The theme of Big Finish’s new anthology is ‘transmissions’, and the choice of such a vague umbrella title works in the book’s favour. Here we have stories that are about communication, about reaching out, about connecting with people. Working such basic notions into 17 stories without them becoming monotonous is much more straightforward than shoehorning in, say, the city of Prague. As a result, Transmissions is more diverse than most of the Short Trips collections.
Transmissions has more than the normal quotient of stories that capture a moment or idea, rather than compressing a normal Doctor Who story into 10 pages, and many authors choose to tell their tales in a different style. A good example of this is the second story, Policy to Invade, which, through memos and recorded interviews, shows the Seventh Doctor organising a friendly invasion of a planet in turmoil. The effective Lonely is written in the style of chat-room dialogue, with the Eighth Doctor encountering an alien intelligence over the internet, while iNtRUsioNs is a rather nasty story about a meme that infects a postal worker and manifests in messages on the letters he looks at.
There are a number of sci-fi stories: Generation Gap explores the idea of ‘junkDNA’ and makes the science interesting even if it gets Sarah wrong. Link is about a virus that removes the ability to speak or read - a horror for a journalist like Sarah, while Blue Road Dance is a slightly frothy tale of aliens controlling time and space through the medium of dance. The perplexing Larkspur has a damaged TARDIS reaching out for help, and Driftwood sees the Seventh Doctor and Mel conversing with dolphins and computers. One of the best stories, Methuselah links tenth-century Constantinople with transmissions from the end of the Universe.
Equally, several stories go for a very small scale approach. Only Connect shows that the Doctor doesn’t always change people for the better, even when he paints such a beguiling picture of history as a series of personal connections. Tweaker is a successful story about obsessive collectors, with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa trying to convince a record fan to give up one of his treasured discs.
The ‘funnies’ include Doctor Who and the Adaptation of Death, about a screenplay of an alien invasion lost in translation, See No Evil which features a world ruled (and censored) by a Mary Whitehouse type, and Breadcrumbs, with the Fourth Doctor losing a bet to Romana and having to save himself.
My favourite story, Gudok is a thoroughly gripping thriller set in Tsarist Russia an following the dangerous trans-Siberian train journey of Tegan and Turlough as they seek to deliver a vital message. The collection is summarised in the final story, Transmission Ends, by editor Richard Salter, which cleverly uses snippets from the other tales. Anthologies by their nature are hit and miss, and Transmissions has more of the former.