finally Transit has left its legacy: the NA's the EDA's (which for better or for worse) are the route that Doctor Who fiction has taken of late. Didn't everyone but me love Alien Bodies? So, the next rad book? The Adventuress of Henrietta Street! Perhaps...
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 2/10/01
My wife reckons I should review more books, TV and audio I don’t like! And so what worse book to focus on than Transit! The book that still stands as the worst piece of DW Fiction ever.
I bought the first 20 New Adventures automatically. New Doctor Who was exciting, I had to have them all, and read them all. It was books like The Pit, Shadowmind, Dimension Riders and specifically Transit that taught me to do otherwise. From L-H Hummingbird I would read only the ones that got the best reviews, my favourite authors, or any that caught my interest in other ways.
What is so atrocious about Transit? My first impressions (previews etc) were actually encouraging. A Solar Transit System between planets in Earth’s Solar System – brilliant idea! Ben Aaronovitch the author – he wrote Remembrance of the Daleks, one of the best TARGET novels. Oh how I was misled!
I was flung into a world that I didn’t like, what on earth was I reading about? Descriptions that were so messy, characters I didn’t care a jot about, a strange unlikeable person masquerading as the Doctor, a new companion that was colourless, a story that kept jumping around all over the place.
Above all the abiding memory of Transit is nastiness. From crude descriptions of individuals, to a mass of offensive dialogue – completely unsuited to Doctor Who (at least the Doctor Who I like). The New Adventures were taking me into a world I hated – full of people I had no desire to be around.
There you go, I’ve said it – Transit offended me, and I am not easily offended. It’s a mind-numbing exploration of crudity and nastiness. I threw it out with the rubbish, I couldn’t bear to take it to the 2nd Hand Bookshop and let some other poor soul enter its’ terrible world. 0/10
A Review by Finn Clark 30/11/01
This is the big one. Ben Aaronovitch's Transit. The best DW book ever, the worst DW book ever (officially!), it was a travesty of Who, it died for our sins... there are some books that really kick off their ranges, despite the fact that other books preceded them. The 8DAs were kick-started by Vampire Science and Alien Bodies, despite the fact that Uncle Terrance penned a little tome called The Eight Doctors. When it came to Virgin's NAs... well, there was definitely a buzz about the first couple of books. We'd never seen original Doctor Who novels before. However the big two early NAs (though not without competition for the title) are probably Timewyrm: Revelation and Transit.
Even today, it's shocking. That's one wacky prologue. Notice has been served that we're not living in TV-land any more. To get the obvious stuff out of the way first, this is a book with swearing, explicit sex, prostitution and absolutely no compromises for the teatime audience. It's seminal, and I also mean that literally. Just as uncomfortably, it's very dense. The names, slang tech and sleazy future-world details are all rather overpowering. Crucial incidents are omitted, then given in flashback. On first read, you'd have to slow right down or you'd miss a lot. Second time around, it reads much better.
But yes, Transit feels un-Whoish. Objectively it's no worse than something like Superior Beings or Independence Day, especially once the worst of the prostitution's out of the way, but Aaronovitch goes out of his way to contrast the Doctor with the painstakingly realistic sordid world around him. It's as nasty as the worst of Stone's playful brutality, but played straight. The Doctor gets drunk! We have detailed close-ups of prostitutes' lives. "This isn't a Doctor Who story!" cries the reader.
However all that changes when the Big Vicious Nasty turns up in chapter three and starts chewing up people. Reluctantly the Doctor Who formula sticks up its head and waves at you. There's the Doctor and a menace to be defeated, with Kadiatu as substitute companion. Transit is an extraordinary blend of ultra-macho cyberpunk designer violence alongside flashes of wonderfully whimsical Whoishness. They're startling. This book is about how our hero will still be Whoish no matter what. At the end of the day, this is one funky Doctor.
And there are always little gems of Aaronovitch brilliance waiting around a corner. There's an amazing action sequence in chapter seven. Page 204 has one of the Doctor's best ever throwaway lines. Don't be fooled by the nay-sayers; this is Doctor Who.
What's more, it's full of mythos-forming stuff. Lawrence Miles is just plain wrong when he says the mythos revolves around Ben Aaronovitch (of course it revolves around Lawrence himself) but rereading Transit made me reconsider this. We've got the birth of FLORANCE at Stone Mountain, as seen in most of the books of Kate Orman. We've got Kadiatu and the Lethbridge-Stewarts. We've got the Thousand-Day War and intriguing glimpses of Ice Warrior culture, thankfully before that limp-wristed Sword of Tuburr bollocks came along in the mid-nineties and pissed all over them. There's also an idea about Kadiatu being the Earth's response to a stimulus (the Doctor) - which is a notion the books kept returning to in other guises. Sam Jones. The Psi-Powers series, perhaps? However it's also possible that Transit influenced the early NA tendency to gun-toting machismo. If so, someone missed the point big-time.
Transit ain't perfect though. Its downsides include:
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 11/4/02
Transit has divided fandom since its publication. At the time, a lot of fuss was made because of the supposed adult elements and mature themes. Some fans decried what was to become the wave of the future by screaming that Doctor Who had never been like this before. Still others reveled in it, saying fairly similar things as the detractors had, but loving it for those very same reasons.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's not easy to see what all the excitement was about. The books have moved far beyond what was achieved in Transit, and the so-called shocking elements seem neither outrageous to this jaded reviewer nor do they seem unjustly gratuitous. The supposed over-the-top adultness slips into the story so effortlessly, that is easy to forget that these mature elements are often accused of being unnatural to the way in which Doctor Who works. Only the swearing and the slang still stand out as being different and extreme. But for all the talk about what effect the novel had or didn't have on the books that followed, Transit still must stand or fall based on its own merits.
The future culture that Ben Aaronovitch creates is fairly detailed and quite fascinating. There are bucketfuls of great little references to life in the future. From the Kwik-Kurry fast food restaurants to the Transit system itself, everything one learns about this society leaves one wanting to learn more. This story contains simply some of the best settings that we've ever seen in a Doctor Who story. It's realistic and gritty but completely enthralling.
The story itself is fairly interesting, and there's quite a lot of detail that one needs to keep track of. It's by no means a simple tale, and I found myself needing to go back to previous chapters and reread certain pages after finding revelations further ahead in the story. This is not an easy book and it requires the reader to pay a lot of attention.
Yet despite all the obvious positive points that the book has in its favor, I couldn't honestly say that I thought it was a very good book. There's a lot of overt machismo present that really doesn't do anything for me. There are fairly large chunks that are neither enjoyable, nor do they add anything to the plot. There's red herring chase sequences, long action scenes, gunfights, air battles and all manner of military hardware. It would look fantastic on television, if the budget was twenty times what Doctor Who got per season. In short, there are vast portions of the book that are just plain boring to read.
The plot is a bit murky. For the most part it makes sense and is fairly coherent, but it's never really engaging. It's a bit too slow in places and at times it completely stops. The bits of characterization and cultural references that surround it are really quite good, but they can't make up for the weaknesses elsewhere. A portion of the ending, in particular, is shockingly poor and comes as a let-down after the amount of complexity that there had been in the lead up to it.
All in all, Transit ranks as a fairly well put together story but one hampered by several major weaknesses. While it's now notable for the much-needed shock that it put fandom through at its publication, the story itself is not quite strong enough for the book to stand on its own two feet. There is a ironic sense of humor drifting through that will amuse even the most offended of readers, and there are loads of fabulous lines sprinkled throughout the text. Unfortunately, the strong points aren't enough to save this book from being a bit of a mess, albeit a well intended and potentially wonderful one. Definitely a story in need of an extra few drafts.
Strange Non-Datedness and the Difficult Law of Whovian Limitations by Graham Pilato 28/4/02
[Bless Finn Clark. There are net Who reviewers and then there's Finn Clark. Much of this is directly from a discussion I had with him a few months ago on Rec.Arts.DrWho.]
Ah, Transit. Is this where we have gone since then? This present loose bittersweet uncanned darkness? (I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I hate to delete things that sound good and feel right...)
My last visit to a Who convention was in early '93, in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the guests of honor there was none other than John Peel. At the time, he was mid-Transit - a writer going somewhere? Probably not. It was quite the experience for me, though, a teenager a few yards away from a man who had apparently recently restarted a favorite series of mine in the first NA... I was in such awe that I am forever guilty of plugging everything I remember him saying that day into the stories/stuff he commented on. He said something like "yeah, I'm reading Ben's Transit right now... boy is it different... I'm not sure what I think of it..."
I was forever spoiled about the revelations of Love and War that day and totally ruined in my sense of original thinking when it comes to how much I like Nightshade - Peel spoke golden world-shaping authority to my impressionable 15-year-old ears! I loooved/looove Nightshade. I was fairly unimpressed by Love and War for years. And I still don't know what to think of Transit! :-/ But I'm a sucker for a darer ... and an underdog... And despite deep disappointment in Peel's EDAs, I still think of him as one of the greatest Who novelizationists and also among the more daring of Who novel writers, period.
So. I'm pleased that Transit has its share of fans too, on top of the despisers... But. It's also a point of particular interest to me as a Who-book, right now. It's, as Finn said, an incredibly important novel for the development of the series, but it's also perhaps the brightest touchstone of a bygone NA novel era for today's series and its tone.
Transit's almost not so shocking a book now as it was at first because of the strange dated/non-datedness of it. I say strange non-datedness meaning that it was:
More to the point, I suppose, Transit resonates with Lawrence Miles. I read somewhere that he says that the novels and, really, everything after 1988 in Doctor Who revolves around Ben Aaronovitch. I believe that - wherever I read that - this commentator then said that Mad Larry is the true axis on which it all spins these days. Now, I know that's vague, but I must point out that I don't care about getting my quoting right here. :) And I'm sure that Miles is really only an axis for the 8DAs Days - things post-Alien-Bodies. But Larry and Ben have a lot in common. And, like Adventuress and Interference, I believe, Transit not only pushed the barriers on Who-ness, it kinda broke them.
I mean, if every new Who novel seriously followed on from Transit or Adventuress and all the tonal and canonical directional implications within those books, the series as we know it would probably have vanished. It would have swallowed itself into a literary paradox of always-dirtier images and a constant vicious redefinition of not only Who-taste, but Who-continuity itself. Well, hypothetically, anyway. That ruthlessly visionary intent of Ben and Larry has an edge that defies dating, for me, kinda. Both stories arise from their moment of flashing and dissolve out across the continuum of not just Doctor Who, but sci-fi in general. Fresh isn't even the word. They're cathartic... Saying you enjoyed reading them is kind of like saying that you enjoyed reading a very detailed and informative newspaper article on the contemporary bombing of Hiroshima. You know that this changes things... You know that this could be part of a good development - but it's more than just a shock...
The styles of delivering Transit and Adventuress are plenty novel - but the strangely at once familiar and exotic rich details of the Stunnels/Mars/void/etc. and 18th C. London settings really vault the two books well past any possibility of being at all like any other. Not only does Transit feel a little like a Miles book in being totally unique and impossible to reconcile with anyone's previous expectations for Doctor Who, but it also just sits there in its place in continuity, untouched in its scope and vision, burning a small hole of incongruity through everything daring to come after it in the series. It's got ideas/visions so big, so much its own, that they live on, churning in your mind, well despite the time since then. And it had sex and style galore. These are books to hold out for the Hugos, practically. But.
These are dangerous books. They're also likely to live on in fandom far longer than anything expressly written to revive the taste of a previous Doctor Who era. It's just funny, though - and this is where I've been going all along here - that I don't really know how to like Transit much beyond its many dares and depths... It's a firecracker that didn't, kinda. People may have chosen to hate it, but the NAs went in a very different direction. Editors...? And then some people, including me on occasion, would call these books far more important than they are good. And I sense here a unique problem at the core of Whovianism. We can't get our amazings and have or classic TV flavor too. Or, at least, some of us can't...
And then there's today and The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. Perhaps Transit really fits in better today in this time of revolutions and sweet reinvention... It would be written as a PDA, by necessity, but not to be undone at all by the "trad"ness of looking back. Hypothetical bull shit? Oh... I don't know... (It's Strange Datedness, throw a rocket and a bit of brain at it and you might turn your book into a Time Manipulator...) Peter Darvill-Evans and the NAs were still translating Who from thin air to consecutive novels! There was no common link between those early NAs beyond the two main characters, the basic Who formula, and some few recurring motifs/Timwyrms... Even though Transit came after Love and War - the first great definer of the NAs (as the Future History Cycle as a whole did) - it was a book written before Love and War was published and it was only revised to suit continuity at the last minute... The novels were still fighting to be an established series - nothin' like cozy was likely... And it feels right - a very mad scientist could prove Transit fits today.
Whatever. Feels isn't too hard to defend...
Even more to the point, there is an utterly astonishing forward-looking freshness now to the perspective of all the Eighth Doctor books since The Burning. Remembrance of the Daleks - and even moreso its novelization - blasted open the Whovian perspective to the essential titular Doctor Who mystery (which we all thought was nearly gone by the time of Dragonfire) and thwacked us hard a beautiful brand new sense of the potential depths and might of our hero and his universe. Transit took a hard look at those new depths and then dove as deep, deep into them as one could ever have imagined any NA to plunge. And if The Ancestor Cell gave us a post-Gallifrey/Time Lords Doctor and Doctor Who, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street gave us a post-Doctor Who Doctor Who. The Who mysteries today are so violently essential to the storylines that to even begin to avoid dealing with them in any new EDA would appear to be a mischief.
Our minds are more on the EDAs, today. "A deliberate tactic from Justin Richards and one that's worked very well," said Finn. Freshness would appear to be at a premium these days in the novels, and it's truly no joke that the PDAs have suffered an enormous withdrawal from it since the halcyon months of 2000. It's not just change that's gunning many of us onward and interested with the EDAs now, it's also a resounding high quality of vision and character. And that's what Transit was all about, unique as it was with its own kind of characterization and adult imagistic style.
[I must say now that I've only rather recently gotten back on the novels bandwagon in the wake of reading about The Burning and Justin's New Direction. And I've been rapidly filling in the blanks this past year and a half or so. I've only just caught up to a point now where I feel like I really can validly comment on almost any novel again.]
What's amazing to me now is just how much most of the BBC books have tended to either seriously attempt to resemble a TV-story novelized or to go heartstabbingly raw into the world of real novels and their own version of Virgin's "stories too broad and too deep for the small screen," "taking the TARDIS into previously unexplored realms of space and time." Yes, the rad/trad thing, I guess. Over at Virgin this odd duality was never much of an issue, I believe, because even the MAs tended towards an awkwardly novelistic style of storytelling, despite the Limitations. But the MAs rarely really soared as great stories (unlike the PDAs in 2000... Authors and editors learn from mistakes? Maybe it's just more Steve Lyons and Mark Gatiss in the PDAs and less of the bad Christopher Bulis... I don't know.)
You might say that freshness, especially in rereading, is key to tip top favorites... I mean, practically only the post-Trial 6th Doctor novels and Cold Fusion excepting, great MAs/PDAs could only ever be nostalgia + a really, really damn-well-told story. Only the books that take place in a new universe every time are truly fresh. Kim Newman's Time and Relative, for example. To quote Finn, it's "as fresh as any other 2001 Doctor Who book I could name, despite being set in an era that's almost forty years old." It comes before everything. These are where the holes are where really almost anything could happen. Stories setting the 2nd Doctor in his "season 6b" (post-War Games, pre-Spearhead) would also, of course, count in that way. Anything by Dave Stone, too. And then The Witch Hunters and The Plotters also prove that something old once a long time ago can be brilliantly fresh and spiffy again, too.
This clearly doesn't mean that the EDAs deserve more attention than the PDAs. Take Tomb of Valdemar, for instance - or even Campaign for that matter - these are Doctor Who books through and through that add wonderful and worthy dimensions to the world of Who-dom. But who had ever read a story like them before that even resembled Doctor Who? They're wonders. Highly worthy. Had Transit happened when there were MAs, there would have been another revolution. The Difficult Law of Whovian Limitations would kick in. The Brigadier, The Doctor, Bernice, Kadiatu, Ace: they all were born or reborn in Transit, along with Doctor Who itself. And the world that loves the "trad" had little interest. And the world that loves the apotheosis of Doctor Who, that holds dear the notion that this formula is almost holy and ready for any new slant, the folks who probably really dig Rags, these people nearly saw God in Transit.
Notice the rainbow of fresh flavors and great opposing intensities in the range of EDAs since last year at this time and you'll find a glimpse back into 1992 and 1993 or thereabouts, and still be reading of things entirely new in our Who-ville. The run of The City of the Dead through Anachrophobia is, for one, a sheer astonishment in mere terms of continually intriguing plots and narrative choices, but also a deep, deep rejection of any kind of drab Coldheart-type of stilted seeming novelizationalism. In the current storytelling, Doctor Who is as vibrant and alive as it's ever been. Here we are in a real age of lovely change and rebirth... Even including Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
And the mysteries are swallowing everything.
Speaking of: the real mystery of post-Ancestor Cell Doctor Who up 'til Adventuress was a single question that led to others almost impossible to answer tastefully in any EDA: What is it that's keeping the Doctor alive/existing now? More precisely, "If his past is a paradox enough to wipe his memories, what can it be that's keeping him here?" Adventuress sorta answers that, but really doesn't do anything except widen the mysteries to almost impossible reaches by introducing so many uncertainties via the History delivery and its weirdest moments of symbolism in seemingly real events (e.g. spoilers!). Sabbath's existence and abilities are as much an anomaly, it would appear, as the Doctor's have been. This is a bomb that is going off now. Loose bittersweet uncanned darkness...?
Transit is where the novels really became The Novels. Not just because Timewyrm: Revelation wasn't just quite as "rad" as Transit, but because Transit did absolutely nothing but create new worlds. In Outer Space and Inner Time. It's where "rad" begins and ends in Doctor Who. Funnily enough, the only books that, if you ask me, do this and still keep their hearts purely in some established Who all along, meanwhile keeping the zest of high interest plot and fantastic character and amazing prose all moving beautifully throughout, are Ben's own sequel to Transit, The Also People and Miles' own almost Doctor-less sequel to everything, Dead Romance.
And yeah, that's what I want to say, kinda. Things are better now, after actually having the books really go some place... there's a hunger in there again, I feel. Transit is, in ways, a good example of the kind of books I'd like to continue seeing today: totally unique and written with a ravenous hunger for a place in a visionarily-charged larger story, a cool universe. But then, it's the Anachrophobias and Set Pieces that I really love for building solidly the cool universes only opened up by the Adventuress of Henrietta Streets and Transits. Maybe despite John Peel. Maybe because of him...
A Review by Terrence Keenan 4/8/02
First and foremost -- I don't like the Seventh Doctor. I hate the whole Time's Champion thing, too. Hated the Cartmel plan. I hate New Ace and am not all that enamored with Bernice Summerfield either.
I wanted to get that out of the way because I loathe both of Ben Aaronovich's TV offerings, which to me, are partly to blame for all the most shallow, comic book plot and theme ideas ever brought to Doctor Who, specifically the Virgin line and the last three TV seasons.
So, when I picked up Transit, I expected to trash it in a major way. Hell, general consensus of fandom said it was horrid.
I suppose then it shouldn't have surprised me that I really liked Transit.
Really liked Transit.
It's a Cyberpunk tale. It's violent, filled with sex and vulgarities. It features a whole bunch of bastards and hookers running amok.
But.... It also has the best version of the Seventh Doctor I've read so far. He's slick, has a sense of humor, doesn't angst much -- he does brood a bit, but it's on a human level, not O-woe-is-me-I'm-fucking-Time's-Champion-and-super-deep. There's a lot of Big Tommy B & Troughton in him. And, no silly manipulation. This Seventh Doc fights the enemy hands on and face to face. Awesome.
Poor Bernice gets possessed and goes on a kill-crazy rampage. Instead, we have Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, who might as well have COMPANION stamped on her forehead. Well developed, and dangerous, similar to Compassion. I wish she had come along for the ride.
The story is nebulous, something about an extra-dimensional computer program taking over the Solar System Subway system and turning people in killing machines. That's about it, but the characters are interesting (unlike Human Nature), even if most of them start off as gits, and carry the story quite well. I liked the odd names the security team had -- Credit Card, Ming the Merciless, Blondie, etc. Also, I loved the world that Ben creates. There's a logic to it, underneath all the squalor and consumerism. It was easy to picture in the mind.
I defy anyone to really understand what that prologue is all about. I don't, but sets the whole tone of the book. Strap yourself in Granny, we're going for a ride. And Aaronovitch even rags on Battlefield with a fun little send up of an opera sequence.
It falls apart in the end, but I liked it because it made me laugh -- out loud, in public, in front of strangers. Once the Doc referred to the program as "Fred", I couldn't stop laughing. Looking back, it was quite anti-climatic, but I give extra credit for the humor. Besides, our hero is confronting the enemy head on, like he's supposed to, not hiding and scowling and acting like some weird little bugger who takes it far too seriously.
Transit is not for everyone. But I don't think Ben Aaronovitch cared about that. I think he wrote a Doctor Who book for himself, and if the readers got it, then great.
I got it, and I'm glad I did.
I've been waiting to come back to Transit, if only because I think my initial thoughts were a mix of shock and awe, mainly because of how much I liked the story. I just stumbled across my initial review, and it reads liked I was wired on Pixie Stix. It was time to find my copy and read it again.
I find it shameful that people seem to remember Transit more for it's sex and swearing than what it's really doing, which is to create the Virgin Whoniverse proper. Ben Aaronovitch is laying the groundwork for the Future Earth - the Earth Empire, the pollution, the technological blind alleys, the war with the Martians - in thousands of little ways.
But what Transit is really about, is the Doctor.
Absolutely. Ben Aaronovitch creates his Whoniverse and watches the Doctor - as Aaronovitch sees him - react to it. Ben's 7th Doctor is not a speechmaker. He isn't all that human. He's a jazzbo with a sense of morality and humor. He wants to save Bernice because it's what he does. He's also concerned that he's becoming less of a mystery, that because he helped Earth so many times, they kind of expect him to sort out their troubles when they arise. Ben also sees him as a counter-virus to the universe, the whole point of the cyber-punk setting.
The other main character is Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. Ben hints that she is an Earth response to the Doctor's interference, an intriguing concept (and possibly what Miles was thinking about by placing the Enemy on earth in Interference). It is as much her story as the Doctor's, as we see her go from broke college student to fellow traveler in the time vortex. It made sense at the end that Kadiatu rejects the Doctor's offer to come along; it's a moment that the novel has been leading up to. <>Bernice spends most of the story possessed by Fred, the extra-dimensional baddie infecting the Solar Transit System. She was far more plot and idea function than character.
The others - free surfers, floozies, Yak Harris, etc. - are developed enough to have an impact when needed, but don't overwhelm the story. The floozies - Blondie, Old Sam, Credit Card, Lambada, and their boss, Ming the Merciless - are the best of the bunch, a mix of caricatures - cyberpunk tales, the crew from Alien - that end up feeling fresh, yet familiar.
Ben shows a funky, dark sense of humor throughout. Battlefield becomes an Opera, the Doctor getting drunk on ouzo (which is on a level of Grappa for harshness), numerous funny asides which give this very strange story a bit of the traditional - the sense of the Doctor righting the wrong with a sense of style and a joie di vivre.
I should mention the use of the f-word. Methinks the reason it was so shocking in its use, was in its casualness. Bernice drops the first f-bomb at an early moment. It wasn't used as a climatic cry before the mega-event of the novel, it was used in regular old conversation, sort of deadpan. Didn't bug me all that much, nor did the "semen taste" line either. Although I can understand fans flipping out over that line...
So, Transit has matured well. It's still Ben Aaronovitch's masterpiece. It's far more traditional that you might realize. Find a copy and check it out.
A Review by Brian May 17/6/05
Transit is a convoluted, confusing, profanity filled mind-screw of a book. It was one of the most controversial Doctor Who adventures of its time, and it seemed that in most circles of fan thought you either loved it or hated it. I myself was undecided, but after another effort (and it is an effort!) I came to the conclusion that it's quite brilliant! Ben Aaronovitch has an imagination that veers between genius and insane - most probably a mix of both.
It's easy to see why it generated such a furore in 1992. The New Adventures had promised stories "too broad and too deep for the small screen" and had recently delivered with books like Revelation and Time's Crucible. But something else was happening - the stories were more adult; sex and strong language now existed in the Doctor Who universe. Poverty, war, injustice and other unpleasantness, whilst dealt with by the televised series but with the minutiae largely glossed over (and which the Doctor always put right before teatime) were suddenly magnified. We met people to whom the above was a way of life, for life. The Who world was suddenly a more depressing place.
And then along came Transit - just in case we needed reminding!
Ben Aaronovitch ups the ante in his New Adventures debut - the words "bastard" (already introduced to Target readers by Ian Marter), "shit" and the odd blasphemous curse in previous stories became a multitude of "fucks". Sex scenes (Ace and Jan in Love and War) were tactfully distant, usually a waking up together moment or a nice, sepia-obscured "they made love once more" description - here they turn into a raw, almost confrontational, moment of copulation between Kadiatu and Blondie. Then of course there's the infamous passage that introduces Zamina - which Finn Clark above describes as "seminal" - an apt pun if ever there was one! The lives of the poor and downtrodden were introduced in Andrew Cartmel's Warhead - we see more of them in Transit, including the aforementioned Zamina, a prostitute. The misery of life in the Stop is hammered home with all the subtlety of a blowtorch. Escape from the cycle of poverty is rare - we have the exception to the rule in the form of Blondie, although his story is hardly inspirational.
So how much of this sex, swearing and nastiness is necessary? Well, not a lot, really. I'm not trying to sound like a traditionalist, nor to prudishly decry all this as an insult to the programme's memory - I'm just saying that much of it seems so gratuitously added to the text. I'm not offended at having a prostitute as a character in Doctor Who - but we all know what she does, so we don't need to go into "seminal" detail. Nor am I opposed to sex being a normal part of life, yet I don't need an intense description of Kadiatu and Blondie at it. The same goes for all the "fucks". The editorship was paying attention - you'll note that while such language continued in the NAs, it was toned down and then phased out. While the topic of sex remained, it was sometimes treated adolescently (Deceit); other times it received a mature and respectful approach (Lucifer Rising), but it was never as graphic as this again. Ben Aaronovitch seems out to shock - well, he succeeded, but does this mean that Transit is remembered for all the wrong reasons?
Perhaps - but it shouldn't be. I mentioned earlier that I found it brilliant, and that's a statement I won't retract. Aaronovitch has created an incredibly inspired backdrop; his worldbuilding of humanity's future is astoundingly conceived and realised, at times mind-bogglingly so. A war with the Ice Warriors; a famine that devastates Australia; a multitude of corporations and security organisations (so some things don't change!); the balance of power shifting to the unlikeliest of cities - Brasilia, Harare, Jacksonville. The titular transit system is also remarkable. It's what the Aaronovitch envisions the London Underground evolving into, enabling continent- (and planet-) hopping in an instant. The technology is also quite amazing; like Warhead, it's a cyberpunk-inspired reality (which will, unfortunately, always date the book to the early 1990s). It's a frenzy of radical technobabble, but it all makes a sort of sense. Francine's journey into puterspace, which leads into a scenario allowing some amazing seafaring metaphors, is marvellous reading. So too is the concept of software developing its own sentience, the Doctor blackmailing it to erase all records of him, and the software then hiring lawyers and investing in real estate! (Transit is also a very humorous book!) Other technological wonders include the bureaucratic procedures of the lift regulators, carried out in milliseconds, and of course the computer virus that is causing all the problems in the first place. Suffice to say "computer virus" is a very simplistic term, but it's the easiest analogy for the reader to start with. Aaronovitch then proceeds to more advanced descriptions, with all the subsets and "baby" subsets, and the final confrontation between the Doctor and the "entity" in the nodes: this is a tour de force of psychedelic mayhem and weirdness that is frustrating, but very fun to read.
Frustrating but fun is perhaps the best way to describe the whole of Transit. As I said before, it's an effort. It's incredibly convoluted (although, when you look at it, it's not really complicated). The narrative moves at a breakneck pace, going back and forth between locations and characters. It's very violent, although much of it is implied more than actually "seen", and acted out with the novel's distinctive bizarreness, what with the cake monsters and other hybrid nasties the virus creates out of its victims. There's a real overload of information as reams of history, life and technology are dumped on the reader, but the overly descriptive parts are just another testament to Aaronovitch's skill as a worldbuilder. Indeed, there's only one section that drags - the rather boring chase in Tharsis Bulge (pp.189-193).
Characterisations are another excellent feature of Transit. The floozies are great - Blondie, Dogface, Lambada, Old Sam, and their boss, the ambitious Ming are all great, even though the narrative flits around them as casually and swiftly as it does with everything else. But Aaronovitch makes certain they're all three-dimensional. Zamina and Francine are similarly crafted. The Doctor is astounding, being written with many facets - a random wanderer, a philosopher, an often sad and reflective man, a comic bumbler (I love the incident on p.131 when his planned temporal paradox doesn't work!) There are shades of the season 26 manipulator, but overall he's more of a pragmatist. For only her second appearance, Benny is also impressively written. At first, having her instantly possessed the minute she exits the TARDIS seems like an authorial copout - thus needing to devote less attention to her, especially as she's a new companion - but soon it's evident Aaronovitch has done nothing of the kind. In all her moments, especially as she fights the possession, you have Benny in all her wisecracking, sarcastic glory that Paul Cornell would definitely have approved of. Of course, Kadiatu is the central character in this book, and what an interesting one she is. It's easy to see she would make return appearances. What's most fascinating is her relationship with the Doctor; it's certainly a strange one, and her "I was tracking your moments through history" (p.66) says a lot about both of them (and is elegantly counterbalanced by the Doctor's aforementioned demand for the software to erase all memory of him). Kadiatu performs the traditional companion role instead of Bernice, she saves the day and her final line is a wonderfully sequel-inviting moment.
Transit is packed with so many more fascinating, memorable and noteworthy things, just listing them would probably take another thousand words, let alone elaborating on them. But it's definitely a masterpiece. Ben Aaronovitch has created a wondrous scenario in background, continuity, narrative and characters. But he also did it no favours in attempting to be truly shocking and radical. It is by all means a brilliant work, but some won't remember it as Transit; they'll remember it as The One With the Hooker With Cum in Her Mouth. 9/10
Great cover, what about the rest... by Joe Ford 9/9/06
Certain things in life will open your eyes. The death of a loved one, your first kiss, that first episode that turns you into a true fan, being betrayed... in the Doctor Who universe (which, let's face it if you are on this website reading this review, features in a big part of your life) the real eye opener is Transit. Not Caves of Androzani, which taught us Doctor Who could look fantastic or The Massacre that taught us it could be real drama or The Robots of Death which taught us the show could scare the crap out of us... no there has never been a piece of storytelling (although I use the term as loosely as it can possibly be) that has extended Doctor Who's horizons like Transit.
There is an explicit sex scene. People take drugs as a matter of course. Violence is a way of life. A prostitute tries to get the taste of semen out of her mouth. Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Shit. That is about a tenth of how much those delightful words are used. One woman falls out of bed and gets her first explosive climax.
C'mon Finn is this really Doctor Who? What does it come down to, the storytelling or the content? If it is storytelling than I guess Finn is right as you've got Benny possessed, the Doctor fighting the bad guys, a horrid monster to fight, cannon fodder introduced and disposed of... reading about Transit like this and you could easily be talking about ten Doctor Who stories. But if we are talking about content then this really isn't Doctor Who at all, it isn't a place that anyone with a sane mind would want to venture. I am writing a New Adventures marathon over on the Outpost Gallifrey forum and the usual people have popped up when they are criticized saying it is predictable that people like me would find Transit a steaming pile of horseshit. Well I say to them (and to you since you're listening) that maybe, just maybe all those people who wanted to give up reading after they read Transit had a point. I pick it up every night determined that this will be the night I will finish it but every time I do I find myself reaching for a razor after a five minutes or so, wanting to slash my wrists and end the misery and pain. If there was a ever a book to put you off reading Doctor Who ever again... I mean it's a nifty idea and there is the odd line which strikes a chord but honestly, this is macho, illiterate nonsense, pumped full of poison and hatred, a world full of sex and drugs and hate... where not one character makes an impact, where Benny is utterly forgettable (in her second book... philistines!), where the book hops from one drab location to another, tripping over its own technobbale and slang and completely forgets we would like to know whatever the hell's going on. I love The Also People with a passion bordering on insanity but Ben Aaronovitch must have been going through hard times when he wrote Transit, so strong is its pessimism.
The trouble is I just don't know why I should care about any of the characters, even the Doctor and Benny. The Doctor gets (embarrassingly) drunk in a scene that I would happily omit if I were editor and is described as dropping on human history with all the subtlety of a car accident. He erases people's work because he thinks they shouldn't have time travel before they are ready and apparently history starts to happen when he is around (and people start to die horribly). Benny on the other hand is in her sophomore book and should be treated to some fine development; after being underused in Love and War it would be nice to see her coming out of her shell and proving why she was worth keeping on. Instead she gets infected by a monster and starts acting like a macho super bitch, getting her gang together, that is when she actually the real Benny and not a fake one conjured up by the STS creature. Needles to say we learn nothing useful about her here. It is about as wise to alienate a new character like this as it is to shave your bollocks with a rusty blade so why did they repeat the experiment with C'rizz over at Big Finish in The Natural History of Fear?
The rest of the characters are a bunch of horrible, horrible nobodies called Dogface, Old Sam, Blondie, Mariko and Ming. Well there are a few more but those are the ones I can bother to remember. Who were these people? Why should we give damn about them? They don't have an emotional attachment to each other, they are just functions in the story... when a character died in Transit I just shrugged and went oh well that's one less irritating name to remember. The only significant member of this ensemble is Kadiatu who threatens to be interesting until we learn she is a relation of the Brigadier, dragging everyone's favourite patriot into this seedy world of the NAs. The idea that Kadiatu is the antibody of the Doctor's interference in history is really bizarre but this is never really exploited, especially when that would be wasting time when you could squeeze in another swear word, sickening bit of gore or have someone fingering themselves whilst singing "Oh what a beautiful morning!" (okay maybe I'm exaggerating a tad now... but not much!).
There are a number of interesting elements but without an engaging narrative or interesting characters it is really difficult to keep going. Aaronovitch has clearly spent a lot of time creating this seedy, no-good world. There is some real detail in his setting that I did like. Things such as the Rent a Crowd, Augmentation, Viking Protection, ticket drones, hologram newsreaders, computer decision deadlines, subliminal, Ninja Matrix, Ming's Mansion... Trouble is, the world he creates is just horrible. It is a memorably distasteful world of drugs, whores and everybody trying to get around in a hurry with nobody taking the opportunity to savour life. I realise this is fiction but I just don't want to spend time in such a hollow, passionless (and I don't mean sex) nightmare.
I felt unclean after reading Transit, more so than when I read Rags. I was (almost) convinced to quit reading the NAs myself halfway through this book but knowing that Gareth Roberts is next I shall hold on for dear life and hope these capable writers (Aaronovitch wrote Remembrance of the Daleks!) start to remember how to put there unquestionable talents to something that actually enriches your life rather then dragging you down into a ditch, stripping you nude, smearing you in shit and leaving you to fester in poverty.
In Transit to the Nearest Dustbin by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 8/11/09
I wanted to like Transit. I really wanted to like it. I knew about its reputation as a hard-line novel that fans either tend to love or hate. With this is in mind, I approached it with enthusiasm. It wasn't long, however, before my enthusiasm was shot down in flames.
I haven't been able to finish Transit properly. I'm about 75 pages in and I have to keep putting it down and returning to it every few weeks yet each time I'm only able to read a few pages at the most. It tries my patience every time, so much so that I want to burn the bloody thing. There haven't been many Doctor Who novels that I've disliked reading. The only ones that spring to mind as being less than enjoyable are Vanishing Point and The Last Resort. For some reason, I just didn't find the plot of Vanishing Point particularly inspiring and it took me about six months to finish it, a true endurance test. The Last Resort was ridiculously complicated with its constant overlapping of the time zones. In the end, I began to wonder if even Paul Leonard knew what was going on. I gave up trying to follow the plot about two thirds of the way through and simply wanted to finish it.
People talk of how Transit is set in a cruel world of sex, drugs, violence and swearing, a world that sickens many readers because it just doesn't feel like Doctor Who. I personally have no problem with this. I like novels to be realistic, Doctor Who or otherwise. What really annoys me is the way that Ben Aaronovitch has deliberately set out to alienate, infuriate and baffle as many readers as he can, just for the sake of it. It's quite clear that in writing this book he wanted to create something truly radical, something that had not been seen before in the realms of Doctor Who fiction. I'm all in favour of this approach. There have been many rad novels that I've truly enjoyed such as Love and War, Alien Bodies, Interference, The Ancestor Cell, The Turing Test and several of the later Eighth Doctor novels. But Transit fails completely. I don't know what Ben Aaronovitch was trying to achieve but what's the point in writing a Doctor Who book that to this day is so far removed from the general style of Who fiction, even rad Who fiction? He could have done so much more with this novel if he'd simply made it that little bit more accessible.
The main problem with Transit is that it rapidly jumps around and each situation is explained in a fashion that would seem to suggest we've arrived halfway through something and therefore we should already be au fait with what's gone before. Well we aren't, Mr Aaronovitch! I often felt that I missed something, that there were vital pieces of information that I should somehow have been privy to yet wasn't. The desriptions of settings and characters are few and far between and there is far too much slang. Providing a glossary at the back of the book doesn't really help matters either. The characters are just bland and their names are fantastically stupid. Dogface, Credit Card, Ming... They're not remotely interesting, they're just another reason why this book is such hard work. Kadiatu is by far the most interesting of the guest characters but that isn't saying very much.
I've given up on Transit for the time being in favour of The Highest Science which is extremely good compared to this drivel. The pages are just flying by. Maybe I'll be able to finish Transit sometime but I'm not particularly hopeful.
Oh and the universe's birthday or not, I've no great desire to see the Doctor getting wasted.
Awful on every level.
All Aboard the Intergalactic Express by Jacob Licklider 14/5/16
When I first became a Doctor Who fan and heard about the Virgin New Adventures, I was warned that they were for more of an adult audience. I was also warned that the writers were not constrained by subject matter when they wrote a novel for the range. I expected things of newer novelists but not Ben Aaronovitch. Ben Aaronovitch is the writer of my favorite Doctor Who story, Remembrance of the Daleks, and the pretty good story Battlefield, neither of which were very adult but had some darker underlying themes. His first novel is Transit, which had an idea that was originally going to be used for TV. That idea was of an intergalactic subway system that travels to all planets of the solar system and has been corrupted by an evil computer. The idea is a really sound one, as it feels really imaginative and almost like something Douglas Adams would come up with if there was more comedy in the story.
Instead of a comedy romp, however, Transit decides to go in the dark-and-gritty route with a dystopian society very similar to Andrew Cartmel's future in Cat's Cradle: Warhead. That novel is also very similar to Transit in terms of plot as it sees the Doctor overthrow an evil government organization. In this case, it is a computer called Fred (yeah no influence of Douglas Adams in the novel whatsoever) who has some files pertaining to time travel developed by new character Kadiatu Lethebridge-Stewart, who is the illegitimate great-granddaughter of Brigadier Lethebridge-Stewart. Kadiatu is a great character, despite a few problems I will get into later on in this review. She honestly feels like a real person and deserves the name of Lethebridge-Stewart for the most part, even if her origins are shaky. I also like the genetic mutations that were forced on her to fight in a war with the Ice Warriors and to create time travel. Aaronovitch really does her relationship with the Doctor well by making her the companion of the story. They especially get some great dialogue with each other. Aaronovitch also makes the Doctor a legend on Earth, which is a really good idea, even going so far as to make the story Battlefield turned into an opera in a Wagnerian style. We also see the return of the house on Allen Road and the mysterious silver cat, which isn't really a positive as it has no bearing on the plot.
If you notice, I've been trying to keep on the positive side of things for the first sections of the review, as this book has some great bits in it. However, the book is one of the more controversial novels in the Virgin New Adventures range, with many saying that it is the worst thing ever and others saying it is one of the best books ever. I said in the introduction that novelists didn't have as many constraints on content, and Aaronovitch uses this to the full. The novel goes for gritty cyberpunk but adds in vivid descriptions of prostitution and even has a character ejaculate into another's mouth. The sex levels in the novel are off the charts, and I really don't like it. Now this may be seem a bit hypocritical as I was fine with the romance in Love and War, but the problems with the sex is the presentation. In Love and War, it was all about the emotion of the characters and was really vague on the details. Here it is all the raw physical action and gritty realism. It feels like Aaronovitch is trying to work through some sort of issue here. The Doctor also acts out of character by getting himself drunk with Kadiatu at one point, which is an unintentionally funny scene. There is also some obscene language in the novel, which goes so far as to use the word f*** ten times. (Yes I censored the word, just take a guess on what it is.) I don't mind cursing but the amount of vulgarity in the novel was just ridiculous.
These aren't the only problems with the novel, as Aaronovitch writes at a snail's pace, with extremely long chapters that turn a night's reading into a slog to get through. He also doesn't have much of a story once the climax hits and everything gets really confusing. The plot gets further lost, as some sequences of events are told out of order. He also has a problem with the characterization, which is odd considering how strong and memorable his television characters are. Here the supporting characters are one-note and really could be switched out with each other as their impact could be done by one character.
He also doesn't really know how to write for the character of Bernice Summerfield, as she is extremely mean in the novel. Yes, she wasn't the nicest in Love and War, but it was all sarcasm and flippancy there. Here she is violent to the point of slapping a child to get answers. She almost feels like she would be better if she was switched out for Ace, even if for the story she is possessed by Fred. It almost feels like what happened to Steven in Galaxy 4 where he got all Barbara's lines happened here. It gets a little more bearable near the end but not by much. So yeah, this really wasn't the novel for me and just is an unbearable read. All in all I am forced to give it a 30/100 for really not feeling right even for an edgier Doctor Who story. What is nice is that there really aren't any ramifications to the Doctor's actions, so the novel can be skipped.